THE operator of the West Cork Connect bus service is calling for a ‘level playing field’ for all bus operators before he can start the new Kinsale to Cork bus service.
Damien Long was reacting to a call by Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard that West Cork Connect, which received a licence for the Cork to Kinsale route, should ‘use it or lose it.’ The service had been due to commence in January but has yet to start.
Speaking to The Southern Star, Damien Long said that there was a fear that the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan was going to give out free transport, but only for PSO (public service obligation) services.
This would not include his company and other private bus operators known as CBOs (commercial bus operators).
‘For the St Brigid’s bank holiday weekend they announced a special offer for those on Leap cards.
‘But they only gave it to PSOs when it should have been given to everybody as we are all involved in the Leap card scheme,’ said Damien.
‘The fear was they were going to start bringing out more deals and all we want is clarification from the State that it isn’t going to happen again.’
He pointed out that there are licences across the county and the country which haven’t started either as they cannot get clarity on this.
‘We are a private company and they want us to invest millions to start the service, which we have ready to go and then the following week they give out free travel offers to PSOs, so who would travel with us then?
‘You can’t compete with free really.’
He said the service is ready to go with buses, bus drivers and ticket machines, but they need a ‘level playing field.’
‘It’s unfair competition and we have told the National Transport Authority (NTA) about this issue,’ he said.
Senator Tim Lombard had said it’s very disappointing that the licence was awarded but yet the people of Kinsale are still waiting for the bus service to begin and they are frustrated.
He said that the operator now needs to confirm that the service will go ahead and confirm a definite commencement date.
‘If the operator no longer plans to run the service, then the public needs to be informed.
‘They have the licence for the route since July 15th 2021 – it’s time to use it or lose it.’
The new hourly service would mean that for the first time there will be a direct route from Kinsale, Belgooly, Riverstick, Ballygarvan and Ballinhassig to the universities, CUH and the city.
He added that the private operator has received everything that they needed from the NTA to enable them to commence the service.
‘In January, the operator said the service would not commence until a new electronic ticketing system was in place.
‘This was resolved but now that operator is citing concerns that initiatives to encourage people to use public transport such as the Leap +1 promotion, which ran over the new February bank holiday weekend, might occur again, as the reason for not commencing the service.’
Meanwhile, Minister of State Jack Chambers recently visited Kinsale to meet with locals frustrated with the bus services being provided between Cork and Kinsale.
The meeting was organised by Cork South West FF TD Christopher O’Sullivan and he said he was confident that the Minister will take on board the concerns he heard at the meeting.
The Minister also met with Damien Long, who outlined issues that commercial providers are having in operating public transport services.
‘We have seen issues in the past where the government has announced innovative fare reductions but unfortunately in some cases only the public transport providers such as Bus Éireann have been able to roll these out, with the commercial operators having missed out,’ said Deputy O’Sullivan.
‘I think it is really important that these fare reductions apply to both State-owned and commercial operators going forward, as they play such a huge role in providing public transport in rural parts of Ireland.’
He added that he is ‘very confident’ that the new Kinsale Connect service will eventually be up and running once all potential issues have been ironed out.’