07 Oct 2022

OPINION: Rural bus services provide vital link for Kildare communities

Fear as bus strike looms

As I stood by the roadside, covered in sick, mortification spread over me as the Bus Eireann passengers peered out the windows.

The kind bus driver, who pulled over, after I dashed down the gangway in a rush to say farewell to a dodgy coleslaw sandwich, smiled sympathetically.

To add to the embarrassment, I was instructed to sit up front as we set off again. The dirty sock, which the driver retrieved from the dashboard (normally used to wipe the windscreen), was the only thing he had to hand. Gingerly, I wiped away the remnants of the sandwich from my clothes. In a bid to relieve the nauseous odour, the door was left open, air gushing in as Allenwood beckoned - my final destination.

This was several years ago, but in a conversation with colleagues about bus services in rural Kildare, my experiences of college commuting on the 120 came to mind.

Bus Eireann is in crisis. Strikes are looming from March 6, and passengers are fearful about the impact. Increased competition from private operators offering lower fares has crucified the company, and it has been unable to respond.

So many people from different walks of life depended on the bus for different reasons, hopping on at the various stops. One elderly man used to travel up and down to Dublin - never setting foot in the city. Using his OAP pass, he simply sought out human contact, a chat with the bus driver, and a chance to get a glimpse of the world from the unobstructed vantage of the front seat.

A mother and son jumped on board every day, traversing from one village to another to do their shopping, and back again on the later service.

Back in 2015, communities in South Kildare fought to have services to areas such as Castledermot restored. Public meetings were held and a campaign swung into action. Pressure on the National Transport Agency (NTA) yielded results and a new bus timetable was agreed with the NTA servicing Castledermot, Moone, Timolin, Crookstown, Narraghmore, Balitore, Athy and other areas.

Taking advantage of increased competition, many former Bus Eireann passengers in Kildare are now using private operators because they are cheaper. That's if you are lucky enough to live in the towns of Naas, Newbridge, Kildare town and Monasterevin.

The Bus Eireann vehicle often pulls into Newbridge followed by private operators. Passengers clamor for the Green Bus (€1 to Naas) or K Coach (€2 to Naas), so why would you go on the Bus Eireann service at a cost of 4.18 (online price) single to Naas.

Back in the seventies, the Rathangan bus used to take the scenic route to Dublin, taking in various villages like Robertstown, Allen and Kilmeague.

In fact, one of my colleagues informed me the bus had to turn at the narrow bridge in Robertstown. Prior to these services, all these communities would not have had any public transport access to other towns, as well as Dublin during that time. Bus Eireann provided a vital link for people and this made a big impact on their day to day lives.

When a new bus service from Rathangan to Dublin was launched several years ago, Minister Charlie McCreevy was cheered by locals as he came to make the announcement. In fact he joked passengers could stop off in the Chicken Ranch (a lap dancing club which has since closed) in Milltown on the way to Dublin. Given that Dublin Coach charge just €5 to travel from Kildare Village to Dublin, how can Bus Eireann compete? 

It costs €13.58 (online price) for an adult single from Kildare town to Dublin. Many argue that increased competition pushes prices down, but the company just can't compete. It does get subsidised to run the services that are not as popular as the busy routes, but is that enough? Should the company be run differently? 

There is a perception that most people have cars now, and the need for a comprehensive bus service is not as great as it was in years gone by.  

However, because of the prevalence of social isolation in many rural areas, and the fact that some families maybe can't afford one car, never mind a second one, it could be argued that rural transport has never been more important. Especially given the need to get more cars off the road in favour of the use of public transport. You can't blame commuters for opting for the cheaper fares. The less popular rural routes may not bring in the big bucks, but it is vital they are retained. 

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