BY MICHAEL RUSSELL
Promises of improvements on the Skye-Glasgow bus route were made this week by Scottish Citylink when its managing director Liz Esnouf met local MSP David Thompson in the Scottish Parliament.
Notorious for its lack of heating and working toilets, the service may even have a new operator if improvements are not sustained by the time of a follow-up meeting in April.
Discussions between Mr Thompson and Ms Esnouf centred on a number of issues raised by passengers, including accessibility of services for those with mobility difficulties, reliability of heating, luggage and toilet facilities, and the standard of customer support provided by some drivers.
During the “positive” meeting, Ms Esnouf outlined a series of measures which are already being taken by Scottish Citylink to make improvements for customers using the route.
• Refurbishment of three vehicles which have been taken out of service and temporarily replaced by megabus.com vehicles
• A focus on customer service and driver attitude including further customer service training for drivers which is being planned
• A commitment to open dialogue with accessibility panels to look into possible solutions to the challenges of accessibility on the route for customers with special mobility requirements. While vehicles on the route have low-floor access, it is not always possible to utilise the wheelchair ramp due to the road level at some stops.
The refurbished buses are due back on route in mid-March 2014. In order to monitor progress, Mr Thompson and Ms Esnouf will meet again at the end of April after the refurbished buses have been back in service for a month, to discuss progress.
Scottish Citylink has also confirmed that, should there be no significant improvement, it has made clear to its Glasgow-based sub-contractors, Stagecoach, that their contract to operate the route may be in jeopardy.
Ms Esnouf said: “We understand how important it is for local communities to have good transport links and we are sorry that, at times, we have not delivered the standard of service we want to provide for our customers. However, we are taking steps to make improvements and we are pleased that Mr Thompson is supportive of the measures we have put in place over the past month or so. He also understands some of the challenges we face and we look forward to working with him to make improvements for our customers on this route.”
Mr Thompson said: “I am delighted the meeting between Ms Esnouf and I was so positive and that measures are now in place to address the issues which have concerned users for some time.
“It is important that these lifeline services operate effectively and I will be keeping a close eye on the situation. I look forward to meeting again with Ms Esnouf in April to see how these improvements are taking shape.”
Matters came to a head last month when a Stagecoach bus used on the Portree to Fort William leg of the journey was found to have no heating, no toilets and wet seats. This prompted Mr Thompson to press for a meeting with Scottish Citylink.