Union warns of bus strikes over potential privatisation

National Transport Authority proposes 10% of Bus Éireann routes should be put to market

The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) has warned of potential public transport strikes over new proposals to put out to tender up to 10 per cent of services currently provided by the State-owned Bus Éireann.

The National Transport Authority (NTA) suggested on Tuesday that Bus Éireann routes, mainly commuter services between towns in the eastern region and Dublin, could be put out to the market in 2021.

The NTA has not proposed putting any further services operated by Dublin Bus out to tender at present. However, it warned that some routes could be put out to the market when the reforms under the BusConnects network changes were finalised.

More than 20 Dublin Bus services will transfer to UK company Go-Ahead over the coming weeks on foot of previous transport reforms.

Bus Éireann lost the rights to operate Kildare commuter routes under a previous tendering process but won the contract to continue to provide services in Waterford.

The NTA proposed that it would enter into another contract with Bus Éireann to provide its existing services next year but that this arrangement would be changed in 2021 with 10 per cent of services being opened up to tender.

Bus Éireann could bid to retain the services, under the NTA proposals.

Under the NTA proposals the Bus Éireann services that would be put out to tender are:

  • 101: Dublin - Dublin Airport - Balbriggan - Drogheda
  • 101X: Dublin - Drogheda - Termon Abbey
  • 132: Dublin - Baltinglass - Tullow - Ballon - Kildavin - Bunclody
  • 133: Dublin Airport - City Centre - Ashford - Wicklow - Gorey
  • 103: Dublin - Ashbourne - Ratoath - Tayto Park
  • 103X: Dublin - Coolquay - Ratoath - Fairyhouse
  • 105: Drogheda - Ashbourne - Ratoath - Blanchardstown
  • 105X Dublin - Fairyhouse - Ratoath - Ashbourne

NTA chief executive Anne Graham said the proposals were "carefully balanced to continue to introduce competition into the bus market in a structured manner that safeguards the delivery of services for the customer and maintains the on-going improvement of the public's bus services".

“Private bus operators will be able to compete for some routes while the public will always have a decent and reliable Public Service Obligation service, provided by a combination of incumbent operators and operators that are new to the market.

“We believe that competition improves services which can only be good for the customer.”

The NTA has sought the views of the public on its proposals by the end of October.

However, the proposals have been condemned by trade unions.

‘Spectre of disputes’

The NBRU said it would vigorously oppose the proposals to put Bus Éireann services out to tender.

Siptu said the proposals were “ideologically driven and would result in further privatisation of public bus services”.

NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary said “the timelines associated with the NTA public consultation process conjures up the spectre of disputes in the public transport network across the winter and spring months”.

“The determination of the NTA, supported by the Thatcherite ideology of the Fine Gael-led Government, to aggressively attack semi-State jobs cannot be allowed to go unchallenged by those from across the political spectrum that profess to oppose the privatisation of State services. Handing over millions of taxpayers money to private corporations whilst at the same time paying workers a pittance is nothing less than a State-supported race to the bottom.”

“Allowing large multinationals to compete with State-owned companies on labour costs, paying bus drivers €32,000 or less, whilst at the same time paying its shareholders massive dividends is odious and is something that the vast majority of our elected politicians need to oppose.”

Siptu organiser John Murphy said public transport services should not be privatised on the basis of spurious competitiveness arguments.

“Bus users are entitled to decent, reliable services not those provided as part of a race to the bottom in standards and in conditions of work. We have all seen the problems associated with the open tendering of waste collection services across the State and the chaos they have created.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

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