Customers on the Ullapool-Inverness coach route are set to benefit from extra capacity following an agreement by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Scottish Citylink and the Highlands and Islands Regional Transport Partnership (HITRANS).
Concerns about the capacity on the 961 service which connects with the ferry to and from Stornoway were raised at the recent meeting of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Coach operator Scottish Citylink, which operates the service, already regularly deploys an additional coach whenever bookings for the service exceed the capacity more than 48 hours in advance of the departure time. Scottish Citylink has previously confirmed that it also deploys additional coaches every Friday, Saturday and Monday on its summer services between Monday 23rd May and Saturday 1st October.
As the coach operator runs the service on a commercial basis without any public sector investment, it has previously been unable to guarantee that it can add in extra vehicles to the route with less than 48 hours' notice unless the level of demand covered the operational costs.
At the meeting all parties agreed that it was not commercially viable for the operator to ensure that sufficient capacity could always be provided for anyone expecting to travel without a booking but that they would work together with the aim to ensure that this increased capacity service would be deployed wherever possible when passengers made an advance booking.
An agreement has also now been put in place by the Comhairle and HITRANS with Scottish Citylink to ensure that, if additional capacity is required and can feasibly be deployed at short notice, any operational losses incurred by Scottish Citylink would be underwritten by these three parties.
Cllr John Mackay, Chair of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure and Vice-Chair of HITRANS said: “We very much welcome the cooperation of Scottish Citylink and the opportunity to collaborate with HITRANS in seeking to reduce the likelihood of passengers being stranded in either Inverness or Ullapool.
"We do however need to emphasise that, for operational reasons, this additional capacity cannot in any way be completely guaranteed by the operator and there remains a very real imperative that all passengers should make every effort to book as far in advance as possible of when they intend to travel from either Inverness or Ullapool."