A KEY bus route connecting west Edinburgh and the city’s flagship hospital is to be expanded to improve services for staff and patients.
The number 18 connects the Gyle shopping centre to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, via a series of health centres and surgeries, but runs just once per hour and finishes in the early evening.
The service faced being axed in 2008 but won a reprieve after a campaign backed by thousands of residents in the south of the city. Now plans have been drawn up to extend the service, with more buses per hour and with later operating times.
Transport bosses are also expected to approve extending the subsidy for the route, which currently runs at a loss, when they put the plans out to tender.
At present, Lothian Buses operates the route at rush hour and First Group runs an hourly service during the day.
Edinburgh City Council said the number 18 could be greatly improved by axing the present operation – which was due to run until mid-2016 – and contracting out a new service to a single firm.
The local authority said some areas of the city still have no direct route to the ERI.
Details are yet to be worked out but the new service would run more frequently, at least every half hour, and is likely to run later than the current 8pm cut-off.
Public cash is used to subsidise the route – First Group already gets around £80,000 to run it at a loss – but it is regarded as a “socially necessary service”.
Jason Rust, Conservative councillor for Colinton/Fairmilehead who led the original campaign, said: “This is a vital and socially necessary service. Due to the number of care homes, the Marie Curie Hospice and other health facilities along the route, along with connecting with the Gyle and the ERI, this is a very worthwhile service.”
The new service, planned for some time after the start of the new financial year in April, is part of a wider investment stemming from the new ERI Link Road which will allow buses, ambulances and taxis to reach the hospital from east Edinburgh via Niddrie and Craigmillar.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport convener, said: “ A more frequent bus service will be warmly welcomed by patients and staff at the ERI, especially those who currently have to take two separate buses to reach the hospital outside of rush hour.”