Union warns against ‘saturating’ transport market

NBRU chief also makes ‘no apologies’ for Dublin Bus dispute at committee hearing

Unite research officer Michael Taft speaks before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Unite research officer Michael Taft speaks before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport.

 

The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) has warned against “saturating” the State’s transport market to unsustainable levels with a “plethora of operators”.

General secretary of the NBRU Dermot O’Leary has said that filling the Irish transport system with numerous operators would only achieve “the eventual demise” of some operators and a subsequent monopoly or duopoly.

Speaking before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport on Wednesday, Mr O’Leary said the union made “no apologies” for the recent dispute over pay at Dublin Bus and said the subsequent pay rise for staff at the company was “well-deserved after eight years of austerity”.

Mr O’Leary also warned of a “doomsday scenario” should Bus Éireann attempt to impose unilateral changes to the terms and conditions of its staff.

He spoke on rail safety, saying that the State would only avoid catastrophe “by blind luck” in future years because it was not investing enough money to maintain stock, vehicles, stations, depots and lines.

The Oireachtas committee met on Wednesday morning to continue their deliberations on a vision for Ireland’s public transport system, including the level of State subvention.

Siptu transport sector organiser Willie Noone called for an “ambitious yet realistic and viable vision” for public transport in the future, noting the failures of previous governments in realising the A New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009-2020 report, which was released in 2008.

“This Government needs to commit to incrementally annually increase the subvention to bus and rail over the lifetime of the Government in order to rebalance the chronic underfunding endured by Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and Irish Rail over the last eight years,” said Mr Noone.

He said that both bus companies had suffered a decrease in funding of 32 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.

He called on the Government to move away from the EU Commission’s Fourth Railway package on the creation of a single European rail area, which he said would lead to “international operators seeking to cherry-pick what they consider to be economically attractive routes.

“We will see a displacement of workers and social dumping, along with the tax-payer having to essentially part-fund selective private sector operators’ profits.”

Unite research officer Michael Taft warned that the State was devoting low levels of subvention support to public transport compared with the rest of Europe, resulting in “poorer services and higher fares which drive up traffic congestion”.

Mr Taft called on the committee to undertake a detailed study of subventions to public transport services in European cities comparable to Dublin and to initiate a consultation process among stakeholders in public transport in planning a fully subsidised transport system.

Transport solutions

Also speaking before the committee, UCD professor of transport economics Aisling Reynolds underlined how commercially-viable heavy rail was not a feasible transport solution in almost all settings outside of Dublin and Cork.

Prof Reynolds suggested the planning and development of Bus Rapid Transit routes across Dublin as a “vital short-term measure to contribute to the development of the public transit system”.

She warned that the quality of Irish roads in international scoring ranks had begun to drop since 2014 and that the State’s “inadequate supply of infrastructure” was the most problematic factor in its global competitiveness.

“Transport infrastructure will generate growth as well as revenue for the State, but a stepped increase in investment is required if this [economic] recovery is to be sustained,” said Prof Reynolds.

“Public transport use can be increased if it is attractive to users in terms of its cost, its speed and its reliability and if it represents a realistic alternative to private car use in terms of its routings.”