Standard of Falkirk district First buses under fire as Greens make plea

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The leading bus operator in Falkirk district has been warned “significant work” is needed to improve the sustainability of its fleet.

Calls have been made for First Bus to speed up its plans to introduce more energy-efficient vehicles, amid concerns over the quality of the buses which serve the region.

As things stand, one in five of the firm’s fleet meets the European Union’s Euro 6 low emission standard.

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While the average age of First buses operating in the company’s main corridors is 4.7 years, the standard vehicle serving routes in the First Scotland East area, including school contracts and private hire coaches, is 10 years.

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In the last five years First has spent £4.8 million on 30 new vehicles for its Larbert depot.

The company also confirmed to The Falkirk Herald it plans to invest further “as and when the performance of services in the area allow” and noted the average lifespan of a UK bus is 16 years.

However, the Scottish Green Party insists more must be done if First is to raise its performance levels.

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Scottish Greens Central Scotland candidate Gillian Mackay said: “It’s disappointing to note that only one fifth of First’s fleet are low emission vehicles, and even these are still diesel buses.

“It goes to show that there is significant work required to improve the sustainability of the fleet and it is disappointing that they are unwilling to make an upfront commitment on improvements.

“This is perhaps not a surprise though as First Bus has recently announced it plans to move out of the UK bus market. This presents Falkirk Council with an opportunity to take on some of these services and I’d urge the council to explore this opportunity urgently.”

Fires taking hold on First vehicles in the area have done little to ease worries among those who rely on its services.

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A mystery blaze gutted a bus in Station Road, Slamannan last June, while a First double-decker became engulfed in flames in Allandale in August 2018.

A Grangemouth resident and First customer told The Falkirk Herald: “Most of the vehicles are old, dirty, smell horribly of damp and keep breaking down.

“There have also been occasions where 21-seat mini buses, which are too small for most of the routes in the area, and coaches not suitable for disabled passengers have been utilised which really shows you that they simply don’t have enough buses to cover all duties. This is really not good enough.”

Discussing the investment made at First’s Larbert HQ, Andrew Jarvis, First Midland managing director, said: “This means the average age of our fleet on the main corridors that we serve is actually very low compared to other areas.

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“We also still have some older vehicles in our fleet for the area, but these vehicles tend to be limited in use to low-mileage routes and/or contract work.

“Overall, regardless of age, all of our vehicles are maintained to the very highest standards set by the DVSA and we are always looking for new ways to increase our efficiency in terms of reducing fuel consumption and in turn environmental impact. We have seen a significant reduction in fuel consumption over the past 12 months across the business.”