More than 300 bus users gathered at Mintlaw Academy last Thursday to grill representatives from Stagecoach North Scotland on the new buses recently introduced to the Buchan route.
Steve Walker, managing director of Stagecoach valiantly defended the introduction of the new fleet of 17 buses, which cost the company £5.5million, though it was clear that the assembled company were generally of the opinion that the buses were not fit for purpose.
In a fiery two hour debate it was repeatedly pointed out that the buses were badly designed, creating major problems for elderly and disabled users.
In particular the height of the steps were seen to be dangerous and inaccessible, not suited to a rural route, while the steps down to the on board toilet were deemed to be an accident waiting to happen.
An under fire Mr Walker agreed to look at the issues raised at the forum, including installing additional hand rails and more stopping bells, but said: “The key indicator is passenger growth and we are continuing to see numbers rise, particularly among those with concessions.”
One irate user said: “We in the north-east have no choice. Stagecoach buses are the only buses we can access.
“If I were the bus company I would be scrapping the new fleet, and bringing back the old, tried and trusted buses which have served this route so well in the past.”
Commenting on the meeting, Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson said: “Unfortunately, the choice of vehicles on commercially-operated routes is entirely a matter for the operator, and is not something which the Scottish Government or the local authority can change.
“Although I was unable to be at the meeting personally, a member of my staff was in attendance, and I was very pleased to hear that so many of my constituents took the opportunity of voicing their concerns to the senior management representatives present.
“A number of suggestions were made by members of the public, to which the bus operator has undertaken to give all due consideration. I very much hope that they will do so, as it clearly would not be in their interests to alienate such a significant proportion of the travelling public.”
Aberdeenshire East Scottish Lib Dem Christine Jardine added: “It is clear that there are serious and widespread concerns about accessibility and provision of seats for elderly and disabled passengers on the new Buchan Express coaches.
“People tell me they are simply unable to use the buses so I think it’s important that these surveys are available in communities along the route and not just on the buses themselves.
“Increasingly,for example, we see the pressure on our health services forcing people to travel further to see their GPs and for many of them the bus is the only option.
“It’s vital that we make sure that people are not prevented from using this vital transport link simply because the buses are not suitable, and I will be following up with Stagecoach to ensure that they press ahead with consultation.”