Bus Services (Dumfries and Galloway)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 28 March 2024.

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Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

4. To ask the Scottish Government what action it can take to support the reversal of the reported reduction of bus services in Dumfries and Galloway. (S6O-03279)

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

It is always disappointing to hear of any potential reductions in bus services, in particular in more rural areas, where—as I am well aware—those services often offer the only public transport connections to healthcare and employment.

The Scottish Government has allocated almost £430 million in 2024-25 to support bus travel, and I am committed, with bus operators and local authorities, to continuing to look at ways of improving services in order to ensure that everyone has access to public transport. However, the majority of services in Scotland operate in a deregulated market and, as such, the withdrawal of services on commercial routes is a matter for private operators.

Nevertheless, any changes must be consistent with the processes that are enforced by the traffic commissioner for Scotland. Under the Transport Act 1985, local authorities have a duty to identify where there is a social need for particular bus services, which they can subsidise at their discretion.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

Services across the region have been in decline for more than a decade, and so have local government budgets. An independent report that went to this month’s meeting of the South West of Scotland Transport Partnership warned that the situation is going to get worse. A summary of the report notes that

“The fragile position of the bus industry in Dumfries and Galloway is acute ... Resilience is at a historic low and the risk of further degradation is significant” and that

“Any withdrawal of service ... capacity would have a major impact.”

Does the minister accept that the current model of bus service delivery in rural regions such as Dumfries and Galloway is absolutely broken and that we need a significant increase in the provision of publicly owned and publicly run services in the region before we lose even more services?

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

I agree that we absolutely need those rural services, but we have already ploughed in more than £430 million, which has been allocated to bus services and concessionary fares in 2024-25. That is providing more than 2 million people in Scotland with access to free bus travel. With more than 3 million journeys a week, those schemes are helping people across Scotland to cut their costs for essential everyday leisure and travel, which is making sustainable travel a more attractive option. Nevertheless, I understand, and fully take on board, the point that we would want to do more.

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

The bus network in Dumfries and Galloway is in a fragile position because of rising costs and weak demand compared with urban areas. Many people—particularly the elderly and disabled—rely on public transport. The Scottish Government provides SWestrans with only £259,000 in revenue funding, which is the same amount as it provided 12 years ago. Does the minister believe that that is acceptable, when we think about tackling climate change and addressing accessibility issues for the elderly and disabled? Is it just another example of his Government failing to address the needs of the south of Scotland?

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

I apologise that I am not quite sure of the system that the member is talking about. I do not have the answer right now, but I am not sure that the fund that the member is talking about supports the national bus system. If I can get any further details on that, I will come back to him.