Bus Éireann to end its Athlone services to Dublin and Galway this week
Wednesday of this week is the last day that passengers will be able to board a bus to Dublin or Galway from Athlone's Bus Station, after Bus Éireann announced the closure of its 20 and X20 Expressway routes.
The decision means that, from this Thursday on, bus journeys between Athlone and Galway, Ballinasloe, Moate, Dublin city or Dublin airport will be operated by private companies only, with passengers being dropped off or picked up at the Arcadia Retail Park and AIT rather than the bus station.
Citylink operates a service between Galway and Dublin which serves the Arcadia and AIT stops in Athlone, and also stops at Portiuncula Hospital, Dunlo Hill and Creagh in Ballinasloe.
From Thursday, another private company, Aircoach, will also begin a Galway to Dublin route which will stop at the two aforementioned Athlone locations and at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe.
Galway-Roscommon TD Claire Kerrane criticised Bus Éireann's decision to remove the 20 and X20 Galway to Dublin services, highlighting the impact the decision would have on passengers who had used it in Aughrim, Ballinasloe and Athlone.
"At a time when we are being told to reduce our emissions, and use public transport, these decisions are another nail in the coffin of rural towns," said the Sinn Fein TD.
"How can we expect anyone to move back to the West, to rural towns and villages, when at the same time, basic services are still being taken away? It's not good enough. I've been in touch with the Minister on this," she added.
Bus Éireann's Expressway services from Athlone to the capital and to Galway have been a key part of Athlone's public transport infrastructure for many years.
During the early months of the pandemic last year, when Citylink temporarily suspended its services, Bus Éireann was providing the only bus connections between Athlone and the two cities.
In a statement issued to the Westmeath Independent today (Monday), the company said it had taken the decision to close its services between Dublin and Belfast, Cork, Galway and Limerick following a "viability review" of 18 routes last September.
"This decision was taken to safeguard the viability of the 14 remaining routes following significant losses in 2020 and projected continuing losses over the next three years, resulting from the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on travel and transport," said the company.
"Expressway is a commercial service and does not receive financial support in normal times," it added. "The Belfast and Limerick services have already ceased, and as of July 28 the Galway service (20, X20) will no longer operate."
When asked about the impact of this decision on jobs at Bus Éireann, the company said "no more than six drivers on temporary contracts in Galway" would be affected, and it hoped "to offer alternative employment options" to "most" of those drivers.
Bus Éireann added that its public service obligation routes were not affected by the announcement, and that it was "very grateful to our employees and passengers for their loyalty and commitment to (the Galway to Dublin) route for many years."
When news about the possible closure of the company's Dublin to Galway services first emerged in September it was strongly criticised by the trade union SIPTU.
SIPTU's sector organiser John Murphy described the planned closure of "high profile" routes as "a kick in the teeth" for workers and passengers.
Mr Murphy said the blame for the situation "lies squarely" with the National Transport Authority which had "flooded the market with privately held operating licenses" and, in doing so, had "strangled" the national carrier.
The new Aircoach bus route between Galway and Dublin is due to consist of ten daily services, departing from the Coach Station in Galway and stopping at GMIT, Ballinasloe, Athlone, Maynooth, Aston Quay in Dublin city, and Dublin airport.
"The reliability of our service and being able to travel in comfort at an affordable price, as well as providing flexibility with online booking, payment options and great WiFi connectivity are all key deliverables that we will continue to provide on this new route," said Dervla McKay, Managing Director of Aircoach.