The council has again delayed making a decision on its shake up of school and public bus services. This time for at least three months.
That was the result of discussions earlier this week between ZetTrans and the SIC, after officials recommended that more work was required to ensure the service met the social and economic needs of users, within the available budget.
The council is being supported in this process by consultants from outwith Shetland. According to ZetTrans chairman Allan Wishart, the firm TAS “have been looking back over some of the work that’s been done and have suggested ways that we can look at that, build on it and enhance it. That’s why we need an extra three to five months.”
This is the second delay in the procurement process so far. In early July, the council was forced to abandon its plans to award the 288 bus contacts after the tenders received amounted to more than could be afforded. At the time, TAS was brought in to assist in the process, and their initial report came before ZetTrans and the council on Monday.
Mr Wishart said: “When the members came to look at it, the more work we did, the more research, we realised it was more complex. So we wanted somebody with experience in that field, the skills to assess what’s been done, and then report, and that’s what we heard on Monday.
“Now, I was pretty impressed with them, and there was no counter motion from the members to rush on with [awarding contracts] regardless. I’ve said before, I think it’s better to get it right now than to rush it. So I am quite happy about the delay.
“Unfortunately there will be people who are very unhappy about it, because from the contractors’ point of view it’s another delay, and I think the public want to know very soon what will be the long term plan for buses.”
Back in July, development committee chairman Alastair Cooper suggested that it was unlikely the new bus contracts could be drawn up without some kind of “diminution of service”.
While Mr Wishart said that the process had to be seen in the context of the council’s need to reduce annual spending by around 30 per cent, “The wish of the council as a whole is to make any diminution as absolutely minor as possible, but at the same time try to make it more efficient.”
He went on: “The task the council faces is making all these changes, making the necessary financial cuts, but desperately trying to minimise the effect of them on the community. So it’s not a slash and burn approach at all.”
Existing bus contracts, which had been extended until the end of March next year, will now be extended further, until July or August, to accommodate the delay.