Villagers face missing the bus in council funding cut

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Hundreds of people are in danger of being cut off from public transport to schools, hospitals and shops after it emerged a bus route serving local villages is facing being scrapped.

Bus service 328, run by Edinburgh Coach Lines (ECL), and part-funded by both East Lothian and Midlothian councils, takes a circle route from Levenhall via Dalkeith and Musselburgh and provides the residents of several villages with their only access to public transport.

It was previously cancelled in 2011 but after three months of petitioning and with more than 16,000 signatures collected the councils agreed to fund a continued service.

Now the service has again been put up for tender due to funding issues, with five villages on its route – Old Craighall in East Lothian and Millerhill, Newton Village, ­Hilltown and Cousland in ­Midlothian – facing isolation if it is cut.

When Newton Village pensioner Elizabeth Bryce, 65, heard that her only ­public transport option may be scrapped, she was outraged. “We get a free bus pass, but that doesn’t help if there is no bus,” she said.

“We would not be able to go anywhere, the bus is a lifeline.”

Living in a one-street village with little to no facilities, she takes bus 328 every day to do her shopping, meet friends or go to the doctor’s.

Should there be no replacement service provided by the council, she would no longer be able to move beyond her village. ECL said they were no longer able to sustain the bus service due to a reduction in funding from both councils.

They will continue to provide the 328 service until April 19, and it is understood four possible replacement options are being considered.

Many of the problems with the service have been blamed on poor timetables, changing schedules and different operators.

Mrs Bryce said: “They are complaining about not enough people using the bus.

“Of course they aren’t when the only way to find out the timetable is by word of mouth.”

Councillor Michael Veitch, cabinet spokesperson for Transport and Roads, said that Edinburgh Coach Lines had wanted to withdraw the service as “they were unable to attract enough revenue to maintain the service, despite additional funding being provided by the councils”.

And Colin Beattie, MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh, said he has been in touch with both councils and hopes for a quick solution that caters to all people currently using the 328 service.

Midlothian Council said it was still looking at options to replace the 328 service, while East Lothian Council said it had awarded the Haddington-based Prentice Coaches the contract of running a new bus service 110 between New ­Winton/Elphinstone, Tranent and Prestonpans to replace the 328.

Apparently, there were four scenarios of how the bus route could be maintained, changed or scrapped, but it is not yet clear what will happen.

An ECL spokesman said: “We had expected to hear from the councils during the last few days, but they have not contacted us yet.”

newsen@edinburghnews.com