Lothian Buses blasts Edinburgh Council's summer festival road closures for 'increasing their costs' and causing 'reputational damage'

Lothian Buses has been reminded it has a “social contract with the city” after the firm blasted the council’s management of the Old Town during the summer festivals and claimed that problems caused “reputational damage and increased cost to the business”.

Thursday, 5th December 2019, 5:27 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th December 2019, 7:08 pm
The 35 service bus is re-routed by Lothian when the Royal Mile is closed to traffic Picture: Lisa Ferguson / JPI Media

Edinburgh City Council will draw up a detailed operational plan by May of how next year’s Summertime Streets plan will be implemented – after this year’s road closures led to concerns from Lothian Buses and other businesses.

As part of the council’s Summertime Streets project during August, part of the Royal Mile was closed as well as other roads in the Old Town to ensure public safety. This led to Lothian re-routing the 35 service around Calton Hill instead of up the Royal Mile – impacting Canongate residents.

Lothian Buses, which is owned by the council, said that “the restrictions caused a number of difficulties” and that “the most effective way to make the city centre a more pleasant area during this period is to distribute events over a wider area of the city”.

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The company added that its bus tours wing “suffered a significant reduction in demand” due to the road closures and “a high number of “pre-booked advance tickets had to be refunded placing further strain on the company’s finances”.

The company claims there was “a noticeable increase in traffic congestion compared to previous years” which “reduced reliability of our regular services, causing reputational damage and increased cost to the business”.

The authority’s director of place, Paul Lawrence, told the council’s transport and environment committee that next year will see a “tighter management approach” and said that “excluding” passengers in part of the Old Town is “just not acceptable”.

He added: “We strongly believe there are solutions. Lothian were not keen to implement those solutions.”

Transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, believes the company it has a duty to serve the Capital’s citizens.

She said: “While we recognise that Lothian is a commercial operation, there’s also a social contract with the city that it serves and we would hope that next year, we may be able to find a solution, as we had expected this year, that will allow Lothian Buses to continue serving the communities affected.

“By implementing many measures and opening up streets only for pedestrians, we helped ensure public safety – but we clearly have to understand the impact of that on businesses and residents and refocus our efforts for next year.”

Councillors will have the final say on whether the Summertime Street closures will go ahead once detailed plans are presented to them in May, following calls from Conservatives.

City centre Tory Cllr Joanna Mowat said: “When they did it last year, it didn’t really work for anyone – it looked so awful so it didn’t work for businesses and it didn’t work for people who need those buses. I think there’s a question about whether it was entirely necessary to have a complete road closure at the bottom of the Royal Mile.

“There’s a tendency in the council to start from the 6,000 pages of transport guidelines rather than looking at it from the person sat in their home. Losing these bus links means these people lose their independence.”

A Lothian spokesperson said: “With Edinburgh’s popularity continuing to grow, this summer we have witnessed a significant increase in visitors to the Capital which resulted in our services operating in much more challenging conditions than we have ever previously experienced.

“We look forward to continuing to work closely with the City of Edinburgh Council to reflect on this year’s issues to ensure that all parties are doing all they can to safeguard and improve the provision of public transport, whilst addressing the wider issue of congestion across our city.”

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