The wheels may soon be rolling on a new private Derry to Glasgow bus service via Belfast after the Department of Infrastructure (DfI) said it would be redetermining a licence application refusal it issued last year that slammed the brakes on the proposed new route.
Owen McLaughlin, group marketing manager at the Co. Antrim based private bus firm, Hannon Coach Hire Limited, which wants to run the new service said it will be primarily based on a direct express operating between Derry and Belfast.
However, in what will be good news for fans of Partick Thistle, St. Mirren, Motherwell, Hamilton Academical and Queen’s Park, for instance, the new Derry to Belfast express service will also be deliberately timetabled to link up with Hannon’s cross-channel service to Glasgow.
Celtic and Rangers fans heading to Celtic Park or Ibrox for the Old Firm will also have another means of getting there.
Mr. McLaughlin explained: “The idea is that you will be able to travel from Glasgow to any of the towns serviced by our express routes.
“We are working hard to try to ensure that there is maximum connectivity between the services. We have asked the Department to ensure that we get in to Europa for instance.
“We will also offer a through-ticket. This means you’ll be able to get from Derry to Glasgow for say around £36 each way.”
Last year Hannon applied for permission to run 19 services to and from Belfast each day from Monday to Friday, with ten services in each direction on Saturday, and nine on Sunday.
However, when the application was discussed last May at a meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council, which was informed as a local stakeholder, Councillors from across the divide said they were concerned the service could undermine Translink’s public 212 business.
And when refusing Hannon’s licence application last summer, DfI said that one of its reasons for doing so was that “the granting of a service permit for this application would have a negative impact on current Translink services”. Hannon, however, was poised to challenge the refusal, citing the DfI’s own guidelines on ‘express services’, which state: “Each passenger journey must include a ‘closed door’ element, which is not less than 30 miles (taking the most direct route by road), during which passengers must not be picked up or set down. The reason for this condition is to prevent an express service undermining any existing Regular Stopping Service operating along the route.”
Hannon argues that on these grounds the 212 is not an express and thus its service could not undermine it.
A DfI spokesperson has now said: “The Department has confirmed to Hannon Coach Hire Limited that it will redetermine the application for a Derry/Londonderry to Belfast route and advance the other outstanding applications now submitted. We have clarified some aspects of the process that will be followed. This has included an opportunity for the company to submit any further material relevant to its applications and further clarity from the Department on the timeframe for decision making.”
Translink said: “We await the decision of DfI in relation to the Hannon Coach application.”