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3/3/2021 - HITRANS HIGHLIGHTS - March Newsletter 2021


Welcome to the first 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 5 February 2021.  More detailed information about our work is available on our website: and Twitter @HITRANS_RTP 


Action Plan to halt the decline in Rural / Island Bus Services

HITRANS is drawing up an action plan in a bid to halt the sharp decline in the use of bus services in rural and island communities, which has been heightened by the impacts of Covid-19.

The Partnership wants more funding from the Scottish Government to be targeted on sustaining rural and island bus services and believes that lessons can be learned from the pandemic to tailor future services more closely to the needs of local communities, with major input from community transport groups.

Specifically, HITRANS is advocating the reinstatement of a Rural Transport Fund and the Regional Transport Partnership capital passenger transport grant to support improvements to infrastructure and public transport capital assets including within the community transport sector.  Also recommended is the introduction of an Enhanced DRT funding stream – managed at Regional Transport Partnership level and developed collaboratively with local authorities and community anchor groups.

Partnership Board Chairman Councillor Allan Henderson will be writing to the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Transport and Infrastructure to recommend the new measures to better support rural and island communities which he says have been hit hardest by the pandemic and which are not eligible for much of the existing and new support for bus services.

He said: “Many residents who were very reliant on subsidised local bus services and Community Transport for access have become increasingly isolated through lockdown and the Covid experience, and we now have the challenge (with partners) to support these residents, often younger residents and older people, to become socially active again, to regain their mobility and improve their wellbeing. This is a major challenge for the coming months and years, and one in which local bus services and Community Transport should have a significant role if it is supported. This is a prime example of

where transport affords benefits far beyond transport itself, benefitting wider health and social care services.”


Covid-19 had seen the adoption and welcoming of more home working and working closer to home within community hubs, both across the public and private sectors. This presents the opportunity to reshape rural bus services and community transport with the right financial support package.


He added: “There is potential to benefit from community involvement on the back of the strength of the community response through the Covid experience – growth in, and growth of, Community Anchor Organisations with a will to shape and deliver change and services within their communities. This could be captured through the development of targeted funding for rural and island areas focused on delivering across all four of the National Transport Strategy priorities -  reducing inequalities , taking climate action, helping deliver inclusive growth, and improving health and wellbeing.


“There is a real opportunity in the current context to deliver services in new ways, using technology as well as community involvement, to inform good service design and delivery for the years ahead.”


Inverness City Centre Masterplanning

We are delighted to be part of a new Steering Group set up to devise a masterplan for the redevelopment of Inverness city centre, notably at and around Inverness rail and bus stations.  Other members are Network Rail, Abellio ScotRail, Transport Scotland and The Highland Council. 


The vision is to include:

       Creating a transformational Masterplan for Inverness rail station that puts the needs of passengers and freight at its heart, looking at a 30-year time horizon.

       Improving operational functionality

       Integrating transport offering

       Considering opportunities to include the local community to encourage ‘ownership’

       Identification of economic, and commercial opportunities where appropriate.


HITRANS has already produced designs for the re-development of the railway station, with a focus on improving passenger access and egress, and improved integration with other transport modes, including making the most of the proximity of the bus station. The Highland Council plans to transform the city centre, enhancing its public realm and its reputation as a destination, a desirable place to live and as a regional centre for business, educational, retail and commercial activities. Abellio ScotRail has a franchise commitment to carry out feasibility work to redevelop Inverness station. They have worked with stakeholders to agree key priorities for the station and agreed a scope that would upgrade the station and improve connectivity with the centre of Inverness and other modes of transport.


Fort William - Opportunities Around Rail


HITRANS is to help fund and appoint a specialist consultant to carry out a study into the scope for developing rail services in and around Fort William with a view to widening travel options and helping ease congestion in the tourist hub.


Opportunities around expansion of services include:


       Providing school travel to Lochaber High from Tulloch in, available for commuters

       Providing school travel into Mallaig High.

       Developing park and ride on the A82 north of the town, including Spean Bridge.

       Servicing the Nevis Range ski development

       Encouraging trips to Glenfinnan

       Creating a new station at Ben Nevis Distillery for pupils at Lochaber High School.

       Providing increased freight through an intermodal terminal at Corpach or

Tomnafaire, timber handling at Corpach and aluminium ingots and associated

products at the smelter.

