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  • Miriam Maher

Bus Éireann chief warns of possible route closures

Bus Éireann could face further route closures if its extensive survival plan is not fully implemented, according to Chief Executive Ray Hernan.

Speaking at the Resolve Employee Relations Conference in Dublin, he said Bus Éireann will be loss-making again this year, but is targeting a profit of €3.5 million next year if its cost reduction programme is rolled out as planned.

He described the company's "rollercoaster ride" regarding profitability - noting that over its 30 years in existence, Bus Éireann has lost €30m - but half of those losses arose in the last two years alone.

Speaking about loss-making commercial division Expressway, he warned that if a commercial route is losing money it must go.

Mr Hernan acknowledged that philosophy could be "alien in the public service", but was part of a culture change which they would have to accept in the coming years.

He welcomed the recent final agreement with unions to implement key new rosters from 3 December, describing it as a watershed.

He told the conference that prior to the survival plan drivers were paid for nine hours a day but only drove for five hours.

They will now drive for more than seven hours.

He also noted that up to now, bus maintenance was being done during the day when the buses were actually needed - rather than at night or weekends.

He said that there were certain locations where almost half of drivers never worked a Sunday, despite the seven-day mandate or the company.

Because of that, other drivers were coming in on overtime or premium payments to cover those shifts.

Mr Hernan also criticised the "massive union rivalry" between the company's five unions, which he said was not conducive to getting a deal quickly.

He suggested a minority of workers opposed to implementation of the work practice changes might feel that not turning up to work was a way of getting back at management, but stressed that would only damage the company's reputation.

Mr Hernan said he had been relieved rather than delighted to win the tender for Waterford routes last week, but noted that further challenging tenders lie ahead both for Dublin commuter services and the Direct Award tender in 2019.

He revealed that the Waterford tender had factored in future cost projections arising from the current reform programme.

He told the conference that they had not been the cheapest but were "there or thereabouts".  However if they were not implementing their change programme, they would not be able to successfully tender for routes now being out to open competition.

He also said every business should make some profit for delivering on targets, stressing that the company earns "zero" profit from the provision of Public Service Obligation services.

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