Check against delivery
I'd like to thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue and providing the opportunity to clarify a number of the misinformed comments which have been made in recent days.
Last week I met with the Chair of the Bus Éireann who briefed me on a Grant Thornton report that had been presented to the Board by the consultants a few days previously. Following that meeting I updated my Government colleagues at this week's Cabinet.
Firstly there may well be different drafts in circulation. However, as I've stated last week the consultants presented their report to the Board.
And let me, for once and for all, clarify what that Report is.
Irrespective of what draft people are focussing upon, both the media, and unfortunately some Deputies, are convinced that the Grant Thornton Report is a "plan". It is no such thing.
The Report is an analysis prepared as advice for the Board which reviews some previously developed options, provides a critique of them and makes suggestions for further areas to consider.
The Report is not a plan in itself, and it was not intended that it would be a plan.
On foot of the Report and the Board's deliberations, the Company is now engaged in preparing an actual plan for its future and will be developing and finalising this over the coming weeks.
Everyone in the House is aware of the circumstances in which Bus Éireann finds itself. It is losing around €6million a year. That's simply unsustainable.
These losses are not as a result of the taxpayer's subvention. In fact last year it received €40 million, over 17% more than it received in 2015 in taxpayer funding. The Deputy will know, and welcome no doubt, that this year even further increases will be made available to PSO services thanks to the fact I secured an 11% increase in PSO funding generally in the Budget.
Bus Éireann's losses stem from its Expressway services.
Expressway is a fully commercial network of routes, which doesn't receive any Exchequer funding and competes with other operators in what is a highly competitive market.
There have been some voices in recent days who have spoken of a policy problem as being a driving force behind all this.
However, if we take a moment to look at our commercial bus market, we see a sector with strong passenger growth and very competitive prices.
The travelling public, the ordinary public, like what they see.
What they see is more choice, improved frequency, and better fares.
They've voted with their feet and in 2015 passenger numbers on commercial bus services grew by 9.5%, while over the period 2013 to 2015 passenger numbers grew by 13%.
On some corridors passenger growth has been exceptional – Dublin-Cork for example has seen growth of 61%, while Dublin-Limerick has grown by 50%.
Around 23 million people travelled on a commercial bus service in 2015 which means that around 9% of all public transport journeys are now made on commercial buses.
And contrary to some recent commentary this isn't because of a glut of new licenses, in actual fact only 8 licences have issued since 2011 while 11 applications have actually been rejected.
Of course that doesn't mean that the impressive growth in the commercial bus market has not had negative impacts also. I know we have seen some towns and villages lose services as operators seek to alter routes and improve journey time.
And in response the National Transport Authority (NTA) has used its statutory powers to put in place a taxpayer funded service to ensure that public transport connectivity is not lost. That's precisely the point of our PSO subvention - to provide socially necessary but financially unviable services. The NTA has clarified in recent days that it can, and will, step into any area, assess the transport needs and ensure continued public transport connectivity.
It is happy to meet with public representatives to discuss these powers and the things it can do, and has done in the past, in these situations.
Bus Éireann does face a difficult situation. We should not underestimate that. The discussions which the Company has invited trade unions to commence will require consideration of a range of difficult issues. I am however firmly of the belief that difficult issues such as this can only be resolved through open, constructive and realistic engagement between the company and its employees and I encourage both sides to engage constructively on the matter.