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Wednesday 21 February 2018

Warning of rural-urban divide as bus cuts loom

Dart service upgraded but Expressway faces axe

Bus Eireann is facing major cuts (stock photo)
Bus Eireann is facing major cuts (stock photo)
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

The Government is being accused of neglecting rural Ireland as Bus Eireann faces major cuts ahead of the expansion of urban rail services.

The national bus carrier has told ministers it could run out of money within 18 months as it looks to restructure and cut costs.

Any further cuts to bus operations would be most felt in rural areas after a report by Grant Thornton advised the company last week to close its commercial arm, Expressway.

It comes as Irish Rail prepares for the roll-out of a new 10-minute Dart service that will cut waiting times for Dublin commuters by a third.

An increased electric rail service was due to begin last year but plans were shelved after drivers refused to allow new recruits into their cabs to familiarise them with operating the trains.

Senior figures in Irish Rail and the National Transport Authority (NTA) are confident they will be able to push the plan through by the middle of the year despite the ongoing training row with drivers, citing the recent completion of the Phoenix Park tunnel project as a reason for optimism.

National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) general secretary Dermot O'Leary said the Government and NTA were ignoring rural Ireland and needed to do more to protect services outside Dublin. Closing Expressway routes, he said, would hit those who make the seven million journeys it provided every year. This would be worsened if Bus Eireann faced other service cuts.

"While there are issues in Irish Rail I would say the issues in Bus Eireann probably outstrip them in relation to rural Ireland losing its bus service," Mr O'Leary added.

"Those journeys across rural Ireland are every bit as important to customers as the enhanced Dart service will be to its users. The NTA has been very dismissive of that portion of people who use those vital services. There are no train or Dart services into Donegal for example."

The NTA said the physical and operational infrastructure was already in place for a 10-minute Dart service to be rolled out but there were industrial relations issues that needed to be ironed out.

An Irish Rail spokeswoman said there would be a number of advantages and opportunities on the back of the new service coming into operation.

"Moving to a higher-frequency service will provide an enhanced service for our existing customers," she said.

"For the company it may afford us the opportunity to turn the Dart line into a profit-making arm of business through increased revenue from the fares box. Given ongoing and ever increasing road congestion problems in the city, it may attract more people to take the Dart."

Bus Eireann and the NTA met with Transport Minister Shane Ross in recent days and he was told the company was looking to save €8m a year.

This would include cutting overtime and preventing accrued annual leave being carried over at the end of each year.

Sunday Independent

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