The national bus company is driving ahead with their plans to take to cutting out stops to smaller towns.
Bus Eireann ended their stops at Johnstown, Durrow and Abbeyleix last week, blaming low passenger numbers and a demand for a faster Cork to Dublin service. The company have applied for a similar licence on their Limerick to Dublin route, which serves Borris-in-Ossory and Mountrath.
Following loud protests from passengers in south Laois, the company are running a temporary shuttle service to Portlaoise, where passengers can transfer onto a bus to Dublin or Cork, but this is only until mid August.
Chief Executive Martin Nolan came to Durrow last Friday to meet the protest committee, local councillors and TDs.
Committee chairman Michael G Phelan, believes the CEO’s mind was already made up beforehand.
“No matter what arguement we had, they had their minds made up,” he said.
On the same evening, The National Transport Authority emailed the committee asking them to find a private bus company as a replacement.
“They are encouraging us to talk to other bus providers, to find an alternative service. We will be getting back to the NTA and hoping for some subvention for that service,” G Phelan explained.
A spokesperson for Bus Eireann says they appreciate what the service means to local people.
“We did take their views on board, that’s why we have put in place this shuttle service. Making this decision is not something we did lightly, it just wasn’t commercially viable,” he said.
There is no public service obligation on Bus Eireann to stop at towns on the crosscountry routes. No subsidy is given by the government, and the company is not allowed to ‘cross-subsidise’, the spokesperson said.
He confirmed potential changes to the Limerick Dublin route also.
“We are making a number of changes subject to licence approval, including that route. The RTA have given a licence to a private operator and we have to respond to that,” he said.
Deputy Sean Fleming TD is calling on the NTA not to grant the new licence.
“The decision to bypass Abbeyleix, Durrow and Johnstown is a major insult to these towns. What is the point in having such a bus service in the country, or in giving bus passes, if the national bus company are withdrawing their services from most of the county?” he said.
The temporary service was welcomed by Deputy Charlie Flanagan TD.
“I am glad that Bus Eireann have finally decided to extend some courtesy to their passengers and to the people of these towns. It is imperative that the NTA engage with the local community to ensure that a proper service exists. I will again impress upon Minister Varadkar the importance of this service through South Laois during this consultation period.” he said.
Dep Brian Stanley also emphasised the importance of getting a new service in place quickly.
“Immediate steps must be taken to put a comprehensive service in place. The people in Laois and Kilkenny who depend on a bus service on this route deserve nothing less and I will be in direct contact with Bus Eireann to press for this,” he said.
The shuttle service will operate from Johnstown to Portlaoise via Durrow and Abbeyleix at 08.40, 10.40, 12.40, 14.40, 16.25, 18.40. From Portlaoise to Johnstown via Abbeyleix and Durrow at 9.20, 11.20, 13.20, 15.20, 17.20, 19.20.