Bus row offers a chance to tackle transport realities
Taxpayers remain on the hook for a system of public transport provision that is crying out for fundamental reform, writes Colm McCarthy
While the suspension of strike notice at Bus Eireann and the resumption of talks between unions and management may result in some form of interim settlement, the underlying problems at the company, and more broadly in the CIE bus and rail business, are not being addressed. Demand for intercity public transport is in decline and the costs of meeting this demand through the CIE model are excessive. The minister has wisely kept away from the talks, keeping the taxpayers' chequebook out of danger for now. But the taxpayer remains on the hook for a system of public transport provision crying out for fundamental reform.
Breathless reportage to the effect that 110,000 commuters (the daily average number of Bus Eireann return journeys) faced 'chaos', the term employed repeatedly on RTE broadcasts, had tomorrow's strike gone ahead is a considerable exaggeration. Many Bus Eireann users can take a bus provided by private operators, take a train or cadge a lift. Indeed, just last week the National Transport Authority shrugged off the management's discontinuation of some Expressway services with the observation that alternative bus and rail services are already adequate, raising the rather obvious question of the need for a State bus company at all.
In 2014, the Central Statistics Office surveyed more than 10,000 households about their travel habits. They found that only 4.4pc of trips made by Irish adults use the bus. This percentage includes private bus companies and Dublin Bus. The portion of adults relying on Bus Eireann, which provides intercity, rural and provincial city services, must be well under 2pc of the total - the private companies are popular on many routes and Dublin Bus serves more daily journeys than all of Bus Eireann's operations put together.