Bus Éireann may outsource routes but rules out axing of Expressway
Bus Éireann has ruled out closing Expressway services but may outsource some routes to private operators under a radical restructuring plan.
It made the statement as fears grew for some of the busiest routes in the country amid claims that Transport Minister Shane Ross told Cabinet colleagues six routes are at immediate risk.
But Mr Ross defended his response to the turmoil at the troubled, semi-state company during bad-tempered exchanges in the Dáil.
He also denied he talked about "axing" six to eight of the transport company's Expressway routes at Cabinet, although he said he discussed certain routes and "whether they're commercial or not".
Union speculation is that services highlighted by Mr Ross must include Dublin-Cork, Dublin-Limerick, Dublin-Waterford and Dublin-Galway routes.
Sources said these are the routes on the motorway network that have faced ferocious competition and have damaged Bus Éireann's ability to operate all its services.
It has also come to light that the National Bus and Railworkers Union (NBRU) recently warned that bus users in Sligo town may face cuts to the 64 service, which serves Galway to Derry via Sligo.
The union also flagged possible cuts to the 23 route, which links Sligo via Longford with Maynooth University and Dublin Airport.
But Bus Éireann said its current plans only include the sub-contracting of routes.
It said it already operates a joint venture partnership with GoBus.ie to run non-stop services between Dublin and Cork, and may consider more of these arrangements in future.
As well as concerns over route cuts, passengers face the prospect of a lengthy campaign of industrial action at the company in the new year after unions lodged a claim for a 21pc pay cut. The company has said it cannot afford a pay increase.
Unions warned that it is "heading towards the abyss of a protracted dispute" unless Transport Minister Shane Ross intervenes to secure Expressway's future.
The warning was issued in a submission prepared for a Labour Court hearing this week.
They said staff should get a "well-deserved and long overdue" pay rise and said funding from Government is far short of what is required to run the vital public service, and is among the lowest in Europe.
However, in a statement last night the Nbru and Siptu said they will engage in an extensive consultation process with members before making a decision on industrial action.
"We are extremely aware that the financial situation at Bus Éireann can only be resolved by all the stakeholders, inclusive of the responsible Department, the National Transport Authority, Bus Éireann and the unions coming to the table with a firm commitment to resolve this crisis," said Nbru general secretary Dermot O'Leary and Siptu transport sector organiser Willie Noone in a joint statement. "It behoves the minister to do more than just comment on this exigency and show leadership at this critical juncture for the future of Ireland's public bus service."
Longford-Westmeath Independent Alliance TD Kevin 'Boxer' Moran insisted he wants rural communities to keep the bus services they have but that the dialogue at Bus Éireann has to be allowed take place.
He conceded it's "worrying at the moment". "There's no point in saying that it's not", he said, but added that he has faith in Mr Ross on the issue.