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10/19/2021 - HITRANS HIGHLIGHTS Autumn 2021 Newsletter

Welcome to the autumn edition in 2021 of HITRANS HIGHLIGHTS, our newsletter which keeps you informed about the work of the Regional Transport Partnership and records the main outcomes of our recent virtual Board meeting, held on Friday 17 September 2021.  More detailed information about our work is available on our website: and Twitter @HITRANS_RTP  

EU Funding Update

HITRANS is currently involved in 8 ongoing European projects with a budget of £4,999,226, as well as providing support to the Low Carbon Travel & Transport (LCTT) projects.  Our work is attracting increasing public attention due to the positive impacts on rural and island communities as evidenced by many of the stories in this newsletter


Pioneering GO-HI transport accessibility app  

EU funding is at the heart of a project which will make it easier for residents, tourists and business travellers in the Highlands and Islands to access the information they need to make greater use of public transport and car sharing and to decide when cycling is an option.


We have developed the bespoke GO-HI branded app to provide instant access to information on buses, trains, taxis, car hire, car clubs, bicycle hire, air travel and ferries. This allows users to plan their journeys and find, book and pay for all modes of transport in one place using any iPhone or Android mobile device. GO-HI is powered by Fleetondemand’s Mobilleo Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) platform, which has been built with the capacity to deploy partner MaaS schemes using its powerful white label capabilities.  


It is being funded by the EU North Sea Region Stronger Combined project and the Scottish Government’s MaaS Investment Fund. Great news for the project is that we have been successful with a second bid for funding (£408,000) from the Scottish Government’s Mobility-as-a-Service Investment Fund, adding to the initial support of £445,000. This will allow us to further develop the capability of the app.



Scottish Transport Minister Graeme Dey MSP (centre with folding bike) is pictured at the Enterprise Office in Elgin, with Ross Basnett, Strategic Account Director, Mobilleo, Julian Scriven, Managing Director, Brompton Bike,  Oz Choudri, National Marketing Manager, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Ranald Robertson, 


The MaaS Investment Fund has been established to test the concept of MaaS in Scotland, and aims to deliver on the Scottish Government’s aspirations of lowering carbon emissions, improving health, and growing digital and innovation within Scotland by developing digital solutions to encourage and enable modal shift to public transport and active travel alternatives. 


Since the project began nearly a year ago, a significant amount of data from a wide range of transport users has been gathered to enable GO-HI to go live and in the coming weeks and months much more information will be added.


The HITRANS project engages the underlying Mobilleo platform with several new transport partners, as well as those existing on the platform today. Project partners include Enterprise Car Club and Car Hire, Bewegen, Brompton Bike Hire, Stagecoach Bus, West Coast Motors, Inverness Taxis, ScotRail, Loganair, Shotl, Skedgo, Orkney Ferries and Northlink Ferries.


New Rural Rapid Charging Point Network 

EU funding is helping the drive to break down the main barriers to ownership of electric vehicles in rural communities with the launch of a project that will see a network of 24 rapid charging points installed on the west coast of the Highlands and Islands.


We have attracted €1.5M EU funding and support from the Scottish Government to install the EV units in Lochaber, Skye and Lochalsh, Argyll and Bute (excluding Helensburgh) and the Western Isles by 2023. Priority locations have been identified but are still to be confirmed. Project partners will install a further 24 in each of Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland in a 6.4 million Euro programme.


We have tapped into a European collaboration to help deliver the FASTER Project - Facilitating a Sustainable Transition to Electric Vehicles in the Regions. It is a project supported by the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). The project will assist with analysis of the planning and procurement requirements needed to kick start a commercial charging service. Ireland and Northern Ireland are included in the project partners. 


FASTER aims to ensure that the availability of charging stations is not a major obstacle to EV market penetration, with the proposal to carry out the design and analysis, procurement, installation and operation of 73 rapid chargers (50KW capacity) across the 3 countries. 

Preliminary work has been conducted on possible locations for the chargers through the HITRANS EV Strategy, and discussions are ongoing with Transport Scotland project partner Strathclyde University (engaging with SSE Networks) to ensure locations are chosen wisely and in line with grid capacity and existing infrastructure.


E-Cargo bikes provide alternative to van/car deliveries 

Inverness, Oban and Orkney are pioneering a £75,000 pilot project that has seen the introduction of 4 electric cargo bikes in each location to promote a modal shift from van/car deliveries towards a low carbon environment.


