New bus service from Caithness to Inverness set to be launched next month
A NEW bus service between Caithness and Inverness is set to challenge the X99 run operated by Stagecoach.
Aaron's of Wick intends to use a 53-seater Mercedes Tourismo bus on the route once a day but that could increase if the demand is there.
Aaron Wilson, the man behind the venture, was due to pick up the bus yesterday and aims to start the service in September 13. The vehicle has wheelchair access.
Mr Wilson, who is 25, said: "I was thinking about doing an Inverness run for a while and when I saw the feedback about the new X99 bus I thought I would give it a go. I wanted to get a Mercedes Tourismo as there is no better bus for comfort. I want to do this right," he said.
Mr Wilson will offer passengers a daily service from Caithness to the Highland capital, starting at Scrabster at 8.15 am and travelling to Thurso, Castletown and Wick. It will stop at Lybster and Dunbeath but not go into the villages to save time. There will also be stops at Berriedale, Helmsdale, Brora and Golspie but then the bus will go directly to Raigmore hospital in Inverness before going back into the city centre just after 12pm. A return journey will leave at 4.30pm.
"If we are busy I will stick another service on and could do two runs a day. I will have a second back-up bus at Invergordon."
His business is based at Thrumster and has 11 vehicles – six coaches, four minibuses and a party bus – and employs five full-time and two part-time staff. They are mostly drivers but also office staff and cleaners.
Mr Wilson began the business about 18 months ago and to start with ran party and minibuses for private hire but at the end of last year moved into coaches.
When he was 17 he set up a window cleaning business and then had a fishing boat for five years before deciding to sell it and invest in buses.
"It was the best thing that has happened to me. I saw a gap in the market and went for it and I have been busy ever since, " he said.
The firm has been expanding and over the summer ran a replacement bus service between Dyce and Huntly for ScotRail while engineering work was carried out on the line. It has also been involved in taking passengers from cruise ships at Scrabster and Invergordon on tours.
Mr Wilson, who is from Wick, has registered his proposal with Highland Council and is awaiting official approval from the Traffic Commissioners.
The service is being launched in the wake of strong criticism of the new X99 bus used by Stagecoach on the Caithness to Inverness run. Passengers have complained about the design of the vehicle, which has most of its seating and toilet upstairs. It has been criticised as not suitable for elderly people and those with disabilities although Stagecoach has insisted its vehicles fully comply with the Disability Discrimination Act and meet all the required standards.
Brenda Herrick is one passenger who is very unhappy with the X99 bus. She backs an alternative service. "It does sound a great deal better than the X99. There are fewer steps at the entrance which has proper handrails. There is asingle deck, one step down to toilet and a wheelchair ramp which can also be lowered for anyone not able to manage the main entrance. It will also be a faster trip," she said.