Local link Evening Services a Driving Success

Fifth of Local Link evening buses carry fewer than 10 passengers a week

Seán McCárthaigh 

Sunday November 08 2020, 12.01am GMT, The Sunday Times

One in five of the Local Link evening bus services that operate in Ireland’s rural areas had fewer than 10 passengers a week on average last year, a review has found.

A further fifth of the services either did not commence as planned, or were cancelled due to lack of business. Route 115c between Ballivor and Navan, Co Meath, had the lowest usage of any service, with 215 passengers over all of last year.

The Local Link evening and night bus services were introduced in rural areas in 2018, after a law was passed providing for an automatic ban of at least three months for all motorists caught over the drink-driving limit.

The National Transport Authority (NTA), which oversees the operation of 17 Local Link groups, has expressed overall satisfaction with the performance of the bus service and welcomed the increase in customer numbers on most routes after a slow start. “For many services it has taken several months to gain traction locally and to be trusted as reliable public transport services,” the NTA said.

Of the 55 Local Link services, 23 are extensions of existing daytime routes, while the rest are demand-responsive, or door-to-door, evening services. NTA figures show a total of 33,922 passengers travelled on the 23 evening services on scheduled routes last year, while 34,213 passengers took one of the 32 door-to-door services. The cost of the 55 Local Link evening services came to almost €1.5m.

The busiest scheduled service was the 363 route between Tallow and Dungarvan, which attracted 5,126 passengers — a weekly average of 99 passengers. The next most popular was the Wexford-Rosslare Harbour service, which had 3,365, followed by the Newbridge-Athy route, with 2,991.

Other routes that recorded more than 2,000 evening trips were Granard-Longford, Kinlough-Ballyshannon, Ardmore-Dungarvan, and Glencolumbkille- Donegal town.

The busiest door-to-door route was the Mountrath-Castletown-Ballyfin service in Co Laois, which recorded 3,497 passengers in 2019 — a weekly average of 67 — followed by the Woodford-Portumna service in Co Galway, which had 3,417. The least busy route was an evening service in Clonmel, which attracted only 131 passengers for the whole of 2019 — a weekly average of fewer than three.

Passengers using Local Link services pay a nominal fee, while travel-pass holders and pensioners go free. Services usually run from 6pm to 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays. The NTA said the figures indicated services were being used a lot by passengers living in smaller towns working or socialising in nearby larger towns.

It also noted some of the routes with the highest proportion of evening trips had departures at 11pm or later, while the routes with the lowest share of evening services tended to have last departures at 9pm or earlier, suggesting “some evening services do not operate late enough to effectively serve their purpose”.

The NTA can stop funding any service with a pattern of poor passenger numbers. Services are continuing during the pandemic, with capacity at 25% of normal levels.

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