Grangemouth key worker blasts 'appalling' bus service

A hospital employee has branded the First Bus service which serves the Forth Valley Royal as inefficient at best and “appalling” at worst.

Forth Valley Royal Hospital (FVRH) porter Stephen Quigley, from Grangemouth, said he actually raised concerns about the standard of the service at the start of the year.

“Now I’m raising concerns about the lack of efficient bus services for key workers in some areas. First Bus says they’re using duplicate services or double deckers in areas where possible, but there is nothing on the X38 where each service is made up of just one single decker.

“Recently they had to revise capacities to maintain social distancing. The X38 is a principal route which links FVRH with both Falkirk and Stirling, but there is no measures in place to maximise capacity for key workers on this route so there is no guarantee you will get on.”

First Bus is operating services for a limited number of passengers during the coronavirus crisis

Last week The Falkirk Herald reported other key workers had been in touch, complaining they had been late for work because the bus they were going to get on simply drove past the stop without letting them on.

This is due to the new rules which state there can only be a certain 10 passengers on a bus at any one time and if it is full up and no one gets off to let you on then the bus will just drive on past a stop.

First Bus stated a 75-seat double decker could carry 18 passengers, with 10 allowed on single deckers at any one time.

Service operators say passengers need to be patient and be prepared to simply wait a little longer if a bus passes them by.

However, that’s not simply good enough for Mr Quigley.

He said: “If you don’t get on it’s a 30-minute wait for the next one. I need to finish work 15 minutes early to go and catch my bus and to top it off, I am having to wait 20 minutes in Falkirk for another bus to Grangemouth, which has had no direct bus to FVRH since the F23 was cut back in April last year, so it takes me over an hour to get home.

“This is appalling treatment from both First Bus and Falkirk Council. I would see the point if I lived in a small remote village out of the way, but not a place like Grangemouth.

“It is obvious they only care about their profits – if Denny has a bus that goes right to the hospital, which it does even now, why does Grangemouth not? Not everybody has a car and leaving key workers without access to buses should never be an option.

“We deserve better. I feel sorry for all those other key workers who don’t have a car or an alternative service and it is not always possible for me to get a lift home. “If I don’t get on the bus from the hospital then unfortunately I have no other service to use – except the number six which takes 40 minutes just to get into Falkirk – because they’ve all been cut.

“So what else am I supposed to do, fork out money for a taxi. I have a free bus pass, but what about those poor key workers that have to spend money on taxis on top of the expensive fares First Bus charge.

“At the end of the day, it is those on low incomes who suffer most which is not right. All I am asking is that Grangemouth is included like everywhere else, nothing special.”

Last week Andrew Jarvis, First Bus Scotland managing director, said: “By only being able to carry a maximum of 25 per cent of passengers due to social distancing measures, we will very quickly run out of resource, capacity and money as we progress through the government’s plan to lift lockdown measures and more people and businesses return to work.

“We are ensuring passengers who need to travel by bus have the most up-to-date information on how they can play their part to keep the bus network safe for everyone.

“This includes keeping two metres apart where possible, wearing face coverings, sitting by the window, leaving rows clear in front and behind them when choosing a seat and being prepared to wait if a bus is showing as full as it approaches a stop.

“This information has been communicated across all of our external channels, alongside our industry-leading on-bus signage to guide passengers.”

First Bus is offering a new service to passengers who have an app on their smart phones, telling them not only when the next buses are due to arrive where they are waiting, but also to tell them how full the buses are.

With a sharp reduction in capacity to allow for social distancing, more people are likely to be turned away by drivers and the app is designed to help travellers plan ahead for services and times with fewer passengers already on board.

As for the future, First Bus is consulting with various organisations and the Scottish Government to see how things can be improved going forward.

Mr Jarvis said: “We have been working with Transport Scotland, alongside other transport operators, to inform and advise the Scottish Government on the current challenges the industry is facing as a result of Coronavirus.

“We are also driving a joint plan to provide a more comprehensive network and get more buses on our roads as demand increases. We anticipate the current network will just about have sufficient capacity to meet current demand as it stands today, but we need businesses and other organisations to work with us and introduce staggered work patterns to help manage the traditional peak travel times in the morning and evening.

“By operators, businesses and passengers working together we will be able to provide a bus network, for those who need it, which is safe and accessible for those who need to complete their essential journeys.

“We await further details from the transport secretary on how the Scottish Government intends to support operators as demand for services begins to increase further.”

The changes to bus travel come at a time when the impact of COVID-19 on Scotland’s transport services is to be investigated by the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

Views are now being sought on the impact on public transport as the easing the lockdown continues over the coming weeks and months.

Individuals, businesses and other stakeholders are being invited to highlight specific issues and questions they would wish to be considered by the committee.

Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald, a member of the committee, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives immeasurably in a relatively short period of time.

“The economic effect of the emergency lockdown measures imposed to tackle the spread of the coronavirus has presented significant challenges for rural areas of my Falkirk East constituency, and businesses outside the main district centres..

“Significant adjustments will be required across our public transport services as the lockdown is eased in the coming weeks and months and the safety of the travelling public is hugely important.

“The Committee wants to hear about the experiences of individuals and businesses and whether they feel they have received the support they need to survive and recover from this crisis.

“We also want to learn about examples of good practice as we consider what lessons can be learned about the response to the pandemic and also how existing practices may need to change as we move forward.”

Responses should be sent, wherever possible, electronically to [email protected]