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SIC - Free Tyre Check - 22 Nov 2019

Transport / Opportunities for airport bus funding being explored

Sumburgh Airport has seen record passengers.Sumburgh Airport.

DEVELOPING a dedicated Sumburgh Airport bus using government funding for low carbon initiatives is an option that could be explored by local transport officials.

Lead officer of Shetland’s transport partnership ZetTrans Michael Craigie confirmed that there is a “commitment” to explore what opportunities may exist.

Following the introduction of a £3 a day parking fee at Sumburgh Airport at the end of last year, calls for a dedicated airport bus have become louder.

At the moment the number six bus travels between Lerwick and Sumburgh Airport seven days a week but the service is neither dedicated to airport travel or aligned to Loganair’s flight timetable.

New public bus contracts are set to come into force across Shetland in August next year, and Craigie confirmed that the service to Sumburgh is part of discussions.

Another strand of thinking, however, is whether there is an opportunity to secure public funding for a dedicated airport bus by tapping into money reserved for green projects.

“We are looking at how we respond to the feedback that we’ve got in terms of connections to the airport,” Craigie said.

“The key point is that we are looking at connections to the airport, but also looking at Shetland as a whole. It’s kind of limited to that kind of position right now.

“We’re aware that folk have spoken about a dedicated Sumburgh airport bus in the past, and at the last meeting of the Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee there was a brief and broad discussion around what opportunities there might be to get resources in to tackle this, and that are built around the bigger picture of decarbonising transport and relating the public transport to the carbon cost of air travel.”

Craigie stressed, however, that it is “all very broad ideas and concepts at this stage”, although electric and hydrogen power are thought to have cropped up in discussions.

The Shetland Islands Council transport manager pointed to the Scottish Government’s recently announced pledge to invest £500 million in bus infrastructure to “tackle the impacts of congestion on bus services and raise bus usage”.

Craigie conceded this fund looks to be aimed at the Central Belt and Scotland’s main towns, but he has called on the government to introduce a similar fund with a “rural context”.

“With resources we can do something, but without resources it’s a lot more difficult, because the money has to come from somewhere,” he admitted.

This is compounded by the fact that Shetland Islands Council is looking to reduce the costs of its bus contracts by £500,000, while the local authority is also faced with a projected funding gap of more than £15 million by 2024.

An outline business case for Shetland’s public, school and adult social care bus network is due to be discussed at meetings of ZetTrans and Shetland Islands Council this week, but the item will be heard in private because of commercially sensitive information.