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Aberdeen bus gates: A car crash, a house move and hundreds more complaints ahead of key vote

Aberdeen's newest bus gates drew hundreds of public objections. They've now been published ahead of a vote on the future of the bus gates.

More than 550 objections have been lodged against the new bus gates —but what did people have to say? Image: Scott Baxter/ DC Thomson
More than 550 objections have been lodged against the new bus gates —but what did people have to say? Image: Scott Baxter/ DC Thomson

Aberdeen’s bus gates are said to have been the final straw in people moving out of the city centre – and even to have caused a car crash as desperate drivers tried to avoid fines.

Hundreds of public objections to the council’s bus priority route around Market Street, Guild Street and Bridge Street have been published this week.

On Tuesday, councillors will vote on whether to make the hugely controversial measures permanent.

More than 550 people wrote to the council, during the unusual consultation which was held after the sweeping roads changes had already been put in place.

Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Aberdeen City Council used experimental road rules (Etro) to introduce the bus gates, along with a one-way system in Schoolhill and a ban on right-turns out of Union Terrace onto Rosemount Viaduct.

Business bosses claim the bus gates alone have driven at least 500,000 people away from Aberdeen city centre, year-on-year.

Next week, councillors will be asked to end the controversial trial run and install the “tortuous” changes forever.

Before they do, here’s – only a taste of – what the public make of it all.

In our in-depth look at public opinion on the Aberdeen city centre bus gates, we reveal:
  • Once familiar roads now fill Aberdonians with dread of being fined
  • Even council workers are stumped by the changes
  • The people say: Union Terrace right turn ban needs to go
  • Aberdeenshire councillor: ‘The city doesn’t get it’
  • Bus gate chief says there’s been “no significant detriment” and blames public perception
  • And there are calls for an inquiry into the “autocratic” experimental road rules used to install the bus gates

‘Bus gates stink – Sent from my iPhone’

There were many complaints as the bus gates were rolled out in Aberdeen, as it took many by surprise.

And that brought problems far greater than a fine or warning letter from the local authority for some, according to the anonymised public correspondence.

One objector said: “The bus gates have caused me to be in an accident after a driver in front panicked about the signage and thus slammed on their brakes.”

Another claimed it was a deciding factor in fleeing the city centre – at a time the council strives for more people to move into the heart of Aberdeen.

A bus passing through the Union Street bus gate in Aberdeen city centre in February.
A bus passing through the Union Street bus gate in Aberdeen city centre in February. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson

“I moved out of AB10 postcode to Aberdeenshire,” they wrote at the end of January.

“Various factors contributed to this decision but the demise of Aberdeen city centre and ludicrous decisions to make travelling by car as difficult as possible played a large part.

“If the plan is to continue to kill the city centre, then you are doing a very good job.”

‘Best of luck with your Venus fly traps’

Another respondent, who has lived in Aberdeen since 1999, is also “seriously considering moving away” as city roads are “simply too much hassle”.

Aberdeen bus gate.
A driver caught out by the bus gate. Image: Lauren Taylor/DC Thomson

Others, stung by fines already, ruled out coming into the city centre.

“Best of luck with your truncated bus lanes, venus fly traps, or bus gates as you call them,” the city was wished by a driver who was hit with two fines for the same drive.

A number crunch, real quick

Over the 566 pages of public representations, the word object appears at least 231 times.

Support is used on 56 occasions – but only a handful convey qualified backing for the Etro measures.

Signage warning drivers of oncoming bus gates. Image: Ben Hendry / DC Thomson

With claims shoppers are avoiding Aberdeen city centre, elsewhere is used 27 times and there are 43 ghost towns or places.

There are 26 nails in the Aberdeen city coffin and 13 deaths.

On the other hand, there are 11 instances of good idea.

However, most are in some phrase akin to “Who on earth thinks the bus gates are a good idea?”

Navigating ‘once familiar roads’ fills drivers with fear at being slapped with fines

Locals and visitors alike have been left scratching their heads trying to navigate the city centre after the bus gates were first introduced.

Not only has it caused confusion and “anxiety” on the roads for many drivers, but it has also resulted in people needing to make longer journeys.

A single mum wrote that she struggles to afford to pay for the extra fuel. The family stays in Mastrick and after she has dropped her kids off at Kingsford School she has to journey across the city centre to the harbour.

But, with the bus gate on Guild Street, she now has to make a 10-20 minute detour around the city, and can’t use the buses because they are “not reliable”.

Guild Street bus gate. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

She said: “During the high living cost this adds up, as a single mother it is hard to afford. With driving around the city centre my bills add up even more.”

Aberdeen City Council bus gate chief: ‘There is no significant detriment’

Many commented that the road restrictions have created a “no-go zone” in the city centre, while others have stopped driving in for fear of being caught out by the bus gates.

