PLANS to award a new operator with a contract to run an under-threat Peeblesshire bus service look set to win the approval of the council.

The 101/102 Dumfries to Edinburgh route provides vital transport links for work, education and leisure to rural Tweeddale communities.

It had been feared that the service would be lost when its temporary contract ends in March.

But Lockerbie-based Houston’s Coaches was identified to take it over on a three-year deal worth £385,000-a-year – a move supported by Scottish Borders Council (SBC) officers.

In a report recommending the local authority’s endorsement of the contract award, to be discussed at a meeting next week, an SBC spokesperson said: “The service is jointly funded by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), SWESTRANS (Dumfries and Galloway) and Scottish Borders Council, with Midlothian Council providing a contribution towards the departure charges for Edinburgh Bus Station.

“In March 2022, SWESTRANS published an invitation to tender for the route in its current format to commence in August 2022. This was a one-year contract with the option to extend for a further year through to August 2024.

“There was only one response to the tender from the current operator who submitted a price [of] £507,940. This represents an 86.4 per cent increase on the current contract cost. This was deemed unaffordable in the long term by all partner organisations.

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“In light of this, and to ensure continuation of service and minimise disruption to the communities impacted, partners agreed to extend the contract on an emergency basis at the new tender price until December 31, with an option to extend for a further 13 weeks i.e. until March 31.

“The temporary contract extension provided additional time for the partner organisation to undertake a further procurement exercise to seek an alternative affordable solution.”

The spokesperson added: “SPT, on behalf of the funding partners, then carried out further direct negotiations with operators (including those who submitted tenders and others in the area) with a view to finding a sustainable and affordable solution to maintain links on the route between Dumfries and Edinburgh via Biggar.

“As a result of the above exercise, the funding partners recently received a bid of £385,000 per annum from Houston’s Coaches based in Lockerbie to operate a three-year contract (with an optional two-year extension) for a timetable similar to the one currently operating, commencing April 1.”

Campaign group Stand Up For Our Buses was praised by the council for its “extensive community survey”.

The approval of the proposed contract will see SBC’s financial contribution for the service jump from £35,000-a-year to more than £128,000-a-year.