‘Trapped’ OAPs demand return of lifeline bus link

Cath Hogarth is among those feeling the loss of the local bus service. Pic: Malcolm McCurrach
Cath Hogarth is among those feeling the loss of the local bus service. Pic: Malcolm McCurrach
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Elderly residents in four communities say they have been left stranded in their homes ­after a lifeline bus service was axed for financial reasons.

The 328 bus, which connected Danderhall, Millerhill, Hilltown and Newton Village in Midlothian to Musselburgh, was scrapped in April because the operator said it was no longer “financially viable”, despite a substantial subsidy from East and Midlothian councils.

Pensioners who used to be able to hop on a bus just metres from their front door for free now face paying £21 per week for return journeys per day.

Elizabeth Bryce, 65, who lives in Newton village, says she has lost her freedom, and can no longer take part in the daily art and swimming classes she used to love. “I like my independence, so I was out nearly every day on the bus. It costs you £3 just to see the doctor, or go get some bread and milk. I’ve lost my independence altogether.”

Cath Hogarth, 73, who walks with a stick, was able to visit her family every day while the bus service was still running, but can now only see them at weekends when they are able to collect her by car.

“I’m practically housebound since they took the bus away. I depend on people taking me out,” she said.

The nearest bus service to her is more than half-a-mile away on foot.

“It would take me quite a while, depending if my legs can carry me,” Mrs Hogarth added.

Campaigners have now called on council officers, councillors and MSPs to attend a public meeting on July 29 in an effort to have the service reinstated. Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland, said a local bus service was “a lifeline” for the elderly, adding: “We’ve heard from people who feel trapped in their homes, or that they’re simply waiting to die because they can’t get out and about because of a lack of accessible transport.

“Research by Age Scotland shows that in remote rural areas over two-thirds (70 per cent) of those aged 60 or over either do not have a free pass, or do not use their bus pass card. That’s why we’ve been calling on the Scottish Government to change the system so people can use their bus pass on community transport, so that everyone can benefit, not just those who live on a commercial bus stop route.”

A spokeswoman for Midlothian council said: “The 328 bus service was a contract bus service jointly financed by East Lothian and Midlothian councils. The operator found they could no longer run the service as it wasn’t financially viable, despite a substantial subsidy from both councils, and the contract was terminated. As a consequence the service was put out to tender.

“None of the proposals on pricing fell within the council’s budget and wouldn’t have represented best value for the taxpayer. Instead, a Ring and Go taxi service was set up in the affected rural areas.”

Edinburgh Coach Hires, which operated the 328 service, ­declined to comment when contacted and refered questions to Midlothian Council.

paris.gourtsoyannis@edinburghnewss.com