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Calls in strath for Inverness bus shopping link to be reinstated

By Gavin Musgrove

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Newtonmore resident John Wiggin at the bus stop with the petition.
Newtonmore resident John Wiggin at the bus stop with the petition.

A campaign has been launched for the reinstatement of a bus service to better connect pensioners in the strath with Inverness.

Locals are calling for the 9.04am service from Newtonmore-Inverness – which returned from the city centre at 1.45pm – put back on the timetable.

Retiring Highlands MSP David Stewart (Scottish Labour) has written to Stagecoach and Highland Council seeking its reinstatement.

He is being backed by John Erskine, the party’s candidate for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch for Holyrood, who has pledged he will pick up the issue if elected in May.

Mr Stewart said: “Elderly residents are telling me they valued this bus.

“They told me it was a direct service, and they didn’t need to change buses at Carrbridge.

“The other benefit of this bus was that it gave them ample time to do some shopping and then get back home again in good time, especially in the darker months.

“They say changing from one bus to the other at Carrbridge isn’t that easy for them, being up in their years they’re not so agile and I’ve heard stories about pensioners missing their connection and being left stranded at Carrbridge.”

Stagecoach told the MSP that Scottish Citylink withdrew a number of stops serving the Newtonmore and Kingussie area sometime ago because they were not commercially sustainable.

Mr Stewart said: “There were calls from the local community for some of the trips to be reinstated so Stagecoach replaced the pensioners’ prized 0904 from Newtonmore and 1345 return from Inverness.

“My constituents are telling me that it was precious to those who did use it and I am being asked all the time about this bus, so I am calling for some compromise here.

“I know that Highland Council is working with the Badenoch and Strathspey Transport and Access Group to review the local network and I am asking for this to be reconsidered as part of that.”

Thirty pensioners in the village, Kingussie and Aviemore have signed a petition calling for the bus service to be reinstated.

One of them, John Wiggin, said: “This service made all the difference to older people who valued the chance to be independent and take the bus to Inverness. The route from Newtonmore to Inverness via Kingussie and Aviemore is a straight link.

“That’s what we are looking for again.”

Mr Erskine said the service’s withdrawal had been flagged up while campaigning in the strath.

He said: “Bus services in the Highlands have declined significantly over the past 14 years. I want to see them brought back into public hands and operated by local authorities who will put decent bus services for locals before shareholder profit.”

A Stagecoach Highlands spokesperson said: “We have designed our timetables to maintain a connection between Newtonmore and Inverness by bus and are pleased that the commuter connections do not require a change of bus in Carrbridge.

“Other journeys throughout the day have been maintained with a maximum changeover time of nine minutes in Carrbridge.

“When this service was a direct route throughout the day, passenger numbers were extremely low and the service unfortunately operated at a loss.

“Understanding the desire for such a connection by bus we have been able to maintain this route with the connection in Carrbridge.”

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