LOTHIAN Buses is riding to the rescue of marooned communities following major cutbacks by rival First Bus.
The council-owned bus company has agreed a three-year contract to step into the public transport vacuum left behind by First Scotland East’s decision to withdraw services from several rural villages in Midlothian and East Lothian from June 10.
The move, which still has to be approved by the Traffic Commissioner, was today welcomed by leaders at both local authorities.
Around 20 bus routes were at risk of being lost, sparking fears some communities would be cut off entirely from the public transport network.
Among the affected villages were Pencaitland, Ormiston and Whitecraig in East Lothian as well as Cousland, Millerhill and Newton Village in Midlothian.
The drastic proposals announced by First were triggered by years of poor trading in the areas, and the firm blamed a “challenging” economic climate, high fuel prices and cuts in funding for its decision.
It is understood the firm had lost around £5 million from the under-performing routes since 2009.
Midlothian Council leader Derek Milligan said he was “delighted” negotiations with Lothian Buses had proven successful in keeping “critical bus services” running in the county.
He added: “We are also confident that further positive announcements will be forthcoming.”
Ian Craig, managing director of Lothian Buses, said: “Following consultation with Midlothian Council we can confirm that timetable proposals have been submitted to the Office of the Traffic Commissioner which, if accepted, will secure a substantial proportion of the public transport links currently offered by First in and around Midlothian.
“We hope to be in a position to publish full details of all changes in the near future.”
Since that statement was issued yesterday, the News has learned that the firm will also accommodate routes in East Lothian.
East Lothian Council leader Paul McLennan said Lothian Buses would provide an almost like-for-like replacement for the county, if not an improved service.
He added that despite this, plans for a state-run bus service had not been kicked into the long grass.
“We always said that we would find the finances to ensure villages were not left without bus services,” he said.
“No village will be left out and our transport department has worked really hard to get this done at very short notice.
“All these bus services will be registered in time for when First Bus withdraw on June 10.”
April 3: Villagers vow to defend their routes amid a massive cull at First Scotland East, costing hundreds of jobs.
April 4: A bid for a state-run bus service is mooted in East Lothian.
April 5: Midlothian Council presses First for more time to seek alternatives to cuts.
April 5: A supermarket could replace First after it quits its Dalkeith depot.
April 9: Midlothian Council says it has no plans to set up its own bus company.
April 20: Scottish Government under pressure to clarify support it will give East Lothian Council to set up bus firm.
May 1: Lothian Buses set to replace services to marooned communities.