Scottish fact of the day: Lothian Buses

A number 33 bus out on service during the bus strike in November 1964. Picture: TSPL
A number 33 bus out on service during the bus strike in November 1964. Picture: TSPL
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LOTHIAN Buses, one of two municipal bus firms in Scotland, is the largest provider of buses in Edinburgh.

The City of Edinburgh Council own 91 per cent of the firm, with the remainder being owned by the East Lothian, Midlothian and West Lothian councils, with Lothian Buses serving parts of East Lothian and Midlothian. Despite there being no services to West Lothian, the four authorities own the company which gave rise to the slogan ‘your locally-owned buses’.


The roots of Lothian Buses can be traced back to the Edinburgh Street Tramways Company of 1871, which at times involved the Leith, Musselburgh and Edinburgh North tramway firms as well.

Painted in dark red - ‘madder’ - and white, the livery of the trams is still used by Lothian Buses to this day.

The inaugural tram service ran from Haymarket to Bernard Street on November 6, 1871, replacing an earlier horse-drawn coach system.

Cable-hauled trams were introduced in January 1888, and in 1894, the Edinburgh Street Tramway lines (in Edinburgh, but not Leith or Portobello) were taken over by the Edinburgh and District Tramways Company. Leith Corporation took over the horse-drawn Leith tramlines in 1904, and introduced electric traction in 1905 - the first electric system in Scotland.

Edinburgh council took over the running of the tramways in July 1919, at the time when most of the system was cable-operated. Edinburgh Corporation then took over the Leith system in 1920, when it ceased to be a separate burgh, although there were initially problems with Leith’s electrified system, and Edinburgh’s cable-hauled network.

Electrification of the network was finally completed by 1923, but the first motor buses had been on the streets for four years by this stage. Indeed, Edinburgh Corporation had introduced its first motor bus in 1914 and as more and more buses were gradually introduced, the operation was renamed the Edinburgh Corporation Transport Department in 1928.

Following World War II, diesel buses began to replace all municipal tramways in the United Kingdom. Abandonment of the Edinburgh tramways began in 1950 and lasted until 1956, although one surviving tramcar - number 35, built in 1948 - can still be seen at the National Tramway Museum in Derbyshire.

Bus boom and rebranding

As Edinburgh’s streets began to see more and more buses introduced, the new vehicles followed the same routes used by the trams, and ran under the same route numbers. This led to some anomalies that lasted for over 50 years - the Pleasance, a major city road, wasn’t served by Lothian Buses until 2010, as its northern end was too steep for trams.

In 1975, the reorganisation of local government following the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 led to ownership of the Edinburgh Corporation Transport passing to the Lothian Regional Council of Public Transport, with the operation being rebranded Lothian Regional Transport.

The Transport Act 1985 deregulated Britain’s bus services, and dictated that municipal bus operations be handled as commercial companies and not public service departments. And so, in October 1986, the operation was branded Lothian Region Transport plc., better known as LRT, and Lothian Regional Council owned the company outright.

In April 1996, Lothian Regional Council was abolished, and although the Conservative government at the time had tried to have the company privatised, their efforts were met with great resistance from local politicians, and the company’s ownership passed to the newly-created City of Edinburgh Council, and the three neighbouring councils.

The LRT identity remained until January 2000, when the company was again renamed, this time to Lothian Buses plc, with the familiar LRT logo being replaced by ‘Lothian’.


Lothian experienced fluctuating periods of competition and stability with Edinburgh’s other major bus operator, First, and its previous incarnations SMT and Eastern Scottish. During this period, Lothian acquired a number of smaller Edinburgh operators.

In 2001, Lothian alleged anti-competitive practices by First, with the claim being thrown out by the Office of Fair Trading.

However, Lothian initially extended operation beyond the City of Edinburgh’s boundaries, in retaliation to Eastern Scottish sending buses into the authority’s area.

Lothian eventually withdrew from West Lothian, leaving the area to First - but the council remains a shareholder in Lothian Buses, despite the lack of services.

Transport for Edinburgh

In August 2013, Edinburgh Council unveiled the creation of Transport for Edinburgh, a new public body introduced to oversee the capital’s public transport, taking in buses as well as the new tram system.

One of its first priorities was to facilitate integration between bus and tram services, with the new trams carrying similar liveries to the buses as well as the same Transport for Edinburgh logo on all vehicles.