CTTC gives a Cautious welcome to Minister Ross’s final gesture for Scheduled Service Operators

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*Assessment of the Covid-19 issues facing the Private Bus & Coach Sector in Ireland Report published

The Coach Tourism & Transport Council of Ireland (CTTC) has welcomed the outgoing Minister for Transport, Shane Ross’ move to put in place temporary funding supports for bus companies operating scheduled services. This Government assistance came following a Report published by the CTTC  outlining how a reduction of 95% in passenger numbers could decimate the sector.   

Scheduled bus service operators are essential in areas that are not covered by existing public service obligation bus or rail services. The measures introduced by the outgoing Minister will assist essential operators which are under severe financial pressure due to the catastrophic changes brought about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

John Halpenny, Chairman of the CTTC, commented: “We are delighted to learn of Minister Ross’ move to support the sector during a very challenging time for operators. The CTTC has been extensively lobbying politicians and officials for some time which has had a clear impact as our efforts have helped deliver tangible results for scheduled service operators and, by extension, their passengers.”

“Overall, this package recognises the essential connectivity private bus operators provide and the integral part played in Ireland’s transport provision. It is a positive first step by the Minister and we now look forward to seeing flesh on the bones of commitment and understanding fully the mechanics of how this support package will work.”

“The sector faces a myriad of challenges over the next 18 months with reduced capacity due to social distancing, limited international visitors as a consequence of quarantining rules and depleted consumer confidence. Sustaining services in the face of the foregoing will prove dreadfully difficult but our members remain committed to safely delivering the essential connectivity that Ireland needs at this time.”

In a further development, leading economist, Jim Power, compiled the Report which makes for stark reading. Some of the key findings in the Assessment of the Covid-19 issues facing the Private Bus & Coach Sector in Ireland include:

  • COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on the main areas of activity of the private bus and coach industry since March.
  • Turnover has declined 95% which equates to a €586 million loss.
  • Without significant assistance from Government, many operators will not survive.
  • Market distortion and unfair competition is adversely impacting the sector with public services subsidised by the State and official Government advice that people should stay off buses.
  • Regional and rural economies are disproportionately affected as bus and coach operators provide significant regional employment, service the transport needs of rural towns; transport children from rural areas to schools; and transport many tourists to the various attractions all over the country.

“The bus and coach sector in Ireland is facing an existential crisis with operators revenues collapsing, members cash flow abruptly cut off, reserves depleted and the prospect of insolvency facing many. Our concerns are further compounded by the fact that public confidence is badly shaken by the pandemic so it will take some period of time before we see a degree of normality resume. It appears certain that without significant assistance and intervention from Government, many operators will simply not survive,” added John Halpenny.

The CTTC has called for the recommendations brought forward in the Report to be acted on without delay in order to bring support to the frontline. Among those made include:

A Financial Support Mechanism based on self-certified turnover for 2019. A subsidy of 17% of a company’s revenue would be claimed by each operator, amounting to a total injection of €32 million over a nine month period. A further €140 million for commercial services should be provided to maintain services at pre-COVID-19 levels.

Retention of the wage subsidy scheme until 2021 or when turnover returns to 75%.

Forbearance/moratorium by financial institutions to be extended.

Recalibration of the Government’s Credit Guarantee scheme to permit applications for refinancing of loans. 

Clarification of the 2-metre social distancing rule and quarantine requirements subject to health considerations and international best practice.

That the Department of Education could consider a recommendation on the wearing of face masks in order to increase capacity on school buses.

Concluding, John said: “It is clear that the business environment for bus and coach operators will be extremely challenging over the next 18 months with the sector having to deal with reduced capacity due to social distancing, limited international travel as a consequence of quarantining rules and depleted consumer confidence. Sustaining services in the face of the foregoing will prove dreadfully difficult as most routes will be completely unviable which will result in severe disruption to passengers.”

“This begs the questions who will service areas State operators will not venture into? Who will spend large budgets advertising Ireland as a destination to international visitors and help deliver a product that lends itself to delivering 2.2 million tourists per year?”.

“Our members stand ready to help tourism re-build, run adequate scheduled services, and satisfy the demand for private bus hire but without state support many of them will simply not be around. Private bus operators keep Ireland moving so it is essential direct Government intervention is forthcoming to save the sector and all those who depend on it.”

*Jim Power’s Assessment of the Covid-19 issues facing the Private Bus & Coach Sector in Ireland Report can be seen in full on www.cttc.ie