Higher bus fares fear over 2.7 per cent pay rise offer to Lothian drivers
BUS chiefs have been challenged to guarantee a pay rise for bus drivers will not mean a fare increase for passengers.
Members of the Unite union at Lothian Buses will vote on Friday on whether to strike from August 2 over alleged bullying and harassment by management or accept a package to end the disputeAlong with various commitments by the company, the proposed deal also includes a 2.7 per cent pay rise - even though a wages increase was never part of the union’s demands.Today the company made no comment on fares levels or suggestions it was trying to “buy off” drivers over bullying claims.But the city’s Lib Dem transport spokesman Kevin Lang said: “It’s quite a surprise that in response to issues which appeared to centre around bullying and harassment that Lothian Buses management have come up with such a significant increase in pay.“There had already been concerns over a possible increase in fares because of the money that Lothian Buses will have to put into the tram extension and any unbudgeted pay increase could increase those concerns further.“We want fares to be kept as low as possible because ultimately we are trying to get more people out of their cars and onto public transport. And we know that public transport fares are very price sensitive, so the last thing we want is any action that is going to drive people away from public transport.”Tory transport spokesman Nick Cook said the “extremely generous” pay offer would “raise eyebrows”.He urged Unite members to accept the deal and avert strike action. But he said: “I would be looking for an assurance that such a pay offer would not lead to higher fares for passengers.”Lothian Buses said a pay deal was due this year anyway. A spokeswoman said: “2019 brought the conclusion of a pay deal which was agreed in 2016 and saw our drivers and engineers benefit from an annual increase in salary over three years. With the recommendation of Unite, our proposal reflects the positive discussions had between union officials and Lothian and includes a pay award for this year.”Meanwhile, charity Age Scotland said it hoped agreement could be reached and a bus strike avoided.Its director of charity services Michelle Supple said a reliable, accessible bus service was vital to the wellbeing of older people.And she said research showed 84 per cent of older people in Edinburgh said they used the bus more frequently than any other mode of transport.She said: “Access to transport is crucial in tackling loneliness and isolation in the older population. “Older people in Edinburgh rely on their bus service to help them socialise, to get out shopping, and to visit family and friends. On top of that, many rely on the bus to get to medical appointments, to care for a friend or relative, to get to unpaid work, or to childmind, thereby directly benefiting the wider community. “Given the paramount importance of buses to Edinburgh’s older people, we are very hopeful that an agreement can be reached between the two sides very soon so that strike action can be avoided.”