Bus Éireann in bid to win back tendered routes
Bus Éireann is to team up with a private operator to win back routes which will be tendered to the open market later this year.
The company plans to form a joint venture partnership in a bid to secure routes which will be opened to public competition, the Irish Independent has learned.
The move comes amid growing unrest from trade unions and local communities after it emerged that the company plans to remove almost 100 services on routes linking Dublin and the south and south- east because of low passenger numbers.
Along with these two routes, called Route 7 (Dublin to Cork) and Route 5 (Dublin-New Ross-Waterford), a third one between Athlone and Westport is also under threat because it is also losing money.
The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association said the move represented a "further attack" on rural Ireland because it would involve some towns no longer having a direct service to Dublin.
Fianna Fáil said it would further isolate rural communities, while Active Retirement Ireland called on the Government to fund the loss-making services, saying many older people relied on the bus to remain socially connected.
The National Bus and Rail Union added that competition in the market had resulted in companies ignoring rural towns in favour of heavily trafficked routes, while SIPTU said the move would result in jobs being lost.
However, Bus Éireann said that the services were not funded by the State, and were incurring "significant losses". The National Transport Authority (NTA) said it would consider providing money to fund the routes.
Meanwhile, it has also emerged that Bus Éireann plans to link with a private operator in a bid to secure routes due to be opened to competition in 2016.
The Government plans to tender 10pc of the entire network to other operators, including six routes in Waterford City and six commuter services between Dublin and Kildare.
In addition, another 23 routes currently operated by Dublin Bus will also be tendered. A Dublin Bus spokeswoman said it was "not currently proposed" to seek a partner to bid for the services, but it expected to tender for the contracts.
Bus Éireann chief executive Martin Nolan said he expected the company or a multi-national operate to secure the contracts, as smaller operators were unlikely to have the available fleet or drivers to meet demand.
However, a small company could work with Bus Éireann and provide the necessary scale to operate the network.
"We've put a bid team together and are talking to one joint venture partner, which is not a multi-national," he said.
"This will only involve us and other multi-nationals, because the other operators are too small."
The company said up to 90 staff were employed in connection with the routes being tendered by the NTA, and it was exploring a number of options in terms of how it would tender for these routes, as it wanted to protect "as many jobs as possible."
There are also issues around staff transferring to a new operator, including terms and conditions and pay scales.