Edinburgh communities at risk of losing 'lifeline' bus services

Three bus routes in the west of Edinburgh are under threat after First Bus said it did not wish to renew the contracts because of a shortage of drivers.

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It means the “lifeline” services – the No 20 from Ratho to Chesser, No 63 from Queensferry to Balerno and No 68 from Turnhouse to Gyle – could all be withdrawn at the end of August unless action is taken to save them.

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First Bus has been operating the council-subsidised routes for the past two years but it has now told the council it does not wish to take up the option of extending the contracts.

A briefing to councillors explained the decision had been taken partly as a result of driver shortages, with some reportedly leaving the sector to work as delivery drivers with companies such as Amazon.

The council has initiated talks with Lothian Buses and other local operators in an effort to find a solution before the services cease running. One possibility could see existing Lothian routes amended to “fill the gaps” left by the cuts.

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Lib Dem councillor Kevin Lang, who represents Almond ward, said: “The loss of these lifeline bus services would be a disaster for the communities in the rural west of Edinburgh. These are villages which are already under-served by public transport. If you take the case of Kirkliston you don’t even have the council-owned Lothian buses operating in that village.

“So every effort needs to be made with First to try and get them to reconsider their position or to at least continue this service while an alternative arrangement is put in place.

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The No 20 First Bus between Ratho and Chesser could be withdrawn from August 30.

“But if they won’t then we need to urgently find an alternative provider and it still angers me that Lothian Buses, as the council-owned bus service, has not been more committed to serving these communities that are part of the city of Edinburgh. These people are as deserving of services from the council-owned bus services as someone in Leith or the City Centre or Morningside.”

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Edinburgh West Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine said First Group had agreed to meet her after she voiced concern about the loss of the routes.

She said: “News that First Group are considering withdrawing vital bus services for communities in Edinburgh West is a huge concern as so many of my constituents rely on these routes. In Ratho, for example, commuting is already difficult and this could make the situation impossible. If First cannot continue then we will have to find an alternative.”

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Council transport convener Scott Arthur said he was disappointed at the decision by First Bus. “This will have a devastating impact on individuals and make it harder for Edinburgh to meet its climate change targets. Officers are, however, discussing all options with them to try and ensure some level of service continues beyond the contract end date of August 30.

"This will give us breathing space to put alternative provision in place, and officers are now investigating long-term solutions as a matter of urgency. It is clear that driver shortages and other issues are affecting the entire bus operator industry, but efforts to find a replacement will continue over the coming months, and the community will be kept up to date.”

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