Councillor slams ‘horrendous price increase’ for passengers

COUNCILLOR Stuart Marshall has said he is “appalled” by a sudden increase in bus fares for passengers travelling between Hawick and Denholm.

Following a controversial move by First Group which saw them taking full commercial control of service 20, not only has former route operator McEwan’s lost out on the formerly subsidised contract – but local passengers are being hit in the pocket.

With reports of the cost of a return fare from Hawick to Denholm rising from £1.95 to £3.40 since Monday, and a bus ride from Weensland Road to Mart Street costing £1.50, Councillor Marshall blasted: “I am appalled by this price hike. This is a horrendous increase. I’ve had numerous complaints, including one lady who used to pay £9.75 weekly return from Denholm, and this week it’s up to £16.”

The Hawick to Kelso bus route, via Denholm and Jedburgh, is deemed “socially necessary” by Scottish Borders Council and as a result has been subsidised under their control – previously held by McEwan’s since 2009 who were amongst firms bidding for the contract. But at a meeeting of Teviot and Liddesdale Area Committee on Tuesay during a discussion about bus services, it was heard that a price rise on the route was inevitable. First Group representative Neil McNaught stated: “We are running a commercial service and putting in what we think is a realistic fare.”

Colin Douglas, SBC’s passenger transport manager, added: “McEwan’s prices were actually lower than recommended by the council, which has left a legacy difficult for First to address. Although it is unfortunate fares are up, because it’s no longer commercially operated it gives the council a bit of money for additional services in Hawick.”

Paul Thomas, managing director for First in Scotland East, told the Hawick News: “In order to sustain this service on a commercial basis some of the previous fare levels were reviewed. At the same time we extended the range of discounted travel tickets which First offer to those travelling on service 20.”

Mr Thomas said regular travellers can save by purchasing zonal products where they can obtain unlimited travel from £2.57 per day if in one zone. But Mr Marshall added: “The people I represent deserve much better than hikes like this.”