THERE has been a 40 per cent reduction in older people using bus services in the Borders since the COVID-19 pandemic, councillors have been informed.

Increases in operator costs have also impacted on the provision of additional and improved services, members of Scottish Borders Council were told at a meeting today (Thursday, January 26).

Councillor Jenny Linehan, the council’s executive member for environment and transport, said that bus services across the Borders had been “significantly impacted” by a reduction in passenger numbers since pandemic restrictions were lifted.

Her observations came in response to an open question posed by Galashiels Green Party councillor Neil Mackinnon, who asked what steps were being taken to improve bus services, particularly a lack of late evening buses from Galashiels to other towns, which he said was “impacting the evening economy in the heart of the Borders”.

Ms Linehan said: “The most recent figures show that patronage across the region’s bus services is currently sitting at 78 per cent, with only 60 per cent of the over 60 travellers returning to public transport since the pandemic.

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“This has been compounded by increased operator costs, such as fuel going up 33 per cent, other items such as tyres and parts up 18 per cent. This makes it very difficult for transport operators to increase frequencies when demand is currently very low.

“Late evening journeys have been impacted the most as a result of the pandemic, with very little demand for people travelling after 7pm.

“Where there has been a feedback from the public for late evening journeys some services, such as the X62 from Galashiels, Peebles and Edinburgh, have had variations to the timetables to enable later journeys.

“Over the  past two and a half years the council’s transport officers have been working closely with local transport operators to assess passenger trends via data delivered with ticket machines on buses while also listening to passenger feedback on bus services and the network is then adjusted to reflect any changes to travel patterns.

“In order to try and reverse some of the current trends Scottish Borders Council, in partnership with the Worforce Mobility Project, has commissioned Jacobs to carry out a review of the region’s bus transport network with the key objectives to reduce equalities, take climate action, maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of public-subsidised services, help deliver inclusive economic growth and community wealth-building by linking people to jobs and customers to businesses, and, improving health and well-being by connecting people to communities, and enable healthy transport choices.”