Stagecoach Reinstates three and half hour bus service between Caithness and Inverness
3rd November 2008
A three and a half hour bus service between Thurso and Inverness has been reinstated following much public pressure and a closed doors meeting between senior Stagecoach staff and Caithness Transport Forum.
At a meeting on Friday morning between Caithness Transport Forum members and other local stakeholders with Stagecoach officials, Stagecoach Operations Manager, William Mainus announced that the bus company was bowing to public pressure and from the 8th December both the 7.03am Thurso to Inverness service (via Wick) and the 25X 8.03am Thurso to Inverness service (via Halkirk) would be speeded up by limiting stops after Tain, arriving at Inverness at 10.30am and 11.30am respectively. This he said, would allow people to meet forward connections and be in time for hospital and other appointments. Similarly a straight through service on the afternoon 25X service north would be available leaving Inverness at 2.25pm and 4.25pm would be speeded up in the same way making a journey time of two and a half hours end-to-end.
Angry members of the public had been in contact with the Transport Forum, community councils, Highland Councillors and Age Concern Scotland about changes to the service between Caithness and Inverness introduced by Stagecoach since their purchase of Rapsons in May this year. The introduction of the 25X service, which takes passengers from the north through the seaboard villages of Easter Ross adds a further 45 minutes to an already lengthy journey from Caithness. Passengers had complained of lack of onboard toilets, and that toilet stops and navigational issues caused by using drivers who were not used to the route were making the journey even longer and more uncomfortable, particularly for elderly passengers or those who were unwell. The increased journey times also means that connections to other services south by bus, rail and air are being missed and some patients were unable to guarantee that they could meet hospital appointments at Raigmore and other clinics.
Stagecoach Bluebird Managing Director, Charlie Mullen said, " We recognise there have been problems with the 25X service and have taken on board passengers complaints. We sincerely hope that the changes we are making from 8 December will be a positive step forward. We are doing our best to ensure that everyone's views are taken into account and look forward to working with the community to improve the transport links in Caithness. This meeting has been a good foundation on which to move forward."
John Green who chairs the Caithness Transport Forum said he was very pleased with the result of the meeting with the bus company and local stakeholders. "They came prepared to listen and act to change the 25X service so as to meet the criticisms. As a result the service is now back to two and a half hours and a direct route from Dornoch to Inverness with the first bus arriving at 10.30am. This was one of the main requirements of the Caithness bus users."
Other issues discussed at the meeting were changes to local services and a guarantee was given from Stagecoach that the new local timetable (potentially starting in November) would be issued to the Transport Forum and other stakeholders early next week for comment so that alterations might be made if necessary. William Mainus said that a service to Lochshell would be included in the Wick town service and he would look at the possibility of providing a better service to Staxigoe. He also suggested that the Caithness Transport Forum set up a Bus Users Group for the county who meet with Stagecoach representatives four times a year to ensure that the best possible services be provided. Caithness Partnership Co-ordinator, Anna MacConnell, agreed to identify a group of people who would be most appropriate to sit on a bus users panel in Caithness present a broad community view to the bus company. Mr Mainus agreed to attend a meeting of the Caithness Association of Community Councils at their convenience and would be happy to attend individual community council meetings if invited.
Councillor Deirdre Mackay, attending the meeting as a representative of Sutherland Transport Group, was keen to underline the fact that the 25X is an east coast service and speeding it up will be good for the East Sutherland communities too. "Its an issue for the whole of the east coast, " she said " and its important that the East Sutherland point of view is put across. Many members of that community rely on bus transport, particularly to get to work and college, and a regular and efficient service is essential. It was a very positive meeting and, as well as meeting with Caithness bus users, Stagecoach officials have agreed to meet with Sutherland stakeholders sometime in the future."