A transport giant has unveiled plans to ease traffic chaos in the Highland capital by creating the north’s first permanent park-and-ride scheme.
Stagecoach could invest as much as £7million in the project on the eastern outskirts of Inverness.
It would run services from a site close to the Smithton interchange, a roundabout on the A96 route that links the city to Nairn, Forres, Elgin and Aberdeen.
Buses would run from the site to Inverness city centre seven days a week, but the cost could be high. The development of park-and-ride facilities, including a 400-space car park, and possibly a Stagecoach depot, could cost up to £7million.
The Highlands has never had a permanent park and ride, but temporary schemes running from the Caledonian Stadium car park to Union Street in Inverness in the run-up to Christmas have proved popular.
Bryony Chamberlain, the managing director of Stagecoach Bluebird and Highlands, said the move would cut traffic congestion on routes into the city.
She said: “I believe the demand for park and ride exists. People get put off by traffic congestion or parking charges. A park and ride will encourage people to come into Inverness.”
Miss Chamberlain said a report on the park-and-ride proposal was being drawn up by transport agency Hitrans and land to the south-east of the Smithton roundabout had been earmarked for the development.
She said the scheme could cost anywhere between £1million and £7million, depending on what facilities Stagecoach put on the site.
The proposed location is seen as ideal because the Smithton roundabout is already on a series of Stagecoach routes, including numbers 1, 2, 10, 11 and 305.
Early estimates are that prices for the park and ride would be similar to the cost of tickets from Culloden to the city centre – £2.30 for a return and £1.70 for a single.
Announcing plans for the scheme at a Highland Council transport, environmental and community services committee meeting yesterday, Miss Chamberlain asked for councillors’ support in what would be a public-private partnership.
Danny Alexander, Lib Dem MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, said park and ride would cut the “appalling congestion” problems in Inverness.
He also suggested that the scheme could be the first of a number of park and rides in the Highland capital.
Mr Alexander said: “It is sensible in environmental terms and transport terms. Congestion is appalling in Inverness and it is getting worse.
“I hope that Stagecoach will talk to the council and Transport Scotland to ensure that park-and-ride buses have priority on the roads.”
Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Nicol said: “It is exactly the sort of facility Inverness needs.
“Anything that encourages business in the city centre is to be welcomed. There is relatively good local transport infrastructure in Inverness and this will add to it.”
Culloden and Ardersier councillor Roddy Balfour, whose ward includes the Smithton interchange, said: “It’s a great idea on the face of it, but there is a traffic pinch point on that roundabout that may be aggravated and should be looked at seriously before anything is done.”