Bus passenger growth stays in the fast lane

THE number of passengers using Lothian Buses is rising by four per cent every year, new figures have shown.

And the statistics revealed a 27 per cent increase in the volume of passengers over the past seven years. A 1.3 per cent jump in the number of passengers has already been recorded during the first 20 weeks of this year, with 104 million people expected to use the services in 2005.

News of the rise follows a report from the Scottish Executive which shows residents in the Lothians make more than double the national average in bus journeys each year.

The number of trips made by a resident of Edinburgh and the surrounding area stood at 188 for 2003/04 against 89 for the rest of the country.

City leaders today hailed the figures as evidence of public faith in the Capital’s transport network. Environmental watchdogs also welcomed the trend.

Iain Coupar, marketing director for Lothian Buses, said the firm’s vehicles were viewed by the travelling public as "the most convenient way to get around the city".

He added: "For the past seven years we have seen a steady rise in passenger numbers - about four per cent year on year. Our massive investment in new low-floor buses, value for money fares and the introduction of services that are attractive in terms of destination and frequency has paid off. Very pro-public transport local authorities, has also helped.

"Traditionally, Edinburgh and the Lothians have always had a high public transport use in the form of the bus."

At its recent agm, Lothian Buses, which is majority owned by the city council, highlighted the cost of fares compared to other Scottish cities.

A four-mile bus journey costs 80p in Edinburgh compared with 1.10 for Dundee, 1.25 for Glasgow and 1.40 for Aberdeen.

City transport leader Andrew Burns said: "I very much welcome the ongoing success of Lothian Buses. We work closely with all the bus companies in Edinburgh to ensure the best service for the travelling public through items such as the bus lanes, greenways and real-time information.

"The growth in passenger figures underlines the fact that people recognise the work that has taken place, and is still ongoing, to make public transport in Edinburgh the best in the country."

City leader Donald Anderson said: "New passenger figures from Lothian Buses confirm the fact that we have the best bus services in Scotland and in the UK, outside London, and certainly proves demand for public transport is constantly increasing in the Edinburgh area."

But Dr Dan Barlow, head of research for Friends of the Earth Scotland, sounded a note of caution over the figures.

He said: "It’s great to hear that the number of bus passengers in the city is increasing. Unfortunately, car ownership is also increasing and at some point we will be confronted with the questions over traffic that we faced during the congestion charge referendum.

"We need to look at more ways to encourage people to use buses, as well as walk and cycle."