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Pressure piling on council to restore ‘essential’ school bus service

Liam Kerr MSP and Ken McLeod of Aberdeen City Council at the bus stop for the Hazlehead to Mannofield bus
Local councillor Ken McLeod, left, and Liam Kerr MSP in Mannofield asking the council to restore funding for the Number 52 bus service. Image: Liam Kerr MSP

Parents, community councillors and MSPs are campaigning to restore a long-running bus service from Mannofield to Hazlehead Academy.

After Aberdeen City Council cut the bus service earlier this month, parents immediately voiced their objections.

In an effort to convince the council to reconsider, parents told The Press and Journal how much they and their children rely on the bus to get to school safely and on time.

In the meantime, the Braeside and Mannofield Community Council has penned a letter to local councillors asking for help. They called the service “essential” for students to get to school safely and questioned some of the council’s priorities in how it chooses to allocate funding.

The letter asks for the service to be restored or for the council to find another solution for families.

And MSP Liam Kerr has added his voice to the fray. He submitted his own letter to the council and recorded a video on social media to highlight the families’ dilemma.

What happened to the Hazlehead bus?

At this month’s crunch budget meeting, the council cut funding to Bus Number 52, which connected students in Mannofield to Hazlehead Academy via Springfield Road. The almost three-mile route was axed to save the council £18,000.

Many students at Hazlehead Academy will have to find a new way to school when they return from Easter holidays. Image: Paul Smyth/DC Thomson

The ‘almost’ proved crucial in this instance, because the council is only obligated to provide transportation for students who live over three miles away from school.

That means that when the service officially stops after the Easter holidays, students in Mannofield face a 2.5-mile walk to school each morning and afternoon.

For students at the end of the route, this means walking an hour to school each way. Otherwise, families will need to make new arrangements for making the drive into town.

Hazlehead bus called a ‘vital’ service

Soon after the decision was made and The Press and Journal highlighted the issues facing local families, Scottish Conservative MSP Liam Kerr called on the council to reverse their decision.

“I am aware that the current Aberdeen City Council administration has been forced to make some tough decisions around funding while setting the 2023/24 budget.

“However, I am appalled that the administration is seemingly prepared to put children’s safety at risk by cutting the Number 52 bus service.

“I would therefore be grateful if you could advise me what consideration will be given to keeping this vital service.”

In an incredibly short-sighted move, the SNP-Lib Dem administration at #Aberdeen Council are axing the #52 from…

Posted by Liam Kerr MSP on Tuesday, 21 March 2023

If restoring the service isn’t possible, he added, then he asked for the council to create safe crossings along Queen’s Road for students who may now need to walk or cycle to school.

“There is genuine concern that it is only a matter of time before there is a serious accident.

“Something which could be mitigated if appropriate crossing points were put in place.”

Community council asking for help

In a letter to local councillors, the community council claimed that cutting the popular bus service will make it unsafe for many children to get to school.

This graphic shows the potential walking and driving times students are facing now that bus services have been cut. Distances and times are estimated from Google Maps and use the bus stops as starting points. Many students’ walks will be longer than the estimates shown. Image: Clarke Cooper/DC Thomson Design

“This service provides the safest and most convenient transport method for these students,” it said. “The withdrawal of the service will result in alternative methods of attending school needing to be undertaken.”

Of those methods – walking, cycling or driving to school – the community council flagged potential health and safety issues with each.

More parents driving to school adds to traffic congestion and increases the city’s carbon footprint. Cycling or walking can be “dangerous on so many levels,” with winter weather and city traffic creating hazards. And trying to catch regular city buses will add extra pressure to the general public.

Bring back the bus, or help find another way

The letter from the community council concluded with two clear requests.

“In the first instance, and as a priority, we would ask that you take whatever action is necessary to ensure the funding for this essential bus service is reinstated.

“Secondly, we also ask, if the bus service is to be withdrawn, can you advise us what alternative arrangement the City Council intends to implement to ensure that Hazlehead Academy students who made use of the number 52 bus service can travel safely to and from their place of education.”

Council yet to budge

Aberdeen City Council has been asked to comment on the matter. As of Wednesday afternoon, the council has not given parents any indication that the bus service might return. According to posts on the Mannofield community Facebook page, local councillor Ian Yuill has contacted route operator First.

He said that he has asked about the possibility of running Number 52 as an entirely commercial route.

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