James Cawley pictured in front of a Bus Éireann vehicle this weekend.
The bank holiday weekend has been needlessly stressful for local man and disability advocate, James Cawley, who has found himself struggling to get home from Ballina.
Mr Cawley is a wheelchair user and spent the weekend in Ballina on a family holiday.
However, when it came to booking his passage home, he ran into some trouble with Bus Éireann.
Despite having booked his journey two days in advance, Mr Cawley found it difficult to secure a place on a bus home to Longford.
He took to Twitter to raise awareness of the difficulties disabled passengers face when trying to book a place on a bus.
@Buseireann I've given 50 hours notice and no response if I can travel on Monday from ballina to Longford.— James Cawley Jnr. (@jcawleyjnr) May 6, 2018
Why should I have to book a bus in advance although the facilities are here and notice given? #Disability #UNCRPD pic.twitter.com/wWs4V5oe6I
Bus Éireann responded to his tweet stating that "due to operational constraints, bookings for weekend and Monday travel must be made no later than 3pm on the Friday beforehand.
What followed was a conversation thread in which Mr Cawley requested that Bus Éireann point him to where in their policy this is stated.
"This reservation system is common practice across other EU countries," Bus Éireann responded.
However, Mr Cawley pointed out, the policy itself states bookings should be made 24 hours in advance.
"I'm only trying to organise a way home rather than having to travel six hours and incur a taxi journey of €200.
Reference was made in our response to you regarding our policy for notice of wheelchair passengers travelling on Mondays. We recommend you fill out a complaint form if you have an official complaint to make. Attached in the form https://t.co/nhKmTRa59O ^PB .— Bus Eireann (@Buseireann) May 6, 2018
Following his frustrations with Bus Éireann, Mr Cawley took to Twitter to raise awareness of this "terrible practice that needs changing" and the issues disabled passengers come up against when trying to make travel arrangements.
Hi all, I would really appreciate a RT to get more awareness around this issue of bus Éireann not being able to provide people with disabilities a service. I'm holidaying with my family, we can't continue to be excluded and I shouldn't be thinking of booking a bus while on hols. https://t.co/3ORGPjPxGv— James Cawley Jnr. (@jcawleyjnr) May 6, 2018
And he certainly received some support, with other Twitter-users expressing their disgust.
A truly inclusive life means being able to travel without major master plans,— maria dempsey (@lightismylaugh1) May 6, 2018
It is not only bus service but towns are limiting people with even slight mobility issues,
Sometimes it is good to be spontaneous.... Liberating even ¡! https://t.co/BAQPfeiUDV
Why am I not surprised? Lip service to basic public service. https://t.co/dP9P8wNSsJ— Michael Shevlin (@mshevlin23) May 7, 2018
Mr Cawley did make his way home today, but not without adding an additional four hours to his journey time - not to mention the extra €200 spent on taxis alone. And, earlier this evening he penned an open letter to Bus Éireann and Minister for Transport Shane Ross.
When contacted by the Longford Leader, Bus Éireann made the following statement:
“Wheelchair accessible bookings are made via a helpline number and this is clearly stated on Bus Éireann’s website. This notice was not provided to us via the customer care helpline in this case, so therefore the booking could not be processed.
"Route 22 Dublin to Ballina is also not a designated accessible route. These calls allow us to ensure a wheelchair place is available, and to prepare our coaches for a wheelchair user, so the chair can be secured safely into place. The operation of the wheelchair lift also needs to be checked.
"We require 24 hour notice of travel for this, on accessible inter-city routes. All of Bus Éireann’s city and town services are fully accessible, and a list of inter-city accessible routes can be found at www.buseirean.ie/accessibility.”
For more on this story, see this week's issue of the Longford Leader.