Written answers

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport

Bus Services

Martin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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81. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the contact he has made with Bus Éireann regarding the planned cessation of X8 expressway bus links in County Tipperary; his views on this decision in the context of plan to reduce carbon emissions; his views on this decision in view of the poor level of rural transport available to persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5016/21]

Martin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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83. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the contact he has made with Bus Éireann regarding the planned cessation of X12 expressway bus links in County Tipperary; his views on this decision in the context of his plan to reduce carbon emissions; his further views on this decision in view of the poor level of rural transport available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5047/21]

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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91. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if alternative public transport options are being considered regarding the decision to cease the Bus Éireann X12 route (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5117/21]

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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120. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he is satisfied with the level of engagement between his Department and Bus Éireann following a decision by Bus Éireann to suspend the X12 expressway route between Dublin and Limerick and the X8 expressway route between Dublin and Cork; if he is satisfied there is an alternative level of connectivity on other transport networks which commuters can access with ease when the X12 and X8 expressway routes are fully suspended; his views on the removal of the X12 and X8 expressway routes; if the X12 and X8 expressway routes have previously or are currently in receipt of funding through the public service obligation subsidy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5596/21]

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 81, 83, 91 and 120 together.

Both the National Transport Authority (NTA) and my Department have been engaging directly with commercial bus operators throughout the Covid-19 Emergency. The public transport system in Ireland has played an essential service role over the course of the pandemic, especially in carrying essential workers and others making necessary journeys.

In this regard, the Government agreed substantial increases to the PSO budget to support continuation of PSO services during the Covid situation in 2020 and 2021.  In addition, the Government has recognised the situation of the licenced bus sector - which normally operates on a commercial basis without public subvention but which, during the Covid crisis, was in a situation where its operations were no longer commercially viable, owing to the impact of Covid-19 on passenger numbers and the associated drop in fare revenue.

Therefore, last June the Government decided to introduce new, temporary financial support for certain licensed services provided by commercial bus operators to ensure the continued operation of these essential services.  The Expressway business operated by Bus Éireann is one of the many commercial operations of licenced public transport services that have been able to avail of this new, temporary, Covid-related support.

The temporary support was initially introduced for a period of 6-months, with a view to protecting capacity across the public transport sector throughout the crisis. The NTA on behalf of my Department, entered into contracts with the licensed bus sector to provide funding for routes where a clear public interest justification supports such intervention.  As it remains the case that commercial bus operators are still under severe financial distress due to the fall in passenger numbers and associated drop in fare revenue as a result of Covid-19, on 26 January 2021, Government decided to extend the temporary funding supports for the licensed bus sector for a further period of 3 months, with an option to extend contracts on a monthly basis thereafter.

As is the case in many other sectors of the economy, despite these Government supports, Covid-19 has resulted in significant financial pressures for public transport operators.  As you will be aware, Bus Éireann’s Expressway business operates on a commercial basis in competition with other, private, commercial operators in the licenced bus market.  Following extensive analysis and work within the company, the decision to consolidate its Expressway network was taken by the Board of Bus Éireann in September 2020.  This was a commercial decision by the company.  The decision affects four routes:  the Dublin/Belfast service (which ceased operations in November 2020): and services on the Dublin to Cork, Limerick and Galway routes.  

In circumstances where a commercial operator ceases operating a specific route, the NTA undertakes an examination to determine whether, with the discontinuation of the commercial service, it is necessary for a replacement public service obligation (PSO) service to be introduced to ensure no loss of connectivity to the travelling public. This process includes an assessment of the level of demand for public transport services in the affected area, an evaluation of whether existing PSO services can be reconfiguring to meet any shortfall, or whether it is necessary to competitively tender for the provision of services.

I understand that Expressway ceased its X12 Limerick/Dublin route with effect from Saturday 30 January 2021.  In light of the decision by Bus Éireann to cease operating the X12 route, the NTA completed a detailed assessment of the X12 corridor and have determined that despite Expressway’s withdrawal, sufficient connectivity is provided by the remaining operators and the public service obligation is adequately met by other rail and bus services, thereby negating the need for any further intervention on the route.

I understand no cessation date has been confirmed by the company for the X8 Cork/Dublin or 20/X20 Galway/Dublin routes and these routes are continuing to operate with the temporary Government funding supports, albeit at a reduced level in line with the reduction in demand.  The NTA will undertake similar examinations in respect of these corridors affected by Expressway’s route consolidation process, to ensure there are no gaps in the network, and to assess if there is a need to provide any additional services. This will be done prior to these services ceasing operation.

On a separate front, the Deputies may also wish to note that, as part of the initiatives introduced in the Government's announcment of a Stimulus Package last July, there will be a significant expansion of PSO bus services in several areas across the country.  Among other things, this will involve the taking on of 120 additional drivers by Bus Éireann, and will enable increased bus services in Cork city centre, as well as more frequent services in Navan town, Drogheda, Limerick city, and counties Clare and Tipperary.

Concerning carbon emissions - a key objective of my Department is to secure an efficient and low emission public transport system. As public transport is responsible for less than 5% of our transport emissions, in absolute terms, converting public transport fleets to low carbon alternatives will have a limited impact on national emission reductions. However, greening the public fleet does fulfil a strong leadership and demonstration role as we shift towards a low-carbon economy. To this end, I am committed to continuing to green the public transport fleet, and to making each public transport journey less carbon-intensive.

The national bus fleet, which carries the majority of public transport passengers, is already moving to lower emission alternatives. During 2020, a total of 280 diesel-electric hybrid buses were ordered, which are plug-in hybrids allowing overnight charging and which have capability of over 2.5 km continuous running in zero emission mode, allowing sections of the routes to operate in this mode.  A number of these vehicles were delivered during December and will enter into service over the coming weeks.  A total of 100 such vehicles should be operational by the end of the first quarter of 2021, with the remaining 180 vehicles to be delivered during quarter 3 and quarter 4 of this year.

Comments

SAVE X12 ROSCREA NENAGH BUS GROUP
Posted on 5 Feb 2021 2:25 pm (Report this comment)

Members of SAVE ROSCREA-NENAGH BUS EIREANN X12 BUS GROUP wish to comment on the points made in the Ministers Answer to the PQ.

This is what our Save the Buses Campaign Group says:

This is a proposed permanent withdrawal from 4 national routes. Bus Eireann is not suspending for Covid period, no, much worse . They are “Exiting”. The Covid Emergency is mixed into this narrative and justification. We are looking for bus service post-Covid. We hope this is not an example of an organisation “not wasting a crisis”and using crisis as cover difficulties in delivering service.

According the Ministers Answer, Private Buses eg. Dublin Coach, Kavanaghs, City Link have all received generous subsidies, but only Bus Eireann is exiting their routes? We need transparency on level of this tax payer funding.

The Minister says that funding extended to end April and there is prospect of more months. This keeps Private Operators going, but Bus Eireann exits ? We are used to the concept of Bailing out the Banks, and now Bailing out the Buses, but at expense of killing off the state Bus Company? Seems to be back to “privatise profits and nationalise losses” approach again.

The hyper competition has been licensed by previous Governments and NTA. 85% of buses will not stop at major Tipperary Towns passed. One Operator with a past record of selling on business to Multinationals will have 80% of Seats on route. COVID 19 is perhaps a Red Herring. The “significant financial pressure” has come from licensing to the point of over-capacity and the disadvantage for the Operator delivering on Social need.

A “National” bus company, owned by CIE a state organisation, with no national routes ? Is this really the goal?! Let´s remind ourselves, in case we forget: Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Belfast as the largest cities on this island.

When can the NTA assessment be made public ? What are the criteria for NTA decision ? Some transparency here please. Roscrea and Nenagh have lost 46% of their Bus Service long term. The frequency of mid-Day travel has significantly reduced. Huge gap existed in Commuter period: 5am -8am. No evening buses after 18.20.

We are supposed to be moving to a Low Carbon economy. How is this a step in that direction?
We want to strengthen the regions and take pressure off infrastructure in bigger cities. How does this fit?
We want viable tourism and enterprise in the Ancient East and Just Transition for the Midlands. How does this fit?
We want fair competition on level playing field – allowing One operator with 80% capacity and no obligations on route stops. How does this fit ?

NTA CEO, Anne Graham, said at Joint Committee for Transport and Communication on 2.2.2012 that the study has been completed for the X.8 via Cashel and that an Obligation has been identified and a PSO Funding model is now in place. Did we misunderstand, is this just temporary? The Ministers reply suggests the study has yet to be carried out.

The proposed expansion of services in cities reported by the Minister is no comfort for the fact that Bus Eireann have retreated from the primary routes for Dublin, Belfast, Limerick and Cork. National Services complement local service – delivering passengers for the final leg of trip. This needs joined up strategy, and this starts with licensing policy.

The Ministers writes of strong leadership and demonstration role, Leadership looks different to what is being witnessed here. The “public” public fleet is cowering in the cities – it has lost the battle in the country. Strong Leadership looks like a smart policy on obligations or compensations mechanism for Operators delivering on social and community needs. It needs an embracing of the rundown national Bus Terminus, it regulates operators for the good of society. It, to quote the minister, "leaves no town behind".

We encourage deputies to look at the over licensing on the national route. The dangers of predatory pricing and the loss of local pick-ups on these main routes. For now a commitment to return to pre-covid service levels once we have come out of this public health crisis. We will need to get all parts of the country moving again and stimulate a strong recovery.

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