Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Dáil Eireann Debate
Deputy Brian O’Shea: On Sunday next, 28 February, Bus Éireann will bring a long list of what it euphemistically describes as timetable and route changes into effect. This is part of a cost-cutting plan which will mean that the service between Dungarvan and Mallow provided on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, will cease. This service currently leaves Dungarvan at 9 a.m., returning to Dungarvan at 3.40 p.m. and leaving Dungarvan again at 5.30 p.m. for Tallow. It returns to Dungarvan at 6.10 p.m. to connect with the Dublin and Cork services. These services stop at Cappoquin and Lismore. My colleague, Deputy Sherlock, will describe the service in his constituency.
The National Bus and Rail Workers Union has come up with a proposal that would allow this service to be retained one day a week, on Thursdays, at no cost to the company other than that associated with making an additional bus available. The Dungarvan driver, who links with Clonmel and Waterford, would switch his rest days from Wednesday and Thursday to Tuesday and Wednesday. His colleague in Clonmel would switch his leave days from Sunday and Tuesday to Sunday and Monday, thereby having back-to-back rest days, which is what Bus Éireann is always trying to achieve for its drivers. Under the new arrangement, the Dungarvan driver, who is a spare driver one day a week, would work on that day. If the union proposal is accepted, the people of west Waterford will have a service one day a week, at least. I understand that an average of between 90 and 100 passengers use the service each day. While many of these passengers hold free travel passes, Bus Éireann is paid to carry them.
This measure represents the final reneging on the commitment, outlined in the January 1976 notice of termination of train services on the railway line between Mallow and Waterford via Fermoy, that new road passenger services would be provided as an alternative for passengers. If Bus Éireann shows the ability to think outside the box and focus primarily on the needs of passengers, it will be possible for a one-day service to be provided. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, to ensure that the Official Report of this debate is passed on to Bus Éireann tomorrow. Time is running out on this issue.
Deputy Seán Sherlock: This is an issue of fairness and connectivity. Those who benefit from this route do not have their own means of transport. As most of them are isolated, they rely on the route to access essential services they cannot access other than through Bus Éireann. Many of those who travel on the 366 route cannot avail of a supplementary service under the rural transport programme. We are seeking to achieve the retention of the service in some way, even if it means a reduction in the service to one day a week. We strongly believe this route should be subject to a public service obligation. It was put in place to supplement the loss of railway infrastructure. While that may be deemed to be an historical debate, the principle still applies. If this route is taken away, a significant number of people, most of whom are elderly, will be cast further into isolation. A lady who attended one of my clinics two weeks ago was visibly upset about the loss of this route. When one speaks about access to services, one always wishes to bear in mind the notions of a national spatial strategy and intergenerational solidarity. If we are to axe routes that allow for connectivity, we will do a disservice to older people. We will marginalise those who do not have their own transport and therefore rely heavily on services of this nature as they travel to where they want to go each day.
Deputy John Moloney: I assure Deputy O’Shea that I will ensure a transcript of this debate is passed on to the relevant officials. In line with a recommendation in the Deloitte report, Bus Éireann is engaging with Pobal, the HSE, the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Departments of Education and Science and Transport to co-ordinate the better integration of services provided by Bus Éireann, the rural transport programme and the HSE. Several pilot schemes have been undertaken in the Louth-Meath and Sligo-Leitrim areas. These pilots will be evaluated by May 2010 with a view to mainstreaming across the country. The services being piloted include “collect and connect” commuter services, where passengers are collected at their door and brought to an interchange point to connect to scheduled services. Nine pilot schemes have been undertaken in the north east and north west. Hospital feeder services will be piloted in conjunction with the HSE. Bus Éireann and rural transport services feed into a Bus Éireann town service that connects to the local hospital for clinic appointments. Three pilot schemes in Navan, Drogheda and Dundalk hospitals are under discussion with the HSE. Bus Éireann is discussing a proposed pilot in Cork city — for Cork University Hospital — with the HSE. Bus Éireann is also seeking synergies with the school transport scheme. Two areas in the north east — the Stamullen-Drogheda area and the Navan-Trim-Nobber area — have been identified for further analysis, subject to discussions with the HSE, as possible partners for pilot projects.
Efforts are being made to better co-ordinate disability services. Increased co-ordination between the Irish Wheelchair Association, the rural transport programme and Bus Éireann is aimed at reducing service duplication and increasing fleet utilisation. I understand a pilot project has been completed in the north east between Flexibus and the Irish Wheelchair Association. Bus Éireann is working on increased co-ordination of ticketing and fares between Bus Éireann and the rural transport programme. It is also working on better information for a range of passenger groups, including older people. Combined leaflet drops have been completed in the north east and north west. I understand from Bus Éireann that the process has been extremely positive to date. The level of commitment and energy that has been brought to the process by all partner groups is encouraging. It is clear that many synergies can be created between the partner groups. Evaluation of the pilots has been delayed to allow time for the remaining projects to be completed. I understand this is due to happen in May 2010. The potential for and value of mainstreaming the initiatives across the country will become clearer at that time. The Deputies may raise the matter of Bus Éireann service cuts at that stage.
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