Brennan to announce radical overhaul of public transport

 

A radical overhaul of public transport, including the dismantling of CIÉ and the introduction of competition into the Dublin bus market, is to be outlined today by the Minister for Transport.

Fare increases for Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus are also to be announced by Mr Brennan in the next few days.

His planned restructuring programme will be the biggest overhaul of public transport in the Republic for many years.

A union leader warned last night, however, that Mr Brennan faced "war" if he tried to implement his plans without first reaching agreement with staff representatives. Mr Tony Tobin, the railway division secretary of SIPTU, said public transport in Britain had "collapsed" because of privatisation and unnecessary competition.

"We will not lie down in front of Mr Brennan. He may have succeeded in removing some traffic signs in Dublin but he will not bulldoze us out of the way."

Mr Brennan will outline his plans at a meeting in Dublin of the Public Transport Forum, a body comprising representatives of the social partners which was set up under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness.

He is expected to set out the timetable for a programme which will give independent status to Dublin Bus, Iarnród Éireann and Bus Éireann.

The three are subsidiaries of CIÉ, which would be disbanded. Mr Brennan says the move would enable the three to compete with each other, as well as companies in the private sector.

It is understood he will focus today primarily on planned competition for Dublin Bus. The company is likely to hold on to existing routes for the foreseeable future, but will face competition from private operators on new routes. This could open the way for private companies to open ring routes through suburban areas, for example.

A transport regulator to deal with competition for services and to monitor delivery would also be appointed. Bus Éireann already has competition on all of the main provincial routes, while introducing private operators into the rail sector is considered problematic.

It is understood that Mr Brennan has decided not to privatise the rail network, given the negative experience of this move in Britain. The possibility of private freight companies using the existing rail lines is, however, one of the matters under consideration in a strategic review of the rail sector which is due to be published in the new year.

The CIÉ board yesterday deferred a decision on closing two passenger routes and withdrawing from some freight services, pending completion of the review.

The deferral was announced after Mr Brennan asked the board not to make a decision until the review, established last March by the former Minister, Ms O'Rourke, was completed.

It is not known what level of price increase for the three transport operators Mr Brennan has decided to sanction, but a source said it would be "a lot less" than the average 20 per cent rise being sought.

An Iarnród Éireann spokesman said it had sought an increase of 9-10 per cent, which would be only the second increase since 1991. The most recent one was four years ago. Mr Brennan had said he would not grant such increases in the absence of a restructuring of the public transport sector.

His announcement of such a restructuring today will allow the increases to go ahead.

Mr Tobin of SIPTU said unions had a particular concern about the 330 people employed directly by CIÉ. When the company was broken up into three separate operators in 1987, he said, all staff had been given "letters of comfort" assuring them that pay and conditions would be maintained, regardless of any future restructuring.

CIÉ, he added, had also been given the role of ensuring there was no competition between Iarnród Éireann and Bus Éireann, which would be damaging to both.

Mr Brennan now appeared set on introducing such competition, although there was no agreement to that effect with the unions.