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Transport / More bus trips to Sumburgh Airport and around Lerwick in pipeline as new contracts given go-ahead

Viking Bus Station.

COUNCILLORS have given the green light for new bus contracts to be awarded which will see more runs to Sumburgh Airport and around Lerwick.

The procurement exercise for all bus services resulted in contracts totalling £4.8 million annually, producing a saving of around £470,000.

The awarding of the contracts – which covers public buses as well as school and adult social care transport – was given the go-ahead by members of transport partnership ZetTrans and the full council on Thursday.

The new contracts, due to come into force in mid-August, will see connections to/from Sumburgh Airport increase from seven to 13 southbound, while northbound they will be 14 daily services rather than seven.

Officers hope this will lead to increased income on the service six bus as they believed there is “suppressed demand” on the route connecting Lerwick and the airport on its current timetable.

The increased frequency of buses to the airport will see existing runs extended, instead of new trips being added to the timetable. An earlier start time will also allow airport staff to take the bus to work.

The issue of bus services to Sumburgh has been subject to increased focus since operator Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) launched car parking charges in 2018, with calls from some for a dedicated airport bus.

The Lerwick town service, meanwhile, “has been modified to provide a more comprehensive and frequent set of connections around Lerwick, most notably nine connections to the college over the length of the day”.

Exact details of how services in other areas of Shetland could look under the new contracts have not been revealed, but lead officer Michael Craigie confirmed at Thursday’s ZetTrans meeting that some services would be withdrawn.

Only services that were not used will be cut, he said, and following consultation with communities there is not expected to be any impact.

Craigie said on the whole it would be a “broadly similar service with slight efficiencies”.

Details of timetables will be announced in late May via the ZetTrans website and Travel Shetland app, and on buses.

He added that talks had been held with airline Loganair and airport operator HIAL about potentially contributing to the costs of the enhanced Sumburgh service.

ZetTrans chairman councillor Ryan Thomson said staff had to be commended for working out a solution that both saved money and also increased some services.

Shetland Central member Davie Sandison questioned if anything had been done to look into moving towards electric or hybrid vehicles, but Craigie said the financial constraints of the contract was too “significant” to explore greener travel.

He said, however, there will be a focus on “working on that continuously over the period of the contract”.

North Isles councillor Alec Priest, meanwhile, suggested there was a certain contradiction behind electric vehicle charging points in Shetland essentially being fuelled by a diesel-burning power station.

“We need to think of the bigger picture,” he said.

A motion from south mainland councillor Robbie McGregor proposing further work to be done on identifying “areas of need” was passed at a meeting of the full council later on Thursday.

There was more detailed discussion from various members on specific areas of Shetland with gaps in bus provision.

Allison Duncan questioned if there was scope for better services in and around Bigton, while Moraig Lyall asked if thought had been given to connecting Tingwall and Scalloway.

North mainland councillor Alastair Cooper, meanwhile, lamented the loss of the 2pm service from Lerwick to Mossbank and asked if a feeder bus could be implemented instead when the new contracts come into play.

Instead of focusing on individual gaps in service, the wider motion to identify areas of needs was passed along with progressing the bus contracts – with a commitment given from Thomson that local issues will be kept on ZetTrans’ radar.

Council convener Malcolm Bell rounded off the item at Thursday’s full council meeting by giving his thanks to the staff who were involved in the project – a sentiment echoed by those in the chamber.