Written answers

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport

Bus Éireann

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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40. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the steps he will take in relation to the proposed cuts to expressway services by Bus Éireann; if these cuts will commence on 15 May 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23552/21]

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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41. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to plans to cut the 100x expressway service; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that such a cut will leave towns such as Castlebellingham, Dunleer and Newtown Monasterboice without any public transport link to Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23553/21]

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 41 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. The NTA, following consultation with operators, has recently finalised a review of the scheme and as a result some changes to services are expected to be implemented later this month.

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.

Given the NTA's statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally, I have also forwarded the Deputy's questions to the NTA for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.


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