September 19, 2023
Rural and Islands Parliament
Held every two years, the Scottish Rural & Islands Parliament (SRIP) convenes in Fort William over 1st -3rd November. Loosely modelled on the Rural Parliaments that are such a feature of rural life across Europe, this will be Scotland’s fifth such event. Run in hybrid form and free to attend, SRIP is expecting to attract hundreds of delegates with a programme of talks, debates and visits covering all manner of issues that impact on rural and island living. As ever, transport and connectivity issues loom large with community-led solutions such as the Glenfarg community-run bus service to the fore.
Faced with the “nightmare” of losing its local bus service, residents of a Perthshire village decided to take over the route themselves.
The 55 Glenfarg to Kinross service was axed earlier this year after its operators Earnside Coaches retired.
But thanks to a group of volunteers and the recruitment of three full-time drivers, the service is back and proving more popular than ever.
It now runs an hourly daily service six days a week, starting at 07:10.
Glenfarg Community Transport Group said the 55 service now enjoys about 300 passenger journeys per week, an increase of 200 on last year.
Group chairman Drew Smart said: “Behind those 300 journeys every week, there are 300 stories.
“It’s a great bus to be on, the banter, the number of problems we solve or try to solve.
“It’s not about buses, it’s really about people.”
Drew said running the service themselves gives the route a flexibility it did not have in the past.
He said: “We’ve got a few people, because of mobility issues, we don’t expect them to come to the bus stop, we’ll come into the village and pick them up at the door.
“When we get into Kinross we’ll drop them at the door of where they’re going.
“The drivers are brilliant, they go well above and beyond.”
One of the passengers, Kareen Macgregor, agrees.
She said: “I don’t drive so it was a nightmare before. We needed the service. It’s great, everybody loves it.”
David Keith, one of the full-time drivers, said the passenger numbers have “blown expectations out of the water.”
He said: “We have our regulars, but we see more and more people coming on who have never used the service before.
“I love coming into my work and meeting the people, numerous people in the village say it’s transformed their lives.”
The buses run from 07:10 until about 18:00, with the first service connecting to the Ember bus at Kinross Park and Ride.
Fellow driver Geoff Christie said: “People from the village that work in Edinburgh, Dundee or Perth, they can get to their work by 09:00.
“We’ve listened to the villagers and we’ve put that service on.
“Kinross is also really bad for taxis, so we’re providing another service that get people backward and forward – it’s provided a social element to a small village.”
Funding for the service comes largely from Perth and Kinross Council, with additional backers including the Smarter Choices Smarter Places charity fund.
Douglas Fraser, treasurer community bus group: “We also liaised with Glasgow Community Transport who have been a big help to us as well.
“It is a daunting prospect, but if you’ve got a group of people who are dedicated and can see the benefit in the long run, it’s well worth doing.”
In addition to the 55 service, 15 volunteer drivers operate the community bus that takes local people to social events and outings.
Douglas said: “That’s huge, given we only started nine months ago. We’ve got a lot of enthusiastic people.”
Drew Smart said the group now had ambitions to expand its service.
He said: “We do a really good service down to Kinross, and we could really benefit in the village from having a similar service to Perth.
“The Perth service during the day is very limited, we could make life a lot easier for people by extending the service in the opposite direction.”
A Perth and Kinross Council spokesperson said: “We are pleased that by supporting Glenfarg Community Transport Group, it has empowered them to operate community-led public transport solutions in their area.
“The success, to date, of their Service 55 and other public transport offers, has highlighted the vital role that Community Transport fulfils in delivering a sustainable transport alternative to the car.”