It was only a small group but they came with a big message: Please get Inverness a better bus service – sort out Stagecoach Highland.
Six residents stood on the lawn of Highland Council’s Glenurquhart Road headquarters to complain about the public bus service.
They say the buses are constantly late or not turning up at all and residents across Inverness and the Highlands are suffering as a result.
Particular problems were raised with service numbers 2 and 3 which take people to and from Raigmore Hospital and New Craigs.
The protestors said had developed a pattern of never-ending daily issues.
‘Be as well binning our free bus passes’
Campaigner John Harrower of Kinmylies in Inverness said he and his wife had free bus passes yet were often having to book taxis to get to Raigmore Hospital on time for appointments because the buses were late or not turning up.
He said: “My wife has got a problem called Ataxia which is affecting her balance very badly so we really do need a very close and well-run bus service.
“That is why we bought our house – it is close to a bus route to the town centre – but it is letting us all down.
“It’s absolutely changed our lives, my wife cannot go out as often as she would like it.”
Protest organiser Bill Anderson, former chairman of Muirtown Community Council, said the bus services desperately need to improve.
He said the city and the wider Highland area “deserves better from Stagecoach and not the third rate service that’s being foisted upon us”.
What can the council do about it?
Ahead of the protest, Bill, 76, wrote a letter to Highland Council.
In it, he asks the councillors to come together and take these issues to the Traffic Commissioner.
The Traffic Commissioner is responsible for the licensing and regulation of local bus services.
Due to the ongoing shortage of drivers across the Highlands, unfortunately services across Inverness are liable to experience delays, disruption and short notice cancellations throughout the day.
For bus times please download the Stagecoach Bus app. pic.twitter.com/phLT9FU44X
— Stagecoach Highland (@StagecoachHLand) June 28, 2022
While he was at the protest, Bill personally asked Highland Council leader Raymond Bremner if the council could step in.
Mr Bremner said it was “not always in the gift of councils to be able to deal with routes and services” but he would do his best.
He listened carefully to the protestors and said that he could see they were frustrated by the lack of communication from Stagecoach Highland.
Mr Bremner said his first port of call would be to discuss this problem with the bus company.
‘We need bus drivers’, said Stagecoach Highland boss
Stagecoach Highland managing director David Beaton said that the problems with the late and missing buses were mostly due to driver shortages.
In his 33-year career he said he has never known driver shortages to be this bad.
He said there were currently 17 vacancies and that the team was trying everything it could to recruit.
A recent bus driver recruitment rally fronted by Caley Thistle Football Club players and advertised on broadcast media attracted just one person – although later attempts were more successful.
However, a job advert for a marketing and communications officer got some interest but at the interviews not a single candidate turned up.
Mr Beaton added: “It’s a problem that’s affecting all industries and I do not think is going to go away for a while and we are having to cut our cloth accordingly.”
In an official statement, Highland Council said it was unclear why the protestors came to its headquarters and any complaints need to be raised with the Traffic Commissioner.