BUS Éireann has been accused of “attacking the most vulnerable members of society”, when its drivers refuse to pick up passengers at certain unofficial but quite safe stops.
The accusation was levelled at Monday’s meeting of Clare County Council in respect of along the company’s Public Service Obligation routes.
Councillor Paul Murphy proposed a motion asking that the Council contact Bus Éireann and “insist on reinstatement of their heretofore policy of picking up passengers at all safe points along their Public Service Obligation routes”.
He said that initially he had come up with the motion with the 343 Ennis-Limerick route in mind, but that since then he had become aware of people on other routes being “left behind on the roadside”.
The Clarecastle man said that he knows of one young man with epilepsy who can’t drive, who relies upon being able to catch a bus, but in recent times has been left behind.
Fine Gael’s Johnny Flynn said that in Kilnamona there is a safe place for people to be picked up, but they “are not getting that anymore”.
Councillor Donna McGettigan said that she had received a number of complaints about the 343 route and that Bus Éireann had told her there had been a significant increase in demand upon it, and they are looking at increasing resources.
However, she said the current situation is not acceptable.
“It just isn’t good enough. People shouldn’t be left on the roadside.”
Fianna Fáil’s Pat O’Gorman supported the motion, saying that some school children are being left at the side of the road, because buses are too full.
He said in one case that he knew of, a first year student had been left in Limerick City, because there wasn’t enough room on the bus she was due to get.
Summing up, Councillor Murphy said that he believed what is happening is “an attack on the most vulnerable in the community”.
He said many of the bus passengers were elderly, in poor health or very young people who don’t have access to private transport.
Also at Monday’s meeting three councillors, Cathaoirleach Tony O’Brien, Paul Murphy and Pat Hayes introduced a motion about retirement age for drivers.
The mostion stated that the Council should request “The Ministers for Transport and Education to instruct Bus Éireann school transport to immediately remove the discriminatory practice of forcing drivers who are fully qualified and have been medically assessed as fit and competent to drive, for private contractors to retire due to age.”
Councillor O’Brien said that at the moment drivers are compelled to retire at the age of 70, even if they are in perfectly good health.
He said forcing people to retire is “totally discriminatory”, while he added that “in this day and age it’s not good enough”.
A number of other councillors supported the motion.
“You’re only coming into your prime when you’re hitting 70,” joked Fine Gael’s John Crowe.
“I’m delighted to be in the Chamber with so many men in their prime,” laughed Councillor Mary Howard.
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.