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"Lothian Buses" by Sarah Boyd, Managing director, Lothian Buses: 24 October 2013

A Lothian bus in Princes Street, Edinburghd

A Lothian bus in Princes Street, Edinburgh

© John Fender.

Lothian comprises: Lothian Buses, Lothian Country Buses, East Coast Buses, Edinburgh Bus Tours and Lothian Motor Coaches. The business is led by an executive team comprising Sarah Boyd as MD, Willie Hamilton operations director, Colin Barnes engineering director, John Benson finance director and Gaynor Marshall communications director.

Edinburgh Corporation Transport began running buses in 1919, becoming Lothian Regional Transport in 1986, and with network growth in recent years has been joined by East Lothian Buses from 2012, Lothian Country Buses from 2014, East Coast Buses from 2016 and Lothian Country Buses routes to Queensferry from 2017 and West Lothian from 2018. Edinburgh Bus Tours which is an open top bus tourist attraction is a jewel in the crown, contributing to the local and national tourist economy and recently retaining the accolade of the Visit Scotland 5-star tourism award.

Lothian benefit from a destigmatised customer base - in and around Edinburgh it is generally acceptable to use public transport no matter who you are or where you are going. The executive team is supported by a senior management team and pulls in enormous collective talent blending experience, diversity and perspective from the bus industry and beyond. Rated No 13 in the Time Out list of best public transport providers. With 2300 staff, Lothian's 700 vehicles on 70 routes carry over 2M journeys a week, and it has 5 park-and-rides, 7 depots, 1 coachworks, 4 retail hubs and 1 dedicated accessibility channel. A coachworks is the unsung hero, providing specialist maintenance services. Lothian achieved full Low Emission Zone Euro-6 compliance by the end of last year.

The UK's largest municipal bus operator, Lothian is 91.01% owned by Edinburgh City Council, 5.47% by Midlothian Council, 3.13% by East Lothian Council and 0.39% by West Lothian Council. In accordance with the 1985 Road Traffic Act, relationships with the shareholders is arm's length, and operations are fully commercial, directed by a board that is apolitical and engages with councillors, MSPs and MPs to promote a healthy understanding of what it takes to seek best value on the provision of a cross-subsidised network - far from the old-fashioned notion of requiring subsidy, Lothian is almost entirely reliant on farebox and contractual income, every penny of which goes into supporting and investing in the network.

63.2% of revenue is from on-bus and off-bus sales and 33.6% from reimbursement of concessionary fares, with the rest from miscellaneous sources (2.6%) and local authority support (0.4%). In the years 2003-19 before the pandemic Lothian was bucking the trend of national decline in Scottish bus ridership (down by 24% from 478M to 363M) by rising 17% from 98M to 114M. The pandemic prompted temporary closure of two depots and all retail hubs, with 1500 colleagues furloughed. Having hitherto travelled enough miles to go to the Moon and back, Lothian was faced with a patronage decline to just 10% of the previous 2.3M passenger-journeys, and the business had to implement no less than eighteen timetable changes in two years. A robust health and safety strategy also evolved in real time to manage the business through the wider challenge of operating through Covid. Post pandemic there has also had to be recognition of a desire among staff as elsewhere in society for a better work/life balance, which can be seen in reduced overtime and higher staff turnover in a challenging recruitment market.

Developed by teams across the business and with the end of Scottish government COVID funding on the horizon, Lothian's Business Plan for 2023 reflects its ambitions to be Resilient & Reliable, Safe & Sustainable, Trusted & Valued. Key messages in getting it right for colleagues and customers are collaboration at all levels, building on solid foundations, embracing new ways of doing things and innovating to decarbonise. Lothian seek to deliver a network that combines optimal frequency with high standards of reliability and punctuality while promoting intelligent travel decisions by customers. The unifying aim is to promote modal shift. Lothian recognise that it cannot do this on its own, and looks to shareholders and policy makers to help deliver the placemaking, bus-priority and other measures that will be needed to make public transport a viable transport alternative.

Accessibility is central to everything that Lothian do. In accordance with the National Transport Strategy's advocacy of a fully inclusive society Lothian aim to make their services as accessible as possible to all. Much work is being done in this space - from looking at the way in which information is presented to vehicle lay out to consideration of the needs of those with hidden disabilities. This will always be a work in progress, and it is good to see the recognition being given to the accessibility team whose work demonstrates that a dedicated focus in this area can bring real life tangible results.

From a low point of just 30% operated in the second quarter of 2020, mileage has revived through the omicron setback to reach nearly 80% (a limit set by driver availability) of prepandemic distance despite Working From Home, and passenger numbers are back to 90%. While it has not proved possible to return a financial dividend since 2019, the social dividend of Lothian's operations has in part recovered, with a robust Corporate Social Responsibility policy embracing a charity of choice (Vocal who look after carers), the dedicated accessibility channel, customer engagement events (annual Doors Open Day) encouragement of Festival Fringe attendance, training of drivers by RNIB specialists and the excellent relationship with Police Scotland, where Lothian part-fund an officer to promote safety awareness in schools.

Driving towards Net Zero is an exciting new development in Lothian's story, with full introduction of zero emission vehicles and electrification of depots in consideration to achieve the target date of 2035. A bid has been submitted to the ScotZEB2 fund, and Lothian remain open to the possibilities of hydrogen, where an agile response may be required as technological development is still ongoing. Fifty new electric double-deckers are currently on order, with associated investment at Central and Marine Depots, and possible conversion of midlife diesel vehicles under investigation.

Possibly the greatest challenge of Sarah's time has been post-CoVid recruitment and retention. Benefits now put in place comprise a competitive salary with enhanced overtime rates, a company pension with life cover, "perkbox" discounts, a cycle to work scheme, free or discounted travel for family and friends, a subsidised canteen, colleague offers, mental health and wellbeing initiatives, crisis counselling, a digital online information resource, relevant colleague working groups and specialist trauma-focused support. A two-year pay deal is helping to stabilise recruitment and the employment offering is constantly evolving with people of retirement age staying on part-time retains experience. Lothian is an advocate of diversity within the industry and partners Women in Transport and Women in Bus and Coach.

Trams have helped to grow the public transport market and there is a growing awareness of how roadspace may be best shared with other users including cyclists and pedestrians.

Lothian is in constant dialogue with Councils about the impact of roadworks. Awareness of the first fares increase in three years was carefully communicated and the introduction of contactless capping offering additional value for money.

Report by John Yellowlees. Photograph by John Fender.


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