Falkirk Council proposing changes to bus services - you may have to book your seat two hours in advance

Falkirk Council could make major changes to public transport locally next year in a bid to cut costs, if councillors agree.
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Proposals being put to councillors include plans to amalgamate the F2 (Falkirk/Slamannan/Limerigg) and F29 (Falkirk/Shieldhill/California/Avonbridge) bus services from next April.

And bus services around Whitecross, Standburn and Wallacestone will be replaced with a demand responsive transport service, if councillors give the go-ahead for a pilot scheme that could then be rolled out to other areas.

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This would mean people will book a journey at least two hours in advance and a smaller vehicle will be used for the journey.

Changes to bus services could be on the way. Pic: Michael GillenChanges to bus services could be on the way. Pic: Michael Gillen
Changes to bus services could be on the way. Pic: Michael Gillen

While a minibus, or even taxi, might be used, passengers will board at a bus stop and pay the usual bus fare, including concessions.

The current TaxiCard scheme will also end if councillors agree to the proposals and charges for Shopmobility will start.

However, if accepted, any changes would not affect the Dial-a-Journey service.

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A report going to Falkirk Council’s executive next week says the cost of providing subsidies for buses has risen by around 33 per cent in recent years, at a time when council budgets are increasingly squeezed.

It also explains that a long-term decline in passenger numbers has been exacerbated by Covid-19.

While the Under 22 scheme has increased bus usage among younger people, this has not offset the decline in the overall number of journeys being made by other concessionary card holders.

Bus companies have also seen a rise in operational costs, such as fuel, energy and wages, while government support was withdrawn in March this year.

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Falkirk is not alone in facing these challenges – the report highlights bus operator McGill’s decision to withdraw all services in West Lothian by the end of 2023, saying they are not financially viable.

Falkirk Council currently provides 14 supported local bus services at a total cost of £1.18 million per annum.

In total, the budget for bus service support is £1.603 million a year, but the council is currently overspending by around £270,000.

The report to councillors says money has to be saved and the changes suggested mean that the most-needed and best used services can be maintained.

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The suggestion is that amalgamating Service 2, which provides some Falkirk/Slamannan journeys and all Slamannan/ Limerigg journeys, with service 29, which provides some Falkirk/Shieldhill/California/Avonbridge journeys, the remainder being commercial.

According to the report, the current annual cost of these two supported services combined is £250,000 a year. It is estimated that combining the routes would save an estimated £75,000 a year.

The report also suggests scrapping the council’s TaxiCard scheme, which has seen the number of journeys made decrease by almost half in recent years to 775 per month in 2022/23.

The scheme, which costs the council £47,000 every year, offers a £2 discount on up to six journeys per week. Members of the scheme have to book journeys in advance by telephone the day before they wish to travel.

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The number of people using Shopmobility has also decreased sharply in recent years, falling from 3499 in 2018/19 to 1956 in 2022/23.

Councillors are being asked to approve a charge for the service, following the example of Stirling Council. It now charges residents a £5 annual membership fee, then £1 per hour hire charge. For non-Stirling Council residents, the charge per hour is £1.50.

While Dial-a-Journey usage has also fallen, there is no proposal to change this service as council officers recognise it would leave people with no alternative means of transport.

The full report will be discussed by Falkirk Council’s executive on Tuesday at 10 am in Grangemouth Community Education Unit, Abbot’s Road. The meeting will also be livestreamed.