BY MICHAEL RUSSELL
No toilet, no heating, wet seats and an alarm that bleeped continually — that was the latest experience for travellers who took a Stagecoach bus from Portree to Fort William last Saturday.
On a freezing cold morning, Mrs Mairi Breckon and her two children were waiting to go to Glasgow for a JLS concert. She was shocked by the “school bus” that eventually turned up as a replacement for the bus that had broken down.
“It was ice cold inside the bus,” she said. “My son had to go around feeling the seats to find ones that weren’t damp. There were people who turned up with extra clothes because they knew the bus would probably not have heating that worked.
“Because there was no toilet my daughter, who had a chest infection, couldn’t drink to keep her temperature down. The alarm kept going off and one of the other passengers had to be sick into a Co-op bag. The whole trip was absolutely awful.”
Passengers changed into a more comfortable vehicle once they reached Fort William.
“On the way back up from Glasgow the toilet was covered with vomit and faeces,” Mrs Breckon said. “When I pointed this out the driver got very annoyed, so I ended up cleaning it myself with Andrex wipes. Is this why I paid nearly £250 in returns for me and my kids? I think the drivers are so ground down by all this, but they can’t say anything because they’ll get the sack.”
Mrs Breckon said she would be taking her complaint to the Traffic Commissioner.
“If you look on the company’s website you’ll see that in their Conditions of Carriage they have a duty of care to passengers which says passengers must be taken to their destination with the ‘minimum of discomfort’,” she added. “That was obviously not the case on Saturday and, from what the other passengers were saying, has not been the case for a long time.”
Stagecoach, which part owns Scottish Citylink, have given repeated assurances to locals that the poor service would be improved. Their former general manager Ian Laing attended a public meeting on Skye in May of this year and gave out his email address so that people could tell him of any examples of sub-standard service. However, Mr Laing was then moved to a position as a project manager in Perth.
Local MSP David Thompson has been in discussion with Stagecoach this week to achieve a “permanent resolution” to the problems that have dogged the service.
A meeting has now been agreed between Mr Thompson and Liz Esnouf, who is managing director of UK Coach for Stagecoach which is responsible for Citylink and the Citylink services to Skye. This meeting will take place as early as possible in the new year and probably at the Scottish Parliament. Ms Esnouf is based in Rugby.
Mr Thompson said: “This is a lifeline utility for folk on the west coast and Skye in particular and its users have suffered a very poor service which is made worse by the fact that they are suffering on the bus for a considerable period of time.
“It would be very useful if folk email or write to me with examples of poor delivery on all of the west-coast Citylink and Stagecoach services so I can raise them all at the meeting with Ms Esnouf. My contact details are firstname.lastname@example.org.”
A spokeswoman for Citylink said there had been a “variety of issues that have affected the reliability of services” and she apologised for the latest poor standard on the Skye-Glasgow route.
She added: “We operate a modern fleet of vehicles on the route between Glasgow, Fort William and Skye. However, on Saturday, as a result of a breakdown, a replacement bus was introduced on the Portree-Glasgow service. We’re very sorry that the bus was not suitable for the journey and was not of the quality we would expect — we have investigated why that happened and processes have been put in place to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
“We have invited Dave Thompson MSP to meet with us to talk through the issues in more detail and we are pleased that he has accepted our invitation.”