EXCLUSIVE: Bus Wars set to return to the capital

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First West Lothian have indicated the infamous ‘Bus Wars’ are set return to the capital this year as the firm plans to take on Lothian Buses on key routes.

© Roger French

A SWD Media investigation has revealed that the firm will make a significant investment, including a plethora of buses, to provide express services on key corridors within and surrounding areas of the city.

The move is in response to Lothian’s attempt to further drive them out of the region, with the launch and expansion of Lothian Country services in August – mirroring existing routes connecting West Lothian and the capital.

Lothian who hold a market share of over 40%, could come under fire from the Competitive Market Authority for restriction and prevention of competition, as well as the abuse of a dominant market position.

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The CMA are able to levy fines up to 10% of annual turnover for every year in which a violation has taken place up to a maximum of 3 years.

The bitter feud dubbed ‘Edinburgh Bus Wars’ dates back to 2001 when First last sought to increase their market share of services in the city.

Fares were cut, and frequency of buses on certain routes were increased and others were scaled back.

Lothian hit back by making a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading. They claimed First was engaging in anti-competitive behaviour in an effort to become the dominant operator in Edinburgh.

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First were later cleared of any wrong doing by the OFT, it was concluded that their conduct represented legitimate competition.

Despite the decision services were curtailed and routes to Penicuik, Dalkeith and Bonnyrigg were taken over by Lothian resulting in substantial losses.

By May 2016 all depots and travel shops were closed and First withdrew from East Lothian. East Coast Buses, a new subsidiary of Lothian Buses took over operations running services from Edinburgh as far as Haddington, North Berwick and Dunbar – Lothian Country was also launched in 2017.

Andrew Jarvis, Managing Director for First West Lothian said: “Lothian Buses launched a significant competitive operation in West Lothian in August last year and have increased their presence in a further four waves, presumably in an attempt to extend their Edinburgh market dominance.

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“We increased the number of services and journeys on the 28th of January 2019 and are now reviewing a number of options with regards to increasing our services further, not only in West Lothian, but also in Edinburgh.

“We welcome the deregulated bus market and competition in a fair environment, but having operated in West Lothian for over 100 years, we know the market is not large enough to support the current level of provision.”

Lothian Buses did not respond when asked to comment.