IN a major announcement last Friday, that went largely unnoticed by many members of the public, the National Transport Authority (NTA) unveiled its plan to increase, by approximately 25%, its rural bus services, as part of its five-year ‘Connecting Ireland’ plan.
The Connecting Ireland plan, we were told, is a major national public transport initiative developed by the NTA, with the aim of increasing public transport connectivity, particularly for people living outside major cities and towns.
It also links in nicely with the government’s plans for the enhancement of rural development, its Project Ireland 2040 project and, of course, its bid to reduce carbon emissions under the Climate Action Plan.
Under ‘Connecting Ireland’ the government is aiming to ensure that 70% of people in rural Ireland will have access to a public transport service that provides at least three return trips daily to the nearby town.
They say that 53% of people already enjoy those bus links – which seems quite an impressive figure in itself, especially given the government’s other claim that over 100 rural villages will – for the first time ever – benefit from a three-times-daily frequent public transport service.
Launching the plan, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said that strong local economies need good public transport links and he has been at pains to say, repeatedly, that when the Irish public are given real public transport options, they flock to them.
Cynics may be quick to point out the expensive Clare to Galway rail line which took some time to garner public support after its reopening in 2010, and was often left with just a handful of passengers in its early days.
But what is even more useful to remember is that the very same train line was closed due to flooding for over three months in 2014 and for five months in 2015.
And therein lies the tale.
A lot of these services planned for West Cork will leave coaches negotiating the narrow rural roads of West Cork, linking coastal villages like Kilcrohane, Castletownshend, and Goleen.
And these ambitious bus transport plans are being launched at a time when we are experiencing a rapidly changing climate which will see more violent storms, rising ocean levels and more devastating flooding coming our way, here in West Cork.
In May of this year a Cork County Council-commissioned report revealed that it would take 52 years to strengthen the county’s entire road network, despite an Engineers’ Ireland recommendation that each road should be done once every 20 years.
The National Roads Management Office estimated the cumulative cost of bringing the county’s roads up to standard was a whopping €750m.
The report also pointed out that West Cork is the largest municipal district in the country and has the fifth longest road network.
Describing the report at the time as ‘explosive’ Goleen TD Michael Collins said it was clear that Cork County Council was at a disadvantage in terms of sourcing funding from central government.
So, one would wonder, if last week’s big announcement of more buses, more routes, and more frequent trips, was a case of putting the cart before the horse-power.
It would seem like something of a false economy to be bringing a greater level of heavy duty traffic onto these roads – many of which are already closed for several days each year due to flooding – without first investing in the roads network.
That infamous Ennis to Galway rail track wasn’t just closed in 2014 and 2015 – in March of 2020, despite ‘delegations’ by locals to politicians in the intervening years, the track was closed again in several locations, for several days, due to flooding.
The government plans to have its new bus services to rural locations up and running by 2025. Let’s hope Cork County Council has a complementary five-year plan to upgrade the roads most vulnerable to flooding, so that the public does not become disillusioned with the plan before it even gets off the ground.