Stagecoach replaces unpopular Interdeck buses on X99 north service
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THE buses on the X99 route between Caithness and Inverness have been replaced following widespread public criticism, it has been confirmed.
Operator Stagecoach said the Interdeck vehicles were changed in early March and Volvo B13 coaches are now running on the service between the far north and the Highland capital.
David Beaton, the company's managing director for the Highlands, admitted the Interdeck buses were replaced after being "heavily criticised".
The admission came in an email to local SNP MSP Gail Ross.
The news pleased local bus campaigner Brenda Herrick, who said: "I am delighted we have got new buses on the X99 service. It has been a long fight but worth the effort.
"I am sure people in Caithness and Sutherland will be very happy with the change.
"We started this campaign in October 2018 as the Interdeck buses were unsuitable for the journey to Inverness. I never will understand how they ever got off the drawing board, but we now have buses we can use and that's brilliant."
Mrs Herrick explained that the Interdeck buses had only three seats downstairs and passengers with mobility issues found it difficult to get upstairs and to use the toilet.
I am delighted we have got new buses – it has been a long fight but worth the effort.
"So many people will be able to use the new buses and that's great," she said. "It has taken two years of campaigning to get the change but it has been worth it."
Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said: "As we begin to move out of lockdown, bus services will play a key role in connecting our communities and providing us with links to opportunities and services in Inverness and beyond.
"We are delighted to see Stagecoach investing in its fleet in the area, and we very much welcome the introduction of these new vehicles to key routes in the north Highlands. This is a clear demonstration of Stagecoach’s ongoing commitment to the region."
Mr Beaton said: "The last few months have been an extremely challenging time within the business. We are pleased to have been in a position to be able to increase bus services in the Highlands from Monday [June 29] as well as get these coaches out on the road.
"We hope as lockdown continues to ease we will start to welcome more customers on board all of our services across the Highlands once again."
Three buses have been operating on the X99 route between Inverness and Caithness since early March but Stagecoach stressed the Interdeck coaches previously used on the service remain in the Caithness fleet.
In his email to Gail Ross on June 26 – a copy of which has been seen by the John O'Groat Journal – Mr Beaton said: "The newer coaches which are now in place at our Thurso depot come with a significant cost to our operation. The Interdeck vehicles we were operating on the X99 service carried 72 customers with the replacement coaches only carrying 59. But having been heavily criticised for the Interdeck vehicles on this service, we have replaced them with a newer fleet of coaches, all fitted with toilets."
However, he pointed out that social distancing rules mean that, at present, only 11 passengers can be carried on the X99 service.