Saturday 7th May 2022
To Scotland for the first time in my fortnightly A-to-Z wanderings and the wonderful city of Inverness. The administrative centre of Highlands Council, it’s a fast growing city – some say it’s the fastest growing city across Europe – with a population of around 65,000. Everywhere I went as I travelled around there were signs of recent housebuilding. A quarter of the population of the Highland Council area live in or around Inverness. You have to travel about 100 miles to reach Aberdeen or Perth, the nearest major urban centres.
Inverness is also a major tourist destination with a large influx of visitors during the summer season.
I visited the city a few weeks ago and spent an enjoyable time getting to know the city’s bus network. It was very much an exploration of discovery as despite all bus routes being operated by Stagecoach the company doesn’t appear interested in gaining passengers as there’s no map available either online or in print and although (during Covid times) timetables were available in a basic format continuous pdf at least that’s subsequently been made more colourful since my visit with more corporate looking timetables. There’s still no map though, although there is one of Elgin, 35 miles east and about a third the size of Inverness.
Unless you know Inverness’s bus route pattern it’s fiendishly complex to work out what goes where.
Luckily I found an outdated map in Google images complete with blurred place names and route numbers but at least it gave me some idea of what to expect.
It’s a fair guess that route number 1 is likely to be the main cross city route and sure enough this turned out to be the case running from Balloch in the north east of the city through the adjacent large residential area of Culloden and a nearby retail park to the city centre after which it takes a short hop over to a do a circuit of Dalneigh serving some high density terraced housing on a half hour round trip.
A trip I took on Saturday morning carried 16 passengers into the city centre but only two to Dalneigh with nine coming back although that was early afternoon.
Double decks seemed to be the mainstay of route 1 at a half hourly frequency which seemed about right.
Route 2 looked a likely candidate as the next busiest route. Another half hourly cross city route from Tornagrain – an expanding community east of Inverness or part of Culloden (hourly each destination), then combined half hourly via Raigmore Hospital across the city to Craig Dunain in the west. This route seemed to have a mixture of single and double decks. An average number using the route east of the city but we only took six out to Craig Dunain on Friday late afternoon and brought a couple back in.
Route 3 also serves Craig Dunain and across the city via Raigmore Hospital to terminate in Culloden via a different route to the 1 and 2 towards Culloden. Seven passengers joined me on a Saturday morning ride from the city centre to Culloden on the only journey seriously awry from schedule – 15 minutes late although by the time we were around 5 minutes away from the terminus we’d made half of that up and with just me left on board.
Routes 4A/4C 5/6 and 7 are circulars making various circuits taking in residential areas south of the city as well as Raigmore Hospital (routes 4A/4C and 5/6).
The 4A/4C are clockwise and anti-clockwise hourly versions of an hour’s ride around from city centre via lots of new residential areas which must have been built over the last decade or so including Milton of Leys and back to the city centre with journeys then continuing to a dead end at South Kessock, north west of the city centre which is also served with hourly shorts making for a half hourly service.
I took a ride early on Saturday morning and quickly realised there was plenty of slack in the running time – we paused three times – twice for five minutes and once for seven minutes – on the circuit. Obviously there aren’t through passengers all around the loop, unless their intrepid bus travellers like me, but although we only had about half a dozen on board it’s extremely frustrating to have to wait for so long during a journey. A couple of the passengers copped for two of the pauses. I suffered all 17 minutes.
Routes 5 and 6 are anti-clockwise and clockwise circuits of the same route that also takes an hour on an hourly frequency but shorts on the western side of the circuit as far as Milton also run hourly making for that section of route being half hourly.
That was definitely worthwhile on my journey with 13 on that western section but only me for most of the eastern circuit until one more passenger boarded as we approached the city centre again. Not very productive.
The 7 only runs anti-clockwise around its circuit via Ness Castle and Lochardil taking 41 minutes so runs on a rather unmemorable 45 minute frequency with one bus.
Unsurprisingly it wasn’t very well patronised on the Saturday morning when I travelled with half a dozen on board as we headed back into the city centre.
We took just one other passenger as we took the road south out of the city centre alongside the River Ness, which made for a very pleasant ride.
The couple of loops at the southern end of the circular included more new housing but sadly no custom as we drove by; perhaps not surprising when you spot two cars in the drive per new house as you pass by.
Route 8 is the shortest running half hourly on the 12 minute trip to Raigmore Estate (sited north of the large Raigmore Hospital) utilising one bus.
We carried five passengers out from the city centre on a Friday late afternoon journey with four young girls boarding in the circuit through the estate before the bus lays over for three minutes then returns to the city centre.
That’s about it for the city bus routes. It’s quite a tidy network once you’ve ridden all the routes to find out where they go – it’s impossible to tell from just the timetables.
I’ve already mentioned route 11 currently running hourly to the airport (and Ardesier) outside the city to the north east in a recent post about Dalcross and there’s also route 22/A running twelve journeys to North Kessock.
There’s quite a network of inter-urban routes which all start from Inverness’s busy bus station. (The city bus routes pick up and set down at bus stops at other points in the city centre.)
Unusually for Stagecoach the ‘booking office’ is still open here for bookings on the Citylink branded routes but it’s devoid of any information about bus routes.
