Topical Issue Debate on bus market opening

31st March, 2015

I want to thank the Deputies for their raising of this matter and I am glad of the opportunity to brief the Dail on this.


It is disappointing that unions have withdrawn from discussions being facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission, which I understand had been progressing with a number of employee concerns being addressed.


The National Transport Authority has the statutory responsibility under legislation of judging how best to balance direct award and tendered PSO bus services.


The NTA decided in late 2013 that 10% of the existing PSO bus market should be tendered following a wide ranging consultation process.


The NTA was proceeding with the public procurement process while participating in an LRC facilitated process to address CIÉ employee concerns on the implications of this market opening.


These talks have been adjourned following the threat of litigation by the NBRU and Trade Union withdrawal yesterday.  I must reiterate that there has been intensive engagement for some time on employee issues.  It is the Government view that these LRC discussions would allow employee concerns to be addressed satisfactorily.


Indeed there has been a particular focus on facilitating existing employees to remain in either Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann if either company did not succeed in the tendering process.


I understand that strenuous efforts were being made within the talks process to facilitate as many as possible existing employees staying in their respective companies, arising from forecast growth in the PSO market under the Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann direct award contracts.


Introducing competitive tendering has the potential to save taxpayers’ money, encourage cost competiveness and enhance service quality.  The international experience indicates that competitive tendering is beneficial in providing subsidised PSO bus services –  socially necessary, non-commercial bus services.


This year, for the first time since 2008, the level of PSO contribution for bus and rail services is being maintained in 2015 at the same level as the previous year.


I also secured €110 million for public transport as part of the 2014 Supplementary Estimate.  Improved public transport, whether new services or increased frequencies of existing services, will require additional funding.


I believe that our support for improved bus services should be given in conjunction with an appropriate degree of competitive tension within the market, in the interests of quality and cost effectiveness for commuters.  This is why I am committed to the tendering of 10% of bus routes.


I recognise that the Trade Unions have concerns about the impact of our existing legislation post-2019 when the direct award contracts granted to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are due to expire.


I am advised that the legislation, which was enacted by the previous Government, was carefully crafted in accordance with EU law.  This legislation has recently allowed the NTA to renew Bus Éireann’s and Dublin Bus’s direct award contracts subject to arrangements being made for tendering of 10% of the PSO bus market.


However, in light of Trade Union concerns, my Department has recently agreed to seek legal advice on specific aspects of compatibility of our legislation, in relation to the post-2019 scenario,  with the provisions of EU law.  Despite this agreement, the NBRU decided to withdraw from the talks yesterday.


Finally, I should mention that the NTA are satisfied that they have the necessary powers under existing legislation to continue with the tendering process and will defend any threatened litigation by NBRU as necessary.