CLARE Accessible Transport has been selected to pilot the inclusion of rural transport services as part of the national journey planner.
The East Clare-based rural transport service was chosen from 34 rural transport services across the country to be included in the new National Journey Planner, released by the National Transport Authority.
The National Transport Authority recently took over the management of the Rural Transport Programme and the implementation of integrated local and rural transport. As a result, they wanted to include the public transport services provided under this programme into their national journey planner, so public transport customers could enjoy a more complete service.
A spokesperson for NTA said, “We had been in touch with Clare County Council on their Burren Connect project looking at transport supporting tourism in the county. Having liaised with Pobal and Clare Accessible Transport (CAT), it was felt the objectives of both projects could be met by commencing the inclusion of CAT rural transport services into the National Journey Planner.
“This will serve the authority as a test case to see how the services will be made available through the journey planner and will give Clare County Council a more complete picture of the public transport services in their county.”
Clare Accessible Transport is based at the Old Creamery in Feakle. Manager Laura Ward said the announcement gives special recognition to the charity’s service and bus design.
“There are 34 rural transport services in the country. Clare is the only one that completely operates all its services with its own buses. We are also the only rural transport service that completely promotes the low-floor model,” Ms Ward said.
While this is good news for the service, the lack of previously available funding means the charity is under financial pressure to maintain its services and has to step up its fundraising efforts to ensure sustainability into the future.
“We’ve got to get good at fundraising, like everyone else. We certainly need to fundraise for capital funding for buses. We have nine low-floor buses and every single one has been independently fundraised. Everything has changed now. The HSE and JP McManus have been great in the past but all that kind of thing is gone. We’ve done our annual draw and we’re going to take a step back and see how that went,” she explained.
Initially, Ms Ward believes the service was viewed as a threat to the very local economies but that view has been turned on its head as they are bringing people into towns and villages.
“It’s also used by tourists who land in at the station and they use the bus to get out to East Clare. I think we are getting through to people that Clare does have a public bus service. I think younger people are realising that the service is there for them so I think they’re getting over that perception that the buses are for older people. It’s for people who don’t have transport and whose mobility is restricted for whatever reason,” Ms Ward outlined.
Now 10 years in operation, CAT initially started serving the East Clare area and then began expanding into the rest of the county in 2007.
However, their expansion came at a time when resources were beginning to be cut. This has meant the further roll-out of services has been curtailed to a certain degree.
“What we’ve managed to put out to the rest of the county hasn’t been as strong a network as there is in East Clare. East Clare has three services a day, every week day and Saturday services. Shannon has a daily service and Kilrush has two buses serving it on a daily basis.
“There are frequent services from East Clare into Ennis and then daily services in the main towns of Scariff and Tulla and villages. We’d love to put more services into the North Clare area as soon as we are able to. We have a weekly service and we have three services going into Gort on a Friday from North Clare.
“We have an Ennistymon service on a Tuesday for market day that serves Ballyvaughan, Fanore and Lisdoonvarna. It’s very well used and we have a Saturday service from Miltown Malbay into Ennis. There is a demand for services in North Clare and we’re finding a huge demand for accessible services in Shannon,” Ms Ward acknowledged.
The buses the service operates currently are 15-seater low-floor buses. However, due to the demand on the service, it is hoped if funds can be sourced or raised that CAT would purchase a low-floor vehicle with a larger capacity.
“We are constantly trying to find new ways of working to achieve more with the same resources. We have done everything we can to avoid putting fares up so we can keep this service affordable.
“Unless we get operational funding, it won’t be an increase in services but it will be an increase in capacity,” Ms Ward continued.
Such is the demand that anyone availing of the service needs to call CAT to book a seat in advance.
The service is also trying to link in with the greater public transport services and is working with Bus Éireann towards a new initiative to improve connectivity between the rural network and the national one.
“That’s a really important initiative. The more we connect into each other the more people that benefit. It’s important to raise the awareness of public transport generally so people see it as an option and try to help shift this culture of the private car, which isn’t a very sustainable one,” she added.
CAT is also working with Burren Connect on an ongoing basis to promote public transport through eco-tourism.
To access the national journey planner, visit www.TransportforIreland.ie.