Hit and miss bus service won’t encourage people out of their cars

by Colin Campbell

EXTINCTION Rebellion protesters wanting to reduce carbon emissions and save the planet prostrated themselves across Falcon Square in Inverness, lying on the concrete in what was termed a “die in”.

Leaving death aside, I think I may start copying them it comes to waiting for the next bus in my area to arrive. Well not exactly copy them, but take along a small inflatable mattress to lie on till the next bus appears. It might be better than standing.

There have been many recent complaints about the city bus service, all of them fully justified. On some days in recent times the schedules might as well not exist. You just wander out without looking at the clock, and wait. And wait and wait.

I usually cycle down town but if I want to give my legs a rest from the Scorguie hills I use the bus service, or try to. A couple of days ago the bus I was expecting – it’s better to just “expect” – arrived roughly on schedule but the previous three times I just gave up and reverted to two wheeled transport. Coming up on 66 I can still climb up those hills with a backpack of groceries, and long, I pray, may that continue. But not everyone of my vintage is able to do that.

So folk rely on the bus service, or the alternative of a very long walk. Again, not everyone is physically capable of making the trek. An elderly relative with a gammy leg certainly couldn’t do it.

What else can you do? Arrange a lift, maybe. Order a taxi? Sorry taxi drivers, I know you need to make a living, but rather than go through the ordeal of watching that meter clicking upward seemingly every 10 yards, I’d rather crawl.

Complaints about bus services surface and resurface everywhere, and certainly in Inverness. But up until a few months ago the service, at least to me, seemed regular and reliable. All that has changed in recent times, a feeling shared by other bus users I’ve spoken to. It’s so hit and miss these days it might as well be a game show.

You could never rely on the current service for an appointment at Raigmore or seeing a GP or a dentist.

I’m fortunate in that I don’t usually have to be in a set place at a set time. I don’t for example have a job to clock on to.

It’s something that becomes irritating, but not infuriating, because fury is pointless. There’s no one to phone to complain to, and if you were able to speak to someone, the reasons for failure would be covid/staff shortages.

“It’s just the way it is.”

The service may improve, more staff may become available, and let’s very much hope so. In summer and autumn waiting for a bus in decent weather isn’t exactly a harrowing experience. But in winter weather it’s an entirely different story.

If I wanted a new car I could afford to have one. But I prefer to use my bike and sometimes the buses. I gave up driving 15 years or so ago and don’t intend to start again.

But, getting back to saving the planet, who in an Inverness crammed and overwhelmed by traffic is going to give up their car, or in many cases cars, plural, and start relying on a second or third rate bus service? We’re encouraged by our “net zero” council and politicians upwards to cut carbon emissions and use public transport more often.

A fine ideal. But who’s going to do that when public transport is so haphazard and unreliable? How many councillors or top council officials use buses to get to meetings or to work? They may not run the smoothest operation as things stand, but it’d be outright chaos if they tried to do so.

After the successful timing of a couple of days ago, who knows, things may be improving. But that’s just guesswork, which applies to the service as a whole these days.

From now on, to avoid lugging along an awkward inflatable mattress, new bus shelters should include a foam covered surface for people to lie down on. But we’ll probably be waiting quite a while for that to arrive as well.