I thank the Chair and members of the committee for today's invitation. Currently, Bus Éireann provides more than 220 State-supported, or public service obligation, PSO, routes nationwide. We also have a fully commercial intercity service, Expressway, and we operate the school transport scheme on behalf of the Department of Education. In the 2019-2020 school year more than 120,000 children, including over 14,200 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to schools throughout the country as part of this scheme. This is unparalleled in its scale throughout Europe.
We are in our 35th year. While the last year has been one of the most challenging in our history because of the impact of Covid-19, we are delighted last year to have introduced the single most significant enhancement of public service obligation services, PSOs, with the support of funding from the National Transport Authority through the July stimulus. The link between investment, improved services, higher levels of customer satisfaction, which leads to increased usage is very clear. This type of initiative demonstrates a commitment to maintaining growth in public transport, notwithstanding the current challenges we face during Covid-19.
Our 2,700 employees have been at work throughout this pandemic. They have ensured that essential services continued to be delivered for those who depend on them most. I would like to pay tribute to the dedication of all the employees and many who deliver services on our behalf. These people were very steadfast right throughout the crisis in demonstrating a very strong public service ethos associated with Bus Éireann.
The board and management are very thankful for the ongoing support from the Department of Transport and the Department of Education, the National Transport Authority, NTA and CIÉ and for the very constructive engagements we have with the trade unions which represent many of our staff to ensure safety continues to be at the forefront of everything we do.
In 2019 Bus Éireann carried 89.4 million passenger journeys. It was our highest level since 2008. The company saw a return to profit for the first time in five years. However, in 2020, Covid-19 related drops in passenger demand and public transport capacity restrictions created financial challenges for Bus Éireann. It forced us to take some very difficult decisions on a number of our commercial services. We had to do that to protect the remaining network in the longer term and continue serving more than 150 communities which rely on our Expressway services.
Our commercial services are currently relying on temporary support for the next three months under the commercial bus operator direct award contract but every route needs to be sustainable in the longer term. If there are any issues of connectivity, we liaise very closely with the National Transport Authority, NTA, as it has the ultimate responsibility to assess demand and provide connectivity if it is needed.
We believe Bus Éireann has a central role to play in many of the ten strategic outcomes outlined in the national development plan, so for the convenience of committee members I will make my comments under some of the headings outlined in the plan. The first is compact growth, strengthening rural economies and communities and enhancing regional accessibility. What we would say in that regard is that while the National Transport Authority is responsible for overall connectivity nationwide, we work closely with it to ensure integration of services across our nationwide network. Bus Éireann has the reach and transport skills to participate in any plan which connects Ireland and to support sustainable urban and rural development, efficiently and effectively.
In recent years, we have experienced significant growth in regional cities and towns. In particular, when we have investment that goes in by way of additional fleet and increased frequency. Some examples I cite are that in 2019, we grew city passenger numbers by 50% in Waterford, by 70% on route 220 in Cork and by 60% in Drogheda with a doubling in frequency.
Having the right infrastructure in place for buses to operate efficiently and on time, such as bus priority measures, real time information and ongoing investment in regional roads and motorