National Transport Authority rejects claims it's responsible for Bus Éireann money woes

The NTA has vowed the authority "will not leave any rural communities behind"

Update: 15:31

The Director of Public Transport Services at the National Transport Authority (NTA) said claims that decisions made by the NTA are to blame for Bus Éireann's difficulties "simply do not stand up to scrutiny".

In a statement, Tim Gaston said it was the duty of the NTA to ensure that as many people as possible, in all parts of this country, have access to a safe, reliable and value-for-money public transport service. He goes on to say the authority will "continue to discharge our responsibilities in that regard, without fear or favour".

"If it is the case that some Expressway services are discontinued at local level, NTA will, as our track record proves, step in and ensure that local demands for public transport are met", he said. "We will not leave any rural communities behind."

The statement added that in the event of cutbacks, only 19% of Bus Éireann customers that avail of Expressway services will be affected.

NBRU statement

General Secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) Dermot O'Leary said there needs to be a "political willingness" to address Bus Éireann's financial issues.

There are reports that the company's financial position could lead to route cuts, job losses and lower pay for new recruits, as well as the loss of its Expressway service.

Bus Éireann reported losses of €5.6m in 2015 with estimated losses for 2016 coming in at around €6m.

"The NBRU has over the last two years been aware of the developing crisis at Bus Éireann in relation to the Expressway commercial service", Mr O'Leary said in a statement last night. "We have conducted two ballots for industrial action during that time in the event that the company would move to unilaterally implement signalled changes to terms and conditions in a futile attempt to resolve this crisis.

"The fact of the matter is that unless all of the stakeholders [...] along with company and Staff come together and engage on potential solutions, the comprehensive Network that has taken generations of Bus Éireann staff to build will unravel and ultimately disappear".

Mr O'Leary called on politicians "who purport to represent rural Ireland to step up to the mark and work towards protecting this vital piece of irreplaceable infrastructure".

Martin Nolan, the company's CEO has also announced that he will be leaving his position a year earlier than planned.

Routes facing the axe under the plan will most likely be in the west of the country according to reports - while other routes will be sub-contracted.

The company could also be set to cut the terms and conditions of its 2,600 strong workforce, with unions due to be invited to a meeting before the end of the month to discuss the plan.

"Oblivious"

Meanwhile, the Minister for Transport has been accused of being “oblivious” to the problems facing Bus Éireann.

Late last year, Transport Minister Shane Ross said the company's finances were "critical" and warned the company could become insolvent within two years.

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on transport, Robert Troy yesterday called on Minister Ross to “acknowledge the difficulties facing the company and to set out his plan for overcoming them.”

“It seems that the Minister is oblivious to this problem and is unaware that the company is on the verge of shutting down many of its key routes serving large swathes of the country,” said Deputy Troy.

His party plans to bring forward legislation to give the National Transport Authority (NTA) greater powers to "approve or reject route amendments by Bus Éireann and private operators."

Deputy Troy said the legislation would push the NTA to include concerns, such as rural isolation, in its decisions over whether to grant or refuse bus route licenses to operators.

"It is important that the future of Bus Éireann is secured, but the semi-state company must not abandon its obligation to serve communities right across the country," he said.

Job losses "must be opposed"

Anti Austerity Alliance TD for Cork North Central and the party's transport spokesperson Mick Barry described proposals to shut down Bus Eireann's Expressway operation as "crazy capitalist economics" and said that the proposal must be resisted.

In a statement, Deputy Barry said that private operators have undercut Expressway by paying lower wages and that shutting Expressway would quicken the race to the bottom in terms of wages and conditions for workers.

He concluded: "Right wing economic policy is to place lucrative intercity routes exclusively in the hands of private operators and to let the State operate a rundown service on loss making routes. This approach must be rejected. A modern state should have a well-funded publicly-owned bus company operating without disadvantage on all key routes. This is the road we should go down."