People living near certain bus routes have been told to "use it or lose it", with Bus Éireann warning that some services may be axed because they are not economically viable.
The company told the Oireachtas transport committee yesterday that some of its 23 Expressway routes around the country were now under the microscope as Bus Éireann “could not trade recklessly” and keep services running where there was little demand.
The possible threat to rural bus services attracted a fierce response from committee members, who claimed there was growing evidence of a rural/urban divide. Irish Rural Link warned that a reduction in services would be “another nail in the coffin of rural life”.
Anne Graham, the chief executive of the National Transport Authority, told the committee some routes receive government subsidies under a public service obligation, but others such as Expressway routes did not. Therefore the service was “entirely at the discretion of the service provider”.
She said the “challenging” economic climate in recent years had led to a fall in passenger demand and reduced revenue at a time when costs had increased and road improvements meant car travel was more attractive for many.
Ms Graham said this meant good offers on “end-to-end travel” but also that some services had been withdrawn from locations “due to low demand”.
Management at Bus Éireann were more frank. Chief executive Martin Nolan said: “Unless changes are made, Expressway will go out of business and jobs will be lost, not just in Bus Éireann.
“It is a choice of coming out of these places or shutting down in total.”
While the company said it could not divulge financial details linked to the routes because of commercial sensitivity, it said it was not “hiding” from communities along the routes and shared many of the concerns over any possible cutbacks to existing services.
However, committee chairman John O’Mahony (FG) said there is often a sense of panic when rumours begin to circulate about a change in rural bus routes.
Other TDs criticised both the National Transport Authority and Bus Éireann. Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae claimed that cuts to bus services would be akin to the ripping up of the rural rail network in the 1960s.
James Claffey of Irish Rural Link said there had been little consultation with local communities about the prospect of a reduced service, yet it was “the most marginalised and the most in need” who tended to use them.
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