The bus sector is facing the most challenging operating environment it has ever seen.

Faced in North Ayrshire with driver shortages with average vacancy rate in Scotland for bus drivers is 12 per cent and lower patronage compared to pre- pandemic 70-80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels (less than 60 per cent for over 60s concessions)

The higher fare payers were commuters who bought season tickets at higher rates due to pre 9am travel but these buses now run empty relying on leisure or shopping customers more.

Locally Stagecoach proposed major timetable changes happening in July then the Scottish Government announced extra government recovery funding till October 2022. Stagecoach didn’t change its plans locally as it takes 70 days to process changes in timetable. So, they have indicated their next review will be January.

The off-peak and rural services are most at risk. Fares may also have to go up to help deal with the cost increases and to keep remaining routes and services viable and dependable. Every service running requires passengers to justify the service and regular fare paying passengers otherwise services could be at risk.

If we look at Arran every bus runs subsidised by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport on the island. Visitor numbers were declining pre pandemic due to more cars being brought on the island due to road equivalent fares but the cost of operating services is increasing and less passengers means at the next tender SPT will have to consider need, usage and cost in common with every other contract.

It’s unlikely the daily commuters will return in sufficient numbers to protect services as full fare payers putting more pressure on a limited budget at SPT. The budget for socially necessary bus services is around £13 million pounds for the SPT area. Every service is under scrutiny as it gets retendered when already in place and when operators remove services the request goes into SPT to replace the lost service, its proving more challenging to get operators to tender with increasing costs but more likely they can’t get drivers. Stagecoach currently daily cancels services due to a lack of drivers. This leads to passenger frustration and the passenger simply giving up on traveling when the service is in frequent.

Passengers also need to feel safe when waiting for a bus or on the bus and recent events at Kilmarnock bus station show just how fragile operators see driver and passenger safety. The Railway now back under Transport Scotland has its own problems identical to bus.

Free bus travel for the Under 22s is a great benefit and will hopefully increase passenger numbers but the campaign by Transport Scotland during the pandemic that public transport was not safe has left scars which will take some time to heal.

The new glossy marketing being launched might just be enough to stop the exodus but will not be enough to save all bus services locally within current budgets and those who believe in bus need to get back on the bus where services exist.