A PRIVATE bus company has been awarded the tender to run a daily service from Urlingford to Portlaoise.
M&A Coaches from Ballyragget have confirmed to the Leinster Express that they will be taking over the route, which was eliminated from the Bus Eireann timetable last Summer.
“We will be delighted to provide a good service, and we hope people will avail of it,” said owner Michael Dowling, who also provides transport for Heywood CS among other local schools.
Details of routes and fares have to be ironed out, and he expects the new service to be up and running by the end of this month. The temporary service put in place by Bus Eireann after public outcry, will continue to operate until then. This currently runs six times a day between Portlaoise and Urlingford, stopping at Abbeyleix, Durrow, Cullahill and Johnstown, from Monday to Saturday.
“We have to work out our bus times, how many runs we will do and the fares, but they will probably stay the same as they are,” Mr Dowling said.
Michael G Phelan from the Bus Service Action Committee, welcomed the news.
“We are delighted, he is well known in the area, it is a well grounded business, it is great that somebody local has got it as well,” he said.
Travel passes will not be valid for the new private service, but Mr Phelan says they will keep seeking government support for this.
“We will let him get up and running, but we will keep the pressure on to review it. As is, bus passes are a thing of the past, but hopefully that will change,” he said.
The committee had the support of hundreds of locals, and many politicians, among them Dep Brian Stanley.
He also welcomed the awarding of the contract but is seeking a scheme to allow the bus passes to be used.
“This announcement is welcome news for commuters affected by the recent removal of services by Bus Eireann. However I am informed by the National Transport Authority that it is up to the operator to decide if they can absorb the cost of accepting free travel passes as the Department of Social Protection is unlikely to compensate them. The tender did not prevent the operator from charging free travel pass holders. It is important that free travel pass cards are accepted on the new service. I have contacted the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, to request that her Department compensates the new operator under the free travel pass scheme,” he said.