Better island bus services needed

Brodick bus terminal - 74 per cent of respondents felt a more regular bus service would encourage them to use their car less.

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Action is needed to improve the restricted bus services operating on Arran as the island eases out of lockdown.

The is concern that the services, which stop in the late afternoon, are not meeting the needs of local people or increasingly the rising number of foot passengers coming off the ferry, as not all ferries are being met by buses.

It is understood Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), which funds the buses on Arran to the tune of £832,000 a year, has reduced the number of services and ‘bus miles’ it subsidises from the service provided by Stagecoach Western.

However, with no additional funding allocated, little income for passengers and concerns around capability with social distancing, there seems little chance of the services returning to pre-Covid levels any time soon. There is also a worry over the provision of school buses when the schools resume later this month.

The matter has been discussed by the Arran Recovery Group, the Isle of Arran Ferry Committee and this week at the Arran Community Council video conference meeting. Community council chairman Bill Calderwood said it was clear that the pre-Covid level of service may never be completely restored, adding: ‘Maybe there has to be a little bit of recognition that we may need to be a bit more innovative in our approach to services.’

As reported in last week’s Banner, better bus provision is being pursued by Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson who continues to press for an improvement.

However, a letter he has received from SPT chief executive Gordon Maclennan does not sound hopeful.

He said: ‘It is indeed the case the level of service on the island has been reduced, this being a consequence of the Covid-19 crisis. Up until service reductions were implemented, SPT continued to run as many local subsidised bus services to their scheduled timetable, including those on Arran. However following discussion with operators, it had become clear that with the sudden drop in passenger numbers since the introduction of government lockdown measures, this was no longer viable.

‘As no emergency funding had been made available to support these services, SPT has had to carry out a full a review of some 200 subsidised bus services, which had seen a dramatic drop of users, and to make necessary cuts in order to preserve funding for services in the longer term. It is worth highlighting that during the early period of Covid-19 lockdown, demand for bus travel in parts of Scotland fell by as much as 95 per cent.

‘Working with operators, SPT agreed to maintain services where they were most needed and to introduce a mix of frequency reductions; cuts in operational hours; and in some cases a temporary suspension to services while the situation continued to unfold.

‘Clearly the situation has now moved on and is continuing to progress. As clearer indications are given from the government on lockdown measures beginning to ease, we are working with all our contracted operators to restore SPT supported services as market conditions recover and passenger demand increases. I am bound to observe that whilst we are starting to see some growth in demand for bus travel, levels do generally remain below pre-Covid levels.

‘I regret at present however, we are unable to offer a definitive date as to when and how the bus network on Arran will move from the current operation to pre-Covid levels or similar, but please be assured that SPT remain in close communication with our contractor Stagecoach Western on the matter.’

A spokesman for the Arran Recovery Group said: ‘Buses are still a challenge on the island and a meeting is due to take place with SPT to discuss this further.’