REGULAR bus users travelling on the West Cork routes operated by Bus Éireann will know Rasa Mikalauskiene very well.
She’s the friendly bus driver who drives the Cork to Skibbereen and Cork to Bantry routes.
Originally from Vilnius in Lithuania, the mother-of-two has been driving buses with Bus Éireann for 12 years. Having moved to Ireland in 2001, she lives in Bandon with her two children Rokas (21) and Rigile (20).
It was while shopping in Bandon one day that Rasa noticed a female bus driver driving through the town, and she realised that she could do that job too.
She had never driven a bus before, but did drive a truck in Lithuania for a while.
‘I was walking down the street in Bandon and saw a female bus driver and it struck me because in our country, over 15 years ago, women wouldn’t have been allowed to drive buses. But that’s all changed now,’ Rasa told The Southern Star.
‘I thought to myself that it was something I’d like to do and I kept the idea in my head for a while. If it wasn’t for that other bus driver, I would never have thought to apply. So I just sent in an application form for vacancies with Bus Éireann and it all came true!’ recalled Rasa. Following her interview, she spent three weeks training at Capwell Bus Station in Cork.
Once Rasa was fully qualified, she drove buses in Dublin for a time, before working in Cork. But, she says, she loves driving to West Cork on the daily routes.
‘What I do like in this job is that every day is different, it’s never the same. While it may be the same route every day, there’s always something different happening. We have bad days and good days, like every job.’
And it’s the passengers who use the service that Rasa really likes – knowing some of them by name.
‘While I’m driving I can’t really converse, but people are nice, especially country people, when they come on board. They are also helpful, too, when it comes to local knowledge. If a road was closed for some reason, they would let me know or if there was an accident or something.
‘And they would even advise me which road I should take,’ smiled Rasa.
Of course, Rasa knows only too well the difficulties of driving a bus on some of the roads in West Cork, having previously worked with the relative ease of Dublin’s smooth network.
‘Some of the roads are shocking, and the Bandon area could be famous for some of the worst roads in Ireland. Thankfully, some stretches between the Pike and Rosscarbery have been improved recently, which is good.’
She has also noticed that the roads are getting busier and this has a knock-on effect for her passengers.
‘Getting stuck in traffic doesn’t help and delays would affect my passengers who can sometimes miss their connections in Cork to other routes, and that’s difficult, too.’
Rasa was recently asked to go to Dublin to represent Bus Éireann for the launch of a nationwide campaign about racism on public transport.
‘I was delighted to be invited to the launch of the campaign. I wouldn’t say that racism is as as big an issue in Ireland, compared to other countries. It was brilliant and good to meet other people working in transport from different parts of the country – we talked about our stories and our experiences.’
Co-ordinated by the Immigrant Council of Ireland in partnership with Transport for Ireland and Dublin City Council, it is the biggest anti-racism campaign of its kind in Europe, with over 1,000 posters being displayed during a two-week period.
Anne Graham, chief executive of Transport for Ireland said this is the fifth year the campaign has run, and the positive impact on the transport agencies and their staff has been encouraging.
‘Ireland has become more diverse and more mature in recent years, and the staff who deliver our public transport services certainly reflect these positive changes. However, that doesn’t mean we can be complacent, and prejudice and intolerance – whoever the target may be – need to be tackled head-on,’ said Anne.
Rasa did say that in places she worked before there were ‘bad feelings’ but with this job, it’s a different story.
‘I don’t feel foreign, I feel normal. Creating a good atmosphere in work ensures everyone feels happier and works more efficiently,’ added Rasa.