‘Serious concerns’ for Dublin Bus services as revenues tumble
Customer journeys halved last year, down from 142m the previous year
Dublin Bus says the financial impact of Covid-19 “has been controlled through a combination of cost-management and the continued support of the National Transport Authority”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Unions have warned of “serious concerns” over the future of Dublin Bus services as fare revenues tumble during the pandemic.
Latest figures show the State-owned transport operator took in €125.1 million last year, down more than half from €263 million in 2019.
Customer journeys also halved during 2020, down from 142 million the previous year to 69.4 million.
So there is likely to be an impact on passenger levels even post-Covid. That is a significant concern
The sharp dip in revenue comes just months after a Government spending review stated that Dublin Bus and the other main State-owned transport companies could not absorb cuts to exchequer subvention payments and reduced fare revenues as their reserves have been exhausted.
John Murphy, transport sector organiser of the trade union Siptu, said extra public funding has been given to Dublin Bus as a result of the Covid-19 crisis “but there are no guarantees on how long that will continue”.
“And there are serious concerns even if the Covid situation resolves itself the level of passengers may not return to their peak because people have seen the benefits of working from home and many may continue to do that.
“So there is likely to be an impact on passenger levels even post-Covid. That is a significant concern.”
Mr Murphy warned that without further State financial assistance Dublin Bus “won’t survive as a company or they will have to cut services”.
Last November the Government published a review of public service obligation (PSO) funding, a State subvention payment to cover the shortfall between costs and revenues for public transport operators to run services that are considered to be socially beneficial but financially unviable.
Such funding – which declined by 37 per cent from 2009-2015 from €303.2 million to €190.6 million before rebounding to €314.45 million in 2019 – mainly goes to Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail.
Many Dublin Bus services are already not viable; they would not survive in market conditions
The review noted the transport operators turned to reserves to cover the shortfall over the period 2009-2011.
However, despite improved finances in recent years it cautioned “that this could not be repeated in future years as operators’ reserves have been exhausted and there has been no period of significant surplus in subsequent years”.
Mr Murphy said with “all the strain on the public finances” as a result of the pandemic, there is a fear that subventions could be cut again. “If that happens then Dublin Bus will have to look at the services they have,” he added.
Dermot O’Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers’ Union, said any further cuts would open an “appalling vista” that could leave “many communities isolated” without a bus service.
“Many Dublin Bus services are already not viable; they would not survive in market conditions. Many communities in Dublin rely exclusively on Dublin Bus for public transport.”
Dublin Bus said the financial impact of Covid-19 “has been controlled through a combination of cost-management and the continued support of the National Transport Authority”.
The Department of Transport said it more than doubled State subventions to the main transport operators last year – to €670 million – “due to the profound impact that the Covid-19 crisis had on the sector”.
In January it was agreed to “provide financial support to that sector for an initial extension of three months with an option to extend contracts on a monthly basis thereafter subject to engagement with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform”, a spokeswoman said.
“Due to the current Level 5 restrictions in operation, fare revenues on all modes of public transport continue to be severely depressed. The department, in conjunction with NTA, will continue to monitor PSO, Local Link funding and other commercial bus supports during 2021.”