Worst off will be hit hardest by bus review

Falkirk Bus Station
Falkirk Bus Station

The elderly and those on low incomes will bear the brunt of cuts and sweeping changes to bus services, according to council leaders.

Last week’s announcement by First Scotland East of a radical overhaul to its Falkirk area network has come under fire.

Several routes are being axed, while others will operate less frequently.

Although bus bosses said some services will run more frequently, concerns have been raised over areas where there will be a reduction.

There are fears that people who normally rely on the bus network will be unable to get to work, will have to find alternative transport for hospital appointments and be hindered going about their normal routine.

Councillor Craig Martin, leader of Falkirk Council, said: “It’s shocking and is a blow for many communities. However, my main concern is the affect this will have on the most vulnerable people, the elderly, unemployed and those on low incomes, who cannot afford to run a car and rely on buses to get about.

“I’m extremely disappointed that First is reneging on its obligation to provide a public transport service. It has a public responsibility yet is basically leaving people, not just in rural areas, but also in parts of Larbert and Grangemouth, effectively stranded.”

He added that the Scottish Government had to shoulder some responsibility for the service reduction because of changes in funding, including cuts to the Bus Services Operators Grant (BSOG), which reduced the subsidy by 17 per cent from last April, and alterations in how payments are calculated.

Mr Martin said the concessionary bus scheme only reimbursed bus operators 67 per cent of the cost of an adult fare and capped the amount which could be paid, leaving them out-of-pocket.

The local authority will need to pay to keep some of the services running, including the 685 service from St Mungo’s to Grangemouth, the cost of which will be around £180,000. If it replaces all the withdrawn services the bill would be around £500,000.

Ironically, if it decides to pay for the service, First Scotland East would be able to tender and receive payment from the local authority.

Counillor Martin added: “Council taxpayers will have to pay or services will be lost. It is putting pressure back on local authorities at a time when we are already struggling to continue providing frontline services.”

Mr Martin also accused the bus operators of making the information on the changes public at the same time as they informed the council when usually there is a two week period to allow officials time to study the proposals.

The new timetable is due to come into operation on October 29. However, the X19 service which links Falkirk with Edinburgh via Grangemouth and Bo’ness will be withdrawn from November 19.

It will mean there is no service between Bo’ness and Edinburgh, while Falkirk passengers travelling to the capital will have to use service 38 or go by train. Grangemouth passengers will have to either get a Citylink bus or go to Falkirk then get a train or bus.

One furious Grangemouth commuter hit out at the bus company and said the changes were announced just weeks after she paid £1360 for an annual pass which will now become useless.

Councillor Robert Spears said: “Grangemouth is losing a vital service and further isolating its residents from the capital.

“Workers, students and day-trippers will all suffer.”