Bus Eireann vows not to axe Expressway service but says 'decisive action' needed
Bus Eireann has insisted it will not kill off its Expressway intercity service in an effort to save the company from going bust.
Acting chief executive Ray Hernan said that losses for last year are estimated at eight million euro and that operations across the entire business will have to change.
He told staff the company could be insolvent in the next 18 months and that "decisive action has to be taken to reverse losses" and adapt to customer needs and competitors.
"Collectively we cannot allow this trend to continue," he said.
The message was issued amid dire warnings that the company can only be saved with the closure of its Expressway service and the loss of more than 500 jobs in the face of increasing competition on motorway routes.
Bus Eireann had losses of 5.6 million euro in 2015.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) defended the issuing of licences to private operators in direct competition with Bus Eireann and insisted that increasing options for customers on intercity routes was not to blame.
It also insisted that no rural communities will be left behind if bus services are axed.
Tim Gaston, the agency's director of public transport services, said the licences it grants for firms to operate new services between cities are encouraging people to take the bus.
"In other words, rather than saturating the market, what we have actually done is increase public transport capacity, and in so doing enabled many more journeys to be undertaken on the bus network," he said.
Dermot O'Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), claimed the intercity market for services to and from Dublin was saturated, with a 128% increase in capacity to Cork, 115% to Limerick and 55% to Waterford.
"The resolution to this crisis will not be found on the backs of workers," he said.
The NTA claimed there is confusion around the issue of Bus Eireann's viability and that 80% of the company's passengers are on subsidised services.
"It has consistently been the case that where new licences are issued in these markets, that overall passenger numbers have increased, in many cases, very significantly," Mr Gaston said.
The NTA chief described Bus Eireann's subsidised services - run under Public Service Obligation Contracts - as a huge success, with a 5.5% increase in passengers to 32 million last year.
It said last year's 40 million euro subvention is likely to increase this year.
"We will not leave any rural communities behind," Mr Gaston said.
"It is the duty of the NTA to ensure that as many people as possible, in all parts of this country, have access to a safe, reliable and value-for-money public transport service, and we will continue to discharge our responsibilities in that regard, without fear or favour."
Trade union Siptu vowed to fight any cutbacks to Bus Eireann.
Organiser Willie Noone said: "The reality is that there has been a strategy of creating a financial crisis at the company with the objective of manufacturing a case for the dismantling of Bus Eireann, driving down workers' conditions and reducing services."