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Highland Council urged to go down publicly run bus route

By Gavin Musgrove

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SNP Ness-side councillor Ron MacWilliam has written to members of the Highland Council Redesign board to urge them to consider options for publicly run bus services in the Highlands.

Councillor MacWilliam, who chairs the Inverness Community Planning Partnership transport group, had previously called for immediate preparatory work to be undertaken by Highland Council in March 2018 whilst the Scottish Government’s Transport Bill was simultaneously being debated at Holyrood.

The council administration however decided to await the full outcome of the Transport bill before committing to the work. The Bill passed the final stage 3 process on 10 October 2019 and so that work, as agreed by the full council chamber, now must progress.

Councillor MacWilliam has written to the members of the redesign board to urge them to act swiftly.

He said: “I am absolutely delighted that the Transport Bill has finally been approved by parliament and is shortly to became law.

"What I don’t understand is why there has been so much reluctance on the part of the Highland Council administration to engage meaningfully with that debate and to prepare for the outcomes that we knew were coming.

"This new legislation will be a game-changer for Highland bus services if the council gets its act together and prepares to use the new powers they are about to possess.

"Thatcher’s bus deregulation was a disaster for Highland bus services but finally we have an opportunity to reverse that decline for the future - assuming the Independent/ Lib/ Lab Highland Council administration choses to wake up and act.

"There are no definitive answers as yet but route franchising, arms-length council bus services or even directly run council bus operations are all now possible, as well as community bus schemes which already run successfully in some places."

Councillor MacWilliam said: “The private operators have a difficult task seeking profit in the Highland market yet people are crying out for more regular and better buses, so the demand is definitely there.

"From everything I hear from community planning partners and constituents, many people would be more inclined to use buses if the services were at all suitable for their needs. When we consider climate change and the congestion on parts of our road network it is imperative that we move away from motor car use and on to communal modes of transport as soon as possible.

"If the private sector can’t invest adequately to meet these needs the public sector will have to come in. The council is expected to lead that change and that is why I have today written to the council’s redesign board to urge them to move quickly on it."

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