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Council could run bus services in Caithness and other parts of the Highlands


By Gordon Calder

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BUS services in Caithness and elsewhere in the Highlands could be run by the local authority following changes introduced by the Scottish Government.

Councils have been given new powers to operate bus routes whereas in the past they could only subsidise them. A budget of around £500 million has been allocated by the government and will help provide the infrastructure and encourage the shift to zero-emission buses.

Thurso and northwest Caithness Highland councillor, Karl Rosie, welcomed the move and said "significant investment" has been made to try and get the system operational.

He said the decision presents "a real opportunity" to improve bus services in the far north. It is understood about £500,000 could go to rural areas.

Councillor Karl Rosie says the plan provides "a real opportunity" to improve bus services
Councillor Karl Rosie says the plan provides "a real opportunity" to improve bus services

Mr Rosie, speaking at a recent meeting of Thurso Community Council, said legislation was introduced by the Scottish Government to allow the changes to take place.

Since 1985, local transport authorities have been prevented from running services although they could subsidise them but that has been reversed by the legislation which came into effect last month.

Mr Rosie said the move could lead to improved and more sustainable bus services although he stressed what may be appropriate for one area may not be suitable for another. "We have to respond to the transport challenges in the area," he said.

Caithness bus campaigner, Brenda Herrick, said: "If local bus services can be improved that would be great but I would think they would have to find out what the public want and when and where they would like these services. I think they would also need to use smaller buses."

Local government body COSLA welcomed the decision but stressed it was not a "magic solution" and councils "would need funding to take advantage".

Councils do not have to run the services under the new set-up but can opt for a partnership or franchise approach.

Scottish Transport Minister, Jenny Gilruth, hopes the powers will give councils flexibility and revitalise local bus services.

She said: "By giving local authorities the flexible tools they need to respond to their own transport challenges, we can deliver a more responsive and sustainable transport system for everyone in Scotland.

"I recognise that not every local authority will want to run their own bus services – some may opt for a partnership or franchise approach. What’s key is that local authorities will soon have greater tools at their disposal to revitalise bus services where required.

"By investing over half a billion pounds in long term funding for bus priority infrastructure, coupled with the roll out of free bus travel to under 22s and significant investment to encourage a shift to zero emission buses, we’re responding to the climate emergency by placing buses at the front of our just transition to a net zero society – supporting our world leading commitment to reduce car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030."

She added: "I would encourage all local transport authorities to consider using this power, and the full range of tools available to them under the Act, to ensure that everyone has accessible public transport regardless of where they are in Scotland."


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