Bus service changes – positive outcome from Culbokie meeting
18 April 2017
The fifty or more people who attended the public meeting in Findon Hall last night called by Culbokie Action Group to air concerns about the reduction of bus services to Culbokie and other parts of the Black Isle, came away with a near-assurance that a commuter service from Culbokie to Inverness would be restored.
The meeting, chaired by Michael Hutcheson, was led by Norlil Charlton with a passionate plea for the importance of bus services to Culbokie and other Black Isle communities and the possibility for the future of running a community bus; and held together with great competence and clarity by Alison Lowe. Transport Development Officer David Summers attended on behalf of Highland Council, and D&E coaches, who are taking over the subsidised services formerly run by Stagecoach, were represented by Managing Director Donald Mathieson, Director Gayle MacEwen and General Manager Ali MacDonald. Stagecoach had been invited and agreed to attend, but their intended representative had been taken ill and they were unable to find a replacement.
The extent of concern and anger at the timetable changes coming into force next week, particularly the ending of the Stagecoach 'commuter' service, was plain from the immediate eruption of questions and comments from the floor of the meeting, and Evelyn Campbell, a member of Ferintosh Community Council, made a forceful complaint about the lack of consultation before the changes were announced. David Summers was at pains to emphasise that the withdrawal of the commuter service was a decision made by Stagecoach on a commercial service over which Highland Council had no control, and the impossibility of the Council providing additional contracted services in the face of a £600,000 shortfall in their transport budget.
The tone of the meeting changed when Ali MacDonald suggested that it might be possible to provide an indirect commuter service by using D&E's new 405 Dingwall – Cromarty service to connect with the 25X at Duncanston crossroads. It appeared that a connection could be made with existing timings in the evening, but that the first morning service leaving Cromarty at 07.37 would need to be re-timed slightly later, and it might take up to four weeks for this change to a contracted service to be authorised. Ali and David agreed to discuss urgently the action necessary to bring this service into being. D&E also offered to provide an additional bus to connect with the 25U to the UHI campus, for the benefit of students, but this may not be necessary if the re-timed Cromarty – Dingwall service connects with the 25U anyway.
As the proposed indirect service would involve changing buses at Duncanston, concerns were expressed about safety issues and an urgent request was made to Highland Council to provide a bus shelter at the junction. To cover the interim period until the new service is fully established, villagers requiring transport and those willing to offer lifts were urged to contact the Cukbokie Action Group, who would help make arrangements. firstname.lastname@example.org
It was suggested that anyone with further concerns about public transport issues should write to their MP or MSPs, and question candidates in the forthcoming Council elections at the Black Isle election hustings in Fortrose on Tuesday 25 April.
There was general appreciation for the willingness of D&E Coaches to help remedy a situation not of their making for the benefit of the community, and the three main themes arising from an unexpectedly productive meeting – Service, Safety and Sharing, were ably summarised by Alison Lowe before the meeting ended.
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