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Claims of poor public transport links in South Lochaber were voiced again, this time at last week’s meeting of Highland Council’s Lochaber Area Committee.
The South Lochaber Community Company has been looking at reactivating a former local minibus service, which stopped operating several years ago, as a way of linking people with scheduled bus services in the area.
At the area committee, one of the representatives from various community councils attending to hear an item about the Fort William 2040 strategic vision initiative was Rev Sandy Stoddart, chairman of Duror and Kentallen Community Council. He told the meeting the various elements of the initiative were centred on Fort William and did not head much further south.
‘If this improves Fort William, that’s fantastic but some people have got very poor access to Fort William,’ he said.
‘Buses going through our area are relatively rare and it is something that needs attention.’
Rev Stoddart told the Lochaber Times that, in his role as chairman of Duror and Kentallen Community Council, he was aware public transport was a great concern in his area.
‘Many elderly people are concerned about the practicality of staying in their home if they are no longer able to drive and some have moved out of this area for just that reason,’ he said.
‘We hope to attract young families to the area but not only will they have to have a car, they may very well need two cars if one parent sets off early to work by car before children are needing transported to school.
‘People needing to travel to work or study will find this very difficult, time consuming or impossible without a car. Hospital appointments are, again, difficult or impossible without a car.
‘All this is in the context of pressure to reduce emissions and with Fort William sometimes almost gridlocked with more cars than it can cope with. It’s easy to say public transport isn’t supported but it has to provide what people really need for that to happen.
‘If car use is to be discouraged, meaningful public transport infrastructure has to be in place first. This will cost money, but if we are serious about reducing emissions this will have to happen.
‘With limited resources and competing demands the Highland Council must have a very difficult time deciding what to prioritise; perhaps the Scottish Government needs to make this part of its climate emergency spending in rural areas as well as cities.’
A spokesperson for SLCC told the Lochaber Times, it is currently in the process of converting the community company into a charitable incorporated organisation (SCIO) with a view to running a minibus.
‘The cost is £25,000 a year, but Highland Council has only been able to give us £6,000. However, we got £4,500 from the Kinlochleven Community Benefit Trust. The aim is to have the minibus on the road in April,’ he said.
‘We’re also looking to large businesses in the area to possibly help subsidise it because they too are affected by public transport issues in terms of staffing.
‘I know of one elderly gentleman who had to leave his house in Kinlochleven at 7am in order to catch a bus to Fort William for an onward journey to the Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.
‘The bus, however, was late getting back to Fort William on the return journey and this gentleman, as a result, missed the 5.30pm bus home to Kinlochleven and had to wait until 9pm for the next bus. It’s a pretty dire situation.’