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Put the brakes on council-run bus services idea, Aberdeen councillors advised

Traffic on Market Street. Aberdeen City Councillors have been advised against establishing a council-run bus service. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.
Traffic on Market Street. Aberdeen City Councillors have been advised against establishing a council-run bus service. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

Aberdeen City Councillors have been advised against setting up a local authority-operated bus service due to the “significant costs”.

At a committee next week, local councillors will look into the steps which would need to be taken to establish a municipal bus company, or local authority-run bus services.

This summer, the Scottish Government gave councils across Scotland the power to “run local bus services in any way they see fit”, alongside the existing ability to subsidise existing services in their area.

The intention was to “empower local authorities” and allow them to “respond to their own transport challenges”.

But Aberdeen City Council officers have recommended elected members against proceeding with the creation of council-run buses “at this time”.

One opposition councillor has warned it could be a “huge opportunity missed”.

Why has an Aberdeen City Council operated bus service been advised against?

First Bus Service Number 1, pictured on Holburn Street. Image: Kath Flannery.

There has been talk about the creation of a council-operated bus service in Aberdeen for some years now, including the potential for the local authority to take over the First Bus fleet. 

However, according to a report which councillors will consider at a meeting next week, First Aberdeen is currently not for sale, “and there is no indication for any immediate intention of First Group PLC looking to sell the Aberdeen bus division”.

The report said: “As such, the current most appropriate local bus service opportunities for the council would be to operate our own service in place of supported services, or to operate services alongside the existing commercial bus services in the city”.

But setting up bus services run by the council would not be straightforward.

Officers have listed a great deal of “primary considerations” which would need to be addressed if Aberdeen City Council were to seriously consider its own bus services.

They include but are not limited to:

The vehicles

  • The cost of purchasing vehicles. One single deck bus would cost in the region of £340,000, and “as such, considerable capital outlay would be required from the outset”.
  • All vehicles would need to be fitted with ticket machines, which would also need to be procured, “along with the required back-office systems to allow ticket sales and passenger management”.
  • “Suitable depot facilities” would also be required, as well as cleaning and maintenance workshops.


  • It would cost an estimated £2,000 to £3,000 per driver for training and getting them licenced with a Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operator’s licence.
  • Estimated annual salary for each driver would be £32,000.
  • New jobs would need to be created to handle services like timetabling, crew scheduling and management.
  • And further new jobs would need to be funded and created for fuelling the vehicles, cleaning, maintenance, and more.

There would be ‘considerable costs involved’ which are ‘not currently budgeted for’ in establishing an Aberdeen council bus service

A First Bus service in Garthdee. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

Although the officer’s report is thin on the ground when it comes to estimations of exactly how much money would need to be spent, it said there would be “considerable costs involved in setting up a council-operated bus company/service, which is not currently budgeted for.”

It said the full costs would be “dependent on the level of operation to be implemented and the costing of such would require a significant appraisal to be undertaken”.

It also highlighted that “given there is considerable existing commercial coverage in the city, it is not anticipated that passenger fares would be sufficient to offset operational costs at this time”.

First Bus, which operates the majority of bus services in Aberdeen, has also had difficulty covering the cost of operating certain services.

A Number 8 bus travelling through the Dubford area of Aberdeen. Image: Steve Hulse.

Last month, First axed its Number 8/8A and X27 routes despite community and business concerns, arguing that they weren’t viable to run.

According to a First spokesman, none of the routes had been able to cover their operating costs for “a considerable period of time”.

The officer’s report concluded that additional capital and revenue funding would be required.

It said: “It is recommended that given the significant costs that the council does not, at this time, proceed with further appraisal for local transport authority-operated bus services”.

It did however urge councillors to keep pursuing other projects and sources of funding to improve getting about by bus in Aberdeen.

Failing to set up a council bus service would be a ‘huge opportunity missed for Aberdeen’ says Labour councillor

Councillor Sandra Macdonald. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson.

Labour councillor Sandra Macdonald, former transport spokeswoman for Aberdeen City Council under the previous administration, said she backs the establishment of council bus services.

The Aberdeen Labour transport spokeswoman said: “If SNP councillors fail to act on setting up council bus services, it will be  huge opportunity missed for Aberdeen.

“Labour will call on SNP councillors to at least keep options open for the future.

“In the meantime, if they don’t invest in public bus services, we will call on them to invest in providing free bus travel for everyone who lives in Aberdeen.”

‘We will keep this under review’ says council co-leader

Councillor Ian Yuill. Image: Paul Glendell/DC Thomson.

Ian Yuill, co-leader of Aberdeen City Council, said: “Council staff have told us that it would be challenging at present for the council to provide its own bus services.

“We will though keep this under review.

“The important thing is to secure the best possible bus and public transport services in Aberdeen, not who operates these.”

He added: “Ultimately it’s important that all of Aberdeen has a quality and affordable bus service, and that’s what our partnership of Lib Dem and SNP councillors wants to see.

“And we will work towards that, hopefully working with Aberdeen’s bus companies.

“Bus transport, and public transport, are vitally important to people in Aberdeen.

“Something like a third of households in Aberdeen don’t have access to a car.

“In addition, it’s obviously important as we try to move to net zero that wherever possible, journeys are made either by active travel or public transport, and that requires good-quality, affordable bus services across Aberdeen.”

Update, December 7:

At a meeting of the council’s finance and resources committee on December 7, councillors agreed to go with the officer’s recommendation against pursuing the idea of a council-run bus service at this time.

At the meeting, Mr Yuill said there would be “massive barriers to entry” and “massive costs”.

He added: “I would much rather use the council’s very limited resources to support bus services.

“And I really don’t care who operates them, as long as they are efficient, effective, and of good quality.

“That’s not to say that some time in the future things might change, particularly with perhaps reference to Aberdeen Rapid Transit or something, but that’s not where we’re at just now.”

Following the meeting, Mrs Macdonald said: “Bus users in Aberdeen are being let down by the timid approach of the SNP.”

She argued the decision “closes the door to a municipal bus company for the foreseeable future, despite many concerns raised with us by local people about private sector services in Aberdeen.”