First Aberdeen's Hydrogen Double Decker fleet

Passengers prepared to abandon Union Street altogether if bus access isn’t restored

  • Mobility and accessibility a real concern to customers who view the restriction of access to union street as unnecessary
  • Bus travel is less attractive and people are unwilling to accept a long travel experience for a pedestrianised shopping space.

First Aberdeen is calling for the re-opening of Union Street following a huge response to an online survey to bus services as research it has conducted highlights that the Spaces for People measures currently in place are having a hugely detrimental effect on bus service use in the city.

The research saw 1135 responses flag an alarming trend of opinion that if bus access does not return to the full length of Union Street, discretionary passengers are prepared to abandon Union Street altogether and seek out other locations and facilities to serve their needs. This news is a hammer blow to retail businesses and services based across the city centre who are battling to restore footfall and trade to pre-pandemic levels. David Phillips commented, “ when you consider that some of the responders would have to continue to make the journey for work etc. it is especially concerning that such a high % of people would likely travel elsewhere if this was to become a permanent solution. It does bring into question the city centre remaining a destination of choice. We don’t want to see that happen and hope that we see a return to buses operating the full length of union street with key bus stops along the route reinstated”.

Passengers were surveyed on a number of views including whether they would like to see a return to bus services along the length of Union Street, over 82% of respondents agreed that they would. Furthermore, over 75% of respondents agreed that the continuation of the present restrictions are not necessary giving support for a return of normal bus provision through the city centre.

The same percentage (over 82%) also agreed that the current Spaces for People measures were actually creating a barrier to bus passengers with mobility or accessibility issues who want to access bus stops on the closed section of Union Street. David Phillips commented, “The amended bus stops have introduced longer walks to shops and services. The introduction of bus stops on steep slopes such as bridge street and market street have made for difficult walking conditions too. Customer feedback and anecdotal received by our drivers indicates that vulnerable groups need to be more closely considered and catered for”.

The survey also looked at the effect that the Union Street closure has on bus as an attractive travel mode. Over 78% of those asked agreed that the current diversions imposed on bus routes around the Spaces for People measures made the use of bus a less attractive travel option for them. A further 62% advised that they were not prepared to have an increased bus journey experience (in journey times) as a convenience to having a pedestrianised section of road space.

The survey concluded with asking passengers that, in the event that the Union Street closure was made permanent, would they be more likely to travel elsewhere. Alarmingly, over 57% of respondents agreed that they be likely to avoid Union Street altogether and travel elsewhere for their needs if the Spaces for People measures remained.

Speaking about the findings of the survey, David Phillips, Operations Director for First Aberdeen said: “The findings of this survey have shone a compelling light on damaging effect on bus travel experience that the Spaces for People measures on Union Street have had on the use and perception of bus as a real and accessible way of moving around our city.”

“Based on this research, over 80% of our passengers want to see buses return to Union Street and it’s clear that bus users are finding the measures in place a real barrier when it comes to accessing services, whether that be bus routes, or retail and business facilities in the vicinity of the closed road section.”

“The most alarming finding of all though, is that nearly 60% of those asked are considering changing their travel movements to avoid Union Street altogether and shop of access services elsewhere entirely.”

“Following on from a recent meeting with Aberdeen’s Disability Equity Partnership, whilst I was aware of some of the challenges facing people with mobility and accessibility needs, I didn’t fully appreciate the extent of the impact that the Spaces for People programme had on them by losing access to these bus stops (e.g. guide dogs familiarity, accessing buses from the temporary loading stands and the extra walking on difficult inclines).”

“Overall, these findings are nothing short of a hammer blow, not only to bus operators, but to businesses and retailers in the city centre who are working tirelessly to attract footfall back to the city centre. The Spaces for People measures on Union Street must be revoked if the city and its businesses are to have any real chance of returning to a level of trade, access and use that was enjoyed by everyone prior to the pandemic.”

Greig Mackay, Director, Bus Users – Scotland, said: “This survey clearly demonstrates the need for buses to return to Union St in Aberdeen. Banning buses from our city centres has a huge social and economic impact on the people and businesses of Scotland, and adds to the congestion and pollution of surrounding areas. We would urge Aberdeen City Council to reverse the decision and reinstate these vital services.”

John Michie, a retailer celebrating their centenary year in the city centre, said: “I would welcome the opening up of the Castlegate to a dedicated H2 Bus Only route from the beach to the length of Union Street and up to Queens Cross. The current detour round Market Street and Guild Street is exceedingly dangerous and in anticipation of developments at the New Market, needs urgent review.”

Alex Nicoll, SNP Group Leader, Aberdeen City Council said: We would like to contribute the following comment from our group leader, Alex Nicoll: “I would like to thank First for undertaking this survey, which provides us with a clear picture of what folk think of the closure of the central section of Union Street to public transport.

“It is clear from the survey, and from looking at the congestion caused by the closure of Union Street, that it is time to return public transport to the whole length of Union Street. With street closures planned for the Christmas Village we need to ensure public transport can get into our city centre.

“This will be the first festive season in two years where people will be able to see their family and friends in one place. In the run up to Christmas people will be wanting to access to our city centre’s shops and hospitality, and for many that just won’t be feasible without public transport along Union Street.”