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Bus driver shortage with Stagecoach Highland creates havoc for Inverness commuters

By Alasdair Fraser

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A Stagecoach Highland bus
A Stagecoach Highland bus

A shortage of drivers is causing chaos for commuters on bus routes around Inverness.

Last-minute cancellations have repeatedly left passengers stranded and late for work or appointments, with dozens of services affected on worst-hit days.

Bus firm Stagecoach, which operates a near-monopoly on local routes, is blaming an increase in drivers self-isolating due to Covid-19 infection or as close contacts.

The bus company declined to detail how many services had been affected, how severe the driver shortages were, or how long it expected the problem to last.

But the spate of cancelled buses appears to have significantly worsened from the last week of October when Stagecoach Highland’s Twitter feed was full of lists of affected routes. The problem continued this week.

Destinations hit include Culloden, Woodside, Raigmore, Milton of Leys, Milton Crescent, Craig Dunain, Balloch, Dalneigh, New Craigs and Tornagrain.

A Stagecoach Highland spokeswoman said: “Due to an increase in staff requiring to self-isolate, we’ve had to cancel some of our services in Inverness. Any changes are posted on our Twitter feed for customers.”

The company is currently advertising for experienced and trainee drivers for its Inverness depot.

James Roriston (34) works in education for Highland Council and regularly uses buses from Milton of Leys to visit different schools.

Bus cancellation chaos - James Roriston. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Bus cancellation chaos - James Roriston. Picture: Callum Mackay.

He said: “Last week, I experienced four cancellations. The worst saw me wait for a bus that didn’t show and then wait another hour-and-a-half for the next that didn’t show.

“It is just painful, to be honest.

“To be fair to Stagecoach, they did reimburse my taxi fares. They are trying to do the best they can and clearly have a real problem with driver shortages.

“The reality on the ground is very poor for Inverness, which is completely reliant on the firm for buses. We’re suffering from a real lack of service.

“It isn’t working for either the bus company or for passengers.

“The COP26 summit is highlighting the need for public transport to be one of the solutions to our climate crisis, but the city of Inverness can’t function without cars. I’ve spoken to lots of passengers and information is poor and unreliable. We’ve seen buses advertised that don’t turn up.

bus cancellation chaos - James Roriston..Picture: Callum Mackay..
bus cancellation chaos - James Roriston..Picture: Callum Mackay..

“Bus drivers look stressed and concerned. They’re trying to do the best job they can and know that passengers are upset. Some have told us drivers have left for more lucrative HGV work after Brexit.”

A Stagecoach letter of apology to Mr Roriston said transport operators in the UK were experiencing “hurdles” in returning to pre-Covid operating levels with a shortage of truck drivers and severe delays in the DVLA returning licences.

It added: “We are not immune to these issues and this has directly led to staff and vehicle shortages. The increase in positive Covid cases can leave us several staff short overnight. Our teams are working flat out to minimise disruption.”

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