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Highland Council's bold £29 million plan to drive people out of their cars by giving buses the 'competitive' advantage

By Scott Maclennan

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Buses could be prioritised on key city routes under ambitious new plans to drive down car use.
Buses could be prioritised on key city routes under ambitious new plans to drive down car use.

MILLIONS of pounds could be spent on new bus lanes and park and ride services as part of bold plans to drive people out of their cars.

As the Courier reported last week, a partnership of Highland Council and other public bodies is bidding for a share of the Scottish Government’s £500 million Bus Partnership Fund, which aims to cut road congestion and reverse falling bus passenger numbers.

More details about the proposals, which have been submitted to Transport Scotland and could lead to the biggest shake-up in city transport for decades, have been revealed in a report to the council’s economy and infrastructure committee, due to meet next week.

Forming the first phase of a two-step bid process, park and ride sites are proposed for Smithton and Torvean as well as North Kessock or possibly Tore on the Black Isle.

The bid also includes applications to fund more bus lanes and priority routes in congested city areas including Culloden Road, Old Perth Road, the Inshes roundabout area and Millburn Road.

The report actively talks about “giving buses the competitive advantage over the private car” as the bid team says it aims to tackle congestion and climate changem along with wider health and equalities issues.

Detailing the overall vision for the changes, they state: “The key direct outcomes are to increase the number of bus passengers and reduce the car traffic movements.

“These outcomes are desired not only on the traditional city centre-focused bus routes, but also on routes to other growing destinations.”

Speaking about the growth of Inverness in recent times, they added: “Some of the housing delivered, particularly over the last decade, has created communities that are disproportionately dependent on the private car for making everyday journeys, due to designs dominated by road-centred layouts which prioritise driving as the primary mode of travel, over walking, wheeling, cycling or public transport.

“This approach has occurred in a relatively small urban city and region where active travel and public transport should be the logical travel choices.

“These factors, coupled with the delivery of out-of-town retail development, have resulted in driving tending to dominate people’s travel choices, even for shorter day-to-day trips, which contributes to increasing vehicles on the network and therefore congestion.

“This congestion leads to negative impacts on air quality, bus journey time and reliability. which is exacerbated by a lack of bus priority infrastructure on the road network.”

A total of £29 million is being sought for improvements in the Inverness and Moray Firth area, with additional plans for Fort William, Skye and Cairngorm.

Within the report, Highland Council’s head of transport and roads, Tracy Urry, says of the city bid: “It includes applications to fund bus lanes and bus priorities on congested roads and junctions, including the B9006 (Culloden Road/ Old Perth Road), Inshes roundabout and Millburn Road.

“Park and ride sites at North Kessock, Smithton and Torvean are also included.”

She added: “Outwith Inverness, the bid includes mini park and ride sites at strategic locations, provision to simplify bus routes and/or provide a dedicated bus stance in Dingwall, and initiatives in Invergordon to alleviate congestion around the port, as well as mini park and ride/park and share sites at key junctions along main routes.”

As well as Highland Council, Stagecoach and Shiel Buses have been involved in developing the proposals along with HiTrans, NHS Highland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Cromarty Firth Port Authority, Cairngorms National Park Authority and Skye Connect.

The idea is that they will eventually form a formal Bus Service Improvement Partnership and councillors at next week’s meeting will be asked to agree to the council initiating the new partnership.

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