Rival transport companies in Aberdeen are engaged in a bitter dispute over space at the city’s bus station.
Flixbus, a relative newcomer to transport in the UK which is partnered with McGill’s and says it has “transported tens of thousands of people to and from Aberdeen since its launch in August”, claims that rival company Stagecoach is blocking access to the bus station to “keep out competitors”.
Passengers travelling with Flixbus have had to disembark on Littlejohn Street rather than the bus station due to the company having no designated spaces.
Stagecoach say that Aberdeen’s bus station is smaller than others and therefore safety “must be a priority to avoid overcrowding of both people and vehicles”.
Flixbus said that Stagecoach’s managing director for north Scotland, David Beaton, informed Flixbus managing director Andreas Schorling in an email on April 24, that owing to a recent health and safety assessment that the FlixBus slots would be withdrawn.
Mr Schorling said: “Stagecoach has an ownership stake in Scottish Citylink which is a direct competitor to FlixBus and operates some of the lines for them. There is a glaring conflict of interests when it comes to their management of the bus station.”
He added: “Despite Stagecoach’s claims that we are ‘in discussion’, officials have made no effort to consult with us or find a resolution in the last two months and in fact refused a dispute resolution. Operations staff from our coach partner McGill’s offered a meeting, but Stagecoach declined without explanation.
“We have evidence that Aberdeen Bus Station’s utilisation is not maximised and in fact being used largely as a parking facility for buses and coaches rather than as a pickup point for passengers. We suspect this is a deliberate misuse of the space to keep out competitors.
“The Scottish transport minister Kevin Stewart has told us to liaise with Aberdeen City Council to minimise any adverse impact on passengers. We have requested an urgent meeting to seek the council’s support, to ensure residents are being offered a full and fair choice of services from their local bus station.”
FlixBus adviser Jack Irvine added, “Stagecoach’s pig-headedness is causing consternation for our passengers and the council cannot be happy that we are having to load luggage and passengers on the street which is clearly a safety issue.
“We keep hearing about Stagecoach having health and safety issues inside the bus station and that’s why they won’t give us slots. How about the health and safety issues of us being forced onto the street. Incidentally we have still to see the supposed health and safety concerns Stagecoach have about Flixbus being present in the bus station.
“This is the kind of behaviour we saw in the British bus industry 30 years ago especially by Stagecoach. Next thing you know they’ll be running competition off the roads.”
A spokesperson for Stagecoach said: “As the local community in Aberdeen will know, the bus station is smaller than others and therefore we must make safety a priority to avoid overcrowding of both people and vehicles.
“We are therefore continuing to carry out the recommendations from our safety review and a further meeting is scheduled for June 14 where we will agree the new departure slots available, following the redesign of Union Square Bus Station. Operators will be informed of slot availability after that meeting.
“Flixbus have continued to publicly complain about the situation but have not been in touch with us for over a month, nor have they used their four allocated departure slots and instead have made the decision to use Littlejohn Street as opposed to the accusation that we have ‘forced them out’.
“It is also normal for buses to stop and allow passengers to board from the street in the form of bus stops and bus shelters, which is common across the UK.
“Flixbus have continued to fail to raise their complaints through the proper procedures, yet we are open to discussion via the proper method than continuing this current public ‘bus war’ that they are intending.”
An Aberdeen City Council spokesperson said: “The bus station is privately owned and operated, and as such the council does not have any control on its operation. At the same time, bus stations should be open and available on a fair basis to all operators.
“We are aware that Stagecoach is working with Flixbus, but there are capacity limitations at Aberdeen bus station, which has meant that the revised Flixbus timetable could not be fully accommodated at the bus station in the timeframe requested.
“We have worked closely with Flixbus on finding a suitable alternative location in the city and are keen to ensure the alternative location is as suitable as possible. We also have an upcoming meeting planned to further consider the matter.”