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"The North Coast 500 by Public Trasnport" Presented by Mike Willmot to the Rural Transport Cafe on 23 October 2020

The North Coast 500 is almost too successful, with campervans parked up at night or blocking single-track roads. Users don't get to meet the community but generate carbon dioxide. Population in North Highlands is showing a decline. Using public transport encourages local purchasing, while boosting lifeline buses like the once a week bus from Thurso to Durness, which was fascinating since went off-route many times. Taxi firms are going out of business owing to level of regulation such as on insurance: it's an open question whether Uber will extend to rural areas, and most community transport vehicles have only a Section 22 permit whereas they need the higher standards of Section 19 to pick up the public. Postbuses had a huge decline from 2003 to withdrawal of last one in 2016, with a dispute between Royal Mail and Highland Council as to who was to blame.

Pre-CoVid, which is a major setback, the experience prompted these recommendations:
- there should be a link to public transport on website of North Highland Initiative
- Switzerland has tailormade service working out timetables.
- there should be greater coordination bus and train: 0618 train and 0620 bus Wick-Inverness
- need for combined ticketing
- could licensed community transport organisations advertise their times
- dial a bus available only to residents, there should be a dual tariff for subsidy of locals
- supermarkets run book-a-slot deliveries, only a small extension to adapt for delivering passengers and there should be a common carrier for all doorstep deliveries.
- Income from NC500 merchandising should contribute to supporting public transport

Visitors can enjoy a 50% discount on accommodation at Helmsdale Station.

Discussion:
- there are gaps to the NC500 route by public transport and also by bike - hitch-hiking may be the only option
- recent survey showed 33% of Scots had concerns about welcoming visitors - highest in south
- Nature Scotland survey: a third reported nuisance caused by lack of toilets in rural areas - people have all been escaping to the same place
- A campervan brings all its own supplies, buys nothing locally. Could there be more charging points and waste disposal units?
- public transport is not for people with physical disabilities or for young families
- the Durness bus company is a family affair serving different routes on other days, including journeys along part of the road towards Thurso. How has CoVid-19 impacted on its business?
- migration of people from urban to rural areas may encourage new skill-sets
- community meetings have been made more accessible by switch to Zoom
- Royal Mail is a different beast nowadays, but is now going to pick up parcels
- campervan issues could be topic for a rural transport cafe in the New Year.

Notes by John Yellowlees

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