The Bo'ness Community Bus is helping to rekindle friendships, breakdown employment barriers and boost tourism but the sustainability of the project can only be secured if passengers continue to use the service
It's a 'lifeline' service offering an important link to those who feel isolated by cuts to public transport and have no access to a car.
The Bo’ness and Area Community Bus Association (BACBA) C19 has been running since May, helping residents to get to and from Edinburgh after the cut to the X19 service.
By running three services a day and four on a Saturday, BACBA aims to help passengers to rekindle friendships and make new ones, breakdown barriers to employment and boost tourism.
However, like any other social enterprise it faces funding challenges and also threats from competitors entering the market and needs residents to keep using the bus for it to be sustainable.
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It’s Monday morning and there is a sense of excitement on the bus as passengers chat amongst themselves.
Graeme Turton (57), a retired university physical education teacher, is one of two drivers the other being David Hall.
He said: “I was looking for a new challenge. I enjoy doing this because it is more sociable and I feel like I’m doing something for the community.
“I love when the bus is full in the morning and there’s a buzz. They are either going to be meeting someone or do something they haven’t done before .”
Christine Newbigging (67) is one of the first passengers to come on board. “I’m meeting friends for coffee,” she said.
“I use the bus twice a week. I used to have to get a bus through to Linlithgow then wait on another one in a drafty bus shelter. This is much better as it’s a lot quicker and more reliable – it always comes at the time it says it does. It’s a lifeline for the community.”
Elspeth, who lives in Grahamsdyke Road, added: “It’s been a boon, we felt isolated in Bo’ness especially if you do not have a car. I would never get to Edinburgh otherwise.”
The service was set up by retired couple Helen and Rab Jeffery who felt that the cuts made life difficult for residents in the town.
Helen said: “I was devastated when the X19 service was cut. The C19 gives people a chance to meet friends and family, hospital visits and access to attend courses in Edinburgh.
“We have got a good community spirit on the bus I think that is important.”
Helen and Rab teamed up with like minded individuals and formed a steering committee for the group.
Marion Hunter (69) who has lived in Bo’ness all her life, said: “Bo’ness used to have a brilliant service. I was anxious to get this one up and running. I think it was unfair that a town the size of Bo’ness did not have a regular service.”
It is not long into the journey before Rab’s phone rings with visitors hoping to book the bus to attend the Transport Museum in Bo’ness the next day.
Rab, the secretary, says: “Not only is it helping residents to get into Edinburgh but it is encouraging tourists to Bo’ness. We are trying to establish a link with local attractions such as Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway, Kinneil Estate, The Hippodrome and Blackness Castle and others.”
Following the success of the community bus Scottish Citylink have rerouted their 909 service to go from Edinburgh to Dunblane via Bo’ness and Grangemouth and on towards Glasgow.
The bus firm were approached last year about taking up the service but it was felt at the time that it would impact too negatively on existing customers. Rab says it is too early to say what impact it will have on their community bus.
He said: “We have to run a sustainable service. I think we are in a good place and offer a unique service. We can respond to a lot of people’s needs. We are looking at alternative routes and gaining a public service operators licence but we have challenges to overcome.”
The beacon of hope was at the end of the journey when Ashleigh Carpenter (19) got on the bus with her seven-month old baby Lily.
Ashleigh said: “My boyfriend and family stay in Edinburgh. It’s good for Lily as she can see her gran more often.”
If more young people continue to use the service like Ashleigh and Lily then perhaps there can be a sustainable future for the community bus.