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Conamara bus service ‘is worst in twenty years’

The bus service to parts of Connemara is worse now than it was two decades ago, according to a former government minister.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív told the Dáil that two new bus services set up travel across the district under Connecting Ireland – one from An Cheathrú Rua up through Screebe, Maam Cross, Cornamona, Clonbur, Ballinrobe to Claremorris, the other from An Cheathrú Rua to Screebe, but it then turns west and goes to Carna, An Caiseal, Roundstone, Ballyconeely and Clifden.

While both services have been welcomed by the rural communities they serve, unlike Bus Éireann services which pick up passengers anywhere along the route, these routes have fixed bus stops.

“Some of these are, believe it or not, 8 km or 14 km apart, so you would need a car to get to the bus. It is quite a farcical situation. As many people have said to me, if they take the car that far, they might as well go the whole way. Where are they meant to leave the car?” asked Deputy Ó Cuív.

“The problem now is that the type of numbers we would have expected to use the bus and who are potentially there to use the bus are not using the bus,” he exclaimed.

The Cornamona resident pointed out that Ros Muc used to have a main bus service, with the bus going from Carna to Galway stopping off in Ros Muc on the peninsula before heading out to Gort Mór and into Galway City.

“For the people of Ros Muc, this has been a matter of contention since the service started. The number of people using buses is increasing all the time and there should be a feeder bus into Ros Muc that would meet the main buses. It could be a minibus or whatever. It would be well patronised.”

Ros Muc does not now have the service it had 20 years ago.

“One thing we know is, if there are good bus services, people will use them. If there are excellent bus services, they will use them even more.

“We did get an improvement in the radial buses into Galway city. They used to be badly patronised. Now there is only one complaint every day and that is that you cannot get on the buses because they are all full. Even the 11pm bus out of Galway city is full.

It is a kind of Irish joke that you would have a bus service that is happier with no passengers than with passengers and is still running at a cost to the State.”

Minister of State at the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Niall Collins replied that Budget 2024 had a funding package of €613 million for public service obligation and Local Link services.

“The NTA has advised that Galway Local Link is currently trialling additional stops on the Local Link 432 alignment. The NTA has agreed with Galway Local Link to operate smaller buses on this route to allow for a more flexible operation of the services and will discuss additional stops on the 431 bus service with Galway Local Link.”

There were currently no plans to provide regular services to and from the Ros Muc peninsula.

A proposal to continue the 431 service as far as Knock Airport had been shelved because it would have curbed the service frequency.

“A number of bus services that operate regularly between Claremorris and Knock Airport, including the Bus Éireann 440, 64 and 964 services. It is possible to interchange between the Local Link 431 service and these services in Claremorris.”

Deputy Ó Cuív was unimpressed.

“People want direct services, particularly if they are going on holidays and they have baggage. I do not understand why it cannot be rostered in such a way that provides more frequencies. We are entitled to services. I believe an awful lot of people would leave their cars at home and take the bus to the airport. Some 800,000 people are using Knock Airport every year,” he insisted.

He called on the Transport Minister to publish details of the additional stops and how far apart these are compared with urban bus stops.

Meanwhile the NTA is reviewing whether there is a need for a replacement Public Service Obligation (PSO) route to be introduced to replace the 706 Galway to Dublin Airport service which will be withdrawn by Aircoach from April 8.

In response to a query from Sinn Féin’s Mairead Farrell, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said his department or the NTA could not intervene as the route was run under licence by a private company.

“In circumstances where a commercial operator ceases running a specific route, the NTA undertakes an examination to determine whether, with the discontinuation of the commercial service, it is necessary for a replacement PSO route to be introduced to ensure no loss of connectivity to the public.

“This process includes an assessment of the level of demand for public transport services in the affected area, an evaluation of whether existing PSO services can be reconfigured to meet any shortfall, and whether it is necessary to competitively tender for the provision of services.”

Deputy Farrell said the Aircoach 706 service has been running since July 2021 following the decision by Bus Éireann to discontinue the 20X20 route between Galway and Dublin.

“At that time, I raised this with the Minister and the NTA and was told that private operators would fill the gap left by the 20X20. However, this has proven to be a failure as well.  I frequently hear from people in Loughrea in particular, that the bus that was meant to replace the 20X20 passes them by without stopping due to it being full.”

Minister Ryan said there were significant services from Galway to Dublin Airport, such as Citylink.

Deputy Farrell said none of these services stopped in county towns.

“Public transport is a public service that cannot simply be left to private operators. We need to make sure we have a public transport system that is working.”

Minister Ryan said he expected the NTA to have completed their assessment “within a short number of months”.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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