Labour MSP David Stewart will stand shoulder to shoulder with passengers of an axed Moray bus service tomorrow (Friday, October 4) to stage a protest at their bus stop after their bid for funding from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was turned down.
A government transport official has this week replied to the letter Elgin Community Council sent to the First Minister asking for a share of a new £500 million fund set up to encourage bus travel.
It was hoped Mrs Sturgeon would release some funds to reinstate the 340/341 bus service after it was slashed last month due to a funding blackhole.
However, a bus policy officer at the Scottish Government who replied on her behalf revealed the £500 million fund will not be available until next year. And the reply also says the bus industry in Scotland operates in an open market and local authorities have a duty to identify if there is a social need for particular services and can subsidise “but this is entirely at their discretion”.
Mr Stewart said the disappointing response came as no surprise.
He said: “I too have had a knock-back when I approached the Transport Secretary Michael Matheson for funding support for this bus but I am determined to keep the campaign going for these people who’ve been left out in the cold. The First Minister and Moray Council both seem to be washing their hands of this issue but that’s no comfort to the passengers who rely on this bus service to get them out of the house on a daily basis, so they can stay active and continue to be a part of the community.”
Mr Stewart last month joined passengers on the bus to listen to their concerns. He also handed a near 500-name petition set up to save the route to Transport Secretary Michael Matheson. His discussions with the Scottish Government, Moray Council, Stagecoach and other key groups are ongoing.
Bus campaigner Sara Marsh described the most recent reply from the Scottish Government as “pathetic”.
“The response hasn’t even come from Nicola Sturgeon,” she said.
“It’s come from an officer who she’s passed the buck to. This officer says we should approach Moray Council or Stagecoach for funding. Does he think we’re stupid? Doesn’t he realise we’ve not already tried that? I thought it was a pathetic reply.”
Moray Council has said it cannot afford to fund external bus routes.
However, Mrs Marsh believes it has a duty to do more and has vowed to continue pressing the council to negotiate funding from the housing developers who built the Duffus Heights scheme and hundreds more which are planned for Findrassie.
She added: “If the council is allowing planners to build hundreds of homes it should come with a requirement that there is bus infrastructure in place otherwise they’re cutting off the south side where there’s lots of affordable housing and shared housing units for the elderly. New developments need public transport in the same way that they require street lighting, refuse collection etc.”
Douglas Clark of Elgin Community Council said: “We were a bit despondent after reading the Scottish Government’s reply but we’re not giving up. The plan, with agreement from the community council, is to get another letter back to the First Minister saying how disappointed we are with the first letter and what we wanted was some recognition that this bus is much more than just a mode of transport.
“An elderly gentleman who passed by while I was out in the garden the other day told me he’s really missing the company because that’s where he met all his pals. Another woman who’s a wheelchair user was saying she’s having to get taxis now because there’s never a space available on the Dial-A-Bus. There’s either no service at the time she needs or no wheelchair space. We need to keep pressing hard for this. The fight will go on.”
Deveron Homes stopped running the circular bus service last month after the subsidy it was getting from Moray Council though developers contributions from two house building firms came to the end of its lifespan.
The Hamilton Gardens part of service (Service 340) was supported by Scotia Homes and Robertson Homes as a developer commitment to the area until the road linking this development with Covesea was completed.
The Linkwood/South Elgin service (Service 341) was commercially operated by Deveron Coaches.