Falkirk Council: Bring buses back under local authority control, councilor urges

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Conservative Councilor Claire Mackie-Brown warned the issue was increasingly being raised by residents facing regular problems due to unreliable services.

And she admitted solutions could include accepting the Scottish Government’s offer to allow local authorities to resume bus services – or even run less frequent but more reliable services.

She said: “We urgently need a reliable bus service. People need to be able to get to work or go shopping. »

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Councilor wants buses brought under council control

FirstBus, which runs most local services, has been plagued by driver shortages and plummeting passenger numbers since the start of the pandemic and passengers are now constantly complaining about erratic and unreliable services.

Councilor Mackie-Brown, who was elected in May, says her constituents in Upper Braes are particularly hard hit.

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At her first surgery in Whitecross, everyone present complained about the buses while many others messaged or phoned with similar stories.

Current roadworks which have closed the road from Slamannan to Limerigg have made the situation even worse, with a shuttle service ending at 5pm and not running on Sundays.

Ms Mackie-Brown said: ‘We’ve had quite a few situations where we’ve had people stranded or forced to try to get to Limerigg from Slamannan because of this. My concern is that once the road works are complete will this stick, given the pressures FirstBus is under? »

The adviser recently had a meeting with First Bus chief executive Duncan Cameron to raise the issues – but while she felt it was constructive, she is under no illusions things will get better improve soon.

She said: “I understand the pressures they are under and the reasons for the reduction in service, but we still need to know what plan is in place to try to resolve this issue?”

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on bus services, with passenger numbers dropping to record lows. First Bus said industry-wide driver shortages and falling passenger numbers from pre-pandemic levels are affecting all bus operators.

A spokesperson said: “We are taking significant steps in a number of different areas to try to attract new drivers to the industry while further improving the conditions for our current drivers to retain them within the company. company.

“While passenger numbers continue to rise post-pandemic, they are still a long way from where they were in March 2020.”

Many of the problems were evident long before the pandemic – several Sunday services have been severely restricted or canceled altogether for some of the more rural communities. However, over the past year, services have become increasingly erratic and unreliable.

Ms Mackie-Brown said: ‘I suggested reducing the number of buses, but making sure those buses actually work. It would be a limited service but the buses would at least meet customer demand.

Falkirk Council spends nearly £1million a year on bus services, through contracts – currently for 19 different services – which are put out to tender. In February, councilors agreed to cut funding for bus services by £100,000, raising fears that services could shrink even further.

First Bus has had a bit of a breather with the announcement that Scottish Government funding for bus operators – which was due to stop completely – will now cut from August 14 and end completely in October.

A spokesperson said: ‘This continued funding will give us more time to tackle the key issues currently affecting us, including continuing to increase passenger numbers and addressing driver shortages.’

Another possible option could see the council bring some bus services under its control, after a recent announcement from the Scottish Government confirmed that councils will have the option to run the services themselves.

The idea was backed by Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson ahead of the 2021 election when he defended the SNP’s record on public transport.

He said: ‘With the recently passed Transport Act, local authorities have the power to run bus services locally, to the benefit of communities and I look forward to Falkirk Council pushing ahead with plans to do just that. that – something Scottish Labor talked about but never delivered.”

Falkirk Labor leader Anne Hannah said her party’s manifesto contained a commitment to bring the buses back into public ownership and this is something she wants to consider carefully at the next Council meeting. Falkirk.

Ms Mackie-Brown said she was happy to carefully consider the issue of the local authority takeover.

She said: “I would welcome anything that would improve services. In many rural communities, people have to get off a bus and then take another just to get to Falkirk – or they stand at the bus stop for an hour and the bus doesn’t show up.

“First Bus and Falkirk Council should work together – we can’t just have no buses showing up or no buses on Sundays. The buses are not used because they are unreliable and the buses are not reliable because people don’t use the buses – it’s a Catch 22.”

Cosla, the councils’ umbrella group, welcomed the new legislation but made it clear that funding would be needed for councils to take advantage of it.

Councilor Paul Garner, Spokesperson for Economic Development said: We will review the new legislation and consider any implications and potential opportunities for the Falkirk region in relation to bus services.

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