NTA can't guarantee services for passengers on axed routes
The chief executive of the National Transport Authority (NTA) cannot guarantee that Bus Éireann passengers will get the same level of service when it attempts to replace routes that are being axed.
Anne Graham was speaking as the company faces the threat of an all-out strike following the collapse of talks to end a dispute over its plan to impose €12m pay cuts on staff.
Bus Éireann was expected to announce a date for the cuts yesterday, but sources said it is considering legal and other issues as it draws up a final survival plan.
A spokesperson said staff will be informed of the measures in the coming days.
Bus Éireann has confirmed it will get rid of routes between Dublin and Clonmel, Athlone and Westport, and Dublin and Derry to make immediate savings of €1.1m as it faces the threat of insolvency in May.
Speaking at an Oireachtas committee yesterday, Ms Graham said the authority will provide replacement services on routes that face the chop, but said she could not promise they will be replicated.
"I can't give an undertaking that the same level of service will be given on those routes," she told the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport.
This means that the frequency of services and the number of stops along the way could be reduced, although she claimed they may also be increased.
She said the decision will follow an assessment of the routes and the current and potential demand locally.
Tim Gaston, director of public transport services at the authority, said it will hold meetings with the company to discuss the routes as soon as possible.
Speaking of contingency planning during the threatened strike, Ms Graham said private operators can apply for temporary licences to run extra services, or can offer ancillary services after notifying the authority.
She said she was "very, very concerned" that the company could go bust. Ms Graham denied there is "saturation" on the inter-city corridors served by Expressway services, and that the authority grants licences to operators at the drop of a hat.
Meanwhile, the assistant secretary at the Department of Social Protection, Tim Duggan, revealed that the Government refused to increase funding for the free travel scheme in the budget for this year.
He said this was due to "competing demands".
Mr Duggan said CIÉ submitted a request to the department in September last year for more funding and the department ensured the submission was part of budgetary considerations.
He said Transport Minister Shane Ross has written to Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar to review funding, which was last set in 2010.
The senior civil servant said talks were under way and further meetings were planned between the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority to review the payment mechanisms underpinning the scheme. He said the final decision on funding is a matter for the Government.
Mr Duggan said just under 875,000 customers are eligible for free travel and when passes for spouses and companions are included, 1.4 million people are eligible. He admitted there was no easy way to deal with the abuse of 'companion passes', which do not feature a photo ID of the person using them.