HITRANS has contacted local businesses, councils and community groups in each area to establish different uses for the bikes over a 6–12-month pilot period.  If successful, the use of E-cargo bikes will be extended to other locations within the Highlands and Islands. 


The bikes are being offered to businesses and community groups for a period of between 1–3-month hires.  All necessary lights, locks and safety equipment are provided as part of the trial.  Training will also be offered to ensure that users are confident in using the bikes before starting the trial.


In Inverness, the E-Cargo bikes will be trialled at Laughing Tree Couriers, Velocity and High Life Highland. Laughing Tree Couriers want to replace the current manual bike and trailer they use to enable higher load capacity and allow them to cycle further with electric assistance thereby increasing the viability of the cycle courier concept for potential customers.


Velocity intend to replace travel by van and establish proof of the concept while High Life Highland will use the E-cargo bike for transporting supplies between four catering units in Inverness, including the Botanic Gardens, Canal Park Pavilion and Bellfield Park.


In Oban, The Hope Kitchen will be using the E-cargo bike to distribute local food parcel delivers as well as food between their community garden and the community café two miles distant.  Act Now (Mid Argyll), Argyll and the Isles Coast and Countryside Trust will be sharing a bike in the Lochgilphead area for the benefit of many local businesses.


Launch of new electric bike share scheme in Inverness 

HI-BIKE, the new electric bike share scheme was launched in Inverness earlier this month. The first phase of the scheme sees 30 electric bikes being made available for hire in the city, with three docking stations located at:


·       The Railway Station (Falcon Square entrance)

·       Inverness Campus

·      NatureScot, Glen House, Leachkin.


HITRANS are working in partnership with The Highland Council to expand the scheme over the next 12 months to bring additional bikes and docking stations to the city, giving a wider geographic spread and providing access to the bikes from more residential areas. 


HI-BIKE offers a range of membership options, from pay per ride to monthly or yearly membership.  Shorter membership options include 30 minutes free riding before extra time fees kick in, and monthly and yearly membership gives 45 minutes free each ride. To use the service, users can simply purchase a membership online or using the Hi-Bike mobile app. More information is available on the website:


HITRANS Partnership Chair, Highland Councillor Allan Henderson, said: “HI-BIKE gives residents and visitors more options for making shorter journeys within the city by bike, helping to reduce carbon emissions and pollution, and improving health and wellbeing.”


Special guest at the launch was active travel supporter Drew Hendry, MP for Inverness, Nairn and Badenoch and Strathspey, who has his own e-bike. He said: “This is an eagerly-awaited project that will give people the opportunity to travel around the city in a different way, enjoy the benefits of active travel and play their part in protecting our environment. I’m looking forward to the roll out of the scheme across Inverness, confirming its position as a major cycling city, and to other communities in the Highlands.”


The first phase of the pilot was made possible with funding from Transport Scotland and the EU project Stronger Combined, and support from Smarter Choices Smarter Places.


The initial three sites are easily accessed from The Highland Council’s Inverness City Active Travel Network currently in development, which includes Millburn Road corridor, Raigmore Interchange and the Riverside Way.


HI-BIKE is operated by Bewegen, a Canadian company which also runs Forth Bike, Scotland’s largest electric bike scheme linking Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire.


ScotRail Timetable Consultation

We have responded in detail to a consultation undertaken by ScotRail concerning a new timetable they will run from May next year Monday – Saturday to provide a more targeted and better value service post the pandemic.  ScotRail say the proposals are a new starting point and in the future new methods of analysis developed during COVID-19 will refine and improve the service offer as the operator learns more about how customer travel behaviours are changing.


On the Highland Mainline, ScotRail is proposing that the May 2022 timetable will provide the following:


       Ten trains per day from the Central Belt to Inverness and eleven trains per day from

·       Inverness to the Central Belt. These services will be retimed to offer a better overall service to customers between Inverness and Perth.

       The LNER service between Inverness and London will operate in addition to the ScotRail services.

     Services between Inverness and Edinburgh will operate via Stirling. This will provide Stirling with a more frequent direct service to Inverness. Passengers travelling between Inverness and Edinburgh or Glasgow will no longer interchange at Perth, but instead will interchange at Stirling.


On the Aberdeen to Inverness service, ScotRail is not proposing to make significant changes on the route from the current timetable and the May 2022 timetable will provide eleven trains per day in each direction between Aberdeen and Inverness, along with additional services between Elgin and Inverness and between Inverurie, Aberdeen and Montrose. Time has been included within the timetable to enable stops to be added at Inverness Airport railway station when the station opens.


