First Bus once again dropped an August bombshell by submitting a proposal to alter times and frequency on every Balfron bus service. These changes, due to start on October 21st gave communities just 12 days to consider the changes and submit their views by 27th August.
Stirling Council was tasked with facilitating a meeting to inform residents. This took place on 21st August. They also provided contact details in the form of an email address and telephone number for people to send comments directly. Bruce Crawford, Stephen Kerr and our three local Councillors were immediately contacted. They were all unable to attend the meeting at such short notice due to prior engagements. They in turn wrote to First Bus. We contacted the Stirling Observer and invited them to the meeting as well as Greig McKay, Bus Users Scotland. The Stirling Observer followed with a comprehensive article in their next edition.
Despite another event the same evening regarding the new housing development in Killearn, the McLintock Hall was packed with standing room only. This was the first-time residents saw the complete timetable and became aware of the real impact of the changes. First Bus, underestimated the strength of community outrage and failed to print enough copies of the proposed timetables. They therefore had to ask the depot for more to be printed. Even so, there was still not enough to go around.
The proposed timetable was much worse than anticipated, affecting all weekday buses – also, reducing our Saturday service to every 2 hours or more. The timetable was complicated as all buses served by the Balfron Depot had been renamed and amalgamated into 2 new services: the X10 and X10A.
The existing (B12) Balfron to Stirling route is the worst affected; both in terms of service reductions and time changes. First Bus have introduced a new Glasgow-Stirling via Aberfoyle route called the X10A. This appears to be at the expense of our Balfron-Stirling route. (X10) First Bus stated all journeys will go straight through to Glasgow which is untrue. This new timetable will have far reaching consequences for all western commuters who require access to Stirling.
When the early morning buses were cut, this prevented people accessing employment, trains, universities and colleges. However, after considerable public outrage we are pleased to report these have now been re-instated although the changes to the remaining timetable will cause significant disruption, particularly for residents travelling either side of Balfron.
When questioned directly, First Bus admitted it was they themselves who withdrew from the Balfron School Contracts and that the current changes were a commercial decision taken at a higher level than those present at the meeting. It was also put to First Bus that as we already know, the FirstGroup are proposing to sell the UK bus division. “Was it not the case that this was the first stage in an effort to maximise profits in the lead up to a sell off?” No concrete answer was given.
First Bus was lambasted for the short notice given to the public in order to respond to such significant network changes and the fact that none of our elected representatives were able to attend. Brian Peat, First Bus commercial manager implied that we were lucky to have been consulted at all, and that a few years ago these changes would have gone straight through. We pointed out that this was exactly what happened in 2016. Bus operators are in fact obliged to consult stakeholders prior to any changes. Following the meeting, western villagers were rightly outraged and expressed their views directly to both Stirling Council and First Scotland East.
We must not underestimate the impact these changes will have on the lives of rural residents, both in terms of time changes and reduced frequency of journeys. Our elderly and disabled from the different villages once again face long journeys to hospitals.
Two bus service times causing concern that we are pursuing are the 13.00 from Stirling to Balfron which is a well-used bus service, particularly by part-time workers and those volunteering in Stirling. Also, the current 15.55 from Glasgow arriving in Kippen at 17.37 with the latter slot been given to the X10A. We have approached Stirling Council with a view to providing DRT  access for passengers coming off this bus at Balfron. Ongoing to print, there is still no word regarding the pilot Sunday Service being introduced on our neglected Balfron to Stirling route.
By the time you receive your copy of The Wee Vine the changes may well have started and we would urge residents to remind anyone they know who is likely to use bus services, especially occasional users. They are the most likely to get caught out by the timetable changes and could face significant delays.
( DRT = Demand Responsive Transport. These DRT services operate like a taxi and cost around the same as bus fare. They typically operate in local areas where there are few or no conventional bus services. The exact route and stopping points are usually flexible but in all cases all journeys must be booked in advance.)
Information is available at McNicoll’s Country Store.