The Scottish Government has been urged to subsidise a bus route in Moray to allay concerns its axing could have a devastating impact on the health of the older population.
The 340 Hamilton Gardens circular in the north of Elgin and the 340 New Elgin equivalent, both run by Deveron Coaches, have previously been subsidised by the council, but cash given to the authority by housing developers to run the routes has now run out – prompting to decision by the bus operator to scrap the services.
But now, Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart, who is Labour’s shadow minister for health, has called on the Scottish Government to plug the funding gap amid concerns it could cost the public purse even more in the long run to withdraw the buses.
It is understood the cost of running the services, which stop at two health centres in Elgin as well as Dr Gray’s Hospital and the town centre, is about £20,000 a year.
Mr Stewart believes that withdrawing the buses could lead to pensioners becoming more socially isolated while increasing the risk of depression and heart disease.
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Transport Scotland stressed yesterday that decisions about routes were for individual operators and it was the responsibility of councils to prioritise subsidies for services.
Mr Stewart said: “Local transport campaigners who saw the writing on the wall for this bus service will remember handing a petition to Moray’s SNP MSP Richard Lochhead back in 2016 and telling him it is a vital link for older people to get their medical appointments.
“I would be happy to work with Mr Lochhead and the council to try to push the Scottish Government for some support to keep this lifeline bus service going.”
Moray Council previously supplied about £300,000 every year in subsidies for bus routes. However, a decision was taken to withdraw them in 2013 when the authority reduced costs to balance its own books.
Albert Milne, owner of the bus operator, said: “There’s a lot of old folk on that bus, in fact it’s mostly old folk. They get on the bus to meet their friends and have a chat. That bus is a home from home for some of them.
“I heard from the driver that one of the old ladies was in tears when she was told it was stopping.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Decisions around bus services are a matter for individual operators who use their commercial judgement to decide on service routes, fare structure and frequency.”