Lothian Buses needs to realise its owned by Edinburgh Council and work with us to improve services – Kevin Lang
Question: why does Edinburgh Council own a bus company? It’s certainly not because the council makes money from it. It may have made money in the past but definitely not at the moment. Who knows when we’ll return to the days of the council relying on a multi-million dividend to help fill the coffers.
Is it because only the council can provide buses? Well no. We know from other cities that there are other private-sector operators who can and will provide bus services. So, why does Edinburgh Council own a bus company?
I think it’s because we believe in public transport as a public service. Indeed, helping people get about for work and leisure is arguably one of the most important public services there is. Of course, that service needs to be financially sustainable. The task of running services on a sound financial basis has been made all the more challenging with reduced passenger numbers and major changes to people’s travel patterns since the pandemic.
Now, I want to say upfront, I’m a big fan of the council’s bus company, Lothian Buses. It’s a great company with a great workforce and a committed senior team. But it’s not beyond criticism.
From today, Lothian is making drastic changes to some services and, in certain cases, changing long-established routes. Take the 41 in my ward, the only bus service serving Cramond and one which has existed for as long as anyone can remember. Without any warning or consultation, Lothian is withdrawing the service entirely from today, with a new 47 service taking a completely different route from the West End.
It's not just Cramond that has seen change. This month’s bus service review involves big changes from Granton in the north to Newington in the south. The first that I, as a locally elected councillor and member of the council’s transport committee, learned of the new routes was when they were announced on the Lothian Buses website. Despite registering the changes with the traffic commissioner weeks in advance, there was no consultation, no discussion, no notification to me or other councillors.
People I speak to find it incredible that a company, owned by Edinburgh Council, can and should operate in this way. My job as a councillor is to act in the interests of the people who elected me and to try and represent them as best I can. How do I do that on such an important issue as public transport when the first I get told of changes is when it appears in a press release?
I’m clearly not alone in my concern. Earlier this month, all five political parties on the council backed my motion calling for greater openness, better communication and improved consultation from Lothian Buses when it comes to their route and timetable changes.
Getting bus services right in a city like Edinburgh is so important. It’s often the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in society who rely most on buses. It’s also critical to cutting congestion and reducing emissions, especially as our city grows. It’s why the council owns a bus company, because we believe in public transport as a public service. Lothian Buses needs to work with us better to get that service right.
Kevin Lang is leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Edinburgh Council