Bus Eireann’s decision to cut fares from several of the county’s towns into Galway city in the run-up to Christmas has infuriated local businesses, who have accused the state company of sucking the life out of their retail sector.
Bus Eireann is to reduce fares to €10 return on several routes into the city – including runs from Tuam, Gort, Loughrea, Ballinasloe, Headford, Clifden, Mountbellew and along the coast road – and that immediately led to several business leaders across the county hitting out what what they described as an effort to gravitate everything towards Galway city at the expense of the rural towns.
“The rural towns are in dire straits”, remarked Cllr Gerry Finnerty, Manager of Gort Mart and with strong links with Gort Chamber. “This is just another nail in the coffin”.
He said that the Gort to Tuam motorway opening already presented enough challenge for the town, and since then he has been campaigning for better signage to lure motorists to stop in Gort.
“But now we have a semi-state company, up to their neck debt, that want to take people from the rural towns and villages and transport them into Galway city to bolster the coffers for the businesses there.
“Moves like this are draining the lifeblood out of our towns when we are doing our level best to try and encourage people to shop in their local towns,” he said.
Shane Donnellan, President of Loughrea Chamber of Commerce, said that it certainly was not going to help businesses at a time of year when they were depending on a surge in trade for their very survival.
He said that, similar to other towns, the number of closed-up business premises in Loughrea was a reflection of how times had changed during the recession.
“We are doing promotions in Loughrea this Christmas to reward shopper loyalty and to keep business local but something like this is certainly not going to help an already difficult situation for the business community,” he added.
Business leaders in towns across the county are concerned over the haemorraging of trade towards Galway city and they feel that this is another blow to their efforts to hold onto customers in the run up to Christmas.
In Ballinasloe, there is a town enhancement project due to kick in next year but there will be a lot of disruption in the meantime. In Gort the business community are looking for motorway signage in an effort to encourage motorists to take the exit for the town.
Meanwhile, in Tuam there have been suggestions to pedestrianise part of the town centre in an effort to increase footfall as well as making it more attractive for both customers and start-up business initiatives.