       Satisfying the demand for parcels and online deliveries.


By way of background, Fort William is currently served by 3 ScotRail trains per day to/from Glasgow plus the Caledonian Sleeper. Mallaig has 4 ScotRail trains per day, one of which starts/ terminates in Fort William. The other three run through to Glasgow. Local use is low compared to tourist use, and peak journey opportunities are limited by the need to service the long-distance market.


The Jacobite steam train, operated by West Coast Railways, is a key attraction for the area and in 2021 is planned to run twice daily, 7 days per week from April to October, Covid permitting, providing over 500 seats per day.


Freight is limited to bulk alumina inbound for the smelter twice weekly, although this may change with a switch to sea traffic into Corpach. There are aspirations to deliver timber by rail to Corpach sawmill.




HITRANS are currently setting Equalities Outcomes, and to support this we’ve launched a survey to gather views on transport across our area. We hope to gather views that represent the diversity of our people and communities and help us shape our policies and processes. 

The survey should take approximately 5 minutes to complete. We’d be grateful if you could please complete the survey and also distribute it through your communication channels. Survey link:

If a paper copy is required, or if people would like to make their response verbally, they can contact or phone 01463 719002. 


Strategic Transport Projects Review 2

Transport Scotland are also inviting feedback on the draft STPR2 Update and Phase 1 Recommendation Report, particularly in relation to:

·       Phase 1 Recommendations

·       Options that will be taken forward for further appraisal in STPR2 Phase 2

·       the COVID-19 Addendum of the report.

The second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2) will inform transport investment in Scotland for the next 20 years. It is therefore vital that those with an interest in transport in the HITRANS and beyond feed into the consultation process .


Links to the National and regional Case for Change reports can be found at the following link While details of the options that have been sifted in and out of the review can be found in Appendix D and E of the National Case for Change reports.

Please submit any comments or feedback through the relevant forms no later than midnight on 31 March 2021.


Regional Transport Strategy Update


HITRANS’ officers are to begin an update of the Regional Transport Strategy in order to take cognisance of the National Transport Strategy 2 and reflect on both the significant changes to the wider policy framework and the impacts of the pandemic on transport priorities within our region. Updating the strategy at this time also offers an opportunity for HITRANS to set out a potential role for the Partnership (building on the opportunities set out in recent reports presented to the Board) at a time when Transport Scotland has just begun a review of transport governance.


This work will enable a draft updated Strategy to be developed which would then be published for public consultation prior to the submission of a final version to Scottish Ministers seeking their approval.  A report setting out the detail of the scope and timetable for updating the Strategy will be presented to a future meeting of the Partnership Board.


Scottish Islands Passport


Project Manager Sarah Compton-Bishop updated Partnership Board members on the progress being made to deliver the Scottish Islands Passport, which will include accessibility information for island ferry ports and airports. Following an extensive content-gathering exercise, a complex processing task was undertaken to refine and tag the information gathered by islanders relating to island experiences and amenities. This has enabled creation of a powerful and flexible database of island information which forms the basis of the digital and physical passports.


The app functionality is now fully developed and will allows users to:

-       input their interests and find recommendations of islands which have

experiences that match these;

-       view the range of activities available on each island;

-       view general information about each island including tips from islanders and

information on amenities;

-       use links featured in the passport to visit other websites for island businesses and local tourism information;

-       view basic information on getting to / around each island with links to more

local and national transport providers and timetables;

-       save their favourite islands for future reference and see a list of their saved


-       collect virtual passport ‘stamps’ for islands they visit and see the stamps they

have already collected;

-       explore islands by geographic area and search for them by name.


Functionality to allow users to save pictures of their island travels is in the final stages of development and will be added to the app before full public release. Testing of the app in Shetland returned positive results and helped inform some minor changes.


A branded website was launched in 2020 containing general project information and an integrated social media wall. Functionality to allow people to download the app, search for islands based on their interests, and allow app users to log in to their accounts is in place ready for launching when appropriate.


