More than 300 bus users, including a contingent from Ellon, questioned Stagecoach representatives at a heated public meeting about new coaches which have been been introduced to the Buchan route.
They gathered at Mintlaw Academy last Thursday to voice a series of complaints regarding the new fleet.
The key indicator is passenger growth and we are continuing to see numbers riseSteve Walker Stagecoach Managing Director
Steve Walker, managing director of Stagecoach, strongly defended the introduction of the 17 buses which cost the company £5.5m, though in a fiery two-hour debate it was repeatedly pointed out that the vehicles were badly designed, creating major problems for elderly and disabled users.
In particular, the height of the steps was seen to be dangerous and inaccessible, not suited to a rural route, while the steps down to the on- board toilet were deemed to be an accident waiting to happen.
Mr Walker agreed to look at the issues raised at the forum, including installing additional hand rails and more stopping bells.
But he said: “The key indicator is passenger growth and we are continuing to see numbers rise, particularly among those with concessions.”
One irate user said: “We in the North- east have no choice. Stagecoach buses are the only buses we can access.
“If I were the bus company I would be scrapping the new fleet, and bringing back the old, tried and trusted buses which have served this route so well in the past.”
Ellon and District Councillor, Rob Merson, who chairs the Formartine Bus Forum, attended the meeting and commented: “The choice of vehicles on a commercial route is an operational issue for the bus company in which neither the local authority nor government have a remit to intervene. However, I am pleased that the meeting gave the travelling public the opportunity to voice their concerns directly to senior management representatives of Stagecoach.
“Although these are clearly vehicles of a very high standard which meet with the technical requirements of DDA compliance, it is clearly not in the best interests of a bus operator to alienate a significant proportion of its clientele. I therefore very much hope that the company will be receptive to the concerns expressed and the sensible suggestions which were made as to how the vehicles might be made more user-friendly, particularly for those with mobility issues.”
Meanwhile, Aberdeenshire East Liberal Democrat Christine Jardine urged the bus company to listen to passengers.
She said after the meeting that Stagecoach had confirmed to her that they will be carrying out a survey of passengers, as well as looking at other possible measures.
Ms Jardine added: “It is clear that there are serious and widespread concerns about accessibility and provision of seats for elderly and disabled passengers on the new Buchan Express coaches.
“People tell me they are simply unable to use the buses so I think it’s important that these surveys are available in communities along the route and not just on the buses themselves.
“It’s vital that we make sure that people are not prevented from using this vital transport link simply because the buses are not suitable.”