Killucan Station.

Bus shelters with bike racks and reopening of Killucan station demanded

A better bus service, bus shelters with bicycle racks and the reopening of Killucan railway station have been demanded by members of Westmeath Transport and Planning SPC, who have called for a special meeting with the National Transport Authority and Bus Éireann to press these issues.

At a meeting of the SPC last Friday afternoon, it was revealed that the Mullingar bus service will not be in place until 2024, but that 12 or more bus shelters will be provided around the county next year.

In respect of Killucan station, there was consternation at the news that a feasibility study on the reopening of the station is not likely to be done until next year. Barry Kehoe, senior executive, said CIÉ and Bus Éireann approached the Department of Transport for funding for a study and hope to get it next year.

Chairperson, Cllr Hazel Smyth, said it was a "crying shame" that the train station was being let go to "wrack and ruin", while Cllr Denis Leonard said it sounded like a "stalling tactic".

Members decided to write to CIÉ, the Department of Transport and Minister Eamon Ryan urging that it be speeded up. They are also writing to Bus Éireann and the NTA asking that they meet with them to outline their plans for the county.

Cllr Leonard claimed that half the residents of Westmeath have no bus service and he wanted to hear from Bus Éireann what they plan to do about it. Buses have been pulled from Castlepollard, Rochfortbridge, Milltownpass, Kinnegad and Killucan. Kinnegad used to have buses to Sligo and Castlebar when its population was 1,000 and now, when it is 3,000, those routes are gone, he said.

He was seconded by Cllr Aoife Davitt, who claimed that bus drivers are not stopping at designated bus stops because they do not know their routes. She told of one driver who had to ask passengers where Golden Island shopping centre was in Athlone, and another who did not know where the Joe Dolan Bridge was in Mullingar. She said that level of service was not good enough and that drivers should familiarise themselves with routes before they set out.

That sort of behaviour results in people not using public transport, said Cllr Smyth.

Alison Hough complained that a private bus service to Mount Temple had been withdrawn, leaving a vulnerable population of asylum seekers stranded. She said that with accommodation hard to get, many students at college in Athlone were depending on public transport. She suggested that the council liaise with the college to find out what is needed.

Ms Hough called for the setting up of a sub-committee to examine what routes are declining and why, and to see how private operator services can be retained.

Mr Kehoe shared the members’ disappointment at the news that the Mullingar bus service will not be in place until 2024 as it is essential in getting cars off the roads. He said providing a bus service was not the council’s responsibility, but they engage with the NTA on it. He suggested that members submit their queries by December 9 and they will be forwarded to the NTA to be addressed by their representative at a special meeting of the SPC.

The need for bus shelters will also be addressed at that meeting. Cllr Smyth said it was not acceptable that passengers should have to wait in the pouring rain for buses.

Mr Kehoe said a priority list of areas needing bus shelters is being compiled. It will be based on the number of buses and passengers using the locations and will be submitted to the NTA, who will fund them – the council will maintain them.

It is intended to provide 10 to 12 shelters, maybe more, across the county by the end of next year. Additional shelters may be provided under the Active Travel plan.

Cllr Smyth said it was a shame that priority was based on passenger numbers as the numbers would increase if bus shelters were provided.

Cllr Davitt asked that bus shelters be provided at or near schools, because a lot of students cannot avail of school bus services. She asked that bike racks be provided at the bus shelters so people could cycle to the bus stops and make fully green journeys. That was seconded by Alison Hough.

Cllr Frank McDermott thought the credit union in Castlepollard was being robbed recently when he saw five or six people dashing from the building, where they had been sheltering while waiting for the bus. He acknowledged that a bus shelter and bike racks were planned for Castlepollard as part of the regeneration project, "if we live long enough to see it".

Cllr Leonard felt the council needed to be more ambitious in the number of bus shelters and buses provided.

Mr Kehoe said schools will be key locations for shelters in a bid to get more children going to school by bus, bicycle or on foot. He said there was a significant increase in the number of children going to school by bus since the charges were waived. He agreed with the bike rack idea and said they would try to achieve that.