GoBus suing Galway Coach Station over alleged tenfold rise in charges

Intercity bus operator alleges ‘intimidation’ and ‘economic duress’ in affidavit

GoBus has made a number of allegations in a sworn affidavit to the Circuit Court. Photograph: Chris Maddaloni

GoBus has made a number of allegations in a sworn affidavit to the Circuit Court. Photograph: Chris Maddaloni

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

Intercity coach operator GoBus is suing Galway Coach Station after it allegedly threatened to revoke its permission to use the station unless it signed a new contract that increased its loading bay fees by a factor of 10, despite reduced operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a sworn affidavit to the Circuit Court last month, GoBus said it has a licence from the National Transport Authority (NTA) to operate a total of 26 services per day from Galway to Dublin Airport, as well as 24 services per day from Dublin Airport to Galway.

The licence is valid from November 1st, 2019, and expires on October 31st, 2022. However, due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, GoBus has not been operating the full schedule allowed under the licence.

GoBus said it did not operate any services between March 17th, 2020, and September 20th, 2020. Despite not operating any services, it said the coach station “demanded payment”, and a reduced total sum was agreed.

When services resumed, GoBus was initially allowed to operate 10 services per day each way due to pandemic restrictions. This was increased to operate 12 services per day each way from September 2021.

In the affidavit, GoBus alleged that “without any advance warning” the coach station issued GoBus with a new contract on September 15th, which was to run from October 22nd, 2021, until December 31st, 2022.

The contract included loading bay fees of €4,500 per month, which was more than 10 times the previous fee of €421.82 per month. GoBus alleged the coach station threatened to revoke its permission to use its facilities unless it signed the contract.

Grievances

GoBus also raised a number of other grievances with the new contract, and alleged the coach station enjoys a “dominant position” in competition law terms.

To mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on the bus transport industry, an emergency direct award contract scheme came into place whereby the NTA financially supported companies such as GoBus.

Under the terms of the licence, GoBus cannot collect or drop off passengers from any location other than the coach station.

“The coach station is an essential service to the plaintiff and indeed to all private bus transport companies arriving into and departing from Galway,” GoBus said in its affidavit.

“If the defendant revokes the plaintiff’s stop approval at the coach station, the plaintiff cannot operate the licence and the licence will be revoked by the NTA.

“The coach station is, therefore, an essential facility and the plaintiff has no option but to deal with the defendant as the only provider of an approved stop location in Galway. The terms of the 2021 agreement are oppressive and unjustified.”

‘Unfair’

GoBus said there was “no reasonable objective basis for imposing” such terms on the company and this amounted to an attempt to “exert unfair economic pressure on the plaintiff and constitutes intimidation and economic duress”.

In a letter to the coach station dated September 30th, GoBus said it would not be in a position to pay the fees. “As an SME we are not in a financial position to pay fees based on the schedule we would not be operating,” it said.

“Whilst we continue operations, it is not in the medium- to long-term viability of the business to pay those exorbitant charges and, whilst trying to entice people back on to public transport, an increase in fares to counteract the increase would be detrimental to all.

“This situation would have serious consequences for the city and its environs should operators be forced to withdraw services due to unsustainable costs associated with the coach station on top of already high fuel and staff increases.”

Galway Coach Station told The Irish Times that there was “no basis whatsoever for the claims made by GoBus and we look forward to the position of Galway Coach Station being fully vindicated in due course”.

The case continues before the Circuit Court on Tuesday.