Stagecoach urged to rethink plans to axe vital bus services

Last week, Perth and Kinross Council unanimously called on the bus operator to reconsider proposed timetable changes.

Stagecoach is facing calls to rethink proposed timetable changes that would see services in and around Perthshire axed.

Last week, Perth and Kinross Council unanimously called on the bus operator to reconsider.

On Wednesday, March 6, elected members from across the chamber shared their anger and frustration at the shock announcement which would see vital services slashed and leave communities cut off.

Carse of Gowrie councillor Alasdair Bailey – whose ward would be worst affected – tabled the motion which got the full backing of every councillor.

If pushed through Stagecoach’s proposals would see: the Carse of Gowrie lose its weekday service, service cuts to buses serving Highland Perthshire, Strathtay and Strathearn wards as well as Perth, Ninewells and Perth Royal Infirmary. The consultation closes on Sunday, March 10 with the changes due to come into force from Monday, April 29.

Tabling his special motion to the chamber on Wednesday, the Labour councillor said: “I’d like to send the message that everyone in this chamber is gravely concerned about the proposed changes. And to highlight the severe disadvantage this will put affected communities at.”

Bailie Bailey’s motion called on councillors to note their “grave concern” about cuts to services and for Stagecoach “to enter into a constructive dialogue with the council’s officers about potential ways to minimise the impact of these reductions on local residents”.

Bailie Rhona Brock – who represents Strathearn ward – seconded the motion.

The independent councillor said: “I am very disappointed that Stagecoach are proposing these reductions to bus services in our communities and I can see no initiative in it, only a multinational bottom line. Bus services are essential services in our communities and this is why the council already provides significant subsidy to operators including Stagecoach to ensure a reasonable level of service across Perth and Kinross.

“It is therefore vital that the council speaks loud and clear on the importance of this matter to us and our constituents and makes the strongest possible representation to Stagecoach in the hope they will listen and reverse them.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Liz Barrett put forward two further points to be incorporated into the motion which were agreed.

She asked that PKC “requests Stagecoach to extend the consultation period to allow the general public, local councils, NHS Tayside and other interested parties to fully consider and assess the proposed cuts and to provide comprehensive responses”.

She also asked that the leaders of all the council’s political groups write a joint letter to transport minister Fiona Hyslop “calling for Scottish Government intervention with Stagecoach to pause and extend the consultation pending publication of the full details and impact assessment”.

Tabling the amendment she said: “The timescale for responses to the proposals is completely inadequate and does not provide reasonable and fair opportunities for residents and the council to respond.

“The lack of engagement with the councils of Perth and Kinross and Dundee and with NHS Tayside demonstrates a lack of transparency and good faith, which isn’t what we might have expected from a local company who make significant profits and benefit from several contracts with the council, and the Scottish Government subsidy of free bus passes. That is why we are also calling for intervention by the Scottish Government.”

Responding to the proposal to withdraw the X7 service between Perth Royal Infirmary and Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital she said: “Many people in Perth rely on the X7 to get to and from out-patient appointments or to visit patients.

“For those who don’t drive, they face a long and complicated journey, or the expense of a taxi which is beyond the reach of most. Those who have access to a private car are adding to congestion and emissions at a time that we are trying to cut them, and face the joy of waiting over an hour to get into the car parks at Ninewells.”

It was seconded by fellow Liberal Democrat Claire McLaren who was “appalled” at the “hugely unpalatable” proposals. The Perth and Kinross councillor was contacted by two Carse of Gowrie businesses.

Stewarts of Tayside employ 250-800 seasonal workers “who will be paying full fares, rely on the bus to Perth and are daily users of the service”. She said Glendoick Garden Centre was “also deeply concerned” as around 40 restaurant staff travel to and from there by bus as do many customers.

Conservative councillor John Duff said change was needed.

The Highland Perthshire councillor said: “Our public transport budget subsidises a number of bus services to the tune of £2.75m per annum.

“We cannot go on subsidising the current model of public transport, and work is needed, not just in Perth and Kinross, but nationally, to establish an efficient,
sustainable financial model for our public transport service.”

Grant Laing – who travels to the chambers by bus – told councillors PKC’s chief executive Thomas Glen would meet with Stagecoach on Friday.

The council leader said: “The main thing is lack of consultation. Imagine having a lack of consultation with what is probably your largest customer.”

The SNP leader described the 12-day consultation as a “very curtailed process” with the results being sent to the traffic commissioner five days later.

He said: “How are they possibly going to assimilate every piece of input in the consultation? They have to push back the date of this. It does not make sense, it’s not fair and I know the chief executive will press for that on Friday.”

He said it felt “like a kick in the teeth” after the money PKC put into enhancing public transport in its budget last week.

Last week Perth and Kinross Council rejected a £775,000 reduction in local bus service provision. The council also invested £120,00 to offer free bus travel in the area once a month from April 2024 and £325,000 over three years to develop a fully-costed business case for new models of public transport delivery.

Douglas Robertson, managing director at Stagecoach East Scotland said: “Our proposals are designed to improve the longer term sustainability of the bus network across Perth and Kinross, whilst also recognising the financial pressures on bus operators and the reality of very low numbers of passengers using services in certain areas, especially following the pandemic which changed many travel patterns. We appreciate these proposals will cause inconvenience or involve change for some people and any decisions will not be taken lightly.

“The views of local people who use the Stagecoach bus network are very important to us, and that’s why we’re keen to hear from our customers during this consultation period. We will review all feedback received and look at any amendments to the proposal before we finalise timetables.”

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