As someone who has spent at least a half of my working life behind the wheel of a car, I always keep on an eye on transport stories.
Today in the "Indo," Paul Melia covers the problems being experienced by C.I.E. our State transport company. Paul writes that, "More competition leading to lower fares is a good thing. The more bus services available, the more likely people are to use them. The fact that 19pc of Bus Éireann's customers use Expressway shows there is a market, but something must be done to make services more attractive." Expressway, our inter-city bus services, is currently under the spotlight for pruning or abolition.
But I think Paul is being a tad disingenuous here. The C.I.E. Company is subsidized to bring services to popular as well as unpopular routes and Paul will know this. So in theory, while competition is a good thing it does not always provide the best solution for the end-user. Private bus companies have been picking at the carcass of the wounded C.I.E. and scheduling services on their busier routes while the big company continues to provide services to underpopulated rural backwaters as a part of its responsibility.
But when a limited and arrogant Government Minister sits to compare the spreadsheets, he sees a big wasteful behemoth faring badly in respects to smaller, more efficient, streamlined private operators. To Shane Ross's jaundiced eye it is proof that ruthless privatization is the only way. Of course, the same Shane Ross will be long gone with his vulgar pension when lonely isolated communities are trying to cope with the disappearance of their last viable contact with the outside world. Without the profit motive, private operators would run a mile from the word 'service' so the many little journeys from one small hamlet to some local village or town will just cease.
It is obvious more than ever that the country is split into the Dublin frame of mind and everybody else. Viewed from Dublin, if a 35-seater bus runs four times a week at under ten per cent occupancy, then it is obvious the locals don't want it at all. But for the three or four who do travel each day, it may just be essential. De Valera instructed that all the rail lines be torn up and as a result, trains are thin on the ground in the rural landscape. But Dublin is the hub of all trains, they have the largest bus service in the country, the only DART rail lines, the LUAS trains, more taxis than you could shake a stick at and all sorts of private services using the best maintained roads in the country. If you live there you must wonder what all the fuss is about.
But if you live up a remote rural lane, off a backroad, leading about a mile to the cross that takes you to the main road and you are then five miles from the nearest village, you'd better have a car or else. At the moment perhaps, a C.I.E. bus may stop at the cross at 10.00am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but right now in Dublin, Shane Ross has his beady eye on your only link to your fellow man. That reliable old bus at the crossroads may not show up for you some morning or any morning after that. It may not comfort you to know that those behind the loss of your bus will probably give you no thought but if they do, they'll assume you'll just get a cab or hop on a LUAS.
And if all of that doesn't depress you, the Government Shane Ross is working with have it as their goal to get us all OUT of our cars. Councils around the country are being urged to make their areas car-unfriendly and get tough with the motorist. The price of motoring in Ireland is on the expensive side of the EU average even as the alternatives dry up all around us. There has never been joined-up thinking on national transport and with Shane Ross the miserable tradition continues. Like all those useless bluffers who have gone before him, he'll tinker around snipping this and slashing that and when the thing becomes untenable, he'll step sideways into to another ministry, (or pension entitlement), and another unqualified bluffer will take over to make things even worse.
I'd keep the car if I were you!