Bus Éireann is hard to fix

From February 20, Bus Éireann, Expressway’s owner and one of the offshoots of the old CIE is to introduce cost-cutting measures that have not been agreed with the unions. If that happens there will be a union reaction. It has no option at this stage. It will not solve the problem.

The acting chief executive of the company has stated that the company was facing a critical financial crisis and was set to report a loss of €9m for 2016.

The proposed remedial measures include reducing overtime premiums, reducing or abolishing shift premiums, rota and overtime rates, as well as sick pay and allowances.

At any time such measures would be like a red rag to a bull but at a time of rising costs, they tend to make matters even worse.

The unions partly blame the introduction of the private sector into offering bus routes for Expressway’s difficulties.

But like everything it’s just not that simple. It is claimed the private companies running on the same routes are profitable. The inevitable question is, if that is so why can Bus Éireann not do likewise?

The unions might claim that the private guys stick to the ‘motorways’ whilst the Bus Éireann guys have to go here, there and everywhere to deliver on their social service remit. In making such comparisons we are comparing apples and oranges.

Part of the problem goes back to the decades-old interference in the day-to-day running of semi-state companies by politicians, ministers and others.

Part of the problem relates to the way unions operate by constantly making invalid comparisons to make their points and their endless intransigence.

A big part of it is down to the failure of the Government to adequately assess the implications and needs of the social services provided.

As it stands the service provided by Bus Éireann is like a square peg in a round hole, in trying to proverbially kill two birds with one stone, one a standard regional bus service and the other a social service that must stop as required in what are often remote areas. Yet it must make a profit.

The Government should be looking at ways of ensuring that a mechanism is found to ensure the so-called bus service is profitable whilst a fair mechanism is found to pay for the social service element.

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