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Friday 18 August 2017

Bus service will get no extra cash for elderly

Warning: Fianna Fáil transport spokesman Robert Troy
Warning: Fianna Fáil transport spokesman Robert Troy

Ryan Nugent

Bus Éireann will receive no additional funding from the State for carrying pensioners this year, despite the company saying it is in talks to address the underpayment.

The scheme allows pensioners to travel on the buses free of charge, with a portion of the cost of the fares covered by the Department of Social Protection.

Bus Éireann, unions and party opposition have called for additional funding to keep pace with increasing passenger numbers - in an attempt to help the company, which has faced turmoil.

However a spokesman for the department said that no increase would be considered until next year's Budget.

"Minister (Leo) Varadkar is a big supporter of free travel for pensioners, carers and people with disabilities," the spokesman said.

"The Budget for 2017 is done at this stage. Any increase could only be considered in the context of the 2018 Budget," he added.

A spokeswoman for Bus Éireann said: "The company is in talks with the Government and other relevant stakeholders, to seek to address the under-funding of the Free Travel Scheme."

Fianna Fáil transport spokesman Robert Troy has hit out at Transport Minister Shane Ross for "taking a back seat" in addressing the Bus Éireann crisis.

"Minister Ross has been aware of the financial problems at the company for months but has failed to engage with bosses or unions," Mr Troy said.

"Now we're facing a collision course between the management and unions over cost-saving measures," he added,

Mr Troy also said that all Bus Éireann Expressway services should be reviewed as part of the company's cost-cutting measures.

"The 23 routes that are currently being operated by Expressway, each one of them needs to be reviewed. Certainly there are some routes that quite simply will never be commercially viable and that's what Expressway is - commercially viable routes," he said.

"Some of the routes need to be moved over onto the public service obligation routes whereby they would enjoy the benefit of a state subvention," he added.

Bus Éireann intends keeping Expressway, but says changes are urgently required to address its financial situation.

"We are making all efforts to ensure that no passengers are discommoded as we introduce vital cost savings and necessary efficiencies," the spokeswoman said.

The company will notify staff of cost-saving measures today.

There had been suggestions that overtime would be cut entirely by Bus Éireann to save money.

However, National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) spokesman, Dermot O'Leary said "banning overtime would result in services being impacted and Bus Éireann can't run all of its services unless there is a significant level of overtime".

Irish Independent

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