David Stewart MSP joined an Elgin bus stop protest today (October 4) to fight for the reinstatement of an axed bus service.
A funding blackhole, caused by developers’ contributions from Scotia Homes and Robertson Homes reaching the end of its lifespan, means the vital bus service that covered a circular route around Elgin is no longer viable for the operator Deveron Coaches to run.
For the first time in weeks, pensioners have found a reason to stand at the bus stop now heartlessly happed-up with a black bin liner.
“It’s a shame. The bus got people out. I’ve no company now”, said 86-year-old Belle Anderson as she looks around at the small crowd of people roughly her own age, comrades-in-arms, who are out in protest after being left isolated by the bus service cut.
The scrapping of a popular 28-seater bus that they have come to rely on as their daily link to the outside world has left their stop next to Bishopmill Primary surplus to supply.
“I’ve come out today to tell the Scottish Government we want our bus back”, said Mrs Anderson.
“It’s got to be worth a try.”
Three home-made carboard placards waved above her head echoing her calls as the campaign calling for the reinstatement of thebus service enters its eighth week.
The fight was launched in late August by MSP David Stewart.
Today’s renewed effort to give the battle a fresh twist saw 15 protesters, at least three of whom were in their early nineties, out on a nippy October morning to stand shoulder to shoulder with Elgin Community Council member Douglas Clark.
He said he was determined to send a clear message to the First Minister, whose government turned down his council’s funding bid.
“Where’s our bus Nicola?” said his placard.
“Not just a bus – A lifeline!” said another’s.
Eighty-eight-year-old Grace McBeath is testament.
“I hardly go out now,” she said.
“I’m tired by the time I walk all the way to the Eight Acres Hotel and I don’t like standing around in the cold waiting for the Stagecoach bus. There’s no shelter there.”
Another woman complained that she misses the bus “dreadfully”.
I’m 93 so I can’t walk as far as I used to,” she said.
“The bus went to all the main points that I needed to get to – the shops, the doctors, the hospital, even the railway station. We really need it back.”
Another campaigner, Malcolm Hunter, said he joined the bus stop protest out of fears for what the future might bring.
“I have a degenerative illness which means although I’m able to drive just now in the future I won’t be able to,” he said.
“It’s a mile to the nearest shop from MacIntosh Drive where I live and its about £6 one-way for a taxi. Life could become quite prohibitive for me, so this bus is really important.”
Lead bus campaigner Sara Marsh said she knocked on doors to tell the pensioners about the protest.
“When I ask them how they are doing since the bus stopped they all say “fine” but the truth is they’re mostly sat at home all day now because they can’t get to the town centre like they used to. It’s expensive for a taxi so they can’t be paying for one every day. The loss of the bus has made a massive difference to their lives. It’s such a shame.”
In a bid to get the bus reinstated, Elgin Community Council wrote to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon requesting a share of a new £500 million Scottish Government fund set up to encourage bus travel. It was turned down.
Mr Clark said: “We won’t be giving up. We’ll be writing back to the First Minister to tell her that we understand the current Scottish Government policy is that bus services are operated on a commercial basis which means operators can decide to cut services if they are not covering their operating costs.
“But we believe that this policy unfairly affects smaller communities and rural areas and we would like the Scottish Government to recognise that this policy of theirs is unsustainable and completely ignores the social and environmental costs that arise when communities lose their limited bus services. It’s not good enough to leave it to bus service operators to look at profit and loss balance sheets in isolation from the costs that the Scottish Government will need to carry as a consequence of vulnerable people losing their independence and social interaction. Our initial letter to the First Minister made this point precisely. The 340/341 bus was not simply a means of transport. It was a meeting place, a place where people could check on the welfare of others and that is why the term ‘community centre on wheels’ was coined.
“Elgin cannot be the only community suffering because of this unsustainable approach to bus services. It is time to change the policy and we would like to see Nicola Sturgeon and Transport Scotland take the lead in bringing about this necessary change.”
MSP David Stewart said: “I will continue to back these passengers and my discussions with stakeholders including Moray Council and Stagecoach are ongoing. The knock-on-effect the loss of this bus is going to have on older people’s health through social isolations cannot be calculated. But it was such a good turnout today and my thanks to everyone who turned up. What a lovely bunch of people they are. I was so touched by the community spirit. It’s heartening to see a community taking care of its older people in this way.”