Thursday 21 September 2017

Towns to lose vital Bus Éireann links as cutbacks bite

Services halved in affected areas

Bus Éireann's new luxury Expressway fleet, launched with over €9.2million investment in the 20 new coaches
Bus Éireann's new luxury Expressway fleet, launched with over €9.2million investment in the 20 new coaches
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Almost 100 Bus Éireann services are being cut, leaving many towns and villages without a direct bus link to the capital.

The company is making sweeping changes to routes serving swathes of the country, with 198 services each day being halved to just 105 in the affected areas.

The company plans to pull out of two routes linking Dublin with the south and south-east from the end of next month.

Meanwhile, a third route between Athlone and Westport is also under threat, which could result in fewer services for Ireland West Airport at Knock.

There will be 15 communities left with no direct services under the changes, and dozens more will experience drastic cuts to their bus links.

It will heap pressure on the Government to ramp up investment in public services.

Bus Éireann chief executive Martin Nolan said despite recording a surplus of €4m last year, it was losing "thousands" of euro a day on some commercial routes with low passenger numbers.

The semi-state transport company says its commercial Expressway service has to be self-funded, and as a result it will be forced to axe two routes.

Decisions have already been taken on Route 7, which runs from Dublin to Cork via Kilkenny and Clonmel, and Route 5 between Dublin and Waterford, via Wicklow and Wexford. These are run on a commercial basis, with no State subsidy.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr Nolan said if the Government wanted smaller towns and villages on commercial routes to be serviced, it would have to provide a subsidy.

"We are reluctant to come out of anywhere ... but the services cannot stay on the road if we do not make money," he said.

"Bus Éireann is following the market, we will have a number of towns and villages affected. We have two options - close the route, or conduct surgery.

"When that is forced upon us, what happens to the towns which are left behind? If the market is favouring the bigger towns and cities, the bit in the middle is going to be expensive (to service). It's a difficulty for a State company to come out of towns and villages, but it's a question of survival."

Using the Bus Éireann journey planner, some 75 services will be offered today after 8am to Dublin on Route 5. This will drop to 42 after the changes, and three towns - Clonroche, Bunclody and Kildavin - will have no direct service to the capital.

On Route 7, some 68 services will be provided today. That will fall to 42, and seven towns will have no direct service to Dublin, including Ballyporeen, Clogheen, Ardfinnan, Muine Bheag, Castlecomer, Crettyyard and Ballylinan Cross.

The third threatened route is Number 21 which runs from Athlone to Westport. Some 55 services will be provided today, which will fall to 24 if the route is closed.

Bus Éireann said a "use it or lose it" warning had been issued last year, but it is understood passenger numbers have not grown in response.

Kiltoom, Knockcroghery, Ballymurray, Roscommon and Castlerea would be left without a direct service to Westport under the changes.

Demand

Between all three routes, some 198 services a day are provided. This will fall to 108, and result in 15 towns and villages losing all direct services.

Bus Éireann said that other services would be extended to meet some demand.

And a meeting will be held to discuss changes to Route 7. Both the National Transport Authority (NTA) and Bus Éireann are due to attend a meeting in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, tonight.

The NTA said it could look at providing a subsidy to run services. "We're looking at the towns which are left to see if we can do anything on a PSO (public service obligation) basis," a spokeswoman said.

"We have done it in other services already where stops were dropped around Cashel and Portlaoise, and something similar in Cavan-Longford. But it's very much budget dependent."

James Claffey, from Irish Rural Link, said: "Rural Ireland has suffered a significant crisis. Rural areas are not looking for a handout but for services which urban areas take for granted."

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life