Tuesday, 10 May 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
The Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, made an announcement some time back that he would be applying a cut in public transport fares for our youth by 20% and then announced a few weeks later that there will be a 50% cut in fares for students and young people travelling on public transport. This should be welcomed but, as it has gone ahead now, it will have a disastrous effect in rural communities as no local commercial operator - better known to the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and myself as the private service operator - can avail of the 20% or the 50% deductions. I raised this in the Dáil with the Minister as soon as he announced the 20% decrease in early April but he still railroaded ahead with it, wiping every private service operator off this decrease and leaving many of their struggling businesses with an uphill battle to survive.
The local commercial operators, as we all know, were still reeling from the shock when the Minister announced in the past two weeks that he is railroading ahead with a 50% decrease for students and young people’s travel. Again, this is something to be welcomed, as many would say, but the Minister put nothing in place for the private operator to pass on this decrease to the students, mainly in rural Ireland, saying there are technical and funding issues preventing him from doing so. This 50% decrease will benefit those who travel on Bus Éireann, Luas, the train, DART and Dublin Bus, all Dublin city-type transport, which I do not begrudge. However, a private operator like West Cork Connect, which carries 80% of the passengers on west Cork routes, has buses leaving Skibbereen and Bantry every hour, on the hour, every day, passing through Clonakilty and Bandon to Cork on one side, and from Dunmanway and Ballineen to Inishannon to Cork and back on the other side, a service, I may add, which has opened up west Cork. This local commercial operator is employing a huge number of staff in west Cork but is not allowed to pass on the recent 20% or proposed 50% decreases to west Cork students. It is not just putting his business in jeopardy, but also Wexford Bus, Cobh Connect, Aircoach, Go Bus and Citylink, which are all facing the same wipeout.
This is another gaffe by the Minister, Deputy Ryan. On top of that, it is a direct hit on the young people and rural communities who totally depend on private operators to connect their communities. The Minister for Transport, with the aid of the Government, simply wants to wipe out the private bus operators, or that is the way they feel anyway. Unlike Bus Éireann, Luas, DART, Dublin Bus and the train, they have to pay their staff and pay for their fuel and for the wear and tear on their vehicles. Instead of encouraging them with a so-called Connecting Ireland dream, the Government is going to completely disconnect transport in rural Ireland because many of these operators are going to go out of business as a result.
Why was what should have been such a positive announcement by this anti-rural Government held off until everyone, rural and urban, could avail of this decrease? The Minister, Deputy Ryan, knows of this bias he has created. This Government decision will see private bus companies being forced out of business by State-backed cuts and now leaves them contemplating taking legal action. Not alone is this unfair but it is anti-competitive as well. Why can the Minister for Transport not get this right? Will the Government step in now and treat everyone in rural Ireland and urban Ireland the same when it comes to the decrease in fares for our youth?
The company West Cork Connect is now struggling to survive. That operator is providing a service that no one ever provided in west Cork before and no one ever will touch it again if he walks away from this. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, met him and told him that when he gave the 20% decrease, he could not pass it on to private companies because he could not afford it and then, three or four weeks later, he announces a 50% decrease. I cannot understand where the money came from, all of a sudden. This West Cork Connect operator, as I said, is up against it because of these cuts being given to public transport and not to him. He is also being moved from his parking space on St. Patrick's Quay in Cork city, which is going to be a disaster for him going forward. That is another issue on which I would appreciate an answer.