IN an innovative effort to add to the tourism product in West Clare, Loop Head Tourism has revealed early plans to deploy an electric bus linking Kilkee with the peninsula villages.
It is envisaged that the bus would be powered by two wind turbines, which are located in the area and that it would cater for both tourists and locals. In tandem, the tourism body is planning to launch a network of bog road walking routes in the region, which would be directly linked to the proposed bus route.
“As far as we’re aware, this would be ground-breaking. The innovative thing here is the electric bus. There are places in South America and South Africa where they operate hop-on hop-off local buses but they are public transport in effect. Tourists and locals use it,” Cillian Murphy of Loop Head Tourism told The Clare Champion.
“Because of our settlement patterns, public transport is a big problem to provide for spread-out rural communities. It wouldn’t be justified from either a standalone tourism or a public transport point of view. But if we can marry those two things together, it can work. If it was to be run off a diesel engine, it still probably wouldn’t make financial sense. But operating an electric bus reduces fuel costs so much that it becomes viable. The other aspect we are very keen on is we want to provide some training for the bus drivers, who would then be in a position to also act as tour guides. The size of the bus will be dictated by that. The buses will be small enough to cope with the driver being a guide as well. When you mix the visitors and the residents, you get a much more authentic visitor experience,” he believes.
He also detailed plans to link the electric bus route with walking trails.
“Nationally, we struggle to get land access for walking trails so rather than focus on those issues, we have looked at our local bog roads that are public. We’re going to mark them out and each village in the peninsula will have a trailhead, which will have three or four walks from each village. They will be based on small, public bog roads. We don’t need to get permission from anybody. In the region of 80% of visitors who walk in Ireland walk on looped and marked trails. Where this marries with the electric bus project is that the bus stop in each village would be the trailhead for the walking paths. You can get on a bus in Carrigaholt and off in Kilbaha. When you get off, the trailhead for the local walk will be in front of you. The idea is that it will all be integrated. Energy would be provided by two electricity-generating wind turbines, which are located in the peninsula. You’re looking at a 100% sustainable energy public transport system,” the Kilkee businessman added.
In tandem with a number of project partners, Loop Head Tourism is exploring a number of options with regard to early set-up costs. They hope the service will be fully operational by 2018.
“We’re going to try and get the walking head trails done in 2017. We’d be looking at getting bus shelters in place over the winter of 2017 and be operational by 2018. In the interim, we’re hoping that Clare Bus will operate a route based on the electric bus route through 2017. They have a regular bus operating at the minute. We will look at a route that will take in Querrin, Doonaha, Carrigaholt, Cross, Kilbaha and Kilkee initially. The ideal thing, long term, will be that the electric bus will connect with Kilrush and Doonbeg. The plan will be that the buses will also take bikes. If it works, it will be rolled out in other rural communities,” Mr Murphy predicted.
By Peter O’Connell