Shane Ross to examine adequacy of free travel schemes funding
Large sections of public transport should not be left to private operators, says Robert Troy
Shane Ross: It is right that we examine whether free travel funding levels, effectively frozen at 2010 levels, are adequate today.
The Government will examine if the State provides enough funding for free travel schemes, Minister for Transport Shane Ross has told the Dáil.
He insisted the Government was committed to a well-funded public transport system and had had increased public service obligation funding by 11 per cent, for transport seen as commercially unprofitable but socially necessary.
Mr Ross said: “I publicly acknowledge the need to look at the adequacy of the funding of free travel schemes.
“It is right that we examine whether funding levels effectively frozen at 2010 levels, are adequate today.” He said he would be working with the Minister for Social Protection on the funding question.
Mr Ross was speaking during a debate on Tuesday night on a Fianna Fáil motion highlighting Bus Éireann’s financial difficulties with €5.3 million in losses last year, and calling for increased funding for free travel schemes, and for the Government to use its powers as a stakeholder to ensure no changes to the Expressway service and no restructuring without the agreement of workers.
Mr Ross stressed the Government’s commitment to rural transport but said there were some elements of the motion he could not support.
He again ruled out getting personally involved in the dispute between Bus Éireann and its employees over the Expressway service.
“We should avoid embroiling Ministers in resolving industrial relations issues that would cut across the respective roles of the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court.”
Saying there had been “some confused thinking” about rural public transport services, the Minister said the Fianna Fáil motion called for the Government “to interfere with Bus Éireann’s contract with its commercial Expressway business, regardless of the financial consequences or even the legal powers to do so”.
He said he was conscious of the concerns expressed by the trade unions at Bus Éireann about the difficulties the company faced.
“The company is anxious to engage with the trade unions on negotiating a plan that will secure its viability. As Minister I support constructive dialogue between management and its employees and it is only through such dialogue that the company’s difficulties can be resolved. The State is ready to assist in facilitating resolution of industrial relations and has always been so.”
Expressway services do not receive any State subsidy “and there would be serious legal difficulty if any exchequer funding went to a commercial company operating in a commercial market”.
Introducing the motion, Fianna Fáil transport spokesman Robert Troy said his party was committed to a properly funded and sustainable public transport system.
“And while acknowledging that private operators have a role to play, we do not believe that public transport, or large sections of it, should be left to private operators,’’ he added.
Mr Troy said there were many people in communities who relied on public transport to get to work, medical appointments, college, or simply to move around and remain connected to the outside world.