Themes for the first ten physical passports which will be based on interest areas have been identified and mapped with the support of an external Tourism Consultant. Following a strategy to prioritise the promotion of island businesses within the passport themes, the first two physical passports will be ‘Eat, Drink, Explore’ and  ‘Meet the Makers’. The passports will provide information on a range of ‘featured’ islands to give passport holders a starting point for their explorations, with additional islands featured in the ‘more to explore’ section and the ability for holders to ‘stamp’ their passports on-island. The design and content work for the Eat, Drink, Explore passport was completed in late 2020 and printed in January. A proportion of the initial print run of 350 passports will be used for marketing and promotional purposes with reserves ready to be made available to the public when appropriate.


Marketing approaches were adapted to support the “Dream now, travel later” narrative using social media platforms as the primary delivery route. This was done by engaging with islanders and using content and images provided by them. Significant work was undertaken on the branding elements for the digital and physical passports with island-based artists designing the island stamps.  An extensive photo library of more than 1,000 original island images covering all of our project islands has been assembled for possible future use.


E-Cargo bikes aim to promote alternative to van/car deliveries

HITRANS are planning to introduce E-Cargo bikes to local businesses and members of the community in key local centres to promote a modal shift from van/car deliveries towards a low carbon alternative. By providing E-Cargo bikes to local businesses and community groups, HITRANS hopes to assist with meeting carbon emission reduction targets and analyse different use cases of E-Cargo bikes in both rural and urban settings. 12 E-Cargo bikes will be trialled in total, with 4 in each location of Inverness, Oban and Orkney at a total cost of £75,000. Once bike supplies have been secured, HITRANS will reach out to local businesses, councils and groups to establish different uses for the bikes over a 6-12 month pilot period


Many businesses are increasingly keen to minimise their carbon emissions, and equally consumers are keen to support businesses that are local, smaller scale and conduct positive business practices. Also, in the current climate of Covid-19, an increasing number of businesses are offering delivery services. Our aim is to offer E-Cargo bikes to businesses as a sustainable, physically distanced and economically productive alternative, and in so doing support members of the community by improving accessibility and availability of goods. Other aspects identified as opportunities for added community benefit include a prescription delivery services.


The project is part-funded by the Euro Interreg North Sea Region project MOVE and Energy Saving Trust and ITTs have now been published.


European update


MOVE is one of seven ongoing European projects with a value of £4,506,799 that we are involved in. Our work on the FASTER project is progressing well with regular meetings setup between HITRANS and the University of Strathclyde to review the detailed site assessments. Selections are taking place in each of our partner councils within the Interreg VA Programme Area: Argyll & Bute, Western Isles, and Skye, Lochalsh & Lochaber areas of The Highland Council to ensure the best sites are selected for the 24 rapid chargers to be installed. University of Strathclyde are working closely with each partner council to complete detailed modelling using GIS to assess the highest priority areas for rapid charge points. The model should also be a helpful tool for Local Authorities in the future when prioritising charge point locations. Recruitment is underway for a FASTER Project Officer to support our activities and work closely with each of the Local Authorities on installations.


We have also been working on the Horizon 2020 Green Deal programme on the topic ‘Green airports and ports as hubs for sustainable and smart mobility’. The topic addresses innovative concepts and solutions for airports and ports to reduce transport GHG emissions and increase contributions to mitigating climate change. Projects are expected to commence at the end of 2021 with a duration of up to 5 years. HITRANS secured involvement in three bids, submitted in January, at a funding rate of 100% (plus an additional 25% towards indirect costs). Outcomes on applications are expected by June.


Mobility as a Service (MaaS) Project


The MaaS project, which aims to ensure that the HITRANS region remains in the vanguard of innovation and the digitalisation of transport information is now well underway and, until close of 2020, has been tracking consistently against the previously reported COVID-adjusted milestone dates. However, as result of, and allowing for the impact for, the renewed COVID restrictions the pilot project “go live” date has been revised from March 2021 to June 2021. The pilot project is planned to run for a total period of 12 months, and will deliver a new unified MaaS platform (website and app) with a range of functions including journey planning, booking and payment for public transport services.


As a result of the impact of COVID-19, Ticketer is no longer be able to support the project. Working in conjunction with Transport Scotland the funding allocated to Ticketer is now be considered for the purpose of contributing towards round two funding activities. HITRANS have appointed an external expert to complete preparation of bid materials for the round 2 funding from Transport Scotland’s MaaS investment fund, due for submission no later than 26 February 2021. If successful, round 2 funding shall enable extension of the current program in terms of both duration and service offering.


