Reform is what I look forward to seeing and in the context of reform of the CIE group, it has been obliged to confront a difficult economic position. As with most businesses sectors in the State, the current economic environment is very challenging for public transport providers. One is told the primary cause of the problem is the recession, which has caused a fall of more than 20% in passenger numbers from the peak in 2007. While this has been partially offset by fare increases, revenue is down by more than 11% from the 2008 level. I can tell the Minister that revenue also has fallen by far more, by between 50% and 60%, for many of the private operators. In this case, the public service obligation, PSO, subvention has reduced by 21% between 2008 and 2012 and is due to fall by a further 14% over the next two years. The removal of the fuel rebate is estimated to have cost the group approximately €22 million. However, that has cost all road users, and certainly all transport providers and hauliers, to the same degree. It was announced in this week's budget that a rebate would be introduced for road hauliers but the rate was not indicated. On pressing the Minister last night, it was found that the private road transport providers, that is, private bus companies, will not be included. This rebate should be applied fairly and should be given to everyone who provide such services.
The Minister stated:
While the CIE group reported surpluses in each year [of the boom when we all were going crazy] from 2006 to 2008, 2007 was the only year in the period 2006 to 2011 in which the group generated a surplus when the gains from the disposal of fixed assets were excluded, that is, the sale of property. In the past three years, 2009 to 2011, CIE suffered a total loss of more than €137 million after exceptional items. Clearly, this level of loss cannot be sustained.
I welcome these comments and I also welcome the comments he made publicly some time ago to the effect that this issue must be dealt with and is not a bottomless pit. As I noted earlier, there are many areas for reform. To revert to Coras Iompair Éireann and the various organisations therein, in the main I must compliment its workers and staff, including the outdoor workers on the rail lines and everything else. They have been proud, honourable and courteous and did an honest day's work and provided the services. However, at the top of the organisation, something is rotten in the state of Denmark, which appears to have been a problem across our society. Whatever about those out on the front line in the more challenging areas, the board has much to answer for because its auditors had been warning the board about dangers coming down the line. I question whether the board members listened to that warning. Did everyone get carried away in the three or four years of the boom and think there would be no tomorrow and that CIE also would be affected?
In addition, I have raised a case in the House recently concerning a compulsory purchase order, CPO, that affected a landowner in County Tipperary. While I admit the family concerned approached me late in the day, I believe three alternatives existed for CIE to engage with the aforementioned landowner, rather than placing a compulsory purchase order on his land, locking his gates and locking him out of it. Swaps could have been carried out or other mutual arrangements and three different options existed. I must state that I met a wall of arrogance from officials. They would not meet me, either alone or with the family, and would not engage. I pointed out I was a public representative from south Tipperary, for the time being, but it did not matter as they did not wish to know. This must be dealt with, as such people must be accountable. The State is putting in public money to the group and they must be accountable and must have respect for Members of this House and for others. I was appalled by such a level and I encountered a complete roadblock. I was told the compulsory purchase order would be signed on a certain date, which it was, with the result that the land was cut off from the man. However, it did not make sense because mutual arrangements and swaps could have been entered into for a lot less money and it was a pity that reason could not be seen. One cannot have such a bureaucratic group that will not engage with public representatives and this message must be sent to it loud and clear. However, are they listening or are these people part of the permanent government who consider that no matter who is in charge or elected to this House, they are a greater power? That is how it appears to me. They think the likes of me as a public representative is only here for a while and will be gone after the next election and that they can carry on. This is what has happened to this country in respect of many Departments but it is not good enough and cannot be accepted.
A situation has arisen with Bus Éireann in my native county and I have been contacted by Councillor Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan dozens of times about the Carrick-on-Suir to Dublin service. People are completely unsure as to what will happen to it, as it faces a threat of being reduced from eight to two services per day. If one considers the budget announced this week and all the talk about it being an austerity budget, it was mentioned several times that people could use public transport. However, it is not available and even the parts that are available are being removed. In this context, I refer to the increase in tax rates for cars with low CO2 emissions and the breach of faith with the members of the public, who greeted the original initiative with gusto. They upgraded by buying cleaner and leaner new cars to avail of the low tax, only to experience this complete breach of faith.
The Minister is as aware as I am that the public transport is not there. It is the same with the Clonmel to Dublin route, where there is uncertainty, and but for private operators we would have basically no service. The Cahir and Clogheen to Cork route has had services removed without engagement. The bus stop had a laminated A4 sheet left on it; I have a picture of such a notice at Hopkinsrea in Burncourt indicating that the bus stop would no longer be in use after two weeks. The notice was left fading and blowing in the wind. That is not good enough.
We had the same problem when the new M8 was opened. We fought for years to get a bus to stop in New Inn and we achieved that goal. When the motorway was opened, the bus went along the motorway and the company forgot about the people of New Inn. Before the bus stopped in the village, the people had to travel to Cahir or Cashel to get the bus. We cannot carry on like that.
Railway stations are an untapped resource. I have fond memories of bringing beet into Cahir when there was many staff and much activity but the station is now idle. There is a waiting room if people want to avail of the few services that are left. Entrepreneurs have contacted me over the past number of years with businesses ideally suited to that building but there was no engagement with CIE. Railway stations are lovely, protected listed buildings but they are idle. I commend the station master, who has passed away, and his wife, who still lives there, for the way the property and area has been kept. The buildings are big and accessible but they are left idle, with cobwebs and crows flying through them. That resource is being squandered by the incompetence of management, who did not become swift, thrifty or innovative in their business and thought the Government would continue to pump money into the company.
I am very involved with rural transport. I have not determined if the cuts will be €10 million or €11 million but there is much voluntary engagement in the likes of Ring a Link in Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary. I am chairperson of the south Tipperary working group but there are three. There is a voluntary board, a manager in Mr. Jackie Mealy and bus drivers. They bring pleasure, sustenance and benefit to passengers. I could give quotes from letters, and we launched a book with such letters. One lady said it was like opening the gates of Mountjoy and releasing her because the bus could pick her up at her house and bring her home. She could book the service on-line by giving a time and date. I salute the board members and staff.
Why should these people be worried about funding? We gave more than €10 million to Derry Airport in 2011, although I am not against such funding going to the airport. When the McCarthy report was published, it recommended the closure of rural transport, despite us working tirelessly for it. I commend the people doing the groundwork, including a number of clergy involved in my area. Our county is a showcase, as passenger numbers are large and we provide value for money. We are pruning services that are not cost-effective. Our service should be expanded and we must allow it to flourish.
There is rural transport in most counties but I have been contacted by a lady from just outside Tallaght in Dublin. She availed of a service but that is being discontinued. She is almost in Tallaght - she can see it from where she lives - but now she may as well be in Donegal because there is no service and she must ring a taxi. The Minister would know the geography of Dublin better than me, as I only drive through the area. This is a proud Tipperary woman who has lived in Dublin for 40 years. She fought for a service and got it but now it has been stopped with the stroke of a pen because the group in east Wicklow was not able to oblige her any longer. I would not blame the group as it must rein in its budget too.
There are many questions to be asked of the senior management and board and about their behaviour over the years. We should examine the costs of consultants, fees and junkets over the years, leaving the ordinary people last to get anything. They are first to be hammered.
I offer sympathies on what happened yesterday. I happened to be on the street close to where the incident involving the bus occurred. It is awful as somebody died, which is unfortunate for the person's family and the bus driver and passengers. Bus drivers have many trips to complete every day and they have a safe record, in fairness. Although accidents happen, it was unfortunate for the bus driver, passengers and colleagues.