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Passengers being offered 'sweeteners' instead of better bus service, says campaigner

By Gordon Calder

A LOCAL campaigner has claimed that bus passengers in Caithness are being offered "sweeteners" by Stagecoach when what they want is a better service.

Brenda Herrick made the comment this week following the bus company's latest offers to try and attract more passengers. She is to take up her concerns with north MP Jamie Stone.

Mrs Herrick, a former chairwoman of the Castletown and District Community Council, said: "Not long ago they [Stagecoach] had a cheap day return to Inverness and recently had an offer for a week's free travel.

"They are sweeteners and are going to do nothing for the company's reputation here. What we want is a better service."

Mrs Herrick is unhappy with a number of aspects of Stagecoach's performance and has been critical of the bus operated on the X99 route between Caithness and Inverness.

She and others have hit out at the design of the vehicle with its three seats on the lower deck and a toilet upstairs which has to be accessed by going down several steps. Some passengers refuse to use the facility and wait until they can go to a toilet at Dornoch where the bus company offers a "comfort stop".

A Stagecoach X99 service squeezing past a lorry at the corner of High Street and Bridge Street in Wick last month. Picture: Alan Hendry
A Stagecoach X99 service squeezing past a lorry at the corner of High Street and Bridge Street in Wick last month. Picture: Alan Hendry

Mrs Herrick said: "What we need is a bus that provides easy access both to the seating and the toilet for a journey of around four hours. If a small local company [Aaron's of Wick] can do this, why not Stagecoach?"

She noted that the company is undertaking a review of its services with changes anticipated for the summer timetable. The company says it will consult with Highland Council and the community, but Mrs Herrick is not impressed.

"I don't trust them taking any notice of what the public says," she said. "The complaints about the X99 bus started in October 2018 and they have not taken any notice of the articles, letters and feedback on that.

"I have no faith in them taking any notice at all. They seem to think they can do what they like. I don't understand their thinking at all."

A spokeswoman for Stagecoach insisted that offering discounts on travel to existing customers and seeking to attract new ones is part of the company's business strategy and similar to offers made by supermarkets and retailers.

"We offer discounts across the UK – not just in Caithness. Our January sale is in place across Scotland to offer customers a saving in what is typically a very long month for people," she said.

On the review, the spokeswoman said: "This isn't anything out of the ordinary. We continually monitor all of our routes. For over 10 years we have implemented changes to our timetable in Caithness to enhance the service over the summer with additional journeys.

"We will follow the usual legal process with registering our services for any changes that will come in 2020."

She added: "If Mrs Herrick has any specific examples of the date and time she has had a problem with our service I would appreciate that they could be shared with us."

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