Bus cuts ‘nail in coffin for rural areas’

The possibility of some bus routes being curtailed or scrapped has been described as “another nail in the coffin” of rural Ireland by campaigners.

Irish Rural Link (IRL) said the likelihood of certain Bus Éireann Expressway routes being altered or pulled increased the likelihood of people in those communities suffering from isolation.

The comments came after the Oireachtas Transport Committee heard Bus Éireann, which operates the 23 Expressway routes around the country, was now considering the future of some of the services because they are not economically viable. The company said it “could not trade recklessly” and keep services running where there was little demand.

Changes have already taken place on route 5 (Dublin to Waterford) and route 7 (Dublin to Cork via Kilkenny and Clonmel), with Bus Éireann CEO, Martin Nolan, warning other routes, such as the Athlone to Westport route 21 service, were being monitored.

Bus Éireann chairman Aidan Murphy said there had been a campaign in areas along route 21 “to use it or lose it” — but so far it had not worked.

“Unfortunately, the additional volume isn’t there, it has actually been the reverse,” he said, adding that Bus Éireann could not reveal its future plans regarding Expressway services as it was operating in a commercial environment.

Mr Nolan told the committee that Expressway made just €500,000 in profit last year and that the service can only access funds it has generated itself, meaning it cannot be funded by other more profitable PSO (Public Service Obligation) routes.

Citing issues such as the “cherrypicking” of routes by private operators, he said: “Unless changes are made Expressway will go out of business and jobs will be lost, not just in Bus Éireann.”

He said one service which passed through Athy in Co Kildare had, on average, three users per service, adding: “It is a choice of coming out of these places or shutting down in total.”

Mr Murphy said the operating margin on some routes was 1%, which was “not sustainable”.

IRL spokesman, James Claffey, said: “It is another nail in the coffin in that it is another service under threat.” He said IRL had only learned of the ‘use it or lose it’ campaign in the past two weeks and had not been consulted about it.

“We are good at closing down services in this country but not good at coming up with alternatives,” he said, adding that cutbacks on routes would add to rural isolation following the closure of many country post offices and Garda stations. People using these services are the most marginalised and the most in need of it,” he said.

The committee also heard that some people who can avail of the State’s free travel scheme may end up having to pay “concessionary” fares on some routes.

Independent TD Denis Naughten said the National Transport Authority needed to “grab the bull by the horns” and said there was a “lack of joined-up thinking”, particularly regarding linking bus schedules with hospital and medical services.

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