Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport
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]
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]
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]
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]
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.