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New bus provider for problem Mearns route

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An Angus firm will take over the running of a controversial Mearns school bus route after Aberdeenshire Council pulled the plug on the previous operator.

Councillors have welcomed a pledge that a single-decker 70-seat coach will be used to ferry youngsters from Auchenblae to Mearns Academy from the start of the new term after complaints that a double-decker had been used on a route which witnessed a serious school coach crash in 2010.

There had also been reports of teachers having to drive kids to class due to the bus breaking down, leading to them being late for their exams.

Local politicians and the secondary’s parent council had pressed for action after concerns over the service escalated.

The use of a double decker on the route sparked worries of a repeat of the incident almost eight years ago which led to 19 children being injured after a school bus toppled in stormy conditions, landing on its side in a field at Garvock Hill.

Half a dozen pupils were hospitalised as a result of injuries suffered in the crash.

An Aberdeenshire Council spokesperson said the contract with the previous operator was terminated following a vehicle failing safety checks carried out by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

The company had the right to appeal but its challenge was unsuccessful.

The authority has now confirmed that from Monday April 16, when schools return after the Easter holidays, the route will be operated by Angus firm Wishart of Friockheim.

Aberdeenshire Council education and children’s services committee chair, Councillor Gillian Owen, said: “We take the transport of children to and from school very seriously.

“We have listened very carefully to the concerns parents and the school had.

“I am pleased to see that a 70-seat single decker bus will be used.

“I hope this reassures parents and the local community of our commitment to children’s safety.”

Mearns SNP councillor Leigh Wilson said: “I was incredibly concerned to hear that a double decker was, once again, being used to transport Auchenblae pupils to school in Laurencekirk.

“The winding nature of the road with sharp corners and soft verges make this kind of vehicle entirely unsuitable if we are to ensure our children are taken to school safely.

“I campaigned against this most recently at education committee in February and I am therefore delighted that Wishart’s have confirmed this practice will no longer continue once they take over the tender.

“It is a victory for pupils’ safety,” he said.

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