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Call for public transport services in Caithness to be subsidised

By Gordon Calder

A Stagecoach X98 service heading through Wick en route to Dunbeath today.
A Stagecoach X98 service heading through Wick en route to Dunbeath today.

PUBLIC transport services in Caithness should be subsidised so local people can get "reliable and decent services", a local bus campaigner has said.

Brenda Herrick made the plea after north MP Jamie Stone urged the Scottish Government to take action as figures revealed that bus use in the Highlands and Islands dropped by 18 per cent in the past five years – the biggest decline in Scotland.

Mr Stone noted that the statistics published by Transport Scotland come in the wake of the demise of the Aaron’s of Wick bus service from Caithness to Inverness and after Stagecoach revised its timetables.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said: "These statistics bear out precisely what my constituents have been telling me for too long – our local bus services are in decline.

"Anyone faced with a long journey to their nearest hospital is severely disadvantaged. If you’re disabled, the journey is almost too difficult given the poor accessibility of some of the buses.

"Passengers want frequency, reliability and convenience. But, rather than improving quality and encouraging more people to use the bus, many services are being reduced or cut altogether.

"The Scottish Government’s own statistics must serve as a wake-up call – one they have ignored for too long. They must improve bus service provision in the Highlands and restore people’s faith in the service. My constituents expect nothing less."

Mrs Herrick, a former chairwoman of Castletown and District Community Council, backs Mr Stone's position and claims public transport services in Caithness should be subsidised.

"I am not surprised people are not using the buses as they are so awful," she said. "Stagecoach can't keeping running with empty buses.

"If the government wants to get us out of our cars we need decent public transport services and I think that means a public subsidy. What is the alternative? We need to get about somehow."

Mrs Herrick is also critical of local air and rail services and is unhappy with plans by ScotRail which would see some passengers having to change trains at Helmsdale. "That would be a total nightmare and would not be good for people with disability issues or parents with children."

She pointed out that flights between Wick and Aberdeen have been cut to one a day.

"Jamie Stone has raised these issues at Westminster, and Rhoda Grant [Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands] has raised them with Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson, but we are not getting anywhere. Somebody needs to get a grip on this," she said.

Mrs Herrick is "desperately sorry" to see the demise of the Caithness to Inverness service which was provided by Aaron's of Wick. "He was doing all the right things but could not make it work," she said.

She also is concerned the revised Stagecoach bus timetable could lead to "reduced services".

A spokeswoman for Stagecoach said: "We will be in touch with Jamie Stone regarding his ideas for improving bus services. We don't have anything further to add."

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