Bus Éireann is struggling to avoid a traumatic head-on collision with its staff

Passengers flying into Dublin Airport rarely have to wait more than an hour to lug their bags onto a Bus Éireann bus to Galway, as there are 15 services throughout the day.

It’s the type of frequency which is a hallmark of a 21st-century bus service.

However, only six of those services are timetabled to whisk the weary passenger to the western city in three hours with just five stops along the way.

For the rest of the services, the journey time is in the region of just under four hours because the bus is scheduled to stop more than 20 times.

Compare that to the equivalent trip on private operator Citylink. It offers 19 services with journey times of either 2.5 or three hours because there aren’t endless stops.

The service is a bit dearer — €19 compared to €14.72 — but is just over €4 much to avoid sitting on a bus for up to an hour and 20 minutes longer?

But what about all those towns in between that the Citylink avoids — what if one is travelling from the airport to Ballinasloe? People living in rural towns and villages are entitled to a service.

So Bus Éireann needs to provide that. This is a crucial issue facing the State bus company.

The fact that private operators can choose to offer more popular, direct, routes is what is slowly killing Bus Éireann.

Bus Éireann has lost huge swathes of income to the competitors who can provide a much faster service on the intercity moneymaker routes.

But the fact remains that the State cannot just abandon hundreds of thousands of people outside the large population centres in limbo — they must have access to a viable bus service. But how is a commercial company meant to cater to that demand without increased State funding?

As far as unions are concerned, the bus market has been allowed to become over-saturated with private companies offering inferior terms and conditions compared to those enjoyed by the unions’ members.

They concede that efficiencies need to be found in Bus Éireann’s business model but are adamant that cuts to their members’ core terms and conditions will not be countenanced.

The unions claim that cuts proposed by acting Bus Éireann chief executive Ray Hernan would mean losses of up to €8,000 to average driver earnings of around €42,500.

While the company has not formally removed its cost-cutting plan from the table, Mr Hernan has said €30m in savings needs to be achieved, with 40% coming from the payroll.

While he is willing to meet the unions without preconditions, that huge figure is still to the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Furthermore, there has been no sign of management’s cost-cutting plan being ripped up, as has been demanded by the union negotiators.

But what happens if the two sides do come face-to-face? According to Dermot O’Leary of the National Bus and Rail Union, discussions will be short if there is any attempt to hit core pay and conditions.

So how else is that €12m to be found, if not from the pay of the 2,600 staff?

And if cuts are pushed through, what message does that send out?

As far as unions are concerned, other transport workers, and those in the wider economy, are watching events in Bus Éireann closely to see what it means for future industrial relations.

They are already warning that Irish Rail and Dublin Bus workers are agitated by what they are seeing and the likelihood of them acting in solidarity with their Bus Éireann colleagues is high.

There are just over two weeks to go until the company’s date for the implementation of cuts which will trigger indefinite all-out action.

As each day passes without resolution, the likelihood of this strike going ahead — further hammering the company’s scarce finances — becomes all the greater.

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