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Transport / Increased demand from cruise passengers blamed as buses too full for wheelchair user

A WHEELCHAIR user says she was left in Levenwick waiting for a bus to Lerwick for more than two hours – because ones that did pass were full up due to the number of cruise ship visitors on board.

Ivanna Brown, who lives in Bigton, said she eventually gave up and was lucky enough that her sister was able to pick her up.

She said she was trying to catch the bus shortly after midday last Friday (1 September) to get to Lerwick for a meeting and some errands, but when it came she was unable to get on because it was too full.

Brown said that the same thing happened with the next bus – with drivers suggesting it was down to cruise ship passengers. With a warning the following one might be busy too, she decided to give up on getting a bus.

Ivanna Brown.

After writing about it on social media, some people said they have had similar experiences with the South Mainland service – including some buses being full, and having to stand on board for long periods of time.

The issue of capacity has been fairly long-running in the mornings and late afternoon at least when buses pick up South Mainland school pupils going to and from the Anderson High School in Lerwick.

Brown – who was in Levenwick after attending at the health centre – said the two buses in question on Friday were running behind schedule. The second bus in particular was “chock-a-block” with folk, she said.

Speaking to Shetland News this week, she said an elderly couple who were also waiting at the stop got refused for the first one too but did manage get on the second – however, they were seen to be standing.

Brown said she was effectively stuck at the side of the road in Levenwick because she cannot push her wheelchair up the hills.

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She also said she is unable to get the feeder bus directly from Bigton due to accessibility.

Shetland South councillor Alex Armitage was contacted about the matter, and he said cruise ship passengers using the public buses is “not a new thing, but has significantly increased the last few weeks”.

On the Friday in question there were three cruise ships in Lerwick, bringing thousands of visitors to Shetland in what has become an important feature of the local tourism scene.

There are always excursions on offer for passengers, with private coaches taking them around parts of Shetland, whilst some chose to do their own thing.

The service six bus runs down to Sumburgh, which features tourist attractions like the lighthouse and Jarlshof.

Armitage said he was not sure if the increased public bus usage was a cruise ship company trying to improve its eco-credentials, or “whether it’s a simple fact that this is [an] overspill onto the public network when all of the bus operators have maxed out their tour bus capacity”.

“Either way, it’s likely that more and more people will be wanting to use the bus services in future and there needs to be a plan about what to do when we reach capacity,” he said.

The councillor said he held a meeting with Shetland Islands Council’s transport planning service on the matter.

“In the very short term, there is not any big system changes that can be put into place, and once this cruise ship season ends it’s likely that these issues will die down for this winter,” Armitage said.

“The transport planning team are actively looking at all the options and are aware of this issue.

Photo: SIC

“My personal feeling is, in the medium term, if buses are at capacity, particularly if there are paying cruise ship passengers on board, the council could use some of the takings to pay for taxis for those unable to board buses due to overcapacity.

“The long-term solution is, of course to increase the frequency of bus services, which requires extra funding and political will. I’ll continue to campaign for this.”

A spokesperson for ZetTrans, the transport partnership which contracts operators to run bus services in Shetland, said:  “We are aware of the increased pressures on the services when there are large numbers of cruise ship passengers in Lerwick.

“Our officers are pulling the relevent data from our ticketing system to give an additional perspective alongside what is being presented through social media.

“Once we have that then we can understand the extent of this matter and consider it further.”

Meanwhile Armitage’s Green party was successful in extending free bus travel to under 22s in Scotland, which was introduced last year.

This is said to have increased the number of younger people using buses in Shetland.

But the councillor is keen for to see public transport made free for all in Shetland.

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