Falkirk bus firm told to get in line

Firm plans to make cuts
Firm plans to make cuts

Public transport giant First Bus has been urged to invest in new vehicles to cash in on a multi-million pound Scottish Government subsidy.

The company blames a 40 per cent cut in the Bus Service Operators Grant for changes it plans to its commercial timetable.

But it has been suggested they can still qualify for a share of the £250 million scheme if they run buses which are more fuel efficient and reduce their carbon footprint.

Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald said: “The SNP is fully committed to reducing Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions and lessening the impact of climate change. In order to meet these ambitious targets we must ensure that policy in all areas is geared towards sustainability.

“For this reason the decision has been taken to change the way the BSOG scheme is operated. Previously this was done by tracking the amount of fuel used by each operator, meaning more fuel meant more subsidy. It will now be calculated in relation to route length. The payment for dead mileage, when there are no passengers on the bus, will also be removed, but we believe these moves will deliver an incentive for greater fuel efficiency and emissions reductions and also benefit rural services providing a degree of protection for vulnerable communities. The BSOG will also continue to provide additional incentives for low-carbon vehicles and for some biodiesel fuels.”

Mr MacDonald added: “Transport Minister Keith Brown has outlined the government’s commitments to the bus industry. The annual funding for the sector still stands at nearly £250 million which is a generous settlement in the context of the unprecedented budget cuts which have been passed down to us by the UK Government.

“He has said the reduction in BSOG would only justify a fare increase of one per cent at most and a bus infrastructure investment fund will be used to make a transition payment to operators most affected by the changes.

A planned meeting of the new bus stakeholder group will also be brought forward to March to look at maintaining and improving the quality of service.”

Last week First Bus East posted notice it intended to terminate four contracts with Falkirk Council, worth £87,000 a year, four months early because they are no longer financially viable. After talks it agreed two will continue until August.

Council leader Craig Martin said: “Any reduction in the bus service as a result of a cut in Scottish Government support will have an impact across the entire district and that’s obviously a major concern. For the sake of our communities we have arranged meetings with the company to see what financially viable steps we can take to keep service reductions to a minimum.”

On Wednesday First Bus East had not responded to requests for comment.