ELECTION 2021: Public transport 'revolution' needed says Ross-shire Labour candidate, citing 'maddening' travel woes within county
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Caithness, Sutherland and Ross Labour candidate Marion Donaldson has said a revolution on public transport is needed.
The 56-year-old former Edinburgh City councillor and community pharmacist, whose great-grandparents hailed from Caithness, said returning to her Skye birthplace last year had starkly underlined the poor transport connectivity in the Highlands, compared with the central belt.
“What we need here is nothing short of a public transport revolution,” she said.
“Public transport is a lifeline for those who don’t drive or who don’t own a car, or for those who want a greener option yet beyond the city boundaries of Inverness, bus and train travel is limited. Frequency and timing of services desperately needs to be improved and we need to link existing services to create a truly integrated public transport system. The cost of public transport needs to come down to affordable levels, and it has to be more easily-accessible for people of all-abilities, and those with small children.”
“A Contin passenger could, on the other hand, take the bus to Dingwall and then train it to Alness. But, alas, common sense would need to prevail for, in the morning, the train pulls off the platform seven minutes before the bus pulls in."
Pointing to a recent news story highlighting the impact of a decision to scale-back the Garve-Inverness bus service, Ms Donaldson said: "People living locally have told me decisions like these need to be challenged head on because it unfairly disadvantaged people in rural communities. Not everyone can afford a car, how are they meant to get to work, or to college?
"As if the lack of cross-county transport, without a changeover at Inverness, was not bad enough. The bus journey to UHI Northern College in Alness from Contin is an eye-watering two hours. A Contin passenger has to go almost to Inverness, change coach, and then hop on another bus to Alness. The journey is then completed on foot crossing the A9 to access the business park-based campus situated on the shore side of this major trunk road."
She went on: “A Contin passenger could, on the other hand, take the bus to Dingwall and then train it to Alness. But, alas, common sense would need to prevail for, in the morning, the train pulls off the platform seven minutes before the bus pulls in.
“That is just one of many examples of the reality of public transport in this area. It’s maddening because simple changes and tweaks to the system will stimulate economic growth, unlocking people’s access to training and learning and allowing communities to connect.”
She said that the Scottish Government has, since 2019, held the power to deliver a public bus service.
“It has obviously had other priorities, like splitting up the UK, on its mind”, she said.
“But Scottish Labour will use those powers, we will bring buses back into public hands, and give start-up resources to councils and shareholders to run them. We will initially extend free bus travel to under 25s, and then make the buses free to use for everyone, running a fleet of low-emission vehicles, including hydrogen-powered buses, to reduce carbon emissions.
“There are many issues with public transport in the Highlands, but a Scottish bus network could be reinvigorated, and through common ownership, an affordable, integrated public transport system, suitable for local people's needs, can be developed, supporting the health of our local communities and safeguarding the future of the planet.”