Tuesday 17 October 2017

At time of massive upheaval, key public transport firms have no one at the wheel

Transport Minister Shane Ross, pictured at the Dublin Horse Show yesterday, is responsible for filling most of the positions. Photo: Damien Eagers
Transport Minister Shane Ross, pictured at the Dublin Horse Show yesterday, is responsible for filling most of the positions. Photo: Damien Eagers
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Cash-strapped public transport companies are operating without chairpersons of their boards at a time of massive upheaval across the sector.

They face problems including mounting losses, pension deficits, industrial relations issues and are undergoing major changes.

But there is nobody overseeing the boards of Bus Éireann, Irish Rail and CIÉ - with the term of office of the chair of Dublin Bus due to expire next month.

And the body overseeing the public transport sector, the National Transport Authority (NTA), is also lacking a chair after John Fitzgerald completed his term in office after the May board meeting.

The NTA is responsible for planning and developing public transport services across the State, and is currently involved in outsourcing bus routes operated by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann.

The Irish Independent has learned that across the CIÉ group of companies, one in three board positions are unfilled - 13 from a total of 39. Stateboards.ie advertised for chairpersons of CIÉ and Irish Rail in April and May this year, with nine candidates applying for the position in Irish Rail, and five in CIÉ. The applications were assessed in late June, but it is not clear why no one has been appointed.

Transport Minister Shane Ross is responsible for filling most of the positions, although some board members are worker directors to be appointed by staff in the companies.

The companies will play a major role in the coming years in moving people away from private cars to help reduce congestion in urban areas, improve air quality and reduce transport emissions which cause dangerous climate change.

They are also responsible for providing many rural transport services.

The lack of leadership at the highest levels of the State-owned companies comes as all face massive challenges, but despite this, key leadership roles and board positions are unfilled.

Bus Éireann posted a loss of €9.6m last year and is currently involved in a major restructuring programme which includes changes for workers including extra duties and changes to how they are paid. It endured a three-week strike last year, and some 240 staff - or 10pc - are leaving the company at a cost of €20m.

Later this summer, it stands to lose the right to operate services in Waterford and the Dublin commuter belt under Government outsourcing plans. Despite the challenges, there are four vacancies on the nine-strong board, including the post of chair. One will be filled through staff elections, but the other three are a matter for the minister.

In Dublin Bus, which this week lost the right to operate 24 routes across the capital, there are two vacancies on its nine-strong board. Its chair's term of office expires next month.

Irish Rail should have nine board members but has three vacancies, including the chair. The chair of the board is a "critically important position" in terms of providing "strategic leadership", but is unfilled.

The railway company is close to insolvency, carrying accumulated losses of €160m, having lost €7.7m last year.

It is dealing with a pay claim from staff, a review into future rail services is under way and it has to make long-term investment decisions, including a transformation of the fleet from diesel to electric and hybrid.

In CIÉ, the holding company for the bus and rail companies, there are four vacancies from a total of 12. The previous chair's term ended last month. One vacancy will be filled through staff elections.

As of the end of last year, it has a pension deficit of €730m and the board oversees annual revenues of €1.1bn a year, and is responsible for providing more than 240 million passenger trips a year across the bus and rail companies.

It is also planning to redevelop key properties in Dublin and Galway over the coming months. The Department of Transport and Minister Ross could not be reached for comment.

Irish Independent

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