Private bus companies being ‘forced out’ of business by State-backed cuts

Bus operators may take legal action over Government subsidies

Private bus companies have said they “cannot survive” if cuts to public transport fares are not extended to private operators.

Taxsaver fares on all subsidised public transport services were reduced by an average of 20 per cent at the beginning of April under a Government scheme to encourage more people to use public transport.

Serving Bantry and Skibbereen to Cork city, Damien Long of West Cork Connect said the cuts, along with a proposed 50 per cent reduction for Student Travel Card holders, could put operators like him out of business.

“If this goes on for a year, there is just no way we can survive,” he said. “Our margins are being squeezed as tight as possible already with the effects of Covid and now the huge rises in the cost of fuel.


"Now they seem to be trying to force us out altogether. It just doesn't make any sense," said Mr Long, who met Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan recently as part of a Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland delegation.

“We were effectively told, ‘Sorry, the money isn’t available’ when we asked if they could extend the fare discounts to private operators. Not alone is it unfair, but it’s anti-competitive as well.

“We hope it won’t come to it but we will have to look at legal options if the Government can’t find a way of treating us fairly,” he said.

This month's fare cuts are part of the Government's wider package to lessen inflation pressures, and saw fares falling by 20 per cent for Bus Éireann customers on city services in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, as well as town services in Athlone, Balbriggan, Drogheda, Dundalk, Navan and Sligo.

Fares were also reduced on Bus Éireann’s inter-urban and commuter services and on Local Link rural services, but the reductions apply only to subsidised services, not to privately run services like West Cork Connect.

Mr Long began the Skibbereen service, directly competing with existing Bus Éireann services. Since then, he added the Bantry route and is planning a Kinsale-Cork run soon.

“We can take you to Cork from Skibbereen and back for an €18 standard fare while Bus Éireann will cost you more like €30. We don’t cost the Government a penny and we provide local jobs too,” Mr Long said.

He believes he now carries 80 per cent of the passengers using the Skibbereen route, “People are using buses now who wouldn’t have before because they know our bus will turn up on time.

“They keep backtracking and changing from one day to the next what they are saying; it really does look from our point of view as if there is something strange going on here.

"We are simply asking to be treated fairly. We aren't looking for State funding and I just cannot understand what they are trying to do," he said.

Responding, the National Transport Authority (NTA), which licenses bus services, said private operators would be included when student and young adult fares were cut by 50 per cent , but a date for the introduction of this change had not yet been set.

“It has not been possible to implement that change to coincide with the 50 per cent reduction in fares on subsidised services,” said the NTA, adding that work was under way to deal with technical and funding issues.