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*Clare Bus Driver, Fran. Photograph: Martin Connolly

A proposed change to the transport co-ordination unit (TCU) of Clare Bus has been slammed by users of the service in East Clare.

On Friday, The Clare Echo jumped aboard a Clare Bus service from Ennis to Scariff to get the views of commuters. In March, the National Transport Authority (NTA) awarded the TCU contract for Clare Bus to Limerick Local Link which is based in Newcastle West, management of the Feakle based service have said such a decision will result in the definite loss of seven jobs.

All existing TCU agreements nationally expired on December 31st 2018. A spokesperson for the National Transport Authority told The Clare Echo, “Due to a change in the legal procurement framework (2014 EU Directives), and following lengthy analysis, the Authority concluded that new TCU Agreements must be awarded pursuant to a competitive contract process This procurement process commenced in 2018 and the resulting outcome has meant a reduction in the number of Transport Co-ordination Units from 17 to 15 with Clare being one of the unsuccessful tenderers”. They say there will be no alterations to the service provided by Clare Accessible Transport.

Oria Fitzgerald uses the service to travel to Ennis with her daughter Clare every weekday morning and returns home on her own on the 10:30 bus. “It is so economical, trying to run a car, we haven’t got a great car, you need a brand new car to be able to bring my daughter everyday into Ennis which isn’t viable. It is fantastic for the cost to bring her in, drop her off at her school and she’s picked up outside the school again. Is another bus going to do that, I don’t think so, it’s fantastic, I can come in with her in the morning, she’s only just started so she’s learning the ropes”.

According to Oria, the decision to award the contract to Limerick Local Link is “absolutely disgraceful”. “What are we going to lose, what services am I going to have, will there be a 8:30 bus in the morning to bring Clare in for 10:00? No there won’t. There’s people less off, I have a car but I won’t be able to do it everyday so she’s going to have to her hours cut so therefore she’s at a disadvantage as well. It’s disgraceful”.

Her daughter Clare has Down syndrome and “loves the service” provided by Clare Bus. “For parents that have children with disabilities it’s a bloody shame, a lot of them are picked up outside their doors and that’s fantastic, is the Limerick service going to continue that, they’re not. How many jobs are going to go from East Clare and that’s putting another disadvantage on to Feakle area, it’s disgraceful and politicians should be standing up and shouting”.

Should the organisation of the bus be done from Newcastle West as opposed to Feakle, Fitzgerald felt she and her daughter would “only be a number”. “I can ring up the office in Feakle, I know them, if Clare isn’t going in because she’s sick I can tell them that and they know then that she’s not travelling that week or that day, we have that communication to be able to ring at the last minute to say if she is travelling or not and it’s no problem to them which is fantastic. Take that into Limerick, who have we to contact, it could be just a recording”.

She is of the view that such a change to the operation would mark the beginning of the end for Clare Bus. “They’re not going to do pickups from houses to pick up children with disabilities or elderly people with no means of travel who have to come in to collect their pension or do a bit of shopping, there’s no local shops as such around, they have to rely on the bus. You can shop in Tulla or Scariff but what about the ones outside that this bus gives a service to, it goes into O’Callaghans Mills and Kilkishen but is that going to be continuing, no, they’re going to go straight onto the main road and not any back road. It’s a crying shame”.

A full time carer to her daughter, the Bodyke woman is worried of the affect it will have on her daughter. “It would be a big worry, I’d have to try come in the morning and go out to do my work to look after my family and back again, that’s four runs in the day. Are they going to provide the cost of petrol, the wear and tear of a car, tax, insurance, the whole works, add all that up. Okay maybe I’m lucky that I have a car but there’s a lot of parents that haven’t a car and have a child with a disability, they are house bound and the kids are losing their schooling and they are going to be held back as well which is a terrible shame. We’re fighting to get different services and we’re not getting them, this is absolutely disgraceful and the politicians up in Dublin don’t give two hoots, they don’t care. If they come around looking for votes, they’re going to get very few if this goes ahead”.

“She knows the bus driver, she is as happy as Larry, take that away by putting on a stranger and you’re taking the routine from her and that’s going to upset her. They need a routine and they need to know the people, put a stranger on and the whole routine is gone and they don’t want to go, that’s upsetting the child and the whole family.

“It is a big upset, she needs routine, she knows the people on the bus and they know her, they look after her and if I’m maybe a couple of minutes late they’re not going to leave her on the side of the road, they’ll wait and they have a contact number for me to see what’s happening. Put a stranger in from Limerick, they don’t care. It’s a disgrace,” Oria concluded.

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