Clare Bus has yet to apply for the tender of nine local routes with the future of the East Clare transport provider still uncertain.
Currently awaiting an expression of interest and direct contact from the National Transport Authority (NTA), Clare Bus officials have confirmed they have heard nothing from the NTA since the appointment of a mediator earlier this week.
Longstanding Chairman of Clare Bus, Ger Hoey understands that an expression of interest is to be given today (Thursday) but confirmed on Wednesday evening he is yet to receive any formal direction from the National Transport Authority on how tender for existing routes is to be renewed.
He commended the work of the county’s four TDs whose efforts helped to put a mediator in place to address arrears which Clare Bus claim are owed by the NTA. “If the arrears situation isn’t sorted, or the mediation process determines that the amount of money we have spent is not due back to us, it would leave the company financially strapped and probably not in a position to pursue the routes. Hopefully, that will not happen. When entering a contract with the National Transport Authority, supposing it starts on the first of June, you won’t actually get paid for June, until the middle of July. You must run the service for six weeks from your own pocket.”
Established as a rural transport service in 1999 under the trading name East Clare Accessible Transport, the company has seen a shift in branding throughout its tenure within the county, transitioning to Clare Accessible Transport and then into Clare Bus in 2014. Despite a spate of rebranding, Hoey is adamant that the company has built a strong identity within the county, predicated on both universal and rural access, a term in which he feels they and the NTA fail to see eye to eye on.
“We have an affinity with the people of Clare who use the service. The people who drive and manage our service are very familiar with the needs of the county. The most important thing of course, that we feel, is that all our buses are universal access, with everyone coming in the front door and that there is dignity there for everybody using it. This is in contrast to some operators that have a lift at the back and this is where we see a real loss for the people of Clare, that if you are a mother with a buggy or whether you are in need of a wheelchair, everybody comes through the same door. That was the fundamental principal of Clare Accessible Transport from the beginning. There seems to be a bit of variance in what the NTA would define as accessible and that is an issue we have”.
Hoey cautioned what the loss of Clare Bus would mean for the people of the county. “The loss to this county would be the lack of universal access. In urban areas with the likes of Bus Éireann, they have to purchase buses with disability access and we feel that people in rural areas should have the same facilities to roll off. I would really, really like to thank the people of Clare in supporting us so much in the last twelve months. For now, we are still awaiting word from the NTA on the process of applying for tender”.