Edinburgh transport: Vital Capital bus services not going to be cut, but to run on reduced time table

Three vital Edinburgh bus services it was feared would be cut will continue running for another year, but with timetables slashed.

The 20 Chesser to Ratho and 63 Balerno to Queensferry will carry on serving communities in the west of the city but on a reduced timetable, while the circular 68 route through South Gyle, Drumbrae and Corstorphine will continue unchanged.

The council-subsidised buses came under threat in July as it was revealed operator First Bus was minded not to extend its contract due a driver shortage.

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Residents and councillors from the affected rural areas said the move would cut-off many who rely on buses to get around and called for the council to step in to ensure the ‘lifeline’ services were not lost.

Following talks between officials and the operator, First Bus said this week it has “accepted a one-year extension to provide service continuity across these routes”.

And councillors have now agreed to work together to improve the overall level of level of public transport in the south-west.

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Changes to the 20 – the only bus connecting Ratho with the rest of the city – will see the number of daily services reduced from 30 to 16 and one fewer on a Sunday.

The new timetables, taking effect from September 12, will also see the number of daily 63 services reduced from 19 to nine with seven on a Sunday, which is two fewer than currently.

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Edinburgh transport: Vital Capital bus services not going to be cut, but to run on reduced time table

The matter was discussed at the Transport and Environment Committee on Thursday (September 1).

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Stacey O’Flaherty from Ratho and District Community Council told councillors that villagers in Ratho feel the 20 is “not fit for purpose” and do not want it re-tendered.

She said: “The residents of Ratho want a bus service that is efficient, effective, is better for the climate and makes better use of the public money that is invested in it.”

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Ms O’Flaherty added when it began operating in 2014, car usage increased locally. “People will naturally try and find the most efficient and effective way of getting to where they want to go, and the quickest way to do that is in their car and drive to either park and ride and Longstone and Herriot Watt, or as many do they’ll drive to a residential area on one of the bus corridors and find a quicker bus route,” she said.

“What that has meant for the 20 service here is that actually only the few use the service and it saddens us to see buses with just a handful of people on them.

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“What we want the council to do is to look at a better service, we want a service that services the many. We need a direct service that at least get us into Edinburgh.”

Pentland Hills councillor Fiona Glasgow, SNP, said: “Everybody says that the buses are important for them to access schools, services and work. The medical practice for Ratho Station is in Ratho and the nearest supermarket for Ratho is in Ratho station so the connectivity between those two villages is absolutely vital.

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“Connectivity between Ratho and Edinburgh city is difficult and needs improved, there’s no argument there, with a reliable and regular bus service.”

Conservative councillor for Morningside Marie-Clair Munro said: “The communities have made their voice clear; they want, and need, a bus service and don’t want to be ignored.

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“If we want people out of cars, then we need good public transport in place – it must be reliable and frequent enough to do so.”

Almond ward councillor Kavin Lang, Lib Dems, said: “At least we have got the services maintained going forward, but as we have heard on a reduced frequency.

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“That’s good, but I think it’s important just to go back a few weeks and remind ourselves where we were. We were weeks away from Ratho having no bus service, we were weeks away from my constituents in Ratho Station having no bus service and we were weeks away from people in Queensferry and Kirkliston who work at the Gyle having no bus service to get to and from work.

“I think if there is one lesson we need to draw from this is what notice does a provider have to give – I’m not suggesting there was any breach of contract but in terms of how we improve this going forward, it’s unacceptable to me that we were left with weeks to potentially sort out a solution to what was a very, very significant and serious problem.”

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The committee agreed to ‘commits to working to improve overall levels of public transport for West and South West Edinburgh during this term of the Council’.

Graeme McFarlan, commercial director for First Bus Scotland, said: “We are pleased to confirm following lengthy discussions with City of Edinburgh Council that we will be continuing to operate services 20 and 63 having been awarded revised contracts by the council.

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“As these are services owned by the council and tendered out to bus operators, our initial contract had come to a natural end.

“It was important for us to pro-actively collaborate with City of Edinburgh Council to ensure we can deliver a reliable bus service for these communities in the face of the ongoing industry wide driver shortages which we are still contending with.

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“Following that collaborative discussion, we have accepted a one-year extension to provide service continuity across these routes.”

New timetables for the 20 and 63 can be viewed here.

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