One objector argued that visitors are no longer coming to Aberdeen because of these “hidden traps”.

They wrote: “It’s not just the issue when you come across a bus gate by mistake, it’s getting out of the area without being trapped by another one.”

Another said: “I like many others simply never go into the city any more unless it’s completely necessary. The idea of trying to navigate once familiar roads fills me with anxiety, it is just not worth attempting it for fear of getting lost and finding myself with a fine.”

In his report to councillors, operations chief Mark Reilly said: “What has been apparent in many communications is a level of perception where some consider the change to be akin to ‘pulling the drawbridges up in the city centre’.

“The contrast though is with an appreciation of the limited extent of the restrictions, and the alternative routes available, there is not a significant detriment.”

Even council workers beg: ‘Please, please remove the bus gates’

And even council workers have found the bus gate roll out “disastrous”.

In their opinion, the road change-up has caused them  stress and inconvenience, and because they live in the south of the city they have found the Guild Street bus gate “particularly difficult to negotiate”.

They added: “These decisions fly in the face of any effort to rejuvenate the city centre with so many businesses struggling at the moment. The bus gates appear utterly unsupportable.

“Please, please, remove them.”

Another person who drives HGV and light vehicles in the fleet said they found the bus gates “restricted” their access when cleaning the main streets of fly-tipping and cutting the grass in the St Nicholas kirkyard.

According to the driver, the workers are now being “hampered” from providing the service.

‘Central Aberdeen much more pleasant’… but not even the supporters don’t object

And even the few supporters of the bus gates are not entirely without complaint.

The most positive submission states central Aberdeen has become “much more pleasant” as a result of the Etro.

The author added: “But, the no right turn from the north end of Union Terrace generates some decidedly odd and undesirable journeys.”

A white car turning right onto Rosemount Viaduct from Union Terrace and a closeup of the sign banning the right turn.
We counted dozens of drivers breaking the new no right turn ban in just one hour. Image: Kenny Elrick / DC Thomson.

This too was the only blotch on the copybook for a second resident.

“I have no objections to anything else but no right turn from Union Terrace into Rosemount Viaduct seems such a strange one.

“For this reason I object.”

A close-up of the signage showing no right turn. It reads: "Except buses, cycles, taxis and authorised vehicles".
Signage does show only buses, cycles, taxis and “authorised vehicles” are exempt from the rule. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

Another, as positive as they get, response said: “It makes my head hurt trying to work out how to get from the beach to Holburn Street.

“I do appreciate that you are attempting to make bus travel better but I would ask you to try and drive across Aberdeen and see how difficult it is.”

The ‘large detour’ west to east around Aberdeen’s bus gates

Many more objected to the Union Terrace right turn ban and the nearby one-way system directing traffic down Schoolhill and onto Harriet Street.

Travelling west to east in the south of the city, for example from Bridge of Dee to Union Square or the beach, now requires “a large detour,” many complained.

The bus gate guarding the entrance into Bridge Street from Union Street also drew ire.

The council’s Mr Reilly responded: “Most drivers will generally be making their way to the city centre from outside its very core.

“With journey planning and using appropriate routes, there will be no real impact on journey length.

“The prohibition of right turns from Union Terrace onto Rosemount Viaduct is based upon the roads hierarchy where Union Street is considered a destination as opposed to a strategic through route.

“It was considered that the restrictions on Schoolhill should be made permanent, primarily from a pedestrian safety perspective, and preventing it being used as a general east-west ‘through’ route.”

Bus services under scrutiny

Concerns were raised too about the reliability of the bus services in to Aberdeen.

Many claimed public transport is lacking, with stripped-back services dating back to the Covid pandemic.

Aberdeen City Council, in introducing the bus gates, was accused of “pandering” to the public transport operators.

The bus station at Union Square. Image: Kami Thomson/ DC Thomson.

There were plenty of examples of people’s struggles to use public transport, being left in the cold waiting for buses.

‘Public transport is shocking’

“Public transport is shocking in the surrounding areas,” a Bucksburn resident said.

“The cheapest and most efficient way for me to get into town is to drive. If Aberdeen still has aspirations of being a major city well into the 21st century, then they really should be looking at expanding the public transport options to include things like better rail links, trams or underground systems.”

Most buses do not run a night service in the city centre with most finishing around 11pm. Image: Lauren Taylor / DC Thomson

Another, from Kingswells, agreed “Public transport is an absolute joke.

“Here, there are no buses at the weekend and the cost is far too expensive.”

But council chief Mark Reilly said: “At this early stage, there is positive indications the new bus priority measures are improving journey times and reliability.

