Loss-making services hit as 100 bus routes axed
PASSENGERS face major cuts to public transport services after Bus Eireann admitted yesterday up to 100 routes would be axed or frequencies reduced before the end of the year.
The company is also seeking 250 voluntary redundancies by February 28 next which could result in industrial action by angry SIPTU workers who have refused to accept changes in work practices.
Yesterday, it announced that eight services will be axed altogether from next month and frequencies reduced on another 24 because of the economic downturn which has resulted in a 10pc drop in demand for public transport.
It also warned that more services would be affected before the end of the year. But the Irish Independent has learned that the company signed a five-year contract with the National Transport Authority (NTA) less than two months ago where it agreed to provide many of the axed services.
The contract was signed in return for a €45m public service obligation payment which subsidises the cost of running services which are not commercially viable.
However, less than two months after the contract was signed, the company told the NTA it would have to axe some services and reduce frequency on others.
The NTA agreed to the changes, saying the decision was made because the company's Government subvention was reduced in the Budget.
"These are five-year contracts, but we do take account of changing circumstances," a NTA spokeswoman said.
"We did sign the contract in December which had been negotiated over the autumn. The December subvention reduced in the Budget. These changes we consider appropriate."
Bus Eireann said that changes are being made to services with "low customer support" under its cost recovery plan which has been recommended by the Labour Court.
Changes to conditions of employment and other cost reduction measures under the plan have already begun, it added.
It blamed the economic downturn; the drop in the number of non-Irish nationals in the country; a reduction in tourist numbers; and the slowdown in retailing for the reduction in services.
"Changes are being introduced on a phased basis and will focus on services that have low customer support," a spokesman said.
"Unfortunately, there are a small number of services throughout the country that have very low customer support and given the current economic environment and the limit to the operational funds available to the company, these services are no longer sustainable."
In some cases, fewer than five passengers used a service which did not cover fuel costs, drivers' wages and the maintenance of the vehicle, he added.
The move was criticised by Irish Rural Link which said it showed that Bus Eireann no longer considered it had a public service obligation.
"Transport poverty is an issue in rural areas," a spokesman said. "Bus Eireann only consulted with unions on these cuts instead of looking at the needs of the communities they are supposed to serve."
Labour's Tommy Broughan said the cuts were a "devastating blow" for commuters.
SIPTU, which represents 400 workers, warned of industrial action unless the company addressed concerns about wage cuts and reduced driver hours.
The company said it will achieve all 250 job cuts through a voluntary redundancy scheme, but SIPTU said it could not rule out a strike.
"There's a concern about what our members will do after the changes," SIPTU spokesman Andrew McCarthy said.
"If they go ahead without our agreement our members will go on strike on March 1."