Concern is mounting in East Clare arising from a leaked draft report from the Department of Transport that seeks the abolishment of the 35 community-based rural transport companies, one of which is the East Clare-based Clare Accessible Transport.
Across the country, the network employs 108 people. At present in the Feakle-based Clare Accessible Transport (CAT) company, 21 jobs are potentially at risk.
According to the leaked draft report, it is proposed that just 32 jobs will be maintained nationally.
Laura Ward, manager at CAT, told The Clare Champion that they have been inundated with calls of support from concerned passengers, councillors and TDs.
“In the absence of a clear announcement from the minister, it is difficult to respond as the Rural Transport Network has been in negotiations with the minister and the National Transport Authority (NTA) for some time, discussing all potential options for the delivery of Rural Transport.”
She highlighted that the integrated bus service developed in Clare has become a lifeline to so many, with over 50,000 passenger trips made during 2012, which shows this service is working for more and more people.
“The service has grown over the last 10 years because it provides a locally based, flexible and responsive bus service that everyone can use, get to know and rely on.
Clare Accessible Transport already met the proposed administration levels laid out by the minister, operating a cost-effective service with a significant number of services running at full capacity. The Clare service model managed by a voluntary board of local people, can be identified by the fact that all the easy access vehicles in operation are owned by the company and co-ordinated through a locally based travel dispatch centre, delivering an efficient and flexible service. This model cannot be maintained directly under a regionalised structure that covers the whole of Clare, Limerick and Tipperary,” she said.
She added that the leaked restructuring document proposes one dispatcher to co-ordinate services for the entire area.
Ms Ward stressed the service would continue to fight for resources to deliver a network that covers the whole county and they wanted to acknowledge the support shown by the community and users of the service.
County councillor Pat Hayes said Clare and the East Clare area has built a “wonderful rural transport service” in the area, and one that has really adapted to change over the years.
“It is an invaluable service to a lot of people now. There is grave concern about the 21 employees of the company as their futures are now in doubt and that needs to be clarified. The service users include a lot of people with disabilities, young and old who are using the service on a daily basis. We have to think of those people as well, CAT is a lifeline for a lot of people. It poses a real threat to rural community services,” he said.
At Monday’s Clare County Council meeting, Councillor Hayes, Councillor Michael Kelly and Councillor Bill Chambers were supported in a joint motion, which called for the Government to immediately clarify the position in relation to rural transport programme.
It also called on the council to ask the minister to retain and enhance the present rural transport network in Clare, as it is essential for rural communities.