New Bus Éireann chief says ‘significant challenges’ ahead
Stephen Kent has been chosen to lead State-owned firm through ‘transformation’
Passenger numbers have risen 12.9 per cent at Bus Éireann this year. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
New Bus Éireann chief executive Stephen Kent has acknowledged that “significant challenges” lie ahead for the company after he was appointed to the position on a permanent basis on Tuesday.
Bus Éireann chairman Aidan Murphy announced the appointment, which followed the conclusion of an independent, externally managed search process. Mr Kent has been acting chief executive since August.
Mr Kent’s new role follows his five-year period as Bus Éireann chief commercial officer. Prior to Bus Éireann he held key management positions in C&C and Waterford Crystal, along with roles at Guinness Peat Aviation, Bank of Ireland and Waterford Foods.
“The board has every confidence in Stephen to lead the organisation through the next phase of transformation and growth,” said Mr Murphy. “Much has been achieved over the past year to improve our competitiveness and service quality.
“There is also much more to do, as the unrelenting competitiveness of the transport industry becomes ever more a reality for Bus Éireann, and being the preferred choice for our customers must be at the heart of our success.”
Passenger numbers have risen 12.9 per cent at Bus Éireann this year, but Mr Kent’s appointment comes at a time when the company is facing headwinds on a range of issues, including possible industrial action and the privatisation of some of its routes.
The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) has warned of potential strikes over the proposals to put out to tender up to 10 per cent of services currently provided by the State-owned company.
The National Transport Authority has suggested that Bus Éireann routes – mainly commuter services between towns in the eastern region and Dublin – could be put out to the market in 2021.
Bus Éireann lost the rights to operate Kildare commuter routes under a previous tendering process but won the contract to continue to provide services in Waterford.
The NBRU has also threatened disruption to services unless staff receive a pay rise. Management and unions are holding talks over pay at the Workplace Relations Commission amid a threat of industrial action if the dispute is not resolved.
Staff at the company staged a three-week strike last year over controversial cost-containment plans put forward by management at a time when Bus Éireann was facing serious financial difficulties.
Unions contend that the company’s fortunes have since improved and are seeking increases along the lines of those secured by other transport workers in recent years, which ranged from 2.5 per cent to 3.75 per cent annually.
“The challenges – and opportunities – ahead are significant as we enter an increasingly competitive market for transport services,” said Mr Kent after his appointment.
“I am confident that by focusing on the core elements of safety, competitiveness and quality, we can succeed and win more business for our customers and employees – to continue a proud tradition of delivering Bus Éireann services nationwide.”
The appointment of Mr Kent as chief executive follows the transformation of the entire Bus Éireann management team, with a mix of external and internal appointments in the past 12 months to all positions.