Tuesday 20 March 2018

Just one of five endangered bus routes to be saved

Anne Graham, chief executive the National Transport Authority Photo: Tom Burke
Anne Graham, chief executive the National Transport Authority Photo: Tom Burke

Anne-Marie Walsh

Just one of five Bus Éireann routes set for closure or cuts will be replaced amid fears that more face the axe.

The National Transport Authority has revealed it will provide only a single new service - to take over when Route 21 from Athlone to Westport closes on April 16.

The NTA said it found there were already sufficient services to serve the public on the four other routes facing either the chop or cuts between next month and May.

This means that Route X7 from Dublin to Clonmel will not be replaced when it closes on March 12 and no extra services will be added when Route 33 from Dublin to Derry ceases on May 28.

In addition, there will be a permanent reduction in daily services on the X12 from Dublin to Limerick, and the 20 and X20 from Dublin to Galway from March 12.

Bus Éireann has said dropping these routes alone would save €1.1m and it has not ruled out more closures as it attempts to implement a €30m cost-cutting plan to avoid insolvency by May.

An indefinite, all-out strike looms from Monday over its plan to impose payroll cuts and changes to work practices, as well as job losses in the future.

A company document recently sent to staff said the financial viability of all Expressway routes was being assessed.

It said this was "to understand the benefit of continuing with routes which are not achieving a gross profit - and as a consequence whether they should be discontinued or sub-contracted".

Unions have warned they will not engage in talks on route closures and accused the National Transport Authority of issuing a blueprint for the destruction of Bus Éireann services.

Dermot O'Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers' Union, said commuters were entitled to ask whether routes to be axed were of a lesser value than the other 21 the company ran.

Siptu described the authority's response as a blueprint for the destruction of Bus Éireann services as they would be replaced by private bus operators on vital routes.

"On four of the five routes on which the management of Bus Éireann has selected to cut or severely curtail services, the NTA states that it has already issued enough licences to cover their continuation by private operators," said Siptu sector organiser Willie Noone.

"This reveals a long-term plan to undermine public services for the benefit of private operators."

He said the NTA would have to ask Transport Minister Shane Ross to open his chequebook to make public funds available to assist private operators on Route 21.

In a statement, the NTA claimed it was filling the gaps as a result of Bus Éireann's decision to withdraw from or reduce services on a small number of Expressway routes.

"The authority has assessed Bus Éireann's proposed changes and has determined that overall, there are enough existing services to meet demand," said chief executive Anne Graham. She said the exception is the withdrawal of Route 21 from Westport to Athlone.

Ms Graham said the authority had determined there was a public-service obligation on that route and was considering amending an existing public-service obligation route.

She said the authority believed what it was putting forward would "retain connectivity" and services in the locations that would be affected.

However, she said if its solutions needed amendment or adjustment, it would "respond positively" to any feedback.

In relation to the X7 route, the assessment by the authority said services provided by JJ Kavanagh and Sons, Local Link and Dublin Coach were adequate to meet the needs of the affected locations. It said it would make arrangements for adjustments to be made to route 817C to provide connections for onward travel by JJ Kavanagh and Sons on route 717, and vice-versa.

Recently, Ms Graham said she would not be able to guarantee services would be maintained when routes closed. This could mean that the number of stops might be cut or buses might not be as frequent. She urged unions and management to get back to talks "for the sake of the travelling public".

Meanwhile, Unite said Mr Ross still had an opportunity to avert a strike.

Irish Independent

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