Deputy Connolly said that the strike by Bus Éireann workers was inevitable given both the demand by management that core pay be cut and the indifference displayed by the Minister and government in relation to the mounting crisis.
The decision to strike was not taken lightly by the workers and it is extremely for them and their families with no income coming in.
The crisis highlights in a most acute way the government’s failure to recognise just how important an integrated public transport system is for economic progress, for balanced regional development, and for social cohesion. The government strategy of allowing Bus Éireann management to focus solely on particular routes and cost cutting measures without placing those measures in context of the government’s duty to provide an integrated public transport system is doomed to failure.
Indeed, in the context of climate change obligations we are already on course to be substantially fined for our failure to meet our carbon emissions targets.
Furthermore, this narrow focus by Bus Éireann management is masking the reasons for the crisis. Since 2009 state funding for Bus Éireann has progressively decreased from €49.37m to €33.7m in 2015. In addition the cash payment given to Bus Éireann by the Department of Social Protection for carrying passengers under the free travel scheme has remained stagnant since 2008. This is compounded by the fact that Bus Éireann only receives 40% of the cash fare for the free travel passengers while private operators receive 70%. This is a substantial difference which has never been satisfactorily explained by the government.
In order to resolve this crisis the government has to take a central role. Standing back and opting out is not an option; it’s a derogation of duty in relation to the provision of an integrated public transport system and our obligations under climate change legislation. The irony is of course that we are going to end up paying a lot more money in fines than if we increased state subvention to Bus Éireann to bring it back to the 2009 figures and also to increase their payment for free travel passengers to a sustainable level.