Westerbus timetable shake-up sparks fears over 'lifeline' route
WESTER Ross bus passengers who rely on a "lifeline" service to Inverness are concerned over timetable changes which are due to come into force next month.
Currently there is a direct Westerbus service to the Highland capital but after April 14 this will reduce from three days a week to two – from Gairloch via Kinlochewe on Tuesdays and Saturdays – relying on connecting Stagecoach services at Braemore Junction on other days.
Usually passengers would have three hours in the city before having to catch the return service with a round trip potentially lasting more than five hours between Gairloch and Inverness.
However, on Fridays, the waiting time would be reduced from three hours to just one hour – just over a fifth of the time required to make the journey.
Concerns have been raised that the changes will make it difficult for anyone with hospital appointments or those travelling for work.
And for one volunteer, who has helped Highland Hospice for the past 15 years and relies on public transport, she is wondering if she will be able to continue her good work.
Pat Ross, who is 66 and lives in Dundonnell, helps as part of the charity's quality assurance team, said: "I want to continue as much as I can but it's going to turn things completely upside down."
She said there were a lot of elderly residents who relied on the service. "It's a lifeline for them," she said.
Local ward councillor Derek MacLeod said he hoped Highland Council could somehow increase the subsidy paid to the bus company to make the service more financially viable.
He said: "The company say they are running at a loss and they can't afford to continue. I think the only method to continue with the present timetable is to increase the subsidy."
A Highland Council spokeswoman said the service changes had been registered with the Traffic Commissioner and passengers would be able to get a return journey to Inverness on five days a week – and there would be a return service to Ullapool on three days compared with just one currently.
It is understood that the changes will be publicised in the local press and ward councillors have been informed of the new arrangements – however local community councils have complained of little consultation with the matter only being discussed at meetings for the first time this month.
The spokeswoman said: "Highland Council received notification from Westerbus that they wished to terminate their contract with the Council for services 700 and 700A – Gairloch to Inverness stating that they are not making sufficient profit to warrant its viability in the current form.
"There is no other operator in the area with the capability to operate this service, and due to current budget pressures the council is unable to accommodate any likely increase in the cost of this route."
She said the council had proposed the changes and added: "The council’s transport officers have discussed this proposal with both Westerbus and Stagecoach who are in agreement with this and a guaranteed connection will be put in place.
"A ‘joint ticketing’ agreement is also in place with both operators which means that they will accept each other’s tickets making the connections at Braemore Junction smoother.”