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Local areas hit hardest by rural bus cuts

Easilink driver Liam Devlin helps Lily Clarke onto the bus.

ISOLATED communities across Tyrone will be among the areas hardest hit by yet more cuts to a rural transport service.

Plumbridge, Dunamore, Sixmilecross and Owenkillew were previously named as the areas with the most deprived access to services in the whole of the North. Now, following revelations that Easilink Community Transport is facing an eight per-cent cut to its budget, it is feared that elderly people in these localities who rely on the service could even become “prisoners in their own homes.”

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“If anything, we need eight per-cent more funding to properly account for the high number of isolated rural areas that we cater for,” Patrick McEldowney from Easilink Community Transport remarked.

“Those in the likes of Plumbridge and Cranagh simply cannot afford to pay as much as £25 for a taxi one way to Omagh. Our services may be a lifeline, but they are being severely stretched.”

According to Mr McEldowney, this latest reduction in funding comes on the back of £28,000 in cuts to service in recent years, which have forced staff at Easilink to cut the number of journeys they can provide on a weekly basis from four to two.

‘Held prisoner’

With the frequency of rural transport under threat, one elderly individual feels that without the service he would be a prisoner in his own home.
Phil Roddy, aged 70, relies heavily on transport provided by Strabane based Easilink that takes him from his home in Plumbridge to Strabane and Omagh several times a week.

“Rural transport isn’t a want, it’s a need,” he explained. “Without it we would be prisoners in our own homes. Currently, the public transport from Plumbridge isn’t sufficient, and the elderly who can’t drive find themselves heavily restricted for things such as doctors appointments.”

According to Phil, himself and five elderly individuals on his street use the service several times a week. Having used Easilink for over 17 years, Phil is ardently against any cuts that could diminish the service.

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“The service is a real lifeline. Reducing the service would have an adverse effect on the elderly and reduce where we can physically go. I am 70 years old and other users are in their 80s. We have worked all our lives and we feel we should have mobility in our later years.

“As well as this, the fact that the buses leave us right up to our doors helps immensely when carrying groceries inside. We need these buses and any change to the service will be strongly felt.”

Another Plumbridge resident, 76-year-old Helen Rainey, says she is solely reliant on transport provided by Easilink.

“I do all my shopping and banking in Strabane and there is only one bus going to and from the Plum daily. I live two miles outside the village, and have never driven.

“As someone who lives out in the country, Easilink is essential. Without it, I wouldn’t see or speak to anyone. I have family nearby, but they are often busy and cannot bring me everywhere I need to go. Easilink gives someone like myself independence, so hearing about funding cuts is really concerning.”

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