Opportunities and challenges for McGills

Thursday 25th May 2023

While in Edinburgh enjoying autonomous bus riding last week I took the opportunity to take a look at some of the routes McGills inherited with last September’s purchase of First Scotland East.

First Scotland East ended its days as a business in two halves. Livingston based routes providing a network around the extensive residential areas in that town as well as links into Edinburgh, and, secondly extensive operations in the Stirling and Falkirk areas including routes into Edinburgh and Glasgow.

One of First Scotland East’s liveries for the Stirling to Glasgow route.

First Bus played around with a number of liveries and brands for these routes, particularly those in the Falkirk and Stirling areas but following the takeover, McGills has begun introducing new Eastern Scottish and Midland Bluebird brands using smart Best Impressions’ designed liveries harking back to former Scottish Bus Group businesses and the early years of privatisation.

The First Scotland East sale of its East Lothian based depots in Musselburgh and North Berwick to Lothian Buses back in 2016 had already made any recreation of a former Eastern Scottish brand somewhat diluted not least because the remaining operations were in West Lothian, west of Edinburgh rather than east, making for a slightly incongruous use of the word eastern in Eastern Scottish. Although the network is obviously still well east of Glasgow.

The livery really does look superb although the Eastern Scottish green colour is similar to that used by Lothian Country (part of Lothian Buses) for its competitive services on the Edinburgh – Livingston and Edinburgh to Bathgate corridors.

Lothian Country livery

I blogged about that competition in November 2018 and July 2019 and although Lothian Country has withdrawn some of its more speculative new services – including those using Green Arrow branded Volvo coaches – observations show its presence on routes X18 (Bathgate and Whitburn) (purple on the map below) and a 20 minute frequency on routes X27/X28 (Livingston and Bathgate) (blue) are doing quite well. It’s noteworthy West Lothian Council has a 1% shareholding in Lothian Buses Ltd which could well be ‘punching above its weight’ in influencing the retention of this three route network.

On the former First Scotland East network, McGills’ Eastern Scottish runs a half hourly X22 Edinburgh to Livingston (yellow on the map below) and a half hourly X24 Edinburgh via Newbridge to Livingston (red) as well as other routes providing connections between Livingston, Bathgate and Armadale including route 25 (green).

Meanwhile in Midland Bluebird territory McGills has the route from Edinburgh to Falkirk to itself with a half hourly X38 (blue on the map above).

I took a ride on the first journey out of Edinburgh on the X38 (at 06:50) on Tuesday last week. It’s a 96 minute journey and after a quiet start we gradually picked more and more passengers up as the bus headed westwards and then north-westwards out of Edinburgh. It takes about 30 minutes to finally reach the edge of the city boundary and although the route number has an ‘X’ it feels like quite a slow grind. However, every double seat was occupied by one passenger by the time we left Edinburgh’s environs which wasn’t bad for what you’d think is an “against the peak flow” journey.

More passengers boarded as we passed through Winchurch and Bridgend and it wasn’t until Linlithgow, an hour into the journey, when passengers started alighting giving quite a long journey for the commuters on board. The final half hour’s run into Falkirk via Polmont and Laurieston continued to see many passenger movements on and off and journeys we passed heading into Edinburgh had good peak loadings too.

After a short break in Falkirk I carried on northwards to Stirling on route 38. This runs every 20 minutes, taking around 45 minutes and uses a mixture of double and single decks.

Although my journey leaving Falkirk at 09:07 wasn’t particularly busy I could see signs by observing other buses that it’s another good route for the company with a steady inter-urban passenger flow between the two end destinations as well as the huge Firth Valley Royal Hospital, 15 minutes north of Falkirk and the town of Bannockburn, another 15 minutes further on.

Stirling has a bus station conveniently close to the rail station with public realm improvement works connecting the two currently underway.

The Travel Office and waiting area in the bus station looked rather sorry for itself …

… but there is a manned ticket office/enquiry point, toilets and electronic departure displays for both buses and trains.

McGills have obviously shipped in buses from other parts of its operating area to keep things going following the takeover, including Dundee…

…. as well as inheriting a hotch potch of First Bus liveries.

It does make for a rather confusing image, but I’m sure this is something that will be resolved over the coming months as more buses are painted.

I caught the train back to Edinburgh and then had a ride on the X22 over to Livingston.

