THE prospect of improved bus journeys in Sutherland has been raised.
It follows recent rows over the axing of a vital bus service that runs through East Sutherland.
Stagecoach had previously proposed a number of timetable changes across the Highlands which came into effect from January 9.
Among them was scrapping the X99, 9.30am journey from Inverness to Thurso and Scrabster.
Some residents say they rely on the X99 service for doing their shopping or making hospital appointments in Golspie or Wick.
But now Stagecoach has been made to look again because bus passenger usage in the county is showing a rise.
The move follows a meeting on Friday in Brora between Highland Councillor Graham Phillips, who represents East Sutherland and Edderton and is Sutherland County Committee chairman; Dr Paul Monaghan, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, and Stagecoach’s managing director Mark Whitelocks.
Afterwards councillor Phillips said:”It was a constructive and positive meeting. There is to be a complete review of services by Stagecoach, recognising that Sutherland is a growth area.
“For instance they have found that just under half of the X99 traffic comes from journeys originating in Sutherland. “Stagecoach have recognised there’s a market in Sutherland which is untapped.”
Mr Phillips is hopeful that the X25 Dornoch to Inverness service will be re-instated – instead of stopping at Tain.
“I had low expectations going into the meeting but came away quite encouraged,” he said.
“I accept the routes have to be commercially viable – Stagecoach have lost a number of school bus contracts so they started cutting back on important routes. But it was an act of self harm and they are now listening to what people are telling them.
“I am hopeful something will come out of this meeting.
“The X99 became the X98 stopping at Helmsdale. We really need to get the old service back, especially for people wanting to get to hospital appointments at Wick.
“This is a lifeline service and a strategic service. People also go to Wick to attend job centre interviews etc. There are social penalties to losing this service.”