Bus operators have blasted plans to transform one of Aberdeen’s key streets to help combat Covid-19.
Work is set to begin in the coming days on making Union Street completely car-free, with only public transport, walking and cycling allowed.
The proposals – for which Aberdeen City Council has been awarded more than £1.7 million from Sustrans – are designed to enable social distancing while people walk, cycle and queue for buses and shops.
However, transport firms claim the move will lead to “massive disruption and upheaval” for those making journeys.
First Aberdeen and Stagecoach have called on the city council to reconsider tthe proposals – amid claims the council had not addressed their concerns over the plans.
Andrew Jarvis, managing director of First Aberdeen, said: “First Aberdeen are proud to be providing lifeline service that allow people to make essential travel journeys including our key workers who are keeping us all going during these unprecedented times as we all fight the spread of the coronavirus.
“The decision to close a key section of Union Street that has been taken by the council is one that has been done despite the feedback given by bus operators that this diversion would miss out the seven busiest bus stops in the city centre and cause extended journey times and further potential for delay.
“Serious concerns put forward by the company remain unanswered and we would urge a delay to proceedings until they are fully addressed.
“To make a decision that will make life even more difficult for people needing to use these services for essential travel during this difficult time is nothing short of putting the boot in, especially when seats on our services are already limited due to social distancing measures, for our key workers who are on the frontline saving lives every day. I urge the council to reconsider their position and work with operators to provide the necessary safe spaces they seek in the city that will benefit everyone.”
Road closures to allow the works on Union Street to take place are due to come into effect tomorrow.
Peter Knight, managing director of Stagecoach Bluebird, added: “This decision is a real blow for all bus users in Aberdeen. This will create huge issues for key workers and people who rely on bus services for essential trips as well as young people and socially excluded travellers who are already being badly impacted by Covid-19.
“Aberdeen City Council is implementing this measure at very short notice, without any consultation with the bus operators or our passengers, yet this will have a far reaching and immediate impact on people and public transport right across the city.
“We fully support the need for cleaner cities and our bus services play a crucial part in that. Buses are helping to keep our country healthier with the active travel involved in walking to and from the bus stop. In the long term, only public transport has the capacity to provide the connections to support recovery in the north-east. The wrong council decisions now will damage public transport and damage the future of our region, its economy and its communities.”
The charitable trust Bus Users Scotland, which works to maintain and improve services, also raised concerns.
Director Greig Mackay said: “Bus Users fully understand that Aberdeen City Council has to implement social distancing measures during the next phases of Scotland emerging from lockdown to keep people safe. Also, the proposal to restrict vehicle traffic coming into the city centre is a positive step, as a means to reducing congestion and improving air quality.
“However, we do have significant concerns surrounding the pedestrianised zones that are included as part of these measures, as these will have a detrimental effect on bus passengers, many of whom are key workers currently.
“The impact of this, may well be longer journey times and accessibility issues for passengers with reduced mobility, due to the diverted bus stops. Further consultation by the council which includes bus passengers as well other key stakeholders and the bus operators should be considered, in order to facilitate a more positive outcome for front line bus passengers of Aberdeen, who are travelling for essential reasons.”
Aberdeen City Council’s transport spokeswoman councillor Sandra Macdonald said: “These temporary active travel measures are part of a package which were supported by NHS Grampian, Aberdeen Inspired and NESTRANS and aim to look after the health and wellbeing of city centre residents and those who work or shop there.
“Allowing people to walk and cycle during this public health emergency whilst physically distancing and keeping them safe from traffic is crucial to help support our city centre as it emerges from lockdown.
“From the outset we have said we will work with bus companies and other key stakeholders to find solutions but a limited impact on journey times must be balanced against the need to support the NHS and prevent a second wave of Covid- 9.
“We feel that these temporary interventions will also allow people to move safely around the city centre and help start the social and economic recovery of the city and the wider region.”