Slump in bus routes across Scotland '˜must be investigated'

The number of bus routes in Scotland has fallen by a fifth over the past decade, while passengers have endured inflation-busting fare rises, it has emerged.

Routes have dropped and fares have increased despite some companies, such as First, getting taxpayer­subsidies. Picture: Michael Gillen

Taxpayer-funded ­subsidies of £2.6 billion have been paid over the past decade to private operators like Stagecoach and First who continue to make huge profits.

However, operators say fare levels are still lower than the UK average and hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested in new buses.

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But Labour has branded the situation “unacceptable” and called for the re-regulation of services in ­Scotland.

There were 3184 bus routes registered with the Traffic Commissioner in 2006/07, but this fell to just 2526 by 2014/15. Fewer Scots are also taking the bus with 414 million journeys made last year, 15 per cent ­fewer than in 2007/08.

The average fare is now £1.53, but this has gone up by 18 per cent in the last five years.

Prices can also vary across the country from 7 pence per mile to £1.80 per mile, according to Citizens Advice Scotland.

Labour’s Transport spokesperson Neil Bibby said: “It is unacceptable that big bus companies have been hiking fares at the same time as ­cutting crucial routes to ­maximise their own profits. This cannot possibly represent value for money.

“Under the SNP, there has been a decade of decline in bus services across the ­country. The deregulated market clearly isn’t working for ­passengers.” Labour says re-regulation would secure a “better deal” from the bus operators.

Companies House figures show Western buses, which operates in Glasgow, making a pre-tax profit of £9.2 million in 2014/15, while Stagecoach’s Fife operation made a profit of £10.2 million.

A spokesman for the ­industry body Confederation of Passenger Transport said; “Bus fares in Scotland are ­lower than the UK average while operators have invested well over £200 million in the last five years on new fleet alone. The industry is committed to improving services.”

John McCormick of the ­Scottish Association for ­Public Transport said: “It can be a vicious cycle where ­passenger numbers begin dropping so the operators put up prices to try and make up the ­shortfall.”

He called for a “serious investigation” by ministers into the issue.