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Council could take some risk from operators for cheaper service

Viking Bus Station.

LOCAL transport partnership ZetTrans will have to consider innovative approaches to help operators in order to save £500,000 from the school and public bus service.

A special meeting of the partnership on Wednesday outlined the challenge facing the council and operators in maintaining the service while trimming costs in line with the mid-term financial plan, that will see the council reduce spending by £5 million over the next year.

Shetland Islands Council head of transport Michael Craigie said that the challenge of shaving £500,000 off a £4.7 million bus service budget should not be underestimated. But if the council was to take some of the risk facing operators, that would help them put in more competitive bids.

Craigie, who commendably turned up at the meeting by bicycle, said later that a host of options could be considered in order to ease things for operators, such as making weekly rather than monthly payments to them.

ZetTrans noted a report outlining proposals for the redesigned service which also stated the possibility of axing some services that were deemed low priority according to “stakeholder” feedback to help meet the budget.

Bottom of the heap was “tourism” related bus services – a fact that had VisitScotland island manager Steve Mathieson urging ZetTrans to revisit these priorities.

The new contract will start on 18 August 2019, but officials hope to have the tender sorted six months earlier to enable operators to prepare their bids.

Craigie added that, realistically, any commercially delivered network had to remain profitable or it would cease to exist.