The ‘Bus Lady’ fighting for accessible bus travel in Stirling

11 mins read

Have you ever waited at the bus stop, staring at an empty space, waiting for a bus that is never going to come? If you have, you’ll understand why Val Brand has advocated for accessible bus travel in Stirling for seven years.

Val, known by many on Twitter as ‘Bus Lady,’ is a regular passenger on the X10 McGill’s route. Under her pseudonym, Val posts daily updates to her Twitter account warning passengers of cancellations, delays, and faulty buses across Stirling.

Originally run by First Bus until last year, the X10 route covers Stirling to Glasgow, passing through tiny villages like Buchlyvie, Balfron, Kippen and Killearn. All of which have had to fight to make this small feat happen since 2016. Val told Brig:

“You’ve got to prove that you deserve a bus and that’s wrong… it’s fundamentally wrong.”

“We were just passengers.”

After being told that First Bus would no longer provide buses for the four busiest routes on the service, a band of local passengers came together to take a stand. What started off as a tiny community group turned into a grassroots campaign for better buses.

Although they saved the 10 am and 4 pm services on their route after the council subsidised them, the real work began when the 1 pm bus was jeopardised, Val explained:

“We were just passengers. That’s all we were. But we just became so angry… First, they changed our route completely, and then removed our one o’clock bus. Now, this bus was crucial… So, we thought we’ll try fighting it and we’ll try doing a petition to the council. We collected a fair number of names while on the bus itself. That bus became my office.” Val said.

Through all of these victories and losses, Val faced another pressing issue. The vehicles they were given by First Bus weren’t up to scratch:

“We had water coming up the floor, water coming down the windows, you name it, no heating… I had pictures of one bus that had sticky tape on the roof on the outside to stop the leaks coming in,” Val explained, showing pictures of buses in varying levels of shoddiness.

Val Brand AKA Bus Lady on King Street
Val Brand AKA Bus Lady. / Image Credit: Rebecca Crockett

However, all of these complaints were with First Bus, the bus company which operated within Stirling until September 2022 when they completed a sale of transfer with McGill’s buses.

McGill’s already covered routes throughout Glasgow and Renfrewshire when they acquired First Bus’s fleet. It was a move which Val welcomed, but she now suggests the company has just inherited the problems experienced by its predecessors:

“I had real hope when McGills took over. But I’m getting much more worried because it is the same people from First Bus that are running the services. I can see that old culture come through.” She spoke, shaking her head.

Currently, passengers are facing an influx of cancellations and delays with some UL users claiming to have waited up to 50 mins for a service that is meant to arrive every 15 minutes. McGills told the Daily Record that problems had arisen from the poor quality of vehicles bought from First Bus and the pressure of the winter weather.

“I had real hope when McGills took over.”

A Spokesperson from McGills told the Daily Record in January that they had plans to improve this:

“Our future plans include approximately 60 additional vehicles to be introduced to the region by Spring 2023 and we appreciate the patience shown by passengers whilst this investment gets underway. “

UL bus
UL bus on the way to campus amidst roadworks. / Image Credit: Rebecca Crockett

But Val told Brig that local communities can’t wait. There were 127 journeys cancelled on the UL route alone in January. Val’s route, the X10, had 21 cancellations, as well as three buses that gave no notice, and one which broke down at Strathblane.

“We’re watching them, woe betide them if these buses don’t hit our streets”, Val warned.

Bus Lady isn’t the only one paying close attention to McGills. Student-led campaigns have sprung up at the University of Stirling in protest to the conditions on the UL route.

Morgan Lewis Wilson, a representative of the Better Buses campaign and a fourth-year Social Policy and Politics at Stirling University, told Brig about how students have had enough of the current conditions:

“Better Buses is a student-led campaign started and run by members of the Stirling Uni Scottish Socialist Youth group. It’s a campaign dedicated to improving bus services in the local community in response to quite simply a shocking service delivery from First Bus and now McGill’s.”

He continued:

“Considering that the cost of fares continues to rise makes this failure to deliver reliable services even more frustrating. We are committed to holding McGill’s to account for this on behalf of the community.”

“We are committed to holding McGill’s to account for this on behalf of the community.”

Efforts have also been made by Stirling Council to improve the service, with Stirling MSP Evelyn Tweed and MP Alyn Smith asking passengers for their views on local bus services. The results of the survey found that the accessibility of the buses scored 2.41 out of 5.

UL bus
UL bus arriving to campus. / Image Credit: Rebecca Crockett

As of yet, McGills has not yet responded to the results of the survey. Tweed told Brig:

“The results have been passed on, and I look forward to working with McGills to improve the service. McGill’s were open to hearing the issues raised, but I am yet to receive their response to the detail of the survey nor their plans for the future…I will be meeting with McGill’s in the coming weeks to discuss the bus service further and receive an update.”

The MSP assured constituents that transport continues to be an important issue:

“As a constituency with a big rural area, public transport is a lifeline and it’s vital that the bus service meets the needs of the population. Improving public transport infrastructure will reduce our impact on the environment and help with climate change targets.”

This lack of communication is one of the complaints that Val was adamant needed to be fixed. She said without a proper conversation, nothing would change:

“It’s going to take some serious conversations between the government, the bus companies, and the passengers,” she explained.

“There needs to be more accountability for passengers – there has to be. The complaint system is appalling. You contact the company, and you might hear back [or] you might not. If you do hear back, I’ll guarantee it’ll be a generic email. That just frustrates people,” said Val.

When contacted about claims of ineffective communication from McGills, the Bus company failed to provide a comment.

“There needs to be more accountability for passengers.”

Right now, Val is back where she started, bringing passengers together to decide that enough is enough. Together with representatives from Bus Users Scotland and members of the Stirling Council, Val has created a feedback form for passengers to fill out, but she needs help:

UL Bus
UL bus. / Image Credit: Maia Ella Confield

“Passengers can be funny. If there are buses running, then they can’t be bothered doing anything. They don’t look at the long-term view and I’m afraid we have to if we want anything to change. There’s no point in screaming when it’s bad and then when somebody else gets it bad, you don’t bother. We need to kind of fight for everybody,” Val explained.

After meeting with Brig, Val left, presumably to wait for the next X10. Before she went, she was asked why after all these years she has continued to campaign for accessible bus travel. Pausing for a moment, she said:

“There are lots of residents without any other form of transport, particularly in rural Stirling, who are totally dependent on buses to access shops, hospitals, healthcare, friends and family. Many either aren’t online at all or those who are, are not tech confident…

“They are the reason I keep slogging away at this… Trying to keep them informed as well as continuing to lobby anyone who will listen so that we can all enjoy better bus services and connectivity across the region.”

Featured Image Credit: (background) Maia Ella Confield, (bottom left) Rebecca Crockett

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Film and Tv Editor at Brig Newspaper. Currently studying Journalism and English at the University of Stirling

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