No significant changes are planned on the Inverness – Kyle and the Inverness – Far North services 


Fort William - Opportunities Around Rail

We engaged consultants, Systra, to examine how improved rail services can help alleviate congestion in and around Fort William, particularly in the peak summer months.  In particular, they looked at some timetabling work, based on an additional Class 156 being available, and two theoretical new railway stations being opened at Nevis Range, Torlundy, and Carrs Corner, Lochy Bridge.

One of the aims of providing an enhanced local service is to provide connectivity to Lochaber High School. The timetabling work has shown that whilst it is possible to provide a good service to/from Carrs Corner all week, providing a service to / from Banavie is more challenging (particularly on a Friday afternoon when school closes at 1:15 pm). 


Discussions on the study are to continue with ScotRail and partners in the West Highland Review Group


Sound of Barra / Harris Socio-Economic Case for Change

A study is being undertaken to support community calls for improving ferry services across the Sounds of Barra and Harris – i.e., between Barra and Eriskay and also between Berneray and Leverburgh on Harris.


In partnership with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, we have commissioned work to identify the socio-economic case for supporting the requests for improved connectivity in these vulnerable island communities. Reference Economic Consultants have been appointed to undertake the commission with the overall objective of producing an assessment of the socioeconomic impacts of timetable enhancements.

The work will involve detailed consultation with both Transport Scotland and Cal Mac to help fully understand the operational constraints and opportunities for the timetable including crewing, and any knock-on impacts of potential changes. It will also involve detailed analysis of existing carryings and the types of trip being made. 



In addition, the work will include detailed consultations with key businesses and organisations and an online survey is proposed for each service. This work will help understand:


       The nature of traffic, including use of the services to connect with mainland

       flights or ferries.

       The services and activities that users are looking to access at the other end of

       the route.

       Reasons for demand for additional sailings 

       Current and future social and economic issues facing the communities.


The final reports will help establish the business case for investment in these two lifeline ferry services.


Bus Partnership Funding

HITRANS is helping with the recruitment of a project officer to deliver new bus projects in the Inverness, Inner Moray Firth area and Lochaber.  


The Highland Council was successful with two applications to the first round of the Scottish Bus Partnership Fund. In the Inner Moray Firth, an award of £2,053,040 will help implement a number of ‘quick win’ Improvements, including the completion of a bus gate at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, and bus lane enforcement. It will also help to develop the business case for bus priority measures on several key corridors around Inverness, including on Millburn Road where work will complement the Active Travel improvements being developed.


In Fort William, the Council has attracted funding of £707,000 to support the completion of two short dedicated bus links within Fort William that will help both reduce bus journey times and improve accessibility. Funding was also secured to develop the business case for further potential improvements that include a variety of bus priority measures in and around Fort William.


The Project Manager position will initially extend until 31 March 2023 and will be based in either Inverness or Fort William.  


Meanwhile, we are working with partners including Argyll and Bute Council and West Coast Motors to develop an application for the Oban and Lorne area which will be submitted when the second opportunity to apply funding closes in October. The application will include proposals to develop the business case for a Park and Ride on the A85 along with associated improvements to support bus priority and high quality information and waiting facilities on the main bus corridor through the town. The application also includes funding for a turning circle and improved access for buses at the ferry terminals at Ellenabeich and North Cuan which serve Easdale and Luing and are regularly affected by unpredictable delays due to the constrained space available at present.


Fair Fares Appraisal

HITRANS is to commission research to ensure that the needs of the Highlands and Islands are fully taken into account in the Scottish Government’s Fair Fares Review which is aimed at ensuring a sustainable and integrated approach to transport fares.


We support the Scottish Government’s policy objectives behind allowing 5-22 year olds resident in Scotland free bus travel through the National Entitlement Card (NEC) and the Young Scot branded NEC.


However, we believe that in our islands and remotest mainland communities, passengers should have the same entitlements as those benefitting from the National Concession Travel Scheme, where regular bus services provide the core local public transport network. Such an approach is needed to ensure that eligible people in all areas have equality of access to at least the public transport that is available in their area regardless of their location.


In addition, the HITRANS report on Rural Bus Service Support and Funding outlines a number of impacts pertaining to the National Concessionary Travel scheme for older and disabled people (NCT). This sets out several areas where the NCT Scheme has unintended consequences that disadvantage rural and island communities for a variety of reasons that are set out in the report

( r_Change.pdf).


The extension of the free bus travel to Under 22s is likely to exacerbate many of these unintended consequences, further disadvantaging the operation and provision of bus services in the rural Scotland.


Introduction of a Demand Responsive Transport App

Over the last few months, HITRANS officers have been working with partners to identify potential funding streams to enable the commissioning of a Demand Responsive Transport App which could be deployed on any non-scheduled local transport service. Funding has been secured from a number of different sources with an overall initial budget of £335,000 identified. 

This includes contributions from the second round of Transport Scotland’s MaaS Investment Fund, the Scottish Government’s Islands team, Smarter Choices Smarter Places and two of the European projects which HITRANS are participating – G-PaTra and MOVE. As a result of the funding package secured, HITRANS are now in a position procure a solution for the provision of a DRT Smartphone app on an initial 3-year contract. 


As a result, we are seeking to procure a software application suite that will simplify the booking and management of current DRT services within the region, initially focusing on DRT services operating on the islands, with an aim to also increase awareness and accessibility of the services to all potential users. The contract is being advertised on Public Contract Scotland and it is hoped that a contract award can be made by November 2021.


HITRANS helps fund trial of Hydrogen bus in the Highlands 

Ahead of COP 26 in Glasgow, Inverness and surrounding area is featuring a trial of the Caetano hydrogen fuel cell bus.  Stagecoach Highlands have been operating the bus on routes in Inverness and the Inner Moray Firth area. The bus has a 60kW Fuel Cell and a 44kW battery pack, providing a range of 400km, with 30 km on battery alone, and has regeneration capability. The performance bus emits zero CO2 emissions, and the hydrogen fuel cells are stored in the vehicles roof, allowing more space on board for the comfort of passengers. 


Our role in a partnership with Protium Energy and Element2, was to help fund the provision of a mobile hydrogen refueller that will be deployed at the Stagecoach Longman depot. The refueller is provided by Element2 and is in a container on a road trailer.


Following the Inverness trial, we hope to test the bus in Oban with West Coast Motors. We are also in discussion with suppliers to operate a refuse vehicle, road sweeper and hydrogen cars at the same time. 


Active Travel Update 

HITRANS received an additional £332,220 of Regional Active Travel Funding from Transport Scotland in March, which enabled us to; install folding bike hire kiosks in Inverness, Elgin and Oban; improve pedestrian safety at a junction at Whitechapel Road, Wick; undertake a study to investigate active travel links between Fort William and Glenfinnan; and fund an improved active travel link between Inverness Airport and the proposed new railway station serving the airport. A further £380,000 is allocated in this financial year to promote active travel across the Highlands and Islands.


Meanwhile, Improvements have been made to the connecting path between Inverlochy and the A82 retail centre with funding from Lochaber Town Centre Fund and HITRANS, and the Black Parks Road alongside Old Inverlochy Castle has been resurfaced to give a smooth passage onward to Stramash nursery, Highland Soap Company and Lochaber High School. The next phase of the project will see lighting installed along the route during this financial year.


20 Minute Neighbourhoods

Partnership Board members were updated on plans to adopt the 20-Minute Neighbourhood concept and consider what this means for communities within the HITRANS region.  To cut down on car use, the Government would like key local services to be available within a 20-minute walk or cycle from people’s homes.


It has been agreed that HITRANS builds on this work, in smaller rural settlements which do not already have active travel audits or Masterplans in place and aims to reduce private car journeys through roadspace reallocation, providing active travel infrastructure and reimagining public transport.  


Big lift for cyclists 

It’s now easier to take your bike on the bus on several Highland scheduled services thanks to a pilot being run by HITRANS in partnership with Scottish Citylink and Stagecoach.  Reusable bike socks (covers) are available on coach services provided by Stagecoach between Inverness and Caithness, and by Scottish Citylink on services between Inverness and Skye, Fort William and Ullapool.  The covers fit easily over the wheels and chain mechanism, allowing the bike to be safely carried in the luggage compartment of the coach. There will be two socks available on each service.  Both hire of the sock and carriage of the bike are free of charge.  If the pilot service proves popular, a booking service may be introduced in the future. 


Board meeting schedule:  

Our final meeting of 2021 will be held virtually on Friday 12 November.


Looking ahead to 2022 we will meet virtually on 4 February; in Inverness on 22 April; Eilean Siar on 16 September and Argyll and Bute on 11 November.

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