Shoppers look to Dundee, Elgin and Inverurie, claiming ‘Aberdeen’s loss is their gain’

Many have looked to Inverurie because of the town’s “big name shops” and reasonable parking fees, while others consider travelling to Dundee or Elgin — or even further afield to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

One person wrote: “I will now no longer be coming into Aberdeen city centre to shop or for any other purpose. It is not far too difficult to navigate.

“Dundee or Elgin will get my money now.”

Another claimed the bus gates are “pushing people away” and they would rather shop in Inverurie.

They said: “I popped there yesterday and the place was full of shoppers, certainly busier than the last time I was in the centre of Aberdeen.”

Another wrote: “No wonder places like Inverurie are thriving by contrast.”

Meanwhile, others who live in the “outskirts” of Aberdeen have said the road rules have put them off completely and they will no longer be visiting the Granite City.

Some say they still manage to access Union Square thanks to the parking, bus station and train station. Image: Chris Sumner / DC Thomson

A Stonehaven pensioner who was caught out by the bus gates says they now avoid shopping in the city centre — apart from Union Square which they can easily get to by car or train.

They added: “Thankfully there’s a bypass from Stonehaven meaning I can still visit my family in Westhill. Also Montrose and Inverurie can still be reached easily for shopping.

“Aberdeen’s loss is their gain.”

Bus gates will ‘expedite Union Street demise’

With those shoppers now dodging the city centre and the threat of a fine, some warned Union Street would suffer.

Already businesses including Olive Alexanders and Haigs on Schoolhill have blamed the bus gates and the Etro for their closure.

Many feared more would follow.

“If the intention is to kill off business completely in the city centre, then this Etro goes a long way to achieving that objective,” one said.

Others added they worried the city centre would become a “dead zone”, while those with longer memories compared the road closures to most vehicles to what happened in the Castlegate.

Some looked further afield, using Tulsa – city badly impacted by oil decline in the 80s – as a cautionary tale.

Aberdeen ‘will be the same as boarded up Peterhead and Fraserburgh

They added: “I was born in Aberdeen, lived here most of my life and it’s sad to see how common sense has been replaced with what appears to be a complete lack of empathy, and joined up thinking.

“This is not Edinburgh. There you accommodate inconvenience because of what’s on offer.

“Here, we have to encourage convenience in the hope that it will encourage prosperity.”

And concerns were raised for the ongoing work to turn the Granite Mile around, led by Bob Keiller and Our Union Street.

Our Union Street chief Bob Keiller. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson
Our Union Street chief Bob Keiller. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

“If these measures are permanent, it won’t matter how much Mr Keiller and his friends dress it up, Aberdeen city centre will be the same as Peterhead and Fraserburgh with their boarded up shops and a hairdresser every 50 yards.”

Empty Union Street causing safety fears for Adelphi resident

An Adelphi resident, who is sight impaired, also revealed the impact the quieter Union Street is having on their everyday life.

They wrote: “Since implementation of the scheme, and the consequent drop in road traffic, there has been a significant increase in anti-social behaviour in the area, most notably in the ‘tunnel’ between Union Street and Adelphi, and in Adelphi Lane.

“As a sight impaired resident living in the Adelphi, this has caused me to feel a significant danger to my safety, particularly during hours of darkness.”

Signs of the constant struggle with anti-social behaviour in Aberdeen's Adelphi. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson
Signs of the constant struggle with anti-social behaviour in Aberdeen’s Adelphi. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

No longer feeling safe at bus stops near their home, they walk further to alternatives or don’t go out alone.

They claimed the council had not consider the impact of the Etro on disabled people, leaving it “not fit-for-purpose”.

Traders too have told us of the growing anti-social behaviour in the lane, off Union Street.

‘What’s the point of giving me a blue badge I can’t use?’

Meanwhile, a handful of objectors have slammed the council for not sparing “one thought for those with special needs”.

One disabled blue badge holder was reduced to “tears” after being hit with a bus gate fine.

A blue badge holder wrote that the “stress and distraction” of trying to navigate the city centre is a “nightmare”.

Some blue badge holders say they are finding it difficult to navigate the city. Image: DC Thomson

They explained: “One of my disabilities means I cannot walk any distance, getting on and off a bus would not only be extremely difficult for me but my anxiety would be uncontrollable.

“What’s the point of giving me a blue badge when I can’t use it in town? I would just like to add a good friend of mine who also holds a blue badge was in tears as she had a bus gate fine this morning.

“We’re in a cost-of-living crisis, no one has extra money to spend on fines.”

Aberdeen bus gate chief repeats: ‘No detriment’ on access to blue badge parking

Another objector wrote that her husband is a blue badge holder and out of the 13 places he regularly drives to for shopping, business and meeting friends he can now only access three.

