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Dáil hears of outrage over cancellation of Galway-Dublin Aircoach route

The decision by Aircoach to cancel its Galway to Dublin Airport service from next month has caused “huge concern” locally, the Minister for Transport has been told.

However, Minister Eamon Ryan said the National Transport Authority is carrying out an assessment of demand along the route to gauge if more services are required.

Earlier this month, Aircoach – which is owned by the British transport giant FirstGroup – announced that it will cease operating its 706/706X route from April 8. The route includes stops in Ballinasloe, Athlone and Maynooth.

In the Dáil last Thursday, Galway West TD Mairéad Farrell said the cancellation had caused huge concern across Galway and asked the Minister what was being done to address the matter.

Minister Ryan stressed that Aircoach is a commercial operator and neither his Department nor the NTA have a role.

However, he said that when a commercial operator ‘pulls’ a route, the NTA undertakes and examination to determine if it is necessary for a Public Service Obligation (PSO) route to be introduced to ensure there is 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.

Regarding the connectivity consequences of Aircoach’s decision, I reassure the Deputy that my officials and I are engaging with the NTA on this matter to ensure there are no gaps along particular segments in the network, and to assess if there is a need to provide any additional services. Once the NTA has carried out its assessment, its decision will be made public,” the Minister said.

Deputy Farrell said the Aircoach service began in July 2021, when Bus Éireann cancelled its 20/X20 route from Galway to 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 20/X20. However, this has proven to be a failure as well. 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.

“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. I hear what the Minister is saying. How long will this process take? When is he going to make sure there is some type of service available to people so that they can get that access to Dublin Airport?” the Sinn Féin TD asked.

The Minister replied: “The reality is that there are significant services from Galway to Dublin Airport, such as the Citylink services.

“They are very significant in number and, therefore, we are not going to see that connectivity completely disappear. The Deputy is right, the Aircoach service was there replacing that Bus Éireann services and in both instances the demand was not there. It is a commercial decision. If Aircoach was seeing large passenger numbers, it would obviously not be stopping the route.

“I expect the NTA to have that response to the Deputy’s question within a short number of months. Typically, the analysis will be done, the patterns of travel on the route and the other available services assessed. It is only after this that we will assess it again. It is not that there is a complete absence of connectivity from Galway to Dublin Airport. There are very significant numbers of services and that may be one of the reasons it has proven difficult for commercial operators to make a viable project on the same route,” he said.

Deputy Farrell said there could not be a situation where the Government was once again forgetting about rural Ireland and public transport links for rural Ireland.

“It is extremely important and the Minister should really understand that. I understand what he is saying regarding issue of demand. Again, when relying on private commercial operators to deliver a service that really and truthfully the Government should be delivering, then of course it will be about an issue of demand instead of an issue of service and guaranteeing services for these areas,” she said.

Private coach operator Citylink also operates the Eireagle and GoBus services between Galway and Dublin.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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