Changes to transport in Scotland’s West Highlands1st June 2008
Stagecoach isn’t exactly flavour of the month in the Scottish Highlands right now. Their association with Scottish Citylink has resulted in changes, some for the better. In the background, there’s a potential takeover of the Rapsons group in the offing and West Coast Motors no longer run Scottish Citylink services. So, some suspicions of Stagecoach using Citylink as a stalking horse for moving wholesale into an area where they haven’t been up to now are understandable. Quite what the likes of the Competition Commision and the Office of Fair Trading will make of all this remains to be seen. In the meantime, West Coast Motors have launched services competing with those run by Citylink.
I first heard the murmurings of discontent on a trip to Lochaber in April and there was good reason: time was when two coaches were known to depart on a Citylink working at the same time if the number of passengers required it and that’s no more. In fact, I have have two experiences with 11:00 (formerly 11:20) departure to Glasgow from Fort William that rather makes me think that I should avoid using that service in the future. The first of these was last April and I was lucky enough to get on the coach. The second time around, I wanted to get on it at Tyndrum and found that it was full. There is a flip side to this, of course. For the summer at least, Citylink are operating a next to two hourly service between the capital of Lochaber and Scotland’s biggest city and it is virtually hourly in the afternoons. So, if we could change people’s behaviour so that the load is better spread, then the experience of getting ditched by a full coach would become a thing of the past.
In April, the extra services weren’t running and that brings me to perennial problem with the Highlands: the reduction in services during winter time. That means next to no train service on Sundays and the corresponding strain on coach services in the off season. In reality, there is no off season in Scotland with wonderfulness available to all every time of year; it’s just that the visitors often all turn up at the same time. Having been in Fort William of quiet January weekend, I know how quiet things can become but I still wonder if it would better to starting ensure that an improved public transport service started to operate from March on. There is a more extreme example of the shortness of the summer service period: direct coaches between Oban and Fort William are twice daily most of the year but for the Scottish summer school holidays when the service level is doubled. To my mind, that’s daft but I think that it has been the way for a good few years now.
On the subject of connections between Oban and Fort William, this year seems to see an improvement so long as you are willing to change in Tyndrum and don’t meet a full coach. That very same improvement applies to getting to Glasgow too, as does the caveat. Nevertheless, getting to the likes of Tyndrum or Dalmally for a walk has probably never been easier and I hope that’s how it stays. In fact, I would like all of the extra services to stay because of the limited train timetable along single track railway lines but their limitations are another story in itself.
Competition between Citylink and West Coast Motors would appear to have taken an unpleasant turn with Citylink now running services ten minutes prior to West Coast Motors’ departure times as well as ten minutes after like they were before. I suppose that sort of response is what the WCM timetabling might provoke but it doesn’t look pretty…
I have just spotted that sense is returning in the Argyll bus market with West Coast Motors working with Citylink again from the end of September.
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I can confirm now that Stagecoach now owns Highland Country Buses and Orkney Coaches. The latter has become Stagecoach in Orkney and the former Stagecoach in the Highlands. Vehicle cascading has started with ones coming from Stagecoach Bluebird for the Inverness-Fort William route and the Stagecoach name has started to appear elsewhere. Quite how the Competition Commission will see Stagecoach’s now extremely considerable presence in the Scottish bus market is anyone’s guess but, if it brings improvements to the areas formerly dominated by Rapsons, I cannot see anyone complaining.