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Aberdeen’s nightlife is ‘back with abundance’ – but where are the buses and taxis for getting home?

The lack of taxis and buses is having an impact on people working and socialising into the early hours.
The lack of taxis and buses is having an impact on people working and socialising into the early hours.

Nightlife in Aberdeen was put on hold when Covid hit in March 2020.

More than two years on, restaurants, pubs and clubs are once again full of life – and people – into the early hours of the morning.

But many late-night travel services have not returned, raising concerns for the safety of those trying to find a way home.

Revellers have taken to social media in recent months to share their frustration – and worries – about the lack of buses and taxis available after midnight.

Safe options needed

Volunteers from the Street Pastors, who offer support to those enjoying a night out in Aberdeen, have witnessed first-hand the levels of people finding themselves stranded on the city’s streets.

Director Adrian Rowett said it is a “shame” the night bus services from Stagecoach and First have not yet been reinstated.

Adrian Rowett is director of the Street Pastors in Aberdeen. Picture by DC Thomson.

“There has always been a degree of confusion about the buses, but at least they were an option,” he said. “However, I would say the loss of the taxi marshals is a bigger issue.

“When the marshals were there, it was clear to taxi drivers where they had to go and there was an understanding for people looking for taxis that they went to specific locations – the taxi ranks. Everyone knew the rules.”

The need for marshals at taxi ranks in the city has not gone unheard and the council has reinstated the role in the past few weeks.

An Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said: “We promote city centre community safety through sustained partnership and effective measures including taxi marshals  which were redeployed on June 17.

“We are the first city to gain a Purple Flag award in recognition of efforts to improve community safety in the city centre.”

On Tuesday, councillors also agreed to reinstate the taxi rank on Back Wynd which police are hopeful will “dent the number of incidents in busy queues”.

The taxi rank on Back Wynd in Aberdeen. Picture by Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

Nightlife back ‘in full swing’

While the Street Pastors director believes the pandemic “killed the taxi business”, the co-owner of Aberdeen Taxis explained it was not as simple as that.

Chris Douglas has worked in the industry for almost 20 years – and has witnessed a number of significant changes in that time.

“Taxis are seen as public transport but they are self-funded,” he said. “There was no government support for operators during the pandemic but taxis were the only transport running.

“Covid decimated working taxi ranks because there were no people on the streets. A large percentage of those drivers were over 65 and many didn’t want to renew their cars. But that’s just one part of it.

“Booking offices managed to pick up other work do it wasn’t all bad. It was not easy, but not all bad.”

Now, almost a year after party-goers were welcomed back to late-night venues, the lack of drivers is continuing to create challenges for taxi firms – and potential passengers.

Chris Douglas, co-owner of Aberdeen Taxis. Picture by Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

Nightlife is ‘back with abundance’

Mr Douglas added: “There has been a tremendous difference since restrictions eased and nightlife in Aberdeen was back in full swing.

“It’s back with abundance – the night-time economy is good and there is an appetite for going out. But there is a problem in the city.

“With no night buses, there is a massive knock-on effect. We would welcome the return of some buses to take the pressure off.”

Mr Rowett added that busyness has “varied hugely” in the first half of this year – with crowds filling Union Street on some nights and the same area being completely deserted on others.

On a recent Friday night, the volunteers witnessed more than 1,500 people leaving Atik on Bridge Street at 3am – who then all had to find a way home.

Pre-Covid there were buses available to Hillhead Halls of residence into the early hours which meant many students had a reliable and safe way back to their front doors.

Trades working together

In recent months, taxi firms have been working with Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeen Inspired to try and find a suitable solution to the late night travel problem.

“There are issues in the taxi sector but they are being addressed,” Mr Douglas said. “Our head is not in the sand.

“For the first time, trades are working together with partners to find a good resolution.”

Ewan Mclean, Scotland’s only night time economy manager, stressed there is recognition of the problem which would be helped with access to “good quality transport”.

Aberdeen Inspired night-time economy manager Ewan McLean. Picture by Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

“Access to the nighttime economy is essential for a vibrant city and people need to be able to access the social and cultural benefits of the city,” he said.

“When they come into the city, they need to know they have a reliable way home. Otherwise, they won’t be coming in and we won’t have that economic regeneration that we need.”

Keeping staff safe

It is not just night-time revellers who are being impacted by the limited transport options, but also those who work at the venues.

George Mackenzie, operations manager at Cheerz on Exchange Street, said all venues have a duty of care policy to make sure people get home – but transport also has to be safe and available.

He said: “From a personal point of view, I finish work late six days a week, and there is always a taxi queue and a lack of taxis. I’ve seen myself queuing for a minimum of an hour, sometimes two hours.

“Sometimes you’ll be cheaper to book a hotel in the city centre rather than going home. It just adds to the cost of people going on a night out – a taxi to Portlethen, for example, is a lot of money, and it’s just a shame that there’s not a late-night bus service.”

George Mackenzie at Cheerz Bar. Picture by Darrell Benns/DC Thomson.

Mr Mackenzie added that more needs to be done and suggested bus companies launch a survey to gain a better idea of demand.

“It would probably get an overwhelming response,” he said. “They need to know what times the buses would be beneficial.

“It would be a lot safer if there was late-night bus transportation, rather than people being stuck out on the street.”

In North Ayrshire, councillors have recently voted to obligate businesses to make sure workers got home safe at night. This means hospitality companies in the area will have to provide transport for their staff members working late.

Unite has also launched its Get Me Home Safely campaign which calls for employers and governments to play their part in keeping night staff safe.

A return to pre-pandemic levels?

It appears that transport providers are looking to customers to see if there is a need for late-night bus services to be brought back.

People are being advised to raise their concerns with their local councillor to add their voice to the issue.

In response to the recent queries about the lack of services past midnight, First Aberdeen has said it is “hopeful” its night buses will be reinstated in the area.

Operations manager David Adam said: “We are still working hard to return our services to pre-pandemic levels.

“We are continuing to monitor passenger levels and review our services on a daily basis, and are hopeful our night services will return when there is a clear requirement.”

One of the former First Aberdeen night services on Union Street. Picture by DC Thomson.

Meanwhile, Stagecoach is also keeping an eye on demand for its former “Nightbird” services.

A Stagecoach spokesman said: “Our Nightbird services to Westhill, Stonehaven and Ellon were withdrawn in March 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

“We continue to work closely with local partners to understand the city’s plans for the ​night-time economy and how we can tailor and develop our services to support those plans.

“We’re continuing to review potential options for network improvements as we exit the pandemic, which may include the reintroduction of night services later in 2022.”