The Highland Council will commence running buses via an in-house operation on 4 January 2023. 11 pilot services that will fall under a Section 22 community bus permit have been registered with the Traffic Commissioner. Seven will start from that date with the other four following five days later.
A report to The Highland Council’s Redesign Board on 28 November states that the local authority (LA) expects to realise a potential saving of £1.4m per year on the initial group of contracted services that it has taken in-house, although it notes that there will be an initial outlay and “a one-off cost for the procurement of a transport management solution.”
That report states that an in-house bus company “will mitigate some of the significant cost increases fro the recent retendering of passenger and school transport contracts.” It adds that the model “will also provide the potential for an improved and more inclusive service to be provided to support other Council objectives.”
A team of three Project Officers and a Bus Operations Supervisor is in place. Interviews for the 11 drivers required are underway, with six recruited already. Although the bus services will operate under a Section 22 permit, the team includes two members with Transport Manager qualifications, the LA has pointed out.
The Highland Council will lease an operating centre in Inverness for the operation. Seven single-decker buses are currently stored in Inverness and two of six double-deckers have arrived in the city, although the LA also says that it has invested in 12 buses. The services to be taken up are currently in the hands of other operators including Stagecoach.
Some of those registered will run only on schooldays. The Highland Council says that while the timeframe to establish the in-house operation has not permitted the use of battery-electric buses to be explored, officers intend to submit a bid next spring to the second round of the Scottish Zero Emission Bus challenge fund.
Adds Chair of the Economy and Infrastructure Committee Cllr Ken Gowans: “Our ambitious in-house bus company will mitigate some of the significant cost increases following the recent retendering of passenger and school transport contracts. It will allow us the flexibility for an improved and more inclusive service.
“The new service will be supported by specialist transport management software. That will not only help us to streamline the expansion of our bus services, but it will ensure that every possible efficiency saving is made.”
A second project will see The Highland Council undertake a review of home-to-school transport arrangements, including the procurement of specialist transport management software. That follows recommendations from TAS Partnership in a review of that function, which a further Project Officer is in place to work on.