SOUTH OF Scotland MPS Colin Symth has stepped up calls to reverse cuts to the X95 bus service which runs from Edinburgh to Carlisle servicing communities across Midlothian, the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and Cumbria including Newtongrange, Hawick Galashiels and Langholm.

The service now runs every two hour and Borders Buses say they have no current plans to reintroduce an hourly service due to a shortage of drivers across the country which they blame on ‘unprecedented delays in processing vocational driver licence applications’.

Sharon Morrison, communications director for Borders Buses, said: “In normal circumstances we have always responded positively to demand and requests for increased frequencies and journeys. Unfortunately, due to a driver and labour shortage across the industry and country respectively, we are unable to increase the frequency of our operation. We hope this changes over the coming months.

“Whilst the volumes of people travelling is down roughly 40% from 2019 patronage levels, we welcome the continued support from the Scottish Government. Despite this much needed funding, the impact of Brexit, C19, self-isolating and - most importantly - the unprecedented delays in processing vocational driver licence applications, continues to have a massive bearing on our service delivery.

“We would also stress, unlike some operators across the UK, we are not cutting services and are operating all services registered. The is a huge testament to the hard work and effort of our Borders Buses team.”

Mr Smyth agreed about the backlog but also believes that the Scottish Government should have secured meaningful guarantees from bus firms that they would maintain services in return for the £191.3m of support given to companies during the pandemic.

He said: “The UK Government need to do more by tackling the shocking backlog in processing driving licences and increasing availability of tests to ensure that when bus companies do decide to increase services they have the drivers to do so.

“Everyone understands why companies reduced services when Covid hit, especially given the potential health impact on both passengers and drivers. It may also be some time before passenger numbers rise back to even close to pre-pandemic levels, but we will never get people back on our buses if we take those buses away.

“The X95 is a crucial service that covers many communities across the South of Scotland and the lack of frequency simply means it’s just not an option anymore for people who want to use the bus.

“I have urged Borders Buses to reinstate this service to an hourly one. However, their decision not to so far highlights the failure of the Scottish Government to secure proper guarantees from bus firms that in return for the tens of millions of pounds that was given to the sector during the pandemic, they should not be cutting services and we need to look again at how that support works.”