Missed opportunity to improve city buses

As we all know, money is tight among Councils. In Edinburgh and elsewhere, aspirations to improve bus services compete for funding with other worthwhile services. Bus routes, of course, operate on a commercial basis. But the infrastructure they use, the roads, the bus stops, almost everything that doesn’t move, is the Council’s responsibility; as is providing socially necessary services which can’t break even.

So how can the Council maximise funding for improvements?

One source is ‘Section 75’ funding. Section 75 payments are funds secured from developers to pay for facilities needed because of the development; such as improved transport, school buildings etc. So if a developer builds new houses, or offices, the Council can secure payments to cover the cost of public transport improvements needed to serve the development.

We wondered how the City of Edinburgh Council uses this mechanism. So we lodged a Freedom of Information request with the Council, asking how much Section 75 money it had secured to improve bus services.

The FOI request revealed that, between 2015 and 2022, CEC secured a total of £84,230,232 in Section 75 payments.

Of this, £670,306 was allocated to improving bus services. This included ‘bus infrastructure contribution’ and ‘service enhancements’. That’s less than 0·8% of the total. The Council has, no doubt, secured substantial S75 towards extending the Tram and other transport. But is Edinburgh’s bus network so good that it warrants less than 1% of the total?

One example is the ‘New Town Quarter‘, on the site of the RBS building on Fettes Row. It’s a £250 million redevelopment of over 350 new homes and offices supporting 700 jobs adding ‘£35 million per year’ to the city. It’s served by Lothian Buses routes 23, 27, and the 8 nearby. Heading east-west, there’s the much less frequent 13 and 36.

But the infrastructure could be much better; there are basic bus stops, only some of which have shelters, and none have Real Time Information. It’s at best 600m from the nearest tram stops.

Why was the opportunity not taken to use S75 funding to improve them; or perhaps to increase the frequency of the 13 or 36? A drop in the ocean of the £250m development. Evidently the Council thought it was ‘good enough’. We disagree.

Send us your examples of minimal or no investment in buses at new developments in/around Edinburgh!

The Council’s full answer to our FOI request can be found on its website: https://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/homepage/10467/freedom-of-information-foi-disclosure-log. (Enter 35112 in the search box.)