A THREAT to a “lifeline” bus service between Wick, John O’Groats and Gills Bay has been removed – for at least 12 months.
That was confirmed yesterday by Stagecoach, which has decided not to go ahead with a controversial plan to axe the 77 service at Keiss.
The company intended to make the change as from August 20 as not enough people were using the service but after widespread opposition changed its mind.
A public meeting last month heard that a Canisbay man would not be able to visit his wife in a nursing home in Wick, while a woman said she may have to give up her job in the town if the changes went ahead. Pupils at Wick High could also miss out on extracurricular activities, it was stated.
At present, Stagecoach runs a service to Gills Bay three times a day, Monday to Saturday, but from next month it will operate twice a day, Monday to Friday. There are additional journeys between Wick and John O’Groats but they vary according to school hours.
A Stagecoach spokeswoman said the company recognised the feedback from the community over its plans. “The revised proposals represent a significant investment by Stagecoach, and work will continue to promote these links to encourage a sustainable level of demand. A review will take place 12 months after the start of the new timetable in order to establish the long term future of the bus service to Gills Bay.”
Trudy Morris, who chairs the Caithness Transport Forum, said: “We are very pleased to see that Stagecoach has listened to the local community and agreed to secure the bus link to Gills Bay for a further 12 months. Not only will this bring benefit to local bus users, who would otherwise be isolated in their communities, but it also has potential to benefit the tourist market, providing services to link with the Gills Bay ferry.”
However, she is concerned about the review in 12 months time and said: “We will be working with Stagecoach and the local community to see what can be done to promote usage of the route, and will also be discussing with public sector partners such as Highland Council to see what might be done to secure the route on a non-commercial basis in future.”
Bill Mowat, the chairman of Gills Harbour Ltd, claimed public pressure had an impact on Stagecoach and pointed out there was strong opposition to the plan.He welcomed the reprieve. “This is definitely a step in the right direction but there is an implicit ‘use it or lose it’ message in the fact it will be reviewed in 12 months’ time,” he said. “It is up to Stagecoach and Highland Council to have a proper discussion about the long-term future of the service.”