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A NEW bus users’ group has been set up in Fort William following a growing number of complaints about services in Lochaber.
Organised by the Lochaber Transport Forum, a meeting of the bus users’ group will be held every three months with representatives from bus operators, the Highland Council and regular bus passengers.
At the inaugural meeting Wednesday September 28, chairman of the Lochaber Transport Forum and Fort William councillor Brian Murphy said: ‘A lot of problems with buses have been raised at transport forum meetings so we have set up this bus users’ group for people with concerns about services.
‘We want buses in Lochaber to operate efficiently and in accordance with people’s needs.’
Maureen Dempsey from Claggan, who frequently uses the bus to get to and from Fort William, voiced concerns about the state of Stagecoach buses. She said: ‘I was on a bus about two weeks ago that was swimming in water and absolutely disgusting. You wouldn’t have even put a dog in it, so why are people in Fort William getting these buses? Why are the operators allowing buses to be sent to us that are fit for the scrapyard?’
Iain Beaton, operations manager for Stagecoach West Highlands, offered his apologies for the state of the bus, explaining there was a designated cleaner at the depot for the buses.
John Fotheringham, chairman of Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Achnacarry Community Council, said: ‘Just because I live in Lochaber, I shouldn’t be treated like a second-class citizen and that is how I feel.
‘Citylink is advertising comfortable and modern coaches yet the 919 service to Inverness is just a joke. The buses are always breaking down, the air-conditioning is working one week and not the next, in the winter the heating isn’t working but the air-con is. People are always complaining but nothing improves.
‘The buses that are being provided are elderly, rubbish and constantly late – it’s just unacceptable. You, the operators, set the standards when you advertise so you should adhere to those.
‘I came to this meeting because people want to make a difference. The transport forum has been listening to complaints for years, but it’s not made a huge difference.
‘We need to make a difference this time otherwise this meeting is pointless.’
David Frenz, operational director for Scottish Citylink, responded by saying no one in Lochaber should feel like a second-class citizen. He said: ‘We are looking at investment in new vehicles, but in the past six months we have had zero correspondence from the public about buses being late or broken down.’
He added that it was important a dialogue between operators and bus users continued outside of the group’s meetings.
The other key issue raised at the meeting was the absence of timetables from bus stops around Lochaber.
Mr Murphy said: ‘There is little point running buses if people don’t know when they are running. We got new posts at bus stops for timetables, yet we still have not got the timetables up.
‘I hope someone gets this sorted because I’m getting really frustrated with this issue.
‘It’s the same problem that keeps coming up – people telling us that the timetables will get put up but nothing happens. Surely it’s in the bus operators’ interests to get them up.’
Inquiries and complaints can be made to the Highland Council on 01349 886606.
Alternatively, David Frenz can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next meeting of the bus users’ group will be December 6 at 11.30am in the council chambers Fort William.