She added: “Another issue that arose was that every other journey made to access places incurred a longer journey using more petrol, which could curtail blue badge holders from going out as much.”

Operations chief Mr Reilly responded: “There is no detriment in terms of access to dedicated parking facilities, as alternative routes remain available.

“There have also been additional blue badge bays established on Flourmill Lane, and the area of the Green, as part of the experimental order process.”

Aberdeen bus gates aren’t gatey enough

A visitor from Moray, who regularly travels into Aberdeen, was stumped by a lack of signage and visual indicators marking the bus gates.

“It said ‘bus gate’… but where was the actual gate? By the time I clocked what was going on, with impatient cars right on my rear bumper, it was too late.

“If you’re making a ‘bus gate’, why not make it a real gate, with an arm?”Line painting van on Union Street

Following feedback from members of the public, Aberdeen City Council workers were out painting the roads to make the bus gates “more clear”. Image: DC ThomsonThey concluded locals would learn the ropes in time, but the Aberdeen city centre bus gates would prove a “nasty trap” for unfamiliar visitors.

Another added: “You must be rubbing your hands together thinking about all the visitors due to come during the summer months and the fines you can expect.”

Aberdeen bus gates are signed by the book, council chief says

Again, chief operations officer Mark Reilly said in response: “The regulatory signs and road markings that provide for the bus gates/lanes are in accordance with regulatory design specifications, and guidance set out by the Department for Transport/Scottish Government.

“Ahead of the regulatory signs, there are also advance signs that warn drivers of the restrictions.

“The level of infringements is trending downwards; however, it continues to be monitored, and further changes are possible.

Aberdeenshire councillor leans over the fence to brand city centre bus gates ‘catastrophic’

Aberdeen City Council’s consultation even drew input from councillors in neighbouring Aberdeenshire.

Aberdeenshire Council's HQ at Woodhill House. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson
Aberdeenshire Council’s HQ at Woodhill House. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

The unnamed rep offered their counterparts: “I’m just not sure that the decision-makers in the city realise the damage that they are doing with these interventions, and why people are now avoiding Aberdeen.

“My ward residents are quite frankly angry and appalled by the ‘anti-car’ policies which are being rolled out in Aberdeen.

Almost gleefully, the covert councillor added: “Of course it’s massively helping our Aberdeenshire hospitality and retail outlets which are seeing a marked lift in business, and I now find that suburbia Aberdeen dwellers are also discovering the benefits of the shire.

“My ward has lost much of the public transport we used to have, and that means that families depend more and more on the car than ever before.

“The city just doesn’t seem to ‘get it’.”

Damning their neighbours, they concluded: “Traffic management in Aberdeen city post-Covid needs to be completely rethought. And that means ‘no to bus gates’ which are yesterday’s solution to yesterday’s problems.”

Council credibility crisis: ‘Insulting’ retrospective consultation

Aberdeen City Council’s use of the Etro to impose the bus gate and roads shakeup before asking for public opinion has more than irked many correspondents.

One wrote: “In my many years in business and industry I have never heard of the term retrospective consultation, the word consultation itself, to me and many others, implies that the stakeholders are consulted prior to a decision being taken, particularly where the subject matter is sensitive and impacts thousands… shame on you!

“The communication of the introduction of the ‘gates’ was extremely poor, if not shocking… for the public to be presented with a fait acommpli in such a matter affecting all in Aberdeen is fundamentally unacceptable and, to be frank, insulting.”

A map showing the bus priority route changes in Aberdeen city centre - including bus gates and the right-turn ban on Union Terrace into Rosemount Viaduct. Image: North East Bus Alliance/Big Partnership
A map showing the bus priority route changes in Aberdeen city centre – including bus gates and the right-turn ban on Union Terrace into Rosemount Viaduct. Image: North East Bus Alliance/Big Partnership

PR gurus Big Partnership have since been enlisted by the bus companies to highlight some of the positives the bus gates have brought.

Others complained that the case for the bus gates was made using almost decade-old data.

Calls for an inquiry into ‘cunning’ Aberdeen city centre bus gate decision-making

The “autocratic” Etro approach has left tens questioning whether their input will be considered, even after taking the time to email in for the consultation.

“Sadly, I feel at the end of the day, none of this will make any difference because the public will be ignored,” another citizen said.

“None of these restrictions will be lifted. It has caused reputational damage to the council which I doubt will be reversible.”

A blue badge holder added: “A full and open inquiry must take place. This use of the Etro is sharp practice by the unelected officers of Aberdeen.”

“There should be an inquiry into why this was rolled out without a much more significant and public consultation,” someone else added.

“Jobs have been lost and local businesses impacted significantly as a result of it.”

Councillors will vote on the future of the bus gates on Tuesday.