Changes to bus services are the ‘biggest shake-up’ for years

Falkirk's bus service is once again in the spotlight
Falkirk's bus service is once again in the spotlight

Falkirk’s bus service is back in the spotlight this week after cuts brought anger to users across the district.

Reductions and withdrawals of routes in the summer by operator First forced Falkirk Council to reduce the nine of the 19 services it subsidises this month.

Ten were unaffected by the changes, five have fewer journeys due to low usage in the early morning and late evening), while four new services (F14, F11, F16, 4B) were introduced to replaced others, including the X86, 13, 59, 21 and 6. The 24 late evening service was withdrawn totally.

Well-attended public meetings have taken place since the new routes were implemented last week. Particular concern came in the Reddingmuirhead and Bog Road areas which were serviced by the 13.

Falkirk Council’s SNP opposition group has accused the council of a lack of consultation on the changes. Group Leader Cecil Meiklejohn and fellow councillor David Alexander organised a packed public meeting in Thornhill Road Community Centre about the scrapping of the 13 service, which is being replaced by the 14.

Mrs Meiklejohn said: “This is the biggest shake-up of bus services for many years and it is totally unacceptable that opposition members knew nothing about what was being planned by the council administration until after contracts were signed with First.”

Councillor Craig R. Martin, who is campaigning for public ownership of buses, said: “The council’s bus subsidy budget has been protected even though the council has had massive cuts to its grant from the Scottish Government.

“This budget is under increasing demands as commercial services are withdrawn and the public look to the council for help.”

A spokesperson for First said: “First Midland Bluebird is committed to working with local authorities, elected representatives and community groups to develop services for customers, the vast majority of which operate without council support. We have always engaged closely with local authorities and communities during consultations on service changes.

“Overall customer satisfaction ratings are good but we accept we can and will do more to encourage greater use of public transport, but this requires partnership to improve infrastructure.”

‘Use it or lose it’

First has given a ‘use it or lose it’ warning to customers as it extended its cheaper fares scheme this week.

The pilot scheme of day and weekly tickets with reduced costs of £4.50 and £15 respectively will run until the end of the year following an uptake in users since it was introduce in March.

But for the cheap fares to continue into 2017, bus chiefs say it needs more customers to make it sustainable.

The managing director of First Midland Bluebird Paul McGowan said: “We’re still evaluating the positive impact of this new pricing structure with a view to making these fares permanent, but we need to see a further increase in uptake if we are to make them a lasting feature.”

While the extension has been roundly welcomed, First has been criticised for scrapping and reducing some of its services forcing Falkirk Council to subsidise those communities rely on.

Councillor Craig R Martin said: “The Falkirk area has seen some of the worse examples of how the bus market is not working for the public.

“Over 23 services have been scrapped or reduced in the past four years and fares have been increasing.”