By JOHN ROBERTSON
THE DAYS of lightweight low-floored buses could be numbered in Shetland amid renewed concerns over safety in high winds and lack of comfort for passengers.
The Shetland Transport Partnership (ZetTrans) is trying to encourage people to leave their cars at home and take the bus but chairman Allan Wishart suspects some are put off by the low-floor buses which are uncomfy and drafty compared with coaches due to their flimsy doors, lack of double-glazing and harder seats.
On Monday ZetTrans agreed to investigate a new generation of hybrid vehicles for possible future use, described as being halfway between a low-floor bus and a traditional coach. If any change is eventually agreed the new buses could be introduced when each three-year service contract comes up for renewal.
Mr Wishart tried out a low-floor bus on Saturday and was not greatly impressed, discovering why they are considered urban buses. “I would have difficulty running to Sumburgh or Whalsay. They’re pretty uncomfortable,” he told ZetTrans colleagues.
The idea of examining new easy-access bus designs came from Shetland West councillor Frank Robertson who, as a regular user of the low-floored variety, knows all about their short-comings. He said two of them had been blown off the road in the West Side in recent years. Part of the problem seems to be that all the weight is at the back with the engine and fuel tank behind the rear wheels. In the past some drivers have expressed a fear that they might be get blown into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
Less than a fortnight ago a low-floor bus belonging to Leask’s was blown off the road and through a fence near Mainland’s shop in Dunrossness during a bad gale. About 12 people were in it but luckily the accident was on a straight piece of road with no hazards or steep drops. Passenger Lucy Grundon, 15, from Scatness, said they had to clamber out the emergency exit as the bus lay at an angle in the ditch.
Peter Leask of John Leask & Sons said this week the accident had been in severe winds and had not knocked his confidence in low-floor buses. “I think any high-sided vehicle would have been in trouble at that particular incident. It just hit with an absolute bang.”
Four years ago his company and Brae-based Johnson Transport opposed a petition by some drivers which tried and failed to get the SIC to let them use heavier buses in bad weather. At the time Mr Leask said the buses were replaced on very bad days anyway but generally their advantages on the routes outweighed the disadvantages and they were particularly good for older people and mothers with buggies or shopping trollies.
He said this week his opinion had not changed after 10 years of working with low-floor buses. But he admitted: “They are basically designed to operate within cities, not the top of Wormadale with a force eight gale blowing in.” However, he said modern high-sided coaches were not immune to buffeting by the Shetland wind either and some had been blown off the road too.
He said he supported ZetTrans’ pursuit of a compromise bus although he did not think the right vehicle to fit the bill had come on the market yet. “Ideally something that could give the comfort of a coach and the ability for easy access would certainly be a step ahead.”
Low-floor buses were brought in to comply with new laws on disability and passenger access. They are easier to board and can accommodate prams and wheelchairs. They were first introduced in 1995 when White’s Coaches introduced one to the West Side which was able to hydraulically lower one corner to let people on. They became commonplace in 1998.