How bus routes change; a quick guide to the process

Bus users and others often question how and why bus routes are changed, and are often very aggrieved about consultation, advance notice, and communication, or the lack of them. There is a complex set of legislation and regulations governing bus services. Lengthy but detailed explanations are here: and

EBUG’s attempt at a short guide for convenience follows:

Bus operators (who must hold an operator’s licence) are free to run any route they choose, vary or withdraw them as they see fit. Members of the public have no statutory right to input. This is set out in primary legislation.

Operators give 70 days’ notice of proposed changes to Council officials; in our case mainly the City of Edinburgh Council (this is commercially confidential). The officials then have four weeks to comment, but cannot require any alteration. The operator must register any proposed new or changed route with the Traffic Commissioner.

The operator lodges the proposal with the Traffic Commissioner. These notices must be made at least 21 days before any changes. (In an emergency or very short-term situation, this may be set aside). The public have no statutory rights to make comments or objection to any changes. We understand that concurrent with clearing proposed changes with the Traffic Commissioner, Council officials are expected to brief Councillors whose wards are affected, but local experience is that this does not always happen in practice, or filter down to the public.

Lothian Buses (LB) has a particular role in Edinburgh’s bus network, providing the great majority of (but not all) services. It is the largest of about 15 municipal bus companies and is owned by Transport for Edinburgh (TfE) which is in turn owned by the City of Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian, and West Lothian Councils. The relevant shareholding of Lothian Buses by TfE is 91.01%, 5.47%, 3.13% and 0.39% shares respectively.

Lothian Buses is a commercial company and it is obliged to operate at arm’s length from its owning Councils. The only person directly appointed to its Board by the Council is the Chair. Board details are here

Articles of Association and other relevant information for these companies are available on the Companies website.
TfE –
LB –
Relationships are governed by a series of Shareholder Agreements, Memoranda of Understanding and decisions of Council and Committees, particularly the Transport and Environment Committee. Records of these are on the Council website.

There are no Councillors on the Lothian Buses Board (or that of Edinburgh Trams), but the Companies and Councillors liaise through various channels, including, but not exclusively, All Party Oversight Groups, briefings to Transport Representatives, and meetings with Councillors on specific ward issues.

Thanks to Cramond and Barnton Community Council for inspiring this item, and helpful input. However, EBUG is responsible for any factual errors.