Private firms not allowed cover Bus Éireann timetables
Transport authority says operators can only up services on existing routes during strike
Bus Éireann staff picketing outside the Broadstone Bus Éireann depot, in Dublin, on Friday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
Stranded commuters at Kent Train Station, Cork, during industrial action on Friday. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
The National Transport Authority (NTA) has no plans to let private operators cover Bus Éireann timetables during the strike, though companies will be able to increase services on existing routes.
The extra capacity will come as a boost to commuters, who on Friday were faced with no Bus Éireann services and limited ones from Iarnród Éireann as its staff refused in places to pass National Bus and Railworkers Union pickets.
Private operators reported surging demand. Aircoach, which has a sizable part of the market on the Cork-Dublin route, has hired 10 additional buses to meet the extra demand.
Meanwhile, CityLink, which runs 100 services daily between Dublin and Galway, has increased services by a quarter, bringing in 25 more buses to meet demand.
A small Donegal-based firm, Bus Feda, which runs services between the county and Galway fielded hundreds of calls from anxious travellers early on Friday, as word spread about the strike.
“I’m on my own here and the phones are absolutely hopping. I’ve had something like 270 calls since 7 o’clock this morning, and Friday would be one of our quiet days on the phones,” said its owner, Brian O’Donnell.
“Instead of having two coaches on, we’re putting on five. I have my dad out working today who is 78 years of age, just doing local stuff to allow another driver do more long-distance stuff,” he declared.
Dublin Coach, which said the sudden nature of the strike and associated rail disruptions had intensified travellers’ difficulties, is advising passengers to book their seats online to guarantee places.
“Nearly every bus is full leaving every stop today since the start of this morning, especially with the Wales and Ireland match on tonight as well we’d have increased passenger numbers,” said a spokeswoman.
Private bus companies can lay on so-called “auxiliary departures” while the strike action continues according to the NTA, though it must be told within five days of the first auxiliary service being deployed.
Meanwhile, the Coach and Tourism Transport Council of Ireland, which which represents private coach and bus operators, has called for a full review of Irish public transport rules.
Private operators and the public sector should work together to meet future demands, including the delivery of non-commercial routes serving rural communities “for the public good”, it said.
Calling on both sides to get back into talks, the Minister for Transport Shane Ross has insisted that he will not intervene, despite repeated calls by the union that he should do so.
Saying that industrial relations are not a matter for Ministers, he said the parties should go to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court for talks.
Bus Éireann must reform and this can be done maturely, he said. The only reason that people are calling on him to intervene is so that he would pay out taxpayers’ money. This , he said, he would not do.
Despite the interruptions to services, Iarnród Éireann said special late-night trains for football fans returning from the Ireland-Wales match would operate to Cork, Limerick and Galway.
Meanwhile, GO-BE, the joint venture company between Bus Éireann and Go-Bus, suspended its services between Cork and Dublin city following issues at its Cork base.
Condemning the failure of Bus Éireann management and Mr Ross to prevent the strike, the Union of Students of Ireland expressed solidarity with the striking bus workers.
“This dispute has gone beyond the dispute between management and workers – it has created a complete gridlock for students seeking to get home and to college,” said USI president Annie Hoey.
Tens of thousands of students are now unsure if they can get to classes: “The failure to negotiate isn’t just causing inconvenience – it’s causing enormous anxiety and stress for people at the most difficult time of the year,” she said.