Friday 28 July 2017

'I need the bus to get to hospital' - Meet the people affected if Bus Éireann strike goes ahead

More than 110,000 bus passengers will be facing travel turmoil if bus strikes go ahead

Amy Molloy and Anne Marie Walsh

From hospital visits to the daily work commute, Bus Éireann passengers are praying that the planned all-out strike doesn't go ahead.

While many support the staff's decision to opt for industrial action, they fear about the negative impact it will have on their health, work life and relationships.

More than 110,000 Bus Éireann passengers a day face travel chaos after last-ditch talks to avert an all-out strike collapsed last night.

It has also been confirmed that the Dublin-Clonmel, Athlone-Westport and Dublin-Derry routes could be axed to make immediate savings of €1.1m.

Independent.ie spoke to people who rely on the service every week - including those who will be directly affected by the routes receiving the chop.

Toby Kavanagh, an elderly man from Portlaoise, has to make regular visits to Dublin for hospital check-ups.

He says people in his area are hoping strike action will be avoided.

"There’s a lot of people dependant on Bus Éireann to come up to Dublin in my area. They're not able to walk to the train station. Hospitals are the main places people need to get, so I don't know what we're going to do if the strikes go ahead," he told Independent.ie.

"If the bus doesn’t go I take the train but the train is awkward for me because I need to get off at the hospital and the station is further away".

Stephen Meehan, originally from Dublin, now lives in Castleblayney in Monaghan with his girlfriend.

He commutes Monday to Friday and will be one of many affected by the Dublin-Derry route being axed.

He is at a loss to understand how the route is losing money.

"I get up every morning and when I get on, the bus is nearly full. By the time I get on there is only a couple of seats left so I’m not sure where they are losing money on that route," he said.

"It will mean I’ll have to drive up now and try find parking somewhere. It will be extra expenditure for me as well in terms of petrol and stuff so I am very worried about it, yeah".

An ex-pat who recently returned home also says he will be affected by the strikes.

Due to not having a car, Limerick man Luke Power worries he won't be able to get from A to B.

"It will affect me and a lot of people I know travelling to work.  A lot of people from home use the service to travel up and down the country. They depend on the bus but if there's a strike, there's nothing we can do," he said.

Another woman, originally from Hungary, travels to Omagh in Co Tyrone on a weekly basis to visit her boyfriend.

"If the buses go on strike I will have no way of getting there," she said.

Last night, unions said they had put their members on notice that they would immediately engage in industrial action if the company imposed €12m cuts to their earnings.

The plans include a 10pc cut to allowances and the axing of premium payments.

Acting Bus Éireann chief executive Ray Hernan wants to present a €30m cost-cutting plan to the board by the end of March.

In a statement, Bus Éireann said unions had refused to negotiate changes to terms and conditions, insisted on a pay rise and sought compensation for cuts in overtime earnings implemented since last month.

General secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union (NBRU) Dermot O'Leary warned that all the CIÉ companies may now face disruption if cuts were imposed without agreement.

"If they do and all union colleagues are at one in this, there will be an all-out bus strike and there will be ramifications and consequences across the entire transport network," he said.

Assistant Secretary at the Department of Social Protection, Tim Duggan, revealed that the Government refused to increase funding for the free travel scheme in the budget for this year.

He said this was due to "competing demands".

Mr Duggan said CIE submitted a request to the department in September last year for more funding and the department ensured the submission was part of budgetary considerations.

He said Minister for Transport Shane Ross has written to Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar to review the funding arrangements, which were last set in 2010.

The senior civil servant said talks are underway and further meetings are planned between the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority to review the payment mechanisms underpinning the scheme.

However, he said the final decision on funding is a matter for Government.

Mr Duggan said there are just under 875,000 customers directly eligible for free travel and when passes for spouses and companions are included, 1.4 million people are eligible.

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