Bus grants plea to shelter passengers from fare rises

City leaders are to demand that the Scottish Government thinks again about a grant cut that has forced Lothian Buses to increase fares and cut services.

The Capital’s biggest bus operator has confirmed the cost of an adult single bus ticket will rise by 10p to £1.40 from March 4, while an adult day ticket will go up by 30p to £3.50.

There will be no increase in child and student fares or Airlink and night bus tickets.

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The council-owned bus company blamed a multi-million pound cut in the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) from the Scottish Government and a drop in revenue as a result of fewer passengers travelling into town because of tram works.

Council leader Jenny Dawe and transport leader Gordon Mackenzie are to write to Transport Minister Keith Brown to raise their concerns about the impact of the cut.

The SNP group, part of the coalition that runs Edinburgh, also pledged to help put forward the city’s case to their party colleagues at Holyrood.

Lothian Buses managing director Ian Craig said the company prided itself on being a low-fares operator and the decision to put up fares had not been taken lightly.

He said: “It is, however, a necessary step to ensure we safeguard services as best we can and continue to invest in the quality of our operation and our environmental objectives.

“We appreciate that our customers are experiencing their own financial challenges and we have endeavoured to keep the increases to a minimum.”

A comparison with other cities shows a day ticket in Newcastle costs the same as Edinburgh at £3.50, while a similar ticket is £4.80 in Aberdeen, £5 in Glasgow and £6 in Brighton.

Mr Craig said Lothian Buses had saved a seven-figure sum through internal efficiencies, while service revisions – also due to come into effect on March 4 – had brought savings too. But the fare increases, which average six per cent, were inevitable to keep the business sustainable.

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He said: “Last year, despite Princes Street closing in September, we grew the business by four per cent up till then, then it flattened out, but we still had growth of 2.5 per cent overall.

“Our business is geared to take people into the centre and back from the centre, so if demand lessens for activity in the centre, that impacts on us.

“It is a significant factor, but we recognise it is short term and we have experienced it before – we have seen the effect and how we come out of it.”

He said the company was in a much stronger position than it had been in 2008/9, when it had to report a loss, then downsize the business by ten per cent and put fares up 16 per cent.

“It took two or three years to recover from that,” he said.

“At the end of 2007 we had had record passenger numbers and been named Bus Operator of the Year. Circumstances changed incredibly quickly and in retrospect we did not react quickly enough.”

He also warned there could be more financial pressures next year thanks to planned changes in the money bus operators receive for concessionary fares.

Cllr Mackenzie said: “We will seek a meeting with the minister, particularly on the cut in the bus service operators’ grant.”

On the fares rise, he said: “Lothian Buses is a very well-run business and I have no doubt that they have done this reluctantly. I think it has to be our overarching concern to ensure that Lothian Buses remains a strong operator.”