The decision taken by Bus Éireann to axe its long established Expressway service route from Galway to Dublin continues to be a source of much concern.
Bus Éireann announced its decision to cut the service from its regular timetable affording a sense of dismay to commuters from Athlone and the Midlands region.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, Cllr Frankie Keena, Cathaoirleach, Westmeath County Council, noted the impact such a decision will have upon commuters living in the numerous villages and towns along the route, both locally and within the county.
“The immediate impact might not be evident at the moment but I do fear that come September and following the success of the vaccination programme there will be an increase in demand for bus services. Third level colleges will be reopening shortly and students throughout rural Ireland are dependent upon a reliable bus service.
“Bus Éireann has a responsibility under its public service obligation contracts to ensure that commuters will continue to receive a sustainable and reliable service as previously.
“My concern is that private commercial bus services will only pick up and drop off passengers on the periphery of Athlone, so if an individual wishes to get on a connecting train in the town or requires access to the town centre they will have to rely on a taxi to bring them on the rest of their journey. This is putting extra costs on the commuters which is completely unacceptable.
“While private bus operators accept free travel passengers, is there a guarantee that the travel pass commuter will not be sidelined for a paying commuter in times of big demand?
“I have spoken with our local Minister of State, Deputy Robert Troy, who will arrange a meeting with the National Transport Authority, at which I will be present, to discuss this concerning matter and hopefully find a resolution,” Cllr Keena asserted.
Local Sinn Féin public representative, Deputy Sorca Clarke, confirmed that her party had launched a public petition calling on Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamonn Ryan, to act now and request the restoration of the bus route.
“The decision to cancel the service is wrong and devastating for the communities affected. This service is a lifeline for so many people and their main form of transport to and from other
“This is a popular route passing through towns with high demand for public transport and it is disgraceful that this service has been ended. Reduced passenger numbers during the pandemic is not an acceptable excuse – public transport should not be viewed as a profit generator, but as service which benefits the people that use it.
“Many people will now have to find an alternative way of commuting, and many will be forced to rely on private bus operators. This will particularly inconvenience elderly passengers as certain operators do not accept free travel passes and require online booking.
“That people will now have to rely on private operators is an abdication of responsibility from Government who have a duty to provide adequate public services to the people of Ireland, including those who live in rural communities.
“Private services are not a replacement for the Bus Éireann Expressway routes, as these do not adequately serve smaller towns and villages along the routes. How can we expect anyone to move back to rural towns and villages while basic services are being taken away?
“It is particularly shocking that the ending of this service was overseen by a Green Party Transport Minister, who should be increasing sustainable modes of transport, not cutting them. At a time when we are being told to reduce our emissions and use public transport, this decision is totally counterintuitive and weakens the capacity of those in rural areas to take part.
“This service must be restored and I call on Minister Eamon Ryan, the NTA and Bus Éireann to ensure that this happens urgently,” Deputy Clarke stated.
Such views were echoed by the local branch of the Social Democrats who described the route as a “lifeline and the main form of transport for many”.
In a recent post online, the branch pointed out that the bus services were the only form of transport for some people to get “to and from other parts of the county and the country”.
“The decision to cut this bus route reflects a constant derogation of responsibility on the part of Bus Éireann towards rural Ireland. Over the last ten years these services have been chipped away at, with stops removed and operating hours reduced regularly. With the cancellation of this route, many people who need the service for personal reasons will be left stranded.
“Axing the bus routes makes it much harder for people to maintain links with other towns across the county, as well as other parts of the country, particularly if they cannot drive. Young people in particular are significantly at a loss in this regard.
“While we appreciate that the Expressway route is run as a commercial service, all public transport should be run as a public service that serves people first, and not run for profit,” the Social Democrat spokesperson commented.
Citing the result of a “viability review”, Bus Éireann stated that the decision was taken “to safeguard the viability of the 14 remaining routes following significant losses in 2020 and projected continuing losses over the next three years” and that the comapny’s “public service obligation routes were not affected by the announcement”.