State to provide grant aid to commercial bus operators

Up to €500,000 will be awarded to companies hit by Covid-19

The State is to provide financial support to commercial bus operators affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the initiative, bus operators could receive grant aid up to a maximum of €500,000, receive a direct-award public contract for a service or a combination of both.

The former government had already agreed in June to provide an additional increase of up to €460 million in the 2020 budget for public service obligation (PSO) subvention, to facilitate the continued operation for the remainder of the year of the normal range of exchequer-supported transport services.

In a letter to the chairwoman of Córas Iompair Éireann Fiona Ross at the end of June the Department of Transport said the Government had also decided the National Transport Authority (NTA) could provide temporary financial support to the licensed bus sector "which currently cannot operate effectively or on a sustainable basis as a result of the Covid crisis".


“This support will be structured through the provision of temporary PSO support to specific licensed bus routes where the NTA identifies a justification for public funding support on the route.”

Funding for the initiative will be provided by the Department of Transport.

Bus Éireann, which operates the commercial Expressway services, said last week that overall 64 per cent of licensed coach and bus services across the country were not operational at that point.

In guidance to licensed bus operators the NTA said support could be provided only “where there is a clear public-interest justification” and that joining the scheme was purely voluntary.

The NTA said the Government had advised that “currently the funding can be of a six-month duration”. It said the six-month period would start from the date of signing of the grant or the public-service contract.

“The funding is only available to licensed regular services which were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and meet the clear public-interest justification criteria. Therefore any services which were not in operation before March 17th 2020 cannot be funded. Tour or event licensed services cannot be funded as they are discretionary travel and so do not meet the clear public-interest justification. The authority is currently determining the licensed regular services that the meet the clear public-interest justification.”

NTA guidance

“The level of funding is intended to cover the gap between the direct operating cost and the fare box plus any payments received for the carriage of free-travel card-holders. The direct operating cost includes items such as driver wages, fuel, insurance, road tax, cleaning (including enhanced cleaning), vehicle maintenance, property maintenance, back-office costs, subcontracting costs and administration. Please note that if your business operates other services, such as tours or private hire, then the direct operating cost must only reflect the cost of operating your licensed regular services.”

The NTA said it recognised that the current 50 per cent capacity limits in place due to public health restrictions “may require additional vehicles to be deployed to meet demand”.

“As the additional buses would be required to operate the services, the provision of these additional services would be included in the direct operating cost.”

The NTA said it envisaged that the grants and public-service contracts “would be flexible and allow variations to the eligible services”.

“For example, such variations may include those services which primarily carry students which would not be included initially, but as third-level institutions open and as demand increases could be added.”

The NTA said it would be a requirement of the funding that fare levels would not change from the rates as of March 2020.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent