Bus and rail passengers face threat of new fare hikes
BUS, tram and rail passengers face the prospect of another fare hike to help bail out our public transport companies.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) has confirmed that the CIE group of companies and the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA), which operates Luas, has sought permission to increase prices in 2014.
The move to impose further hikes comes on the back of successive fare increases in recent years, with two last year alone. The amount being sought has not been revealed, and a decision will be made by the NTA in September or October.
The application comes after the crisis-hit CIE group of companies yesterday revealed they had arranged €160m in bank lending facilities, but must meet strict performance targets before the cash is released.
Group Chairman Vivienne Jupp told the Joint Transport Committee the money would only be made available to Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann and Iarnrod Eireann if they reduced costs and grew passenger numbers and revenue.
Securing the funding was a key condition of a €36m bailout of the company last year by the Government. CIE was also forced to sell land at Spencer Dock, to help shore up its crippling losses which hit €31m last year.
Ms Jupp said its lenders would act like the troika and only release funds if key performance targets were met. The money will be used to fund day-to-day operations.
"Key performance benchmarks required by the four banks with whom we have arranged banking facilities include growing revenue and reducing costs, particularly payroll costs which make up 55pc of our cost base," she said.
CIE has been hit with falling passenger numbers and increased fuel costs in recent years. Last year, it received €278m in government funding, a drop of €112m (35pc) since 2008.
Two of the three CIE companies – Dublin Bus and Iarnrod Eireann – are in negotiations with unions about reducing costs. Bus Eireann has already secured a deal following industrial action.
However, the move to impose further price hikes on passengers was sharply criticised by the Consumers' Association of Ireland which called on the NTA to freeze fares.
"We will probably become the most expensive country on the planet if there's annual increases," said spokesman Dermott Jewell. "Why can't there be a consideration of a price freeze or reduction to encourage more people to use the system?"
If approved, the higher fares are likely to be introduced in 2014. Some 230 million journeys are made every year in the three CIE companies. Another 29 million journeys are made on Dublin's Luas.