Private operators can bid for more than 50 bus routes
PRIVATE companies will be invited to operate more than 50 bus routes across the country in a major shake-up of the public transport sector.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) plans to allow Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann to continue to operate all routes for another three years, but the private sector will take over 10pc of the total towards the end of 2016.
The decision, approved by the Government, comes after Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said the private sector had a role to play in the provision of public bus services.
The move is designed to encourage competition and help reduce the cost of operating loss-making public transport services.
Fares will be set by the NTA, and the only difference will be the addition of private buses.
A spokesperson for the authority said: "We expect to see increased efficiencies and better value being delivered through cost savings."
Companies will be invited to bid to operate 23 routes currently held by Dublin Bus and 30 by Bus Eireann. The incumbents can also compete.
In the case of Dublin Bus, the routes which could be tendered include the 17 from Rialto to Blackrock, the 33b Swords to Portrane and the 111 Dun Laoghaire to Loughlinstown.
For Bus Eireann services, options include all Waterford city services, some city services in Cork, some rural services in the south-east and some commuter services into Dublin.
Expressway and the school transport service are not being tendered.
The review of the contracts awarded to the CIE companies is a condition of the Dublin Transport Authority Act of 2008.
Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann were contracted to operate routes which were the subject of a government subsidy between 2009 and 2014.
They will retain all those routes for two years from 2014, after which 10pc will be put out to tender. The remaining 90pc will continue to be operated by the incumbents until 2019. Last year, the State provided €75m in subsidies to Dublin Bus and €36.9m to Bus Eireann.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said the outsourcing of routes was a matter for the NTA.
"What the NTA is doing is implementing the law of the land which provides for a very gradual opening of parts of the bus market and, of course, Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann are contenders for those if they so wish," he said.
NTA chief executive officer Gerry Murphy said the proposals were "carefully balanced" to introduce competition in a "structured manner".
"Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann will be able to plan for tendering and a possible down- sizing if they are unsuccessful. Experience from a range of countries has shown that competition has improved efficiency and services."
The NTA said it expected to invite companies to tender in March 2015, and that the contract would be awarded in December 2015. The private sector would begin operations in August 2016.