Door-to-door services are still available and bookings for seats are still being taken by phone - these are just some of the points clarified at a meeting about the new Local Link services.
Manager of Services for Sligo Leitrim and Donegal, Fiona O'Shea, gave clarity to Leitrim county councillors at a special information meeting held online last Thursday.
She said that route options had been substantially improved and fully accessible services are now on offer to customers across Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal.
Ms O'Shea noted larger buses are provided on what is known as the Regular Rural Bus Services (RSS). These operate on a fixed route between towns and villages and have a scheduled timetable, just like any other public transport bus service. RSS services do not offer door-to-door services.
She pointed out these services allow commuters to avail of public transport and also provide links for those attending colleges.
TFI Local Link Door-to-Door Bus Services, bus routes with the added benefit of collecting and dropping off passengers directly at their homes, are still running in Leitrim. These typically utilise a smaller 18-22 seater bus and as such, are able to access smaller roads, she said. Customers are also able to use their free travel pass on these services.
Ms O'Shea acknowledged that “maybe there was confusion” about door-to-door services that existed previously as a result of recent changes to services adding “more information should have gone out”.
She also clarified that booking of seats on services remains in the previous format, where customers phoned in to secure a seat.
“This is the way it has been for the last four or five years,” she pointed out.
While accepting that health and safety reasons stopped a bus driver from carrying parcels for passengers into a house, she said that drivers are still on hand to assist passengers getting on or off buses. She pointed out that in previous services some drivers may have given greater assistance to passengers than this but said this had been down to the individual driver and was never part of the service.
There is an acceptance that more bus shelters are required along routes but Ms O'Shea said this will be a collaboration between Local Link, the Local Authority and the National Transport Authority.
Councillors also highlighted concerns over the loss of the Local Link headquarters in Carrick-on-Shannon and the fact that services previously carried out by local bus companies were no longer under their remit.
Ms O'Shea pointed out that all potential service providers had to go through a transparent open procurement process and the contracts were awarded on a strict scoring system.
“Yes, some local bus providers were not successful,” she said. “Yes, it was a direct hit on some of the smaller suppliers but we have no option. We have to stick with the open procurement process.”
She said a similar situation arose over the headquarters for the Local Link service, previously based in Carrick-on-Shannon. A tender process was held, she said, and that company was unsuccessful, so the headquarters were moved to Donegal serving a wider Sligo/Leitrim/Donegal area.
“All transport is running in line with the Connecting Ireland Programme,” she said and “everything we do now is coming from the planning section in the National Transport Authority. The NTA have complete overview,” she added.
Councillors also highlighted instances where passengers transferring from the rail network at Dromod to the bus service had been left behind.
“If a train is running late a passenger can call the (bus driver) and he will try and wait for them. But if a train is 20 minutes late, a bus cannot wait for a passenger,” said Ms O'Shea.
Council spokesperson, Suzanne Duffy asked if there is any way that the changes and new routes can be promoted. She said if literature could be provided about the routes, the phone booking procedure and the door-to-door services, “this would be very helpful”.
Ms O'Shea also said “there will always be room to tweak or move a service slightly” and she encouraged councillors to engage and give feedback on any areas of concern in future.
“A significant amendment would require us going back to the National Transport Authority but we can work with smaller changes,” Ms O'Shea said in conclusion.
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