As Stagecoach’s website is also set up to only give you information if you know what you’re asking for (eg you need to know a route number) I can’t say for sure what inter-urban routes are operated. What a truly bizarre situation.
From past visits and travels I knew for sure there’s an X99 to Thurso – but it came as a surprise to find this has now been cut back to just one daily return journey with a second on Mondays to Fridays. These are extended in Inverness to Raigmore Hospital and the Retail Park.
The most extensive long distance route is obviously route 10 running every half hour to Elgin and then hourly to Aberdeen taking a marathon 4 hours and 10 minutes for the complete end to end journey.
Route 25/A runs half hourly to Alness and Tain with two-hourly extensions to Dornoch while route 26/A runs hourly to Fortrose and Cromarty and route 27 runs hourly via Dingwall to Contin/Strathpeffer and there’s a sprinkling of journeys to Dingwall on route 28 as well as route 118 to Hughton.
There’s also a route X37 running half a dozen journeys to Aviemore….
….. with route 61 running 2-3 journeys across to Ullapool.
Less frequent routes include a handful of journeys on the 14/A, 16 and 17 to Knockie, Upper Foyers and Tomich respectively.
While in Inverness I was delighted to see the ‘Far North Bus’ branded minibus operated by The Durness Bus company arrive at 11:40 on its Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (+ Mondays in the summer) once a day return journey route 805 from Durness – in the far north west corner of Scotland. It continues on to terminate at Raigmore Hospital.
Citylink runs an approximate two-hourly direct coach service to both Glasgow (route M10) and Edinburgh (route M90) but by changing in Perth you can reach either city hourly.
There’s also a two hourly route 919 to Fort William and three journeys a day on route 917 link Inverness with Skye (one by a change in Invergarry) which are all delightfully scenic too.
Talking of scenic rides brings me to the four wonderful rail lines which serve Inverness. The station is conveniently located in Academy Street only a short walk from the bus station, although I understand there are plans to bring the bus station closer and establish a “multi-modal interchange”.
Top of the scenic rail line pops is the line to Kyle of Lochalsh and the Far North Line to Thurso and Wick must be a strong contender too. There are three return journeys on both lines making for seven (including a short from Inverness) to and from Dingwall.
Aberdeen has by far the most frequent line with 11 journeys a day running right through and six extra shorts as far as Elgin while finally the Highland line south to Glasgow and Edinburgh has four direct journeys to each city with connections to the other city available in Perth each time as well as one other journey to Glasgow Involving a change at Perth. It’s another great scenic journey with some great views through Aviemore and Kingussie as I found on my journey south after my visit to Inverness. The coach alternative to Glasgow and Edinburgh is more frequent and doesn’t take that much longer either and usually costs about the same as rail with a railcard.
A few final observations relating to the provision of information at bus stops. Hi-Trans take responsibility for this and do so across a huge geographic area so it must have been quite a challenge through Covid, but this seems to have been met by taking everything down – and some of the temporary notices advising of this were still in place during my visit including at prominent stops including Raigmore Hospital.
Posters in shelters showing departure times to different destinations aren’t very passenger friendly with headers highlighting the end destinations using rather vague generic names as shown in the examples below.
Hi-Trans kindly contacted me after seeing my Tweets about this explaining they’re aware of the anomaly which they’ve pursued with their data supplier and are hoping to fix soon, which is good to hear.
I hope they’re able to give some of the timetable cases a bit of a clean up too, as some were in a poor state of presentation.
I also raised the oddity I found when trying to use what’s supposed to be an all singing all dancing multi modal App for the whole Hi-Trans area after funding of £2 million was awarded as part of a much hyped Mobility As A Service initiative.
The App displayed a whole range of different coloured icons representing different modal options including car hire, bike hire and car clubs as well as bus and train but I found it useless as it defaulted to thinking I was in Swindon so when I clicked one of the icons it just showed me nearby bus stops or car club points in Wiltshire 520 miles south of where I actually was.
Hi-Trans said they’d not experienced a similar phenomenon but had raised it with the App supplier Mobileo. I also filled in an online feedback form on the Mobileo website but despite the business they’re in, communication is obviously not their strong point as they’ve chosen to ignore my feedback and comments.
I gave the DRT icon a try out, but wasn’t surprised to get nowhere with that.
The ‘flight’ icon merely defaulted to show me the nearest airports to Swindon, where it thought I was!
The experience hasn’t done anything to reassure me MaaS is nothing but highly paid consultants making money off the back of fanciful ideas that have no basis in reality. (Bit like DRT). I did manage to scroll the map up to Inverness and force the App to think I was enquiring about a strange city 520 miles north of where it thought I was. But it didn’t offer me anything the Stagecoach app or any other apps wouldn’t offer me, so I just don’t see the point.
I also spotted the electric charging point that was installed in Inverness bus station amid great fanfare a few years ago with electric buses operating on the city network and I seem to recall having a very limited range thereby needing regular top up charging.
This time there were no electric buses to be seen, and the charging point seems to have lost its point of existence.
I do see the point of Inverness though.
It’s a great city. It’s got a decent bus network – it’s just a shame it’s almost impossible to work out where the routes go. But the inter-urban coach and especially the rail options are not to be missed.
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