Earlier in the week, I wrote a piece suggesting that Bus Eireann need to radically rethink their route structure in Limerick city before public transport is anywhere near become the go-to method of transport here.
Following the post going on social media I was contacted by Shane Hickey. Shane’s story was one I really wanted to capture.
Now based in London, Shane grew up in Cratloe. His secondary education was initially in Dublin but he eventually found himself back in Limerick where he attended Villiers on the North Circular Road.
“I remember in those days, commuting into the city when I was in school was almost impossible as home was over a mile from the Ennis Road Radisson Blu bus stop. The buses were unreliable at best”, he tells me.
Shane went on to study Irish Heritage & Tourism in Cork. After several years of unemployment and temporary jobs he decided to give London a shot and arrived in January 1994.
“I secured a job almost immediately and worked in varying industries until I decided to return to Limerick in January 2003”, he says.
It was around this time that public transport and its availability became crucial part of Shane’s life.
In July 2002 he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition, and as a result was forced to give up driving.
Having worked as a travelling sales representative at one stage the diagnosis was a blow. Shane is now for the most part dependent on public transport in order to get around.
“When I returned home in 2003 I moved to Glenbrook on the Old Singland Road as Cratloe was not an option in terms of transport”, he tells me.
“This was not too far from the stop on the Childers Road and was ok for my commute to Castletroy where I worked. However, the buses were so unreliable, I would often have to take a taxi”, he adds.
Shane would regularly finish work at around 4pm and still be waiting for a bus close to 5.30. A guy who is not afraid to take issues on, he was consistently fobbed off by drivers with tales of heavy traffic – excuses in Shane’s opinion.
“I would regularly see three buses arriving at UL at exactly the same time. On another occasion, I was required to be at a meeting in Killarney for 9am one morning, only to find that NO bus was leaving from Limerick that would get you there for that time!”, he remembers.
Shane’s tells me his interactions with various bus drivers were ‘never good’.
“Drivers would get aggressive if you asked why the bus was so late or the last one cancelled. I eventually gave up trying to argue”, he says.
“If a ticket inspector got on a bus, I would immediately query the fictional time table with them and often heard others doing the same. I also queried why Annacotty, most of Dooradoyle and all the estates in Raheen were not served by a bus service other than the one that has existed since the 70s.
The response? Shane was told it would be impossible to implement such changes as the drivers would strike due to a timetable and route change and demand extra money.
Shane eventually not only gave up arguing but gave up on Limerick as a place where he could live his life comfortably.
“I realised that I would never be able to get around the country easily and moving to Dublin really wasn’t an option so I returned to London where I now work for a legal service provider in Canary Wharf, the main financial district of London”, he says.
Shane’s experience in terms of transport in London is a far removed from what he experienced back home.
“I take various routes to get to work including the tube and the river bus”, he says.
“These are always busy but at least on the tube you never wait more than 3 minutes and the river bus is at least every 30 minutes”.
I ask Shane if he would consider returning to work in Limerick at some point. His response is a sad one.
“I really love Limerick but I don’t see myself ever living there again. I miss it from time to time but one weekend of waiting around for lifts and taxis is enough for me”.
Shane doesn’t get back home as much as he used to. In fact, it was last weekend that he returned for the first time since his father died back in 2015.
“I did have a blast but it was pricey. I had to pay €30 for a taxi from Shannon to the city centre and this was discounted. Going out to the Crescent was two taxis and another €20. I stayed in a hotel in the city centre to avoid taxis altogether”, he says.
So what would Shane’s top three solutions be if he were in a position to address the public transport system in Limerick?
“I would take away all the complications on the timetable. You would need a masters to figure the things out. If it is complicated for a regular user can you imagine what it’s like for a tourist?”, he says.
“I would also expand the routes to include all the new estates as well as starting to run the busses earlier for people who work in Raheen but live in Dooradoyle or Caherdavin”.
“Finally I would try to ensure that the expensive new “bus arriving” signs are matched up with the bus actually arriving! They can do this in London with 30,000 buses, why can’t they do this with the 20 or so in Limerick?!”.
My final question for Shane is futile considering the conversation previous but I ask him – does he feel the Irish bus strike is in any way justified?
“No, the bus strike is greed”, he responds.
“They’ve seen what the Dublin Bus and Luas drivers were able to achieve and they want the same. Bus Eireann has never been run for the benefit of the travelling public but for the benefit of the employees of the firm. This dates back decades and the only solution is to let the business fail and sell the routes to private companies (without public money being used)”.
What hits me most about Shane’s story is the fact that he was forced to become a public transport user due to his eye conditions. His experiences certainly don’t give confidence to those who might advocate for public transport to become the transport mode of choice in years to come.
The word that seems to stick out the most for me in this debate is the word ‘service’. I look up its definition:
Service: the action of helping or doing work for someone.
Bus Eireann certainly didn’t help Shane in recent years and as a result Limerick has lost a young, educated member of our community.
I wonder how many other Shanes are out there?