Towns and villages will be without vital bus services if provider First’s plans to withdraw those it says don’t make money are implemented.
Residents, students and workers from Bonnybridge, Banknock and Denny fear their communities will be cut off if the X86 and 24 services are stopped in August as proposed by the transport firm.
The services are essential for many in the communities, especially to enable older people to attend doctors appointments in neighbouring towns where the surgeries are, as well as those reliant on public transport to travel to work.
The X86 runs from Falkirk bus station through the town to Camelon, Larbert, Forth Valley Royal Hospital, Bonnybridge, Dennyloanhead and Banknock on its way to Glasgow. The 24 from Stirling to Glasgow goes through Denny, Dennyloanhead and Banknock.
Other services affected are the 60 bus which runs from Stenhousemuir, Larbert and Plean to Stirling then Clackmannanshire, while First plans to reduce the 7 service – which ferries patients and visitors to the Larbert hospital – to hourly between Falkirk and Stenhousemuir Monday to Saturday and cancel it on a Sunday.
A First spokesperson said: “To remain a sustainable business, we cannot continue to run services at a loss.
“The services we are proposing to withdraw in Banknock and Denny have not been covering their operating costs for some time.
“We will be discussing these specific routes with our stakeholders over the next few weeks.”
The proposal has caused outrage in the district. Pub worker Gary Chatham (37), from Longcroft, said: “I depend on the bus to get me to my work in Falkirk.
“I have lost previous jobs because buses were always late, sometimes waiting more than an hour for one. There are a lot of older people in Longcroft who will be cut off if these buses are withdrawn and a lot of people will be affected. They are putting profits before people, it’s just ridiculous.”
Hairdressing student Claire Newton (21), from Banknock, relies on the No.24 to get her to Forth Valley College’s Stirling campus and won’t have any other options to get to college if it is pulled.
She said: “If they stop this bus it will be the end of college for me, I won’t have any other way to get there. People here also need buses for doctor’s appointments because the majority of time they are in Bonnybridge. If they are building 550 houses in this area, why would they reduce bus services?”
Denny and Banknock Councillor Paul Garner also believes people not being able to access health services or employment would be catastrophic for communities and has started a petition in a bid to force First to reconsider. He said: “These are vitally important to residents in Denny, Dunipace, Banknock and Bonnybridge.”
Councillor Jim Blackwood, who also represents the area, said First chiefs assured a Banknock Community Council meeting on April 28 that there were no plans to withdraw the 24 service.
He said: “Here we are four weeks later and not only the 24 service, but also the X86 service are going. The proposals by First are nothing short of disgraceful. It’s a disgraceful decision that has to be reversed.”
MSP Michael Matheson has raised the matter with First. He said: “A good number of constituents have contacted me about these proposed changes and I have taken it up with First. Many people rely on these services and I am looking for First to reconsider.”
Re-regulating buses would cost too much
Councillor Craig R Martin, who is campaigning for councils to have more control over local bus services, says First’s plans highlight how “broken” the market is.
Part of his campaign is to have busy bus routes which make profits subsidise other routes with less passengers, but are ones that people rely on as they may be the only service available to them.
Dr Martin said: “We need a transport system that works for commuters, not transport bosses. Even the Westminster Government has noticed the failings of the bus market and is proposing plans to give powers to local authorities to improve services. What is extremely frustrating is that this won’t cover Scotland – I expect our new local MSPs will now finally take some action.”
Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald MSP replied: “Recent estimates would suggest re-regulation of the bus industry in Scotland could cost up to £1 billion.
“If Labour continues to call for re-regulation, I would expect them to identify where that money should come from, and what they would cut if they were in power at Holyrood to allow re-regulation to take place.
“The Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 provides a framework which allows local transport authorities to enhance the provision of local bus services and the Scottish Government expects bus operators and Falkirk Council to work together to address any problems that may arise.”
Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson is encouraging people with concerns or views on public transport to take part in the National Transport Review by e-mailing NTSreview@transportscotland.gsi.gov.uk.