FEARS that “devastating” cuts to bus services could leave workers and students in a Black Isle community effectively stranded have prompted a crisis public meeting to be called for next week.
Politicians, bus companies and Highland Council have been invited to attend the Culbokie gathering to find a way forward.
A re-tendering exercise for Highland Council subsidised services to Culbokie has led to Stagecoach losing the franchise, which will now be operated by Inverness firm D&E coaches.
As a consequence, Stagecoach has decided not to run its commercial services through Culbokie.
Residents now fear they won’t be able to commute to Inverness for work and students living in the village will be unable to reach the University of the Highlands and Islands campus by public transport.
Culbokie resident and bus commuter Norlil Charlton warned that as from April 24, the village would “disappear from the Stagecoach map”.
“We will see the commuter and student service removed completely, along with a significant reduction in the Monday to Friday service,” she said, describing it as a “devastating” loss to the community.
A banker who works in Inverness and who doesn’t have a car, she said: “There are several locals who will now no longer have any way to get to work and back home each day, not to mention the students who have to find another way to get to the UHI.
“Stagecoach has advised that it will no longer provide a commercial service to us as we are not commercially viable.”
The company has said passengers on its 25X service, running from Tain to Inverness, have complained about the detour into Culbokie delaying their journeys.
Ms Charlton said: “Our options are now to walk two miles to the A9 and flag down a passing bus,” she said.
“There are no pavements along that route and at night we will have to negotiate the double crossing over the dual carriageway and walk back into the village.
“There is no shelter or lighting to protect us and we cannot be 100 per cent sure of when a bus will stop. In the past when we have had to do this buses have driven past.
“This is not the first time we have seen our service cut. As we are so reliant on it and want to protect services for the future, a small group of us, along with the support of the community council, have been trying for the last couple of months to get some kind of service reinstated.
“So far we have been met with a resounding ‘no’. In view of this we have called a public meeting in the hope that we can be listened to and work towards a resolution.”
The meeting will be held at the Findon Hall in the village on April 20 at 7.30pm.
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “This happens when councils re-tender. It’s happened before with school buses. It’s really worrying. We are trying to get people out of cars and there’s the issue of access to work, with communities being cut off.
“Bus services are not running properly at the moment and this is something that’s been raised in the Scottish Parliament. When councils put services out to tender it should be based on best value. I know they are strapped for cash but the social interest has to be taken into account.”
She said she would be happy to take up Culbokie’s case with Highland Council, D &E Coaches and Stagecoach.
Ferintosh Community Council chairman Bruce Morrison said D&E Coaches’ buses to Culbokie were too late in the morning and too early in the afternoon to serve commuters.