Private bus and coach operators provide hundreds of bus services to the public all over the country.
The advantages of private operators providing public transport services are manifold:
• Private operators usually provide a better service than the State companies because if they don't they will go out of business.
• Private operators get no subsidy from the State, even though they are often competing with the State companies that receive tens of millions of euro per year from the taxpayer.
• Private operators often create services where the State companies have no interest. Take, for example, Burke's Bus that connects Ballinrobe, Kilmaine and Shrule in Co. Mayo with Galway city; Bernard Kavanagh & Sons that connect Roscrea and Urlingforrd.
Private coach and bus companies are often accused of 'cherrypicking', by those who lack an understanding of Ireland's public transport system. Since 1932, the State has made every effort to prohibit private companies from providing public transport services. By the time private operators got a foothold in the industry, the ‘cherries’ were all picked. Every inter-urban route in Ireland and every route in the capital city was taken by the State companies. The private operators were left with the crumbs and without subsidy, yet still managed to get a foothold in the industry, and continue to provide better services that are cost effective.
In addition, the CTTC has consistently called for access to the Public Service Obligation (PSO) part of the public transport mix. This would allow us to operate the unprofitable, but socially-necessary, services that the 'cherrypicking' viewpoint says we would avoid.
The CTTC believes private bus companies could save the State around €50m per year if PSO routes were tendered among all bus companies.
The 2009 Public Transport Regulation Act provided some hope that the State monopolies would be dissolved, but to date there has been no change. The National Transport Authority (NTA) has the power to award PSO contracts to private operators, but has not done so yet.
The McCarthy reports have suggested selling parts of Dublin Bus and parts of Bus Eireann, and questioned why the State should spend money on competing with the private sector, but there is no sign that these recommendations will be implemented.
The 2011 general election saw Fine Gael come to power promising among other things: "We will completely overhaul the bus market in Ireland by introducing competitive tendering for all bus routes in the country as soon as practicably possible. More operators will provide more routes and services to the public and at a cheaper cost to the taxpayer and passenger.”
This gave us good reason to be optimistic about the future of public transport in Ireland, however, shortly after becoming Transport Minister, Leo Varadkar said: "Labour would take a different view on that issue and that has to be respected." So, it is unsure what outcomes we can expect in the next couple of years.
There has been some light at the end of the tunnel recently from the National Transport Authority, to amend Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann contracts in 2016, to allow 10% of nominated services to be procured through an open tender process.
• The CTTC does not want large scale privatising, commercial monopolies, or ‘cherrypicking’.
• We do not want de-regulation; we want better regulation.
• We want to see full transparency of State funding of State bus companies.
• We propose a phased and controlled reallocation of PSO routes.
• We advocate the recommendations of the McCarthy report on State Assets that said: “Expressway and other bus businesses competing directly with private operators should be disposed of.”
• All bus operators should have access to publicly funded bus stations.