A north-east park and ride has used more than 80% of its capacity for the last four years – bucking the trend of other similar facilities in the region.
New figures have shown Ellon park and ride is one of the best-used facilities in the north-east.
As previously revealed in the first part of our series, sites in Aberdeen have experienced a slump in the number of cars using the facilities, with an average of only seven cars a day using the £15 million Craibstone Park and Ride.
Kingswells and Bridge of Don also saw a drop in usage.
However, Ellon has had more than 230 vehicles a day use the site over the last four years.
The current capacity at the centre, which sits off the A948, is 290, with 16 bus services on offer from Stagecoach.
Community leaders have said the availability of services and the location of the facility have seen it perform better than Aberdeen park and rides.
According to data obtained through freedom of information in 2018, it averaged 236 cars per day – 81% of its capacity.
The highest recorded occupancy recorded in 2018 was 95% – 275 vehicles. Figures for this year have shown a slight increase with roughly 241 cars per day – 83% of its capacity.
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Peter Argyle, chairman of Nestrans, said: “Ellon is doing really well because it is in the right place.
“It is in a place where people can come down from Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Ellon itself and can easily park and get a bus into the centre of town.
“It has been a success ever since it opened and we’ve had to expand it because it is doing so well.
“The challenge for park and rides closer to the city is, by the time people have got to the roundabout at Craibstone, they think they are already so close to the city.
“It is harder at this moment to persuade them to leave their car when they are as close to the city as that.
“People can park relatively easily and cheaply in the city centre.
“It is no criticism of any local authority or any transport provider, I think it is about driver behaviour.
“People want to drive as close as they can to where they are going.”
However, community leaders in Ellon have spoken of their frustration over the long-running saga over the expansion at the site.
Aberdeenshire Council first submitted plans to improve the facility more than seven years ago and the local authority has yet to reveal a completion date, with a final third phase still to take place.
Work had started to clear trees from the site so it could be expanded, with a bus-turning area created and additional car parking spaces.
Phase two of the project will focus on the bus-turning area and creating three bus stops with enclosed shelters that will be lit and have real-time displays.
Phase one saw the addition of 40 car parking spaces and new signs.
Expansion plans have been delayed due to issues obtaining the land required.
Ellon councillor Richard Thomson said: “Ellon Park and Ride is a much-valued facility in the area. It’s good to see these figures showing a consistently high level of usage.
“For large parts of rural Aberdeenshire there’s no alternative to car ownership for many people. However, park and ride sites help to integrate public and private transport and give a sensible, cheap and quick alternative to driving into Aberdeen.
“It’s clear that many more people could be making use of Ellon Park and Ride, which is why the delays to the long-planned expansion project have been so disappointing.”
Councillor Gillian Owen, who represents Ellon, said: “When it first opened, there was a financial incentive to go to the park and ride to catch the bus, and in reality that momentum has continued.
“The bus service is more frequent from the park and ride at peak times. If your work is based in and around Union Street and Union Square, the journey time has reduced since the opening of the AWPR, and you are spoilt for choice when it comes to the stops for college and university.
“Once Phase Two is complete, the facilities will be second to none and the capacity will increase and hopefully this will encourage more people to use the bus.
“I’m extremely disappointed that the final phase of upgrades to the P&R has still to be finalised despite constant pushing and pricing of officers.”
Councillor Isobel Davidson, who also represents Ellon, said: “The location suits people well and the P&R then takes people into the city centre without the need to find and pay for a parking space.
“It is also a relatively safe place to leave the car for longer periods so ideal for catching the airport bus or onward travel at the railway station.
“The figures for Ellon Park and Ride show it is working slightly below capacity. However, with the proposed extension, it can be promoted more widely as a park and chose location for car-sharing and those travelling by bus could leave electric cars charging or bikes in safe lockers.
“Perhaps someday they could even travel on by train.”
Councillor Anouk Kloppert, who also represents Ellon, said: “I think it’s doing well because the Ellon Park and Ride services not only cover Aberdeen City centre but also Inverurie, Dyce and Aberdeen airport with regular services.
“The car park disabled parking spaces are monitored by CCTV, secure cycle storage, has indoor facilities and is staffed at regular hours although closed on Sunday.”
A spokeswoman for Stagecoach North Scotland previously said “Park and ride facilities play a vital part in sustainable travel for Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire.
“One full bus can remove up to 75 car journeys from the road, reduce overall emissions levels and help improve air quality”.
Aberdeenshire Council declined to comment.