Today I came across an Ulster Unionist Youth survey of young people in Northern Ireland asking them about their priorities, so I decided I’d walk through it for a bit of a laugh & to get me thinking about what would matter to me most if I was still living back in Fermanagh.
One of the things that popped into my head was how out West if you don’t have a car how you’d be dependent upon the public transport infrastructure. So I decided to take a look at the buses (no trains this way sir!).
The route map (pdf) for Ulster Bus looks impressive, however, in practical terms, what is it like trying to get somewhere?
If I look at a return journey from my local hamlet Clabby to Belfast on a Weekday, my journey would be something like:
Depart Clabby at 1010 (first available service) – Arrive at Fivemiletown at 1020.
Depart Fivemiletown 1057 – Arrive at Belfast’s Europa Bus Station at 1240.
So that’s two & a half hours to travel 68 miles with an average speed of 27 miles an hour.
The return journey, in order to catch the last bus that arrives back into Clabby would work out as something like:
Depart the Europa at 1505 – Arrive in Fivemiletown at 1648
Depart Fivemiletown at 1700 – Arrive into Clabby at 1710.
So a small improvement in time aided by a smaller stop over at Fivemiletown, but still, just over 2 hours for a less than 70 mile journey. And for my day, a 7 hour round trip afforded me 2 hours 25 minutes to see the sites or do my errands. That’s 4 hours 35 minutes of travel for 2 hours 25 minutes of Belfast.
And that’s a relatively simple journey as it’s pretty much a straight line. If I was to create a more complicated journey, say from Clabby to Portadown on a Saturday to watch ‘the Ports’, what would that look like?
Well, umm, the only bus that goes through Clabby to Fivemiletown on a Saturday does so at, wait for it, 1820… so, no football that way! The other way though goes through Clabby at 0820 in the morning. So it’s via Enniskillen I go!! The bus will get me to the Bus Station in Enniskillen at 0845.
Now, there are no direct connections between Enniskillen & Portadown, so I’m going to have to make a connection somewhere else… I’m going to go via Dungannon, which is 13 miles or so from Portadown. That means I can catch the 0925 which will get me into Dungannon at 1042 or possibly the 1125 which would allow me to reach at 1242.
There are two bus services from Dungannon to Portadown on a Saturday, the direct & the service via the Moy. If I go for the latter, I will have missed their 1005 service despite taking the earliest bus from Enniskillen & the next service isn’t until 1505, so too late for the football. If I go on the direct service I can catch the 1320 which will have me in Portadown town centre at 1410, in good time for the short walk to Shamrock Park!!
Success, I’ve got my game after 5 hours and 50 minutes, or an average speed of just under 8 miles an hour. So, what does my return journey look like??
Well, the game will go until 1700 (lets say Courtney is refereeing and someone is desperately trying to get an equaliser against ‘the Ports’ in the last five minutes… )
Well, I won’t be catching the service via Moy as it’s last run was at 0905… but the direct service has a departure from the town centre at 1730, ideal. So I arrive in Dungannon bus station at 1817. The next departure for the West is at 1903 – the bus to Enniskillen which stop at Fivemiletown along the way where I could leave the bus at 1948, or I could go to Enniskillen & arrive at 2020.
In reality, I’d be better off stopping at Fivemiletown as there is no service from either place to Clabby on a Saturday at those times, so I’d be back in the car. My return journey has taken just 2 hours 18 minutes according to the schedule so an average speed of 20 miles an hour (dizzying compared to the outward journey!!).
I guess having looked at a couple of examples of likely journeys from home, for me, the average speeds is the crucial bit. If you have a car, you’re going to use it to complete these journeys. If you don’t you’re probably unlikely to have the patience to make this work unless the journey was absolutely essential.
I guess the question is though, is the above experience acceptable?
From Enniskillen, you can travel on Ulster Bus direct to Belfast (via Dungannon) 18 times a day on a weekday & Newry (via Monaghan) twice a day. I’d say that ratio is probably about right!! But I can’t travel to Londonderry, Lisburn, Craigavon, Armagh or even Cookstown, Coleraine or Ballymena.
The county is isolated when you look at it in this context – particularly the Londonderry, Craigavon & Armagh routes. Fermanagh is famous for it’s beauty & as a tourist destination, but we can’t even enable people near to us to get there easily without a car.
As mentioned in the Impartial reporter this week, the road infrastructure appears to better. Peter Quinn, chairman of the Fermanagh Economic Development Organisation (FEDO) cited poor road links to Ballygawley (which has just recently been connected to the M1 by dual carriageway) and the chaos that is Enniskillen for traffic as limiting the potential of the county.
Improving the bus network might bring in more day trippers to the lakes, it might take cars off our busy roads, it might even increase our potential workforce in the county if the journey times are right. Improving our road links to Belfast, Omagh and southern towns like Monaghan & Sligo will aide trade as well.
This is important at this time particularly as the Impartial (again) reports that there are plans afoot for serious investment in & around Lisnaskea. Fermanagh doesn’t often get opportunities like this so making sure that we put in place the right infrastructure to support such investment will be important. Of course all this would be difficult given the current cuts about to be enacted due to the national deficit but you’ve got to believe that you can make it work. Just like Peter Quinn and the FEDO, you’ve got to be positive & optimistic.