Highland Council has pledged to review bus services across the region to protect vulnerable people from cuts by private companies.
The local authority may even consider creating a publicly-operated service, if powers and money are provided through Scottish Parliament changes to transport legislation.
This comes after Stagecoach announced a review of services in the region, leading to “devastating” consequences for communities.
At a full council meeting on Thursday councillors agreed to put bus routes, timetables and costs under the spotlight as part of the re-design project, to make the authority more affordable and efficient.
It was proposed by Inverness Ness-side councillor Ron MacWilliam, who wanted work to start immediately but councillors voted by 40 to 20 to wait until the new national transport bill is passed.
His motion was sparked by the Stagecoach decision to scrap the number seven service in Lochardil, part of his ward. It will now be taken over by Inverness-based D&E coached.
Councillor MacWilliam said: “The time is right to open a dialogue with the Highland public about the future of local transport. The review has adversely affected many communities.
“Stagecoach has one primary objective and that is to satisfy its shareholders.
“If and when such powers to set up public bus companies and franchise routes become available to the council, which is highly likely, we should be doing this. I hope of we start this dialogue now, we are pre-empting legislation and we will be involved in the process.
“The powers will be there locally to sort out local issues. I don’t want us to be responding, I want us to be feeding into the discussion as it happens.”
Opposition leader Maxine Smith agreed, urging the council to “get ahead of the curve” but deputy council leader Alasdair Christie raised concerns that a public service may not be affordable.
He said: “I’m all for anything if the money comes with it but I don’t want to create a bigger problem for the council budget by saying we are going to do something when we don’t have the money to go with it.
“We need to get the detail of the transport bill and see what we can do with it. I’m very much with this but we need to see much more detail before we can drive it forward to any great degree.
“It’s the right direction of travel but we need to be cautious.”
This came on the same day as Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie said poor bus services are letting down communities.
The Scottish Greens transport spokesman hit out after a survey by Citizens Advice Scotland revealed 66 per cent of bus users are dissatisfied with the frequency of their local services.
He said: “A lack of quality bus services is letting down communities throughout the Highlands and Islands.
“Folk don’t have unreasonable expectations - they want decent services that connect communities, turn up on time and don’t cost a fortune. “The Scottish Green Party have long called for regulation of bus services. It’s simply not acceptable that private operators are able to cherry pick the premium, profitable routes, while other communities are abandoned.
“The Scottish Government are due to bring forward a transport bill this year, and I will be fighting to ensure that better buses are at the heart of this legislation.
"Lothian Buses, owned by the City of Edinburgh Council, provides an excellent service in our nation’s capital. I see no reason why this model shouldn’t be rolled out across the rest of the country, ensuring profits made in our public transport system is reinvested to improve the service.”