Wednesday, 5 February 2003
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Wilson: I welcome the Minister, who is having a busy evening. In recent years there has been increased use of the public transport services provided by Bus Éireann and private operators. More people are travelling longer distances to work and commuting daily. During the years private bus operators have provided a valuable service and initiated new routes where CIE was not providing a service. In some cases Bus Éireann subsequently improved services to the areas concerned.
On the N3 from Dublin, through County Meath, into Cavan and on to Donegal, there are a number of private operators providing excellent services. Since 2000 Bus Éireann has provided a valuable service on the hour from Cavan to Dublin commencing at 6 a.m. Changed working patterns, with people returning to public service jobs and increased job opportunities, have resulted in more and more people travelling long distances to work. In County Cavan people travel from Cavan town and further west to Dublin daily to work – primarily in the public service. They avail of predominantly Bus Éireann services.
Apart from those commuting daily to Dublin, more people are using bus services because of increased congestion on our roads and traffic and parking problems in Dublin. People travel to Dublin for hospital appointments, social and business reasons. Students also travel to attend third level colleges. The provision of services supplied by private bus operators introduced new competition to the transport area, as a result of which we now have cheaper fares for the Bus Éireann service from Cavan to Dublin. There was room for both private operators and increased Bus Éireann services.
The withdrawal of the 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Bus Éireann services from Cavan to Dublin is a source of disappointment, frustration and annoyance to many. For those who bought yearly tickets through the public transport tax relief scheme the cessation of the Bus Éireann services poses particular difficulties. While I want to see private bus operators continuing to provide worthwhile services for the people of Cavan, I also want to see an increased level of service from Bus Éireann from Cavan, particularly during the early morning period. By today's standards, Cavan, which is 73 miles from Dublin, is relatively near the city and, instead of reducing services, there is a demand for increased services.
I want a proper balance to be struck between private bus operators and Bus Éireann services. From speaking to people who have availed of Bus Éireann services over the years, I am aware that the staff based at Cavan station are exceptionally dedicated and diligent and have a great commitment to their company. I know many of these individuals personally and I am aware that they go far beyond the call of duty to assist passengers.
I referred to the early morning services previously, but the withdrawal of the 7 p.m. service on Sunday, on the busiest evening of the week, is also posing major difficulties to some students and others who travel back to Dublin. We want action and we want it fairly soon.
Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Dr. McDaid): I thank the Senator for raising this issue, which is a legal matter. My Department received a complaint in August 2000 from a private operator, Park Transport International, that Bus Éireann was competing, contrary to section 25 of the Road Transport Act 1958, with new licensed services that had been introduced in July 2000. Bus Éireann is exempt from licensing under the Road Transport Act 1932. However, the company is bound under section 25(1) of the Transport Act 1958 to seek the consent of the Minister if it wishes to initiate or alter services to compete with a licensed service.
Following lengthy and detailed consideration of the complaint, my Department concluded that Bus Éireann had initiated passenger road services from Cavan to Dublin on Monday to Friday at 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. and a service from Cavan to Dublin on Sunday at 7 p.m., which competed with the licensed passenger road service under licence No. 00021 given to Park Transport International for services on the Cavan to Dublin route, departing Cavan at 6.30 a.m. between Monday and Friday in respect of the stop at Cavan only. It also competed with the licensed passenger road service under licence No. 00022 given to Park Transport International for services on the Killeshandra to Dublin route, departing Cavan at 7 p.m. on Sunday in respect of the stops at Cavan and Virginia only.
The Minister for Transport further concluded that Bus Éireann did not seek or obtain ministerial consent to operate the services complained of and that it was, therefore, in breach of section 25 of the 1958 Act. In reaching this decision, he concluded that informing the Minister or Department of plans for additional services in the context of the national development plan or otherwise did not constitute an application for consent under section 25.
Preliminary notice of the findings of the investigation was forwarded to the company in May 2001. Following receipt and consideration of further documentation from the parties concerned and advice from the Attorney General's office, my Department advised Bus Éireann in January 2002 that it had been found in breach of section 25 of the 1958 Act and that consideration was being given to issuing a direction to it under section 25(3) of the Transport Act 1958 requiring it to cease its aforementioned services. The Department also invited the company's observations.
Following further consideration of the matter, Bus Éireann was advised in November 2002 that it had been found to be in breach of the Transport Act 1958 and was directed to cease the provision of services at the stops in question by 31 December 2002. The company's attention was also drawn to the option of seeking ministerial consent to initiate services in competition with those of a licensed operator.
It was assumed that giving the company over six weeks in which to withdraw services would provide sufficient notice to enable Bus Éireann to advise the public and make an application for consent to operate the services if it so wished. In the event, the company contested the direction. It appears that it did not provide adequate notice to passengers and the Minister has requested details from Bus Éireann of the notice provided to passengers and local staff.
In early January, the company formally requested consent under section 25 of the 1958 Act to operate services from the stops in question. My Department has considered the application for consent from Bus Éireann and sought legal advice from the Attorney General's office before finalising recommendations on this matter. That advice has just been received and the Minister will make a decision as soon as the Department has had an opportunity to consider it.
The Minister is fully aware of the concerns expressed by passengers, Senator Wilson and local representatives to the Department of Transport. Their intentions have been uppermost in mind when trying to resolve this matter. I will advise the Minister of the matters raised here this evening and they will be taken into account as far as possible when making a final decision on the matter. This matter must be dealt with strictly in accordance with the relevant provisions of the law.
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