Varadkar wants transport opened up to private sector
TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar wants more privatisation of public transport and is pushing for "managed change" away from state dominance of bus and train routes.
Mr Varadkar says there are "strong arguments" in favour of "more diverse bus service provision", but acknowledges he is constrained in what he can do because of the coalition with the Labour Party.
It is understood the Dublin West TD would also like to open up the railways to provide competition for Irish Rail, although this won't be possible for a few years.
His approach could put him at loggerheads with Labour, but Mr Varadkar doesn't want to run down CIE entirely.
"Any new regime will have to accommodate CIE," he said in a speech to coach tour operators. "My preference therefore is for change, but managed change."
But he warned that one player in the market must not dominate to the detriment of all others – and said lessons could be learnt from the banking crash.
"We should be wary of having all our eggs in too few baskets.
"With there being only one provider of the vast majority of public transport, the Government is essentially in the position that that provider is essentially 'too big to fail'."
He pointed to a private bus operator winning a tender to provide a bus service between Urlingford, Co Kilkenny, and Portlaoise, Co Laois.
Both towns were traditionally on the Dublin-Cork bus route but had lost their service when Bus Eireann was forced to drop stops as part of Budget cuts.
The new route will not be subsidised but the National Transport Authority has given the private company the exclusive licence to operate it.
"Having left it, Bus Eireann will not be allowed to go back on (the route)," Mr Varadkar said. "This contract is the first time that the NTA has entered into a tendered contract with a private operator, or any operator, for the provision of public transport.
"While cynics might dismiss this as a minor move, when we look back at the development of the bus market in Ireland in years to come, the significance of this will be realised. And I want to see more and more such licences."
And while admitting there are differences between Fine Gael and Labour, Mr Varadkar said there are "strong arguments in favour of 'more diverse bus service provision".
He also said he wants to set up a private bus operator's forum in his department next year.