Michael Matheson, cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity, told Parliament on Thursday evening that the surge in vandalism was “unacceptable.” His comments come just days after eight buses serving the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary were targeted by thugs throwing rocks in the Old Dalkeith Road and Gilmerton Road areas.
Lothian Buses decided to suspend all services in Edinburgh after 7.30pm on Wednesday night, although night buses continued to run as scheduled. There were also a small number of incidents reported prior to the suspension of evening services on Wednesday. On Thursday, evening services will resume.
Mr Matheson was responding to an urgent parliamentary question on Thursday from Labour Lothian MSP Sarah Boyack, asking about the government’s response to the suspension. Ms Boyack said she is worried the Capital is seeing “increased copycat and escalating threats” which are “utterly unacceptable.”
The cabinet secretary said: “I deplore attacks in recent weeks on bus services in Edinburgh which have resulted in two bus drivers suffering injuries and requiring hospital attention. Attacks on key workers are totally unacceptable.
“They threaten the essential services on which communities rely. Everyone has the right to be safe and feel safe in their community. Police Scotland and local authorities lead on interventions on tackling antisocial behaviour and I understand extra police officers have been deployed.
“Lothian Buses are also working closely with Police Scotland, unions and councils to tackle the issue and to keep their staff safe and passengers safe.
“I call on communities to work with Police Scotland to assist them in tackling antisocial behaviour.”
Mr Matheson highlighted mechanisms such as antisocial behaviour orders and issuing fixed penalty notices as ways to combat the problem, as well as the need for youth support organisations to intervene as part of a “concerted effort.”
Scottish Conservative Lothian MSP Miles Briggs also described the behaviour as “shameless and senseless” and asked Mr Matheson whether the government and police will look to establish an antisocial behaviour taskforce with Lothian Buses and their drivers, to ensure such behaviour “never happens again.”
Mr Matheson said he would ask his justice colleagues to “pick up on the suggestion” for a taskforce to tackle the issues, acknowledging the desire to find a long term solution.
Zero tolerance approach
As services resume, buses will be kept under review and the company will be taking a zero tolerance approach by removing buses from any areas as soon as there is an incident there.
Chief Inspector Sarah Taylor, local area commander for north west Edinburgh, said previously that officers have been patrolling on buses, in vehicles, and on foot in areas affected and, by Tuesday, had identified and charged 18 young people.
On Wednesday, a 15-year-old boy was also charged in connection with the vandalism of buses and a taxi in the south east of the city on Monday.
Other incidents have included a bus driver being injured in Niddrie when the front window was smashed.
On Tuesday, one Lothian employee told the Edinburgh Evening News that drivers are “genuinely scared” about driving at night just now as it is happening on “almost a nightly basis.”