PASSENGERS travelling on Stagecoach buses have been warned to use a reinstated service to a public leisure centre - or lose it.
The bus company is to temporarily divert route 19A into the Inverness Leisure Centre site. Four journeys per day will operate in each direction between Inverness bus station, Inverness Leisure, Lochend, Drumnadrochit and Urquhart Castle.
The two-hourly service will provide a link from the city centre to the leisure centre, which has been brought back due to public demand.
Stagecoach previously operated route 12 to the area back in 2010, however it was axed due to low customer use.
However, the temporary re-installation comes just weeks after the controversial announcement that Culloden Battlefield - one of Scotland’s most iconic and historic locations - is to lose its only public transport link with Inverness city centre as the peak tourist season begins.
From Monday, Stagecoach is axing its existing hourly bus service between the city and the site - which attracts an estimated 200,000 visitors annually - under a shake-up of services across the area. The transport giant cites a lack of passengers to make the service commercially sustainable.
James Martin, Inverness Leisure general manager, welcomed this latest announcement on the link to the leisure centre and aquadome complex and said he will be doing everything in his power to encourage customers to use the service.
He said: "We are delighted that the service has been temporarily reinstated, even if it is on a trial basis, and we will be doing all we can to encourage our customers to use the service when it begins later this month."
The service has been introduced on a "use it or lose it" basis and Roderick Murchison of the Visually Impaired Persons Working Age Group has encouraged the public to try the bus for days out this summer.
He said: "The introduction of the new bus service, although being provided on a trial basis, is a very welcome transport improvement, as it will provide a direct bus link from Inverness city centre to both the Leisure Centre entrance, as well as to other nearby recreational facilities, which will be of great benefit to children, non-drivers, and people with visual impairments or other disabilities.
"Since the withdrawal of the original bus service that accessed the Leisure Centre, the only alternative has been a long footpath route from the bus stop in Glenurquhart Road, as well as a crossing of the busy A82 to return to the city centre - this can often be difficult, and potentially dangerous, for anyone who has a visual impairment. The new bus service makes a real improvement and opportunity for all people looking to access the swimming pool, gym or other facilities at the Leisure Centre by public transport."
Steve Walker, Managing Director, Stagecoach in the Highlands said: "We have been in discussions with the Highland Council, local councillors and senior staff at the leisure centre for some time, and are happy that as part of our network consultations we are able to serve the area again on a trial basis. We will monitor the usage, and also other passengers’ reaction to the diversion into the site."
"We are committed to operating quality public transport across the city and our recent consultations with the public, councillors and various stakeholders are testament that we are trying to get it right, catering for as many requests as we possibly can."
The new journeys will begin on Monday July 23. Full timetable information is available at the bus station or online at www.stagecoachbus.com