Lothian responds as antisocial behaviour stops services

News stories are free to read. Click here for full access to all the features, articles and archive from only £2.99.

Bus services in Edinburgh have been targeted to such a degree that Lothian Buses had to suspend services a number of times this month

Following months of antisocial behaviour which has put drivers and vehicles at risk, Lothian Buses suspended services in one area of Edinburgh on the weekend of 6/7 March.

Services 1, 21, 26 and Skylink 200 were able to return to Clermiston as scheduled during the following week, supported by an increased police presence.

However after further incidents, the operator made the decision to withdraw all services from 1930hrs on 17 March, including services operated by its Lothian Country and East Coast Buses subsidiaries. All journeys scheduled to depart terminal points after 1930hrs were cancelled, though NightBus services resumed as normal.

Services resumed the following evening. Sarah Boyd, Lothian’s Operations Director said: “It is with pride that Lothian serves at the heart of our local communities and after the challenges of the last year it’s frankly appalling that the actions of a few can directly impact on so many. However, driver and customer safety is our absolute priority and so it is with deep regret that we have to take this action.

“We understand that we provide a critical service for key workers and those for whom travel is essential and we can only apologise to these customers who we know will be inconvenienced by this decision.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Police Scotland for all their efforts in helping us to maintain service thus far. I would also like to thank our customers and all of our colleagues for their continued support and patience.

“We would urge anyone with any information relating to these incidents to come forward to ensure those responsible are held accountable for their actions.”

Drivers’ trade union Unite stood by the decision. Lyn Turner, Unite Regional Industrial Officer said: “Our members have the right to work without fear and we stand by Lothian’s decision to withdraw services from areas in which they cannot operate safely. The safety of our members is paramount.

“We would urge communities to come together and provide information on those responsible for these dangerous acts of criminal behaviour which are putting the safety of our members and that of the public at serious risk.”

Transport Convener Lesley Macinnes added: “Like everyone who’s seen coverage of the horrendous attacks on our bus services in recent days I’ve been utterly appalled by the reckless and intimidating behaviour of those behind the assaults. Enough is enough, it has to stop.

“I’m completely behind Lothian’s decision to withdraw bus services tonight as a clear message that this criminal targeting of a vital public service will not be tolerated. Anyone out there who thinks they know someone who’s involved in this despicable campaign of antisocial behaviour needs to do the right thing and report it to the police right away.”

The removal of services followed the launch of a city-wide initiative run jointly between Police Scotland and Lothian Buses in response to escalating antisocial behaviour directed towards both its drivers and vehicles. Inspector Jonny Elliott from Drylaw Police Station said: “Bus drivers have and continue to provide an essential service to the public during this pandemic, including transport to and from hospitals. It is disgraceful that those who have continued to support our communities have been targeted in this way.

“This type of reckless behaviour will not be tolerated and dedicated officers will be on patrol in the area to make sure the buses can operate safely. Nobody should be outwith their homes, besides from essential purposes, and anyone caught engaging in antisocial behaviour or violence will be dealt with robustly. Extensive enquiries are ongoing to trace the individuals involved in the recent incidents.”

There were also reports of other vehicles being attacked, including those operated by Borders Buses as well as cars and vans.

Following the first suspension of service, Lothian released a short video highlighting the lasting impact that instances of antisocial behaviour can have on its drivers, featuring an anonymous driver who shares the story of how he was almost blinded by a youth who threw a rock through his cab window.

The driver recalled: “I could see him make as if he was going to throw something. Just as I turned back I saw the rock coming towards the driver’s window and it just shattered,” before telling how he needed an emergency appointment at the eye hospital, where he found out that he had some abrasions on his cornea. Fortunately, this did not lead to any lasting damage or sight loss, and healed within a few days.

“That night I just found I couldn’t sleep. I keep hearing all the noises, the bang especially.

“I’m normally a very confident person, but this has wiped me out, and the thought of going on a bus is now causing me quite big problems.

“I love my job, I love driving. I feel it’s just destroyed me. I don’t want any of my other colleagues to have to go through this.”

The video was produced in partnership with Police Scotland, whose Transport Liaison Officer PC Mike McGill who said that antisocial behaviour is on the rise across the transport network.

The driver has since been provided with counselling for his trauma, and said that he hoped that sharing his story in the video would help young people realise the effect their actions can have.