THE operators of Clare Bus are making a last-ditch effort to keep the company alive and have called on the National Transport Authority (NTA) to enter into mediation with a view to restoring its routes.
At the end of March, following a dispute over funding, the NTA unveiled two new operators on 12 county-wide Local Link routes. Since then, Clare Bus has parked up its fleet and is using the government’s pandemic wage subsidy scheme to pay staff.
Chairperson Ger Hoey described Clare Bus as being “cocooned” at the moment, but on stand-by to assist the East Clare Covid-19 Community Response. In a four-page letter to the NTA, seen by The Clare Champion, the board of Clare Accessible Transport (CAT) has asked NTA CEO Anne Graham for more time to sort out the financing row and has proposed that at mediator be appointed. The letter raises issues about financial arrears, the contractual framework and the accessibility of buses currently service the routes.
“After 18 years operating the RTP [Rural Transport Programme] in Clare in a cost effective manner and providing universal access to all passengers we would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and to discuss and resolve the issues… and a proposal that a mediator be appointed to limit any knock on effect on a wider rural community,” the letter states.
Fianna Fáil Deputy Cathal Crowe has been refused a request for a video meeting of stakeholders. He has also raised questions about the fate of the company once the Covid-19 payment scheme ceases.
“Once that dries up, there is huge concern that it’s the end of the road for their company, their jobs and the Clare Bus service as we know it,” he said. “I have requested a teleconference meeting between myself, the NTA and Clare Accessible Transport… I have been told that because there is no contractual relationship between Clare Bus, it would be ‘inappropriate’ … This quite simply is not good enough. Clare Bus has provided an essential service for this county for many years and already, we’ve seen a serious decline. The NTA needs to buck up and take responsibility on this matter immediately.”
As of Wednesday, May 6, Clare Bus were still awaiting a repose to their letter.
Clare Bus had secured all routes procurement process at the end of December but declined to sign contracts until it secured an assurance on what it regards as an underpayment dating back to last June.
When the company had not signed the contracts by a deadline of March 20, alternative providers were put on the routes.