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Bus strike highlights the disconnect from reality

THE debate about the Bus Eireann strike shows just how bad things are in this country and why they won't get better anytime soon. Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has made a good living out of talking the talk on public sector reform but he just won't walk the walk.

Instead of surrendering to the strikers, Mr Varadkar should close the loss-making bus company down to finally allow private operators to have a fair chance.

The fact that nobody in Government is even talking about closing Bus Eireann reflects this government's detachment from the lives of ordinary people and the government's unerring ability to waste a good crisis.

At one level there is nothing particularly wrong with Bus Eireann. I use it all the time and there is no doubt that it provides a reasonable service, at a reasonable price.

The staff are friendly and the buses are punctual and clean. The problem is that the private sector can do the same thing at a much smaller cost to the State.

Like hundreds of other State-owned institutions from RTE's 2FM to the VHI, there is simply no good reason why the State should provide a service that can also be provided equally well, and much more cheaply, elsewhere.

As summer approaches, we can prepare for the usual catalogue of anecdotes from all over Europe about the supposed superiority of public services outside the State. In many cases, these public sector wunderkinds are actually private sector enterprises which are closely supervised by officials.

Experience across large swathes of Europe shows that the best way to create a long distance bus network or an urban bus network is to put out routes for tender and then monitor the services closely. In practice, this means operators pay the State to ply their trade on profitable routes and get paid to operate unpopular routes where demand is weak. Inspectors check frequency and punctuality and dock money for operators which fail to live up to their promises.

A system along these lines would go a long way to ensuring that we get a cheap and punctual service rather than a coach and bus service where time tables are aspirational.

Irish Independent