Aside from being the most rattly Wright Streetlite I’d every encountered (subsequently resolved by swift action by McGills – to be featured in Saturday’s blog) it was a fairly quiet run taking 67 minutes and I’d say on balance Lothian Country are probably carrying more passengers per bus as well as running three buses per hour compared to McGills’ two buses per hour.

I doubt there’s enough passengers for five buses per hour, but a nice 15 minute frequency well marketed could generate passengers and be successful.

And talking of being well marketed, Lothian Country have carved out a presence in Livingston’s extensive and hugely popular shopping mall together with a timetable booklet.

A manned desk is a very welcome thing to see but it seemed a bit luxurious for one bus route running three times an hour.

How better if it could be an “integrated” desk with information about McGills’ complex local and inter-urban network too and also ….

… there’s one more company that’s recently entered the Livingston bus scene and that’s Scottish CityLink which has added a second route running between Glasgow and Edinburgh Airport.

Whereas it’s longer established route branded as AIR runs half hourly taking an hour for the journey (see above), new hourly route 902 introduced in March takes an hour and 40 minutes going via Bargeddie, Coatbridge, Airdrie and Livingston (see below).

And it seems to be proving popular with shoppers coming in from the west. The coach I caught that arrived into Livingston at 13:43 from Glasgow set down at least a dozen passengers. One boarded with me and another stayed on the coach both travelling to Edinburgh Airport which only takes 22 minutes journey time as the route goes via the M8/A8.

There was some confusion among passengers attempting to board the 902 once it arrived at Edinburgh Airport for the return journey to Glasgow with some mistaking it for the AIR branded route.

With a decent connection at the Airport to either the tram or Lothian Buses’ Airlink 100 it could be the quickest way to travel from Livingston to Edinburgh city centre – as I think the concessionary pass holder who boarded with me in Livingston was doing.

McGills has also inherited the former First Bus operated Bright Bus Tours in Edinburgh.

It was an interesting few hours travelling and I reckon there’s certainly plenty of opportunities as well as challenges for McGills’ newly appointed group managing director, Alex Hornby, to tackle in its recently acquired operating area.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

11 thoughts on “Opportunities and challenges for McGills

Add yours

  1. The caption to your second to last photo reads: “McGills has also inherited the former First Bus operated Brighton Bus Tours in Edinburgh.” I think that should be “Bright” – but I can understand why your spellchecker might automatically think “he means Brighton”!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Try getting a bus from Broxburn to livingston centre or st johns on a Sunday , you will have a long wait as there aren’t any .


  3. “Completely withdrawn on Sundays” might have been a more appropriate title for this blog. Only the Bright Bus Tour operation has been operating from their Livingston depot on Sundays since the culling of all the other services on that day from 8th May.
    Mind you Livingston does offer an opportunity not identified in the blog as it is ideally located for the expansion of McGills’ involvement in the rapid growth of FLIXBUS in Scotland, commencing today with the start of their new Edinburgh – Perth service.


  4. As the open toppers have to run into Edinburgh from Livingstone, why not run them in servuce pn Sundays, even if they run as an express. Would give the area something on Sundays.


    1. As the depot is close to a junction on the M8 motorway there’s scope for an in service express run into/out of Edinburgh, although it would be interesting to see the reaction from Scottish Citylink were it to happen. Might also be a tad breezy, not to say “dreich” for anyone upstairs!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Any service reductions are regrettable, but why do you think First were happy to dispose of a once thriving operating area. Local Councils or indeed the Scottish Government are quite free to step in and support services (£spare can always be found down the back of the sofa when required), but perhaps holding back until they can seize control in whatever form? Or am I being too cynical?


  6. I was on a boating holiday in the area recently and problems on the canal meant more time to visit Scottish towns. As a Londoner with little knowledge of the Scottish bus network my initial take of McGills operations was similar to Roger’s. I was immediately impressed at the quality of their operations. I did get the view from locals though that all was not well and a bit of confusion was caused in Falkirk when the bus seemed to run short due to road works. Nevertheless some good marketing and publicity was evident on McGills buses. More impressive though was on a trip to Glasgow where even First surprised me with the ability to tap on, tap off and get a farecap on their services – in this case an electric bus. A stop at Kirkintilloch gave the opportunity to witness a frequent network of branded routes including the 38 that Roger refers to. Well done Scottish buses (and trains) – some good services which others should closely take note of and learn from. Perhaps TfLs bus planners should take a trip there ?


  7. Interesting that McGill’s are trying to change their culture. They have seemed like quite a good operation, but recent developments suggest a lurch down-market.


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