Transport partnership ZetTrans has allayed fears from pensioners using shopping bus services in the isles.
Changes are being made to the services as part of an overall change to the bus network, which comes into force on 18th August.
A range of different measures are being put in place to ensure people still have the same level of access to the town via the shopping buses.
According to ZetTrans the level of access to Lerwick through the new timetables has been maintained and in many areas has increased. However, the composition of the services may differ from area to area.
Feeder buses, linking into service routes are being offered in some areas for the journey to Lerwick, with a return service to drop people off at their door with their shopping beginning in the town.
In other areas a shopping bus will collect people from their door, driving them to Lerwick and returning them from the town to their home.
However, passengers are being advised that some of these services may operate on a bookings only basis, but a block booking can be made. The booking line number is 745745.
New timetables will be appearing in bus stops throughout the isles on 16th and 17th August with the distribution of timetable leaflets expected before then. If people experience difficulties accessing the shopping routes they should contact ZetTrans.
SIC transport manager Michael Craigie said the transport team was “working flat out” to get the timetables published. They will be available in public places such as health centres and leisure centres, he said.
Information will also be available online through the travel.shetland.org website. Although Mr Craigie was not able to give a date he said he hoped it should be before next weekend.
Last Friday The Shetland Times was contacted by a concerned resident in the Bridge of Walls about the lack of new timetables.
Jane Beer does not drive and catches the number nine bus service to Walls. She said “folk should know when buses are changing”.
Ms Beer said she was looking for work and is a carer for her 90-year-old grandmother. With no new timetables, she said she did not know what buses she could catch, or what hours she was available to work.
Ms Beer is currently away from Shetland and returns on 18th August – when the new network starts operating.
Her daughter also has to catch two buses to get to school, and she does not have information about those timetables.
Parents were not going to know what was going on, she said, and added that things seemed “a wee bit unorganised”.
Ms Beer contacted ZetTrans last week and was told the timetable would be available on 12th August. Information about travel cards – and whether a new one could be used on operators – was unclear, she said.
“I realise it’s a lot of work changing the entire bus network but it doesn’t bode well,” Ms Beer added.
Mr Craigie said the changing of the network had been “a huge task” for the transport service, which only had a small team.
He said he appreciated people’s need for information but there was no point giving out inaccurate information and the information needed to be right.
In May Shetland Islands Council and ZetTrans approved five-year contracts for the network of public and school bus services.
The transport partnership and the SIC said they had approved a network which reduced costs, through packaging services together and integrating school transport to make the most of vehicles and staff.
The council said services throughout Shetland have been rebalanced under the network to make sure that everyone gets the services they need. In some areas, the level of service had increased.
In 2012/13 the budget for public and school bus services was £3.66 million. For this financial year that was reduced to £2.89 million – a 22.3 per cent reduction in budget.
But the council has allocated an extra £500,000 to provide the full network needed to meet social and economic needs rather than making significant cuts to services.
The SIC said it recognised during budget planning for 2014 to 2018 that there was high demand for bus transport in Shetland.
Fuel prices and wage inflation could also push costs higher than anticipated, hence the extra £500,000 was put aside if problems emerged.
Spending still remained within the constraints set by the council’s medium term financial plan. Over the five-year period of the contracts, the SIC said it would save more than £5.5 million.
Compared to tender prices in March 2013, the cost of a similar network was down from £4.486 million to £3.384, the council said. That is a reduction of £1.2 million or 25 per cent.
Contracts have been let on the same basis as before for school transport services.
The council said it had also been able to keep its policy on transport during the winter months – with more children having access to transport during particularly poor weather.
Anyone with concerns about the new network should contact ZetTrans on 744868.