The wheels have been set in motion for a campaign calling for a better – and cheaper – bus service for Falkirk district.
Councillor Craig R. Martin wants Falkirk Council to have more control over local services to ensure that service provision matches the needs of the people of the area and is a reliable and affordable travel option.
He is due to submit a motion to a full council meeting this month asking for support for the re-regulation of bus services, and has particular concerns over the pricing of services in the district, which he, and users, believe are over-inflated compared to those in other local authority areas.
Dr Martin has also started an online petition on change.org in a bid to persuade operator First Bus to reduce prices to be on par with those in the likes of Glasgow, Edinburgh and neighbouring West Lothian.
Local prices include Redding Cross to Falkirk Bus Station (2.5 miles) at £2.70 for an adult single, Falkirk Bus Station to Bonnybridge (4.9 miles) at £2.70 for an adult single, and Grangemouth to Falkirk Bus Station (3.1 miles) at £2.70 for an adult single.
In West Lothian, a journey of 3.4 miles from Bridgend to Linlithgow is only £1.70.
Glasgow has two fares – £1.20 for a short journey and £2 for anywhere in the city zone, which extends out to Kirkintilloch and Cumbernauld – distances of up to 13 miles.
In Edinburgh, Lothian Buses – a publicly-owned service with the City of Edinburgh Council as its major shareholder – only charge £1.50 for a single ticket which gets you anywhere along a certain route, while a day ticket is just £4.
Dr Martin said: “Falkirk Council subsidises services to around £1.2 million and there are communities that would have no bus service at all without this. This, and the prices here, are a disgrace and I think it will only get worse.
“It is not a council’s job to run bus services, but I would much prefer that was the case.
“The Edinburgh bus system is one of the best and shows how it can be managed efficiently by a council as the major shareholder.
“Compared to prices elsewhere in the country, costs are higher in this area and I don’t know how that can be justified. Falkirk deserves a high quality bus service that is affordable for everyone and they are not getting that at the moment.
“These are the reasons why I am campaigning for the re-regulation, if not deregulation, of bus services to give councils more power to deliver a decent service and I hope the people of Falkirk will support my online petition.”
Despite evidence from Lothian Buses to suggest that councils can run efficient services, First Bus believes operators working alongside councils is the way forward.
A spokesperson for First Midland Bluebird said: “More regulation will threaten investment and innovation by operators and the expensive bureaucracy to run it will waste cash-strapped councils’ funds. Partnerships, not increased regulation, will deliver the best possible bus services for customers.”
Dr Martin’s online petition can be viewed on www.change.org and searching for ‘Lower Bus Prices in Falkirk’ or scan the QR Code on the left.
Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald is also keen to see a better bus service for the district, but admits the Scottish Government does not have the money to regulate buses due to the “current austerity agenda from Westminster”.
Mr MacDonald has welcomed First’s recent investment in new buses. He said: “I have regularly lobbied First Bus since my election as MSP for Falkirk East to replace their fleet with newer, more environmentally friendly vehicles, and while fleet renewal has not been as fast as I would have liked, we are seeing the gradual appearance of a newer fleet on the roads in Falkirk district.”
The investment in new buses by First is costing £6 million.
They will be fitted with CCTV, leather seats, have free Wi-Fi and more space for pushchairs and wheelchairs. They will also be more eco-friendly.
‘WE STILL HAVE MUCH TO DO’
First Bus says it shares the aim of local authorities and the Scottish Government to get more people using buses instead of cars as a way of reducing carbon emissions.
The company admits it still “has much to do” to improve services, but has frozen prices and works hard to keep them as low as possible.
A spokesperson said: “We are investing in new vehicles and technology like mobile ticketing and improving our punctuality and reliability to attract new customers.
“Just recently we announced investment in 26 new state-of-the-art Midland Bluebird vehicles, which will be rolled out from later this summer, to build on the nine new ‘Kelpies’ buses we launched in Falkirk last year.
“We aim to keep our fares as competitive as possible and the majority of our fares were unchanged this year, with some frozen for a third year in a row. Prices held included all family tickets along with weekly, monthly and annual passes. In addition, when Falkirk Council withdrew its subsidy for half price fares for 14 and 15-year-olds, we agreed to maintain the cheaper fare at our own commercial cost.
“We have worked incredibly hard to keep fare increases to a minimum and where we there have been small rises, they’ve been far lower than the rate of inflation and reflect increases in our running costs, ensuring that the cost of bus travel remains extremely good value.
“As a result of our efforts our customer satisfaction ratings are up and a recent independent survey found satisfaction levels among First Midland Bluebird customers were higher than the UK average.
“But we know we still have much to do, and we are convinced that the quickest, cheapest and best way to improve bus services is through operators and local councils working together in partnership.”