Aberdeenshire Council has come under fire for slashing spending on bus travel in an effort to make £245,000 in savings.
The local authority subsidises several services across the region, helping to cover the costs of what could be loss-making runs for private firms.
Council bosses are now withdrawing or reducing that cash support from 15 services, which are all throughout the region but mostly in the Banff and Buchan area.
The changes will be carried out by Monday, May 31, with concerns the move will impact most severely people who are “already struggling”.
The council’s transportation service said it is only scaling back its support for bus routes and services which provide the “least value for money” – having worked out that some were being run at a cost of £20 per passenger.
Factors considered by council
Some services which will have support withdrawn include the Sunday service on the 201 between Ballater and Braemar.
And the three return journeys between Oldmeldrum and Inverurie on the number 240 will also have cash pulled completely.
When considering which supported services to change, the council considered the number of passengers using each service over a 12-month period up to November 2019, in order to discount the impact of the pandemic.
In some of the services the council will reduce or cut support from, the average subsidy per passenger amounted to more than £20 for a journey.
Other factors taken into consideration were car ownership levels in certain areas, the percentage of the population with mobility problems, and poverty levels.
The move has come after the cash available for supported bus services was cut by £245,000 when Aberdeenshire Council set its budget in March.
“We have tried to minimise the potential negative impacts”
Ewan Wallace, head of transportation for Aberdeenshire Council, encouraged anyone particularly disadvantaged by the changes to contact the local authority with their concerns.
He said: “We have tried to minimise the potential negative impacts for individuals and communities where possible, but would encourage anyone who feels they would be unduly affected to get in touch.
“We realise this may have a detrimental effect on passengers as well as some operators, but the council and communities will continue to have difficult decisions to make on the provision of local services into the future.
“These routes have been chosen primarily because they are not being used as well as would be expected, to justify the money spent by the council to support them.
“We are currently conducting a review of the way the council supports all bus services across Aberdeenshire, to ensure we are using the available money in the most effective way possible.”
The council said the changes are happening “quickly”, as any delay in implementation “will lead to a requirement for even greater service reductions to meet agreed budgets”.
Some of the affected services have been suspended since the latest Covid lockdown restrictions were imposed in January, and will not be reinstated.
Services “vital” for some residents
Councillor Gwyneth Petrie, leader of the SNP group on Aberdeenshire Council, said her party did not back cutting funding for supported bus services when the Tory-led council set its budget.
She said: “The partnership did not accept the funding cut for bus services in our opposition budget proposals, as we recognise that these services are vital for a number of residents throughout Aberdeenshire.
“The reality is that the impact of these cuts will fall disproportionately on those who are already struggling, and the middle of a pandemic is not the time to make such significant changes.”
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