Active Travel


Regional Active Travel Budget Transport Scotland): In 2020-21 HITRANS had £187,000 from Transport Scotland for projects under the following headings; all has now been allocated.


       Bikes on Buses: Partnership with West Coast Motors to install bike racks within buses on routes serving Mull and Mid-Argyll; 8 vehicles will be fitted out over 2020-21 and 2021-22 financial years (subject to confirmation of funding for 2021-22).

       Cycle Parking at Transport Interchanges: Following bids from Partnership Advisors for funding to install cycle parking at transport interchanges and community hubs, bike stands and shelters will be installed in partnership with Local Authorities on Orkney, Skye and in Moray.

       Active Travel Masterplan Small Interventions: Two projects are being taken forward to improve Active Travel connections in Nairn and Lochgilphead.

       Active Travel Project Design:  One project is complete (Rose Street, Inverness) and three design / small works projects are underway in Kirkwall, Uig and Lochgilphead.



Following discussions with Partners regarding potential projects, HITRANS has bid for £381,000 from Transport Scotland in 2021-22. If successful, the bulk of this funding will go to partners for delivery of actions from the Active Travel Audit / Masterplans. There will also be funding to continue the Bikes on Buses partnership with West Coast Motors, cycle parking linked to public transport, and for design work.


Sustrans Partnership Funding:  Within the £100,000 Sustrans Partnership Fund, the following projects are complete or nearing completion:-

       Wick and Thurso Active Travel Masterplan updates

       Elgin Active Travel Map

       Carrbridge Rural Spaces – 20mph, traffic calming, place-making.


Inner Moray Firth Active Travel Masterplans are also being taken forward across two

financial years, to update the active travel audits for towns within the IMF Development Plan area, including links between settlements. Arup have been contracted to develop the Masterplans.


In the 2021-22 financial year the intention is to make half of the Sustrans Partnership Fund (£50,000) available directly to community anchor organisations in rural or deprived areas to take on small projects to improve safety and active travel infrastructure within their communities. Up to £10,000 will be available per application, with a match funding requirement. Where interventions involve roads or speed limits, groups will be required to work with the relevant local authority.


Other projects: Inverness eBike Share Scheme – HIBIKE: Ebikes and equipment arrived in Inverness in December and are currently in storage. Arrangements are being made by Bewegen for groundworks and electrical connections prior to installing the bike docks. The launch planned for late January has been postponed to the

spring, depending on Covid restrictions.


Black Parks Active Travel Route, Fort William: A successful application has been made to Lochaber Town Centre Fund for £15,000, and HITRANS have committed a further £15,000 in match funding toward the project, which includes further surfacing and drainage work and lighting along the route. We are advised that Sustrans’ Places for Everyone Fund is oversubscribed for 2020-21 and no more awards

will be made until 2021 financial year. Should our application be unsuccessful it is our intention to use some of the Regional Active Travel Budget to enable this project to progress.


Fort William Wayfinding Strategy:  Work is now almost complete on Stage 2 of the comprehensive wayfinding strategy to cover the network of active travel routes in Fort William identified in the Active Travel Masterplan. Funding will be sought to implement the strategy (c. £200,000 is required).


Rural eBikes:  Monitoring and evaluation of the rural eBikes pilot which made eBikes available in partnership with bike shops in Grantown, Aviemore and Fort William, was carried out at the end of 2020 and a final report submitted to Energy Saving Trust. All three bike shops are keen to continue the partnership for another year under the EU-funded G-PaTRA /INCLUSION projects.


Wick and Thurso Active Travel Masterplans: The Masterplans have been approved by Highland Council’s Caithness Committee.  The Active Travel Officer is working to set up local groups to take forward actions within the Masterplans, similar to the Fort William Active Travel Group.


HItravel Liftshare: Once travel restrictions are lifted and car-sharing is safe again, Liftshare is likely to be an important part of the transport mix, particularly in rural areas where bus services have been reduced. Later in the year we plan to run promotions and campaigns to promote the use of 43 the Liftshare platform, and have asked partner Local Authorities to contribute from their SCSP allocation to the cost of maintaining the HItravel Liftshare umbrella site.


Next meeting


Our next meeting is scheduled for Friday 23 April and again it will be a virtual meeting.

Meeting programme agreed for 2021: 


Friday 17 September – Eilean Siar or virtual

Friday 12 November - Argyll and Bute or virtual




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