Bus bosses slam brakes on bid to axe 11 services in Borders

A First bus heading from Galashiels to Hawick.
A First bus heading from Galashiels to Hawick.

Bus bosses have slammed the brakes on plans to scrap almost a dozen services, including several serving Hawick, though they have stopped short of doing the complete U-turn passengers were hoping for.

First Group had planned to axe 11 loss-making routes across the Borders, thanks in part to the popularity of the new Borders Railway among travellers.

From Sunday, August 14, Hawick town services 75, 76 and 77 all faced cancellation, as did the Hawick-to-Galashiels Borders College bus route.

Other services facing the axe were routes between Galashiels and several towns and villages, plus the 73 bus to Bannerfield in Selkirk.

Those proposed cuts sparked an outcry when revealed in May, with many passengers fearing they could be left stranded.

Now, First Group, after consultations with Scottish Borders Council, has agreed to retain a number of services, although many will run on a less regular basis.

The full details of the plans have yet be revealed, but it is known that threatened services to Hawick town centre will continue at a reduced level, and the aim is now to maintain links to Bannerfield and Galashiels.

It is also believed that another operator has stepped in to take over services in Peebles.

That news was greeted with relief by Michael Grieve, chairman of Burnfoot Community Council and the organiser of a protest petition signed by hundreds of disgruntled passengers.

He said: “I’m pleased they are not going through with all the cuts they planned. That’s fantastic news. It’s unfortunate that some services are to be reduced and that we are going to see deregulated services based on profit rather than need, but it could have been much worse.

“We have achieved a partial victory, and some services will be retained, which is a relief.

“That’s good news for the elderly, for whom buses are a lifeline. They cannot afford to pay for a taxi every time they want to go into Hawick town centre, which is itself dying on its feet and needs all the footfall it can get.”

Hawick and Denholm councillor Watson McAteer also welcomed First Group’s change of heart, saying: “While the devil will be in the detail, it is reassuring that First Bus has responded positively to our requests for a service to continue in Hawick.

“Along with my fellow councillor Stuart Marshall, I am disappointed that Scottish Borders Council did not take time to share this good news with Hawick councillors.”

That view was echoed by Mr Marshall, and he added: “I am delighted that my plea to First Bus has been listened to and Hawick will continue to have a town bus service.”

Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar said: “I’m pleased there has been a reconsideration because Bannerfield does require a regular provision as there is not a great availability of vehicles for families.

“I know council officers have done a lot of work on this, and they deserve recognition.”

Paul McGowan, managing director of First Scotland East, said: “I am pleased to say that following very constructive meetings with Scottish Borders Council, a proposal has been submitted for the continuation of the Hawick town service, on a reduced frequency, maintaining links with the surrounding area to the town centre.

“We are also considering alterations which would assist with maintaining a link from Bannerfield in Selkirk and Galashiels.

“We are currently awaiting feedback from Scottish Borders Council. However, we have submitted deregulations to the Traffic Commissioners pending the decision of the council.”