A DECISION by Stagecoach to terminate its X99 evening services between Caithness and Inverness has been criticised as “a knee-jerk reaction”.
The attack was made by Landward Caithness councillor Alex MacLeod this week after the bus company confirmed the services will not operate from October until April. Low passenger numbers were blamed for the decision.
But Mr MacLeod argued that was no excuse and claimed the company could have looked at other options rather than stopping the service. “Stagecoach could have reduced the size of the bus or changed the time to suit the passengers,” he said.
The SNP councillor claimed “a lot of people depend on the lifeline service” and said its loss will affect the area.
“This is really worrying news and means the last transport link from Caithness to Inverness will be 4pm and even earlier on a Sunday. That will leave the far north unacceptably disconnected and will certainly harm the area’s economic and social development,” said Mr MacLeod.
“It will also send entirely the wrong message to those looking to live, work or visit the county and be a slap in the face to local people.
“What we need is the best value for money for the public in Caithness and elsewhere in the Highlands.”
John Green, who chairs Caithness Transport Forum, said the loss of the evening bus service will be “detrimental” to the area.
He, too, felt Stagecoach could have looked at alternatives such as changing the time the bus operates.
“Some people will be inconvenienced by this decision but I understand the take-up of the service has been quite low.
“Stagecoach has made a commercial decision and are not prepared to subsidise the service. The company is acting in its own economic interest first and foremost but I hope the service will be reinstated in April,” said Mr Green.
A spokeswoman for Stagecoach confirmed the evening journeys on service X99 at 6.50pm from Caithness to Inverness and from Inverness to Caithness at 8.25pm will be withdrawn.
But she stressed the decision will only affect the winter period.
“These journeys will cease in October and will not operate for the duration of the winter but will be reinstated in April.
“Since changes were made to the service in July 2011 the daytime journeys have been hugely popular showing extensive passenger growth.
“However, the evening journeys, even through the summer months, have been poorly used and, unfortunately, it is no longer commercially viable for us to operate these journeys throughout this period.
“We will continue to monitor usage levels on route X99 ahead of our next service review,” she said.
Meanwhile, the company has announced what it described as “minor changes” to some of its services in Caithness.
The move, which came into effect on Monday, means there will be some additional journeys in the Thurso area while some local routes will be slightly re-timed.
Various buses between Thurso, Reay and Bettyhill will be subject to minor timing revisions to improve reliability, said the company.
Stagecoach stressed the alterations are minor and have been introduced to reflect changes in school pick-ups.
Steve Walker, managing director, Stagecoach in the Highlands, said: “Our extensive route monitoring has brought us to these revisions across the area.
“I sincerely hope our passengers can see we are doing all we can to improve our network of services through ongoing monitoring.”
Anyone wanting more information on the changes should visit www.stagecoachbus.com