*Photograph: Martin Connolly
A brighter future looks to be on the cards for Clare Accessible Transport after some dark months with the transport provider offered the contract to maintain the twelve routes it operates.
On January 13th the new one year contract commences with the potential of this rolling on for a second year. The National Transport Authority (NTA) had put the routes up for tender bringing the future of Clare Accessible Transport into question.
It followed the NTA’s decision in April to award the transport co-ordination unit (TCU) of Clare Bus which was previously held by Clare Accessible Transport to Limerick Local Link. The Newcastle West based centre now named Local Link Limerick Clare will remain responsible for dealing with bookings from Clare Bus users.
Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) was one of the most vocal councillors to criticise the decision by the NTA to take the TCU unit from Clare Accessible Transport. “There is a sense of relief that we have certainty about the routes. They were in no man’s land for the last few months when they didn’t get the direct award,” he told The Clare Echo. “The fact that we have it means there are different challenges out there as well. What we have tendered for now is only the routes, it has to be backed up and managed, that will pose its own challenges for Clare Bus, that is where the community and people involved will have to branch out and see how they can be supported by other agencies”.
Hayes expressed his surprise that the contract is only for one year and was hopeful the General Election would lead to a change in Minister for Transport. “In the future trying to gather community goodwill for a project they’ll all look over their shoulder and say will we end up like Clare Bus having to defend and fight for a service that was doing nothing wrong and making money, under the NTA’s own report it was one of the best valued services in the country only a year ago. Unless you have the wrong colour of a bus that doesn’t suit the NTA, this isn’t very good for community groups to take on going forward if they see the heavy hand of the state coming on top of them like this”.
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of the Rural Development SPC, environment representative Anny Wyse stated, “Clare Bus has been saved, it matters a lot to rural Clare”. Cllr Joe Killeen (FF) said it was “of significant value to a number of areas. There was a huge fear that the valuable system they were running would be in trouble. I’m hopeful the routes can be extended and join up the bus systems with the Cliffs of Moher and the National Wildlife Park in Corofin”.
Clare TD, Dr Michael Harty (IND) facilitated a meeting between Transport Minister Shane Ross and the Board of Clare Accessible Transport in Bunratty on October 31st. He felt the awarding of the twelve routes to Clare Bus was “a great relief to those who benefit from the exceptional service”.
Harty flagged that close to €200,000 in funding has been withheld from Clare Bus since the summer. “Clare Bus have absolutely exhausted all their resources and would have been unable to operate beyond this Monday. Last week I made further representations to the Minister. A part payment of €61,000 was lodged with Clare Bus on Friday which means that the service can continue until mid-January. I now call on the NTA to pay the balance as quickly as possible. With the contract secured for the twelve routes secured for possibly two years and the balance of outstanding funds part paid, I am confident that the Clare Bus service can continue without interruption and customers can be comforted that the service will be of the same quality they have always enjoyed”.