Bus Eireann Expressway Athlone-Westport Michael Fitzmaurice

Local TDs call for Rural Routes on the Bus Eireann Expressway service to be protected

Bus Eireann Expressway Athlone-Westport Michael Fitzmaurice

Two local TDs have called on the Minister for Transport to ensure that the Rural Routes on the Bus Eireann Expressway service are saved, adding that they are “vital” for rural Ireland.

Fianna Fáil TD Eugene Murphy says “Bus Eireann’s financial position has worsened considerably since Minister Ross took office. However it seems that the Minister is oblivious to this problem and is unaware that the company is on the verge of shutting down many of its key routes serving large swathes of the country,” said Deputy Murphy.

“Bus Éireann reported losses of up to €5.6 million for 2015, an estimated €6m in 2016 and now it is anticipated that losses will exceed €7m for 2017. This is deeply worrying considering the improving economy and demonstrates that there is a fundamental problem at the heart of Bus Éireann’s operations.

“The semi-state company faults some Expressway services for the significant mounting losses. As a result, the company is planning to make sweeping changes to routes serving vast swathes of the country, which it will publish in an upcoming report by Grant Thornton auditors.

“If the Expressway services to Dublin or other cities is cut this will further the economic gap between rural and urban Ireland. This is further evidence of the neglect of rural Ireland by Fine Gael and their Independent colleagues. Rural isolation is becoming one of the most worrying prospects for my constituents and if we lose vital bus route services such as the Expressway service from Ballina to Dublin which is vital for the movement of people from the West of Ireland to Dublin, it will leave our students, tourists, day shoppers and many more commuters without any form of transport that will get them to the small villages and towns along the way for whom this service is vital.”

Make cuts elsewhere

“2.4 billion is set aside in the capital spending plan 2016-2022 to build a Metro rail link from Dublin city centre to Dublin Airport however it has been suggested that a Dart link would be built at a fraction of the cost, estimated at just 200 million and would do the same job of connecting rail links to the airport. I suggest looking carefully at this saving and using this funding to ensuring that the whole of the country has a decent cost effective bus service

“In response to questioning from Fianna Fáil on this issue, the Minister for Transport has continually shirked his responsibility to maintain an adequate level of public transportation for rural towns. I would like to see a meaningful discussion between the agencies to ensure that Expressway service is not cut back so that the Bus Éireann service for Dublin can carry on its loss making ways.

“The Minister needs to act now to ensure services are maintained or put a plan in place for private operators to apply for bus route licenses. The private sector may well be able to step into the breach and offer a competitive service that ensures that routes are covered.”

“Without doubt the Route Licensing system needs to be reviewed. In particular, the NTA needs to be given greater licensing powers to approve or reject route amendments by Bus Éireann and private operators.

“Fianna Fáil will be bringing forward legislation to make these changes. It is important that the future of Bus Éireann is secured, but the semi-state company must not abandon its obligation to serve communities right across the country. As a semi state company it must not be allowed cherry pick the best bits of the company ie the Dublin routes and leave the rest of the country to fend for itself.”

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice said he fears the impact of Government policy on the routes.

“The board of Bus Eireann have initiated a policy of more cuts to routes and the restructuring of the Expressway service which serves many rural towns and villages as a vital transport link. There has been speculation that the west is in line for further cuts, but we will not know until the board reveal their plans for the company” he said.

“We know little of the future of the company as of yet but I suspect that over the next 4-6 weeks there will be revelations over the future of Bus Eireann and in typical fashion we will find out when the dye has already been cast. I believe the presentation of the Grant Thorton report, commissioned by the board of Bus Eireann, to unions will tell a story”

“those supporting the Government in this region need to consider their position”

“The time has long since passed that Ministers and Department officials stop listening to pen pushers who know little or nothing about delivering proper services. Yes, Bus Eireann needs to reduce losses but as a semi-state entity it has an obligation to provide services for the good of the public also. Economic Development and growth in rural regions is contingent on being connected with good public transport links”

“If routes in the West of Ireland are to be given the axe then those supporting the Government in this region need to consider their position. Rural Ireland has born the brunt of the recession. The worst of the storm has been weathered and further cuts simply cannot be tolerated. We are all in favour of greater efficiencies and delivering better services but that is not a license to axe services purely based on their economic performance. We have been picked alive and services have been put on a shoestring and we cannot allow any further cuts”

Rise in numbers using Public Transport

“The news of the cuts comes only days after the National Transport Authority announced a rise of 10 million in the numbers using public transport in the Republic of Ireland. Bus Éireann saw customer numbers rise 1.7 million to nearly 32 million in 2016 the NTA announced. Anne Graham, Chief Executive of the NTA had this to say about the announcement “… public transport is not simply a matter of concern in Dublin. In fact a properly functioning public transport system is a key issue nationally when it comes to promoting balanced regional economic development, preventing social isolation and protecting the environment.”

Deputy Fitzmaurice concluded by saying “When you have the CEO of the National Transport Authority detailing the importance of transport to rural regions and their development, and the CEO of Bus Eireann resigning as cuts are announced to services by the board of the company, tough questions need to be asked about the governments suitability to govern. It seems to be crisis after crisis and there is a gaping leadership vacuum.”

Michael Fitzmaurice also paid tribute to former CEO of Bus Eireann, Martin Nolan, who stepped down from the position after 6 years on Monday. “In my opinion he was a straight talker and an effective CEO who steered Bus Eireann through a recession as best as he could given the resources at his disposal and the cuts imposed by government. He will be a loss to Bus Eireann. For semi-state companies to be losing talent like this is worrying and although the circumstances of the resignation are not known, I fear they cannot be good”.