The images viewed by many on Donegal Daily and other social media outlets of a burning bus on the outskirts of Letterkenny were indeed shocking.
However, that was nothing compared to what the unfortunate 15 passengers and driver must have experienced as they escaped safely with their lives on the Thursday night of January 5th.
While Bus Eireann carefully considers the causes, many of the travelling public including myself and my family are not that surprised by the event and consider it an escalation of how a poorly resourced service is hampered by never ending breakdowns and delayTo be clear this is not the fault of the hard working staff of Bus Eireann who do sterling work with poor resources.
It does point to a low priority of the transport services to Donegal which unlike any other western county has little or no efficient transport infrastructure particularly for Inishowen and East Donegal to Dublin or Galway.Most large towns have a train and bus service, Donegal is alone in having no train service.
I have a strong suspicion that because we have two good private bus services to Dublin and Galway, Bus Eireann may have decided to give these routes a low priority but the taxpayers of Donegal are entitled to a more frequent and efficient service with a genuine express offering that do not stop at every town on the way
A bus service that calls itself “Expressway” but routinely takes 5 hours to travel between Dublin and Letterkenny needs to reconsider its supposed offering and branding. In addition Transport for Ireland who have equal billing on the side of the busses should either fix this poor services or add a small print disclaimer stating “except for Donegal” after its Transport for Ireland brand.
The number and degree of serious incidences that I have been told about since this major incident only add to the dreadful passenger experience many have encountered.
Consider events like the main passenger door not properly closing on departure and kept in place by a seatbelt or luggage doors opening while the bus is travelling at speed or breakdowns on the way through Northern Ireland that require a long wait on a rescue from the nearest Bus Eireann depot in the south.These must raise concerns about maintenance of the bus fleet which when delivered was announced with much fanfare by Transport for Ireland They have since aged badly. All of the above incidents were experienced by my family in the last number of years and god knows how many more there are.
More amusingly was my daughter’s experience a number of years ago when the driver got lost and needed a passenger to direct him on the route which would question adequate training for drivers.
More recently my son when travelling in mid December on querying if he had a seat on departure already running by almost 40 minutes was assured by the inspector in Busarus that he had. However the inspector then stated that he was more concerned about where he was going to find an actual bus to travel to Letterkenny. This is a telling admission on the management of the bus fleet and also gives an insight as to how it resources’ its routes on a daily but seemingly chaotic basis .Delays in departure is a routine event from what I and other experience.A delayed departure can only mean a lack of drivers or buses. Do they show up as delays in operational data I wonder?
Immediately after this bus fire Bus Eireann promised a full investigation in to what they classed as a rare event and more recently stated that the fire was caused by the engine ,but the process will take time and will be more technical and detailed. I’m sure the bus manufacturer is interested as is the travelling public who will have to wait for longer to find out.Then again the Route 32 travelling public are used to waiting on this service most days .While writing this column a terrifying though came to my mind regarding a bus fire happening the same time as the doors malfunctioning, both of which have happened in the past.
Transport for Ireland need to take a detailed thorough look at this service urgently
John O’Connell, Letterkenny.