Q&A Election Candidates Q5.

HERE for Caithness

Question 5

If elected how do you purpose to improve public transport in the county and challenge Stagecoach to improve their clapped out fleet of vehicles.

Thurso & Northwest Caithness

Iain Gregory

The Scottish Government recently launched a £62 million “Scottish Zero Emission Bus Challenge Fund”, intended to help Scottish bus operators to acquire 276 zero-emission buses. Where these buses will be located, I do not know, but I do know that substantial Scotgov funding needs to find its way to the far north, so that we too can benefit from modern vehicles. The Scottish Government says it is serious about encouraging us to use public transport, so they need to get serious very quickly. I live in Weydale, and there is absolutely no public transport at all. Bus services to Inverness and south must be considerably increased, and so must train services. Whilst standing in a lengthy queue in Inverness Bus Station this week, I heard from several northbound passengers who had strong views on this subject, and I intend to speak to Transport Scotland, local bus operators, and Ministers, with a view to seeking Scottish Government funding for services in Caithness, and south to Inverness.

Ron Gunn

The Caithness Transport Forum works with Highland Council, Transport Scotland and all other stakeholders and if elected I would like to get involved with them. I would also like to sit down and speak to Stagecoach and hear what they have to say and also put across passengers’ concerns. I understand there are new contracts coming up soon and they will have to improve services and their fleet of vehicles before I would support them for a new contract.

Matthew Reiss

If a local firm can supply a better quality of service and vehicles than Stagecoach I would support such a change. I think this is more than possible. The Council subsidises some routes but, as budgets are cut, this has become more difficult. Secondly, procurement within Highland Council has been a long running concern of mine.

Struan Mackie

As the Chairman of the Caithness Busses pressure group, I have held regular meetings with bus users and Stagecoach over the last five years.

We have demanded for the Highland Council and Dounreay to use their procurement powers to include a condition for newer fleets to be used on their contracted routes. Whether it be for staff buses to Dounreay & Vulcan or the variety of school bus routes that criss-cross the country, newer buses would be a win-win for everybody in our community.

Constructive dialogue saw the return of smaller (more appropriate) buses back onto the town circular routes a number of years ago after a sustained campaign by myself and other users. It was a huge improvement on the large coaches with poor accessibility for those with limited mobility.

If re-elected I will continue to have constructive dialogue with the Stagecoach and continue pushing for those with power to ensure better and more appropriate buses for our vital rural transport links, just as I have done during my current Council term.

Karl Rosie

The £0.5M investment provided for rural transport as part of this years Highland council’s collaborative budet is a very good starting point for the aim of improving public transport availability to and within rural communities. The intention is to reduce the reliance on the exisitng limited number of transport companies that are providing public transport. I want to see more local companies involved in providing local transport and we need to ensure services are flexible and more readily available for our local communities. Being adaptable and versatile is crucial for our communities, providing a range of vehicle options such as , mini-buses and community cars. Dial-a-bus / dial-a-car has been an interesting addition to the debate in how we would provide accessible transport options for rural communities.

Alex Glasgow

Recent roundtable consultations with the public have identified many concerns and desires.

As a private company, it is difficult for Stagecoach to be compelled to install certain vehicles. It’s most profitable routes comes from the like of Dounreay/Vulcan and school runs.

Dounreay/Vulcan is not in direct influence of cllrs. School runs are, however, and negotiation there could be applied. We saw when a local operator trialled a bus service to Inverness the challenges in this area of the country.

Wick & East Caithness

Bill Fernie

The buses are not al clapped out as seen by the new ones recently added. However they were not the right ones having 3 seats lower and stairs up the main deck. The problems highlighted for some time is why I have made point of doing my election campaign mainly using the bus routes to see for myself. I have used several buses and will do more in the next two weeks. It also appears to be a bit of chicken and egg situation as some routes at certain times do not have many passengers leading to less service. This slow decline cannot be reversed if not many people use the buses. We need to get back to local communities to see what woulde make it possible for more people to give up care from time to time and travel by bus. Then we might encourage Stagecoach to give is better buses. I will ask the council to request some research funding from Scottish government to see what has worked elsewhere to see if we can adopt good ideas from other areas.

Willie Mackay

First of all I intend to bring back our regular Bus users group meetings which were successful in bringing together every day users to highlight their transport concerns. Stagecoach did try to address the issues and did a lot of improvements but it did not lead to any greater use by the public into using the service that was available to them. The busses or should I say large coaches are to clumsy and awkward going through our towns and villages. I will push for a modern fleet of convenient smaller busses to service the routes across Caithness. If Stagecoach cannot attract Government subsidies to run such a reliable network of services across Caithness and the passenger numbers are continuously low then the situation becomes dire. So for me lets make the busses attractive to use in comfort and style.

Neil MacDonald

Public transport is essential to us. Getting to Caithness is a long an arduous journey and we need to make the area much more accessible. With regard to buses, Council can run their own bus services, I often look in envy at Lothian Buses, owned by the Council but have the lowest fares and the newest buses and still turn a profit. I would use my influence to encourage the Council down this route. We also see bus co-ops working well mutually owned but again investing profits into improving the service. In the interim I will put pressure on Stagecoach to up their game, but frankly that shouldn’t be required.

Jan McEwan

I would fight for improvement of our public transport services, especially buses. Caithness should have the same standard/service for all abilities, and safety of vehicles as everywhere else in Scotland. I will have no hesitation in contacting the Traffic Commissioners of any complaints of un-roadworthy vehicles being used in Caithness. Young people (under 21 years) can now access free buses, it is therefore essential that we have the infrastructure in place to support this and reduce young people’s reliance on cars.

Andrew Jarvie

Getting improvements to the public transport network has to be one of my most infuriating experiences as a Councillor. They happily take the subsidy’s but just don’t want to engage about their level of service. We also seem to get stuck with the oldest vehicles, it seems the new buses go to Glasgow, which eventually get sent to Inverness and then up to Caithness after being run ragged about two cities for over a decade.

Raymond Bremner

Standard scheduled services often are restricted to main arterial routes that are not easily accessed by local communities. Stagecoach investment in new fleet is always recovered where income is most generated – in urban areas. We need to have a more versatile fleet of transport vehicles including mini-coaches, mini-buses and community cars as well as larger public transport vehicles as a necessity to support rural transport needs. Dial-a-bus / dial-a-car would make public transport more accessible for rural communities. As part of the Council’s collaborative budget this year, £0.5M will be invested in rural transport with the aim of improving public transport availability to and within rural communities. I support the focus on reducing the reliance on a limited amount of transport companies for the provision of public transport and support a hub and spoke model where Stagecoach and other large vehicle providers can have a role supporting transport mainly to local public transport hubs. I support the focus on involving more local companies in providing local transport and for these services to be more flexible and more available in respect of the needs of our local communities. These are some of the public transport challenges and opportunities I will focus on if re-elected.

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