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End of the road for A9 bus service

By David G Scott

A BUS company which started daily trips to Inverness from Caithness has decided to quit this part of its operation despite having popular local support to begin with.

Aaron's of Wick began the operation last September to great acclaim from many bus users in the far north who had been decrying the X99 service run by Stagecoach.

In a message posted on the company's Facebook page, Aaron Wilson – who owns the company – said: "I am deeply sorry to inform you all we have decided to send our paperwork to the traffic commissioners to terminate the A9 service run."

Mr Wilson went on to say that the service will not disappear overnight but will take a couple of weeks to progress towards termination.

Aaron's of Wick had popular support for the A9 service when it started last September.
Aaron's of Wick had popular support for the A9 service when it started last September.

"It’s just not busy enough [and] we have been running at a loss this last six months. With us being a small company we can’t do that," he added.

Mr Wilson had offered passengers a daily service from Caithness to the Highland capital, starting at Scrabster at 8.15am and travelling to Thurso, Castletown and Wick.

The 53-seater Mercedes Tourismo bus stopped at Lybster and Dunbeath but, to save time, did not go into the villages. There were also stops at Berriedale, Helmsdale, Brora and Golspie but then the bus went directly to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness before going back into the city centre.

The service was launched in the wake of strong criticism of the bus used by Stagecoach on the X99 Caithness to Inverness run. Passengers have complained about the design of the vehicle, which has most of its seating and its toilet upstairs. It has been criticised as not suitable for elderly people and those with disabilities, although Stagecoach has insisted its vehicles comply fully with the Disability Discrimination Act and meet all the required standards.

Speaking last year just before he started the new service, Mr Wilson, who is 26, said: "I was thinking about doing an Inverness run for a while and when I saw the feedback about the new X99 bus I thought I would give it a go. I wanted to get a Mercedes Tourismo as there is no better bus for comfort. I want to do this right."

Aaron Wilson says he is 'gutted' to be cancelling the Inverness route.
Aaron Wilson says he is 'gutted' to be cancelling the Inverness route.

Mr Wilson admitted this week that he was unable to make the service pay and was "gutted" that he had to terminate it.

"I have always been taking chances and have always made it work but this time I just couldn’t do it," he said.

He went on to thank all the well-wishers commenting on his Facebook post and said he hoped that Stagecoach would be able to provide a good service instead.

"I want to thank everyone that has used our services – it has been a pleasure working with the public. Myself and my drivers have made good friends with people coming on and of the service bus."

Commenting on the social media page, Pat Mackay said: "Your service will be sorely missed."

Anne Galloway wondered if there was a problem with disseminating information such as timetables which could have affected the service. "I wonder if a lot of people don't know about the service," she wrote.

"I only heard about it a few months ago and I couldn't get a timetable. If you're not on social media it could be a problem. When you hear so many people complaining about the X99 it's a wonder that Aaron's bus wasn't full. So sad to lose this great service."

Mr Wilson said that for the foreseeable future his company will stick to private hire work and conveying cruise-ship passengers.

"As the owner of the company I am honestly touched with all the lovely comments and phone calls and the letters we have been sent. Once again, we apologise and will give you a date for us finishing."

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