“Radical new solution” needed for rural transport

Councillor Robbie Withey is seeking a radical new solution to public transport in rural areas
Councillor Robbie Withey is seeking a radical new solution to public transport in rural areas

An Aberdeenshire politician has stressed a “radical new solution” to public transport is required in more rural areas.

Councillor Robbie Withey raised the issue at a recent meeting of the council’s infrastructure services committee (ISC).

It was being provided with an update on the ongoing work of its Passenger Transport Network Review working group formed a year ago.

Among its roles is a comprehensive review of the network with the aim of addressing declining passenger numbers across bus services and introducing a more sustainable network in the medium-long term.

Councillors agreed the working group – which features councillors Peter Argyle, John Cox, David Aitchison and Martin Ford – should be expanded to include representation from the education and children’s services committee and Integration Joint Board.

Mr Withey, Conservative member for Huntly, Strathbogie and Howe of Alford, highlighted issues for bus passengers travelling between rural communities.

He said: “I was delighted when we agreed to set up the working group a year ago because it is a huge issue – particularly the sustainability of public transport.

“I remember saying at the time that it needed to be a clean sheet approach and we also need to look at the bigger picture.

“For me that bigger picture involves looking at school transport and public transport and how they can potentially complement each other.”

Accepting that the council had to be sensible with budgets and could not simply keep subsidising bus services in they way it currently does, he said the council was also aware of the consequences of removing subsidies.

Mr Withey said a constituent, living in Lumsden and working in Alford, now faced the tough choice of moving house or giving up their job because of subsidy cuts.

He added: “This is why I’m talking about a radical approach and why I’m keen to see education involved because we have plenty of local bus companies and it may well be that the particular route between Lumsden and Alford may well be sustainable if the vehicle on it is a small 12-seater minibus and it’s being operated out of a depot a mile-and-a-half down the road.”

ISC chair Councillor Peter Argyle said the comments were a “very clear statement of what the working group is intending to achieve”.