I thank the Members for raising this important issue. First, it must be stated that I have no personal or ministerial power when it comes to bus routes and route frequencies operated by Bus Éireann. The provision of bus services and the routes they take are operational matters for the company management in conjunction with the National Transport Authority, NTA, which is the licensing and regulatory body for public transport. However, as the Government is the sole shareholder in the CIE companies, the re-design of this and other Bus Éireann routes is something of which I am aware and in which I am interested, so I have made inquiries with the company on the matter.
Bus Éireann operate a mix of services. Some of these services are commercial. These include school transport and Expressway which competes on the open market with private operators. The company also operates public service obligation, PSO, services. This PSO payment is made for the company to carry out important and necessary bus services which would not be viable were they to rely on commercial revenue alone. Expressway services do not receive a subsidy, either directly or indirectly. Bus Éireann's services are not as direct as their competitors and, due to that and the recession, Expressway has lost passengers and revenue as customers have opted for private providers who operate a faster service by bypassing smaller population centres. In order to gain competitiveness and achieve a break-even position, Bus Éireann had to re-design its Expressway services.
I appreciate that changes to the bus services will inconvenience some passengers. Given the financial position that Bus Éireann and the CIE companies are in, however, there is no alternative for the companies but to ensure that commercial operations operate on a commercial footing, and that means following the routes that most passengers want.
Rural transport is a critical component of public transport services and it is vital for the development of a fully inclusive society, both from a social and economic perspective. In January last, the Government approved new arrangements for the development and implementation of integrated local and rural transport services. It was decided that the NTA would be assigned national responsibility for local and rural transport services integration, including the rural transport programme, RTP, and this has been effective since 1 April 2012. This new role for the NTA coupled with its existing national remit for securing the provision of public passenger transport services will enable the development of better links between local and rural services and scheduled bus and rail services. This is something which is fundamental to a wholly integrated transport network.
Local integration working groups have been established in some areas while in others RTP groups have been working informally with potential partners to identify transport integration opportunities. Work has commenced on the inclusion of the RTP services in the national journey planner and on the inclusion of RTP and school transport services in reviews of public transport services being undertaken by the NTA in the South-Eastern Regional Authority area, in the Border, Midland and West area and in the South and Mid-West area. Consideration of RTP services in these reviews will serve to highlight transport needs and offer opportunities for integration.
The integration process is set to achieve the efficiencies required in the face of the challenging fiscal climate in which the country finds itself. Some of the challenges involved in the integration process are quite complex, involve multiple players and involve matters not always within our control. Integration can deliver a more complete and cost-effective transport service in local and rural areas that better meets the transport demands of all users.
As I have indicated, Bus Éireann must ensure it meets the customer demand for limited stop services with quicker journey times in order that Expressway services are commercially viable. Failure to react to this market demand would result in a loss of Expressway services altogether. I appreciate the concerns of Deputies with regard to the impact on certain passengers arising from the re-design of certain Expressway routes and I have asked the chief executive of Bus Éireann to meet Oireachtas Members and brief them personally on the changes to services in the north-west.
I will also direct the NTA, in its ongoing reviews of the PSO services, to take account of those places that will no longer be served by commercial services. It should be noted that future cuts to the level of subvention for PSO public bus services will limit the scope for any new or additional services.