RURAL Fermanagh is once again facing the loss of a vital service, with concern growing over the future of bus routes across the county.
This week it emerged Translink, who are currently losing in the region of £13 million a year, may axe many of their non-profitable rural bus routes, due to cuts to their budget.
“Translink has maintained the public transport network without any sufficient subsidy required to operate unprofitable but socially necessary services,” a spokesman said, explaining the company had been drawing on its own reserves to run the routes since the subsidies stopped in 2014.
“Any network changes could involve withdrawal of lesser used services in towns and rural areas,” the spokesman said. Speaking in the Belfast Telegraph, they added the company’s reserves had been so depleted they wouldn’t be able to continue these services beyond 2020 without support.
The comments have sparked panic across the North, not least here in Fermanagh where many people rely on the services to take them to medical appointments, to get to work, go to the shops, or simply to stay connected with the wider world.
Cllr Thomas O’Reilly also said many families relied on local buses, and said pensioners with free bus passes could be particularly impacted by any cuts.
“Without that ability to get out would feel very isolated, with all the complications that come with that,” he said.
“Once again they’re talking about targeting rural routes. Yes, there’s not as many people on them, but why is it always the rural population that has to pay the penalty for a lack of finance for whatever the service is?”
Cllr O’Reilly added: “Once again its rural people who are paying the price for a lack of provision in any service and to once again reduce that access to services for people who are already on the very periphery of services. It’s just unbelievable. There has to be another way to provide some equality for people who live in the rural west.” Cllr Victor Warrington said rural Fermanagh could not sustain any more cuts to its public transport.
“Both young families and older people would be very reliant on it. Unfortunately not everybody has the luxury of a vehicle in these areas so that leaves them very dependent on the public transport system,” said Cllr Warrington, adding the lack of a functioning Assembly was exacerbating the problems within Translink.
Meanwhile, a decision is still being awaited from the Department for Infrastructure to grant a permit for Hannon Coaches to run an express service from Enniskillen to Belfast. As can be seen from our readers’ reaction, the route would be widely welcomed locally.
Cllr O’Reilly said he believed Translink needed overhauled, and such express permits should be granted.
“People were stating the route could risk jobs at Translink, but the reality is, Translink do not provide a direct service and they were going in on a space that wasn’t being used by Translink at all,” he said. “I think competition breeds a better service with a higher standard of service. If there’s a monopoly there it can lead to a lesser service and people really have to fight for customers.”
Posted: 9:27 am January 28, 2018