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Saturday 29 April 2017

Failure to make tough choices led to bus crisis

Workers have spent the past three weeks on the picket lines in opposition at cost-saving measures that management says are necessary to save the company. Stock photo
Workers have spent the past three weeks on the picket lines in opposition at cost-saving measures that management says are necessary to save the company. Stock photo
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Less than 18 months ago, Bus Éireann unveiled a policy document on how to improve public transport over the next decade.

The company's then CEO Martin Nolan said the document - 'Public Transport: Where Can It Take Us?' - outlined a plan to double passenger numbers on the transport system.

At a public event in Galway, attended by the then transport minister Paschal Donohoe, Mr Nolan noted that public transport use outside of Dublin was among the lowest in Europe.

But there was hope. As the economy recovered, there would be a great focus on regional development and rural investment.

Since then, the economy recorded the fastest growth in Europe, while Bus Éireann went insolvent.

Workers have spent the past three weeks on the picket lines in opposition at cost-saving measures that management says are necessary to save the company.

The strike happened even though employees knew that every day spent walking up and down footpaths - rather than behind the wheel of a bus - brought them to having no job.

On Thursday, Dublin Bus workers voted by 67pc to take part in a solidarity strike.

It was only last September they staged a series of 48-hour strikes that ended with an 11.25pc pay increase.

Before that, the Luas fell silent for 12 days until striking drivers got wage rises of up to 18.3pc.

The varying fortunes of transport workers show the biggest challenge facing the new Public Transport Stakeholder Dialogue (PTSD) that Transport Minister Shane Ross has promised to set up on the back of the Labour Court's bid to end the Bus Éireann dispute.

The minister has sat back while unions and management battled it out in recent weeks, saying he would not be shamed into opening his cheque book.

There's little doubt that Bus Éireann needs money - but if he is to end the rolling problems in the public transport network, imagination will be more useful than cash.

On the face of it, the PTSD is a positive development but it cannot turn into a talking shop.

Neither can it produce unrealistic reports that promise a utopia.

The Bus Éireann debacle shows the Government is late to the table and will have to make hard decisions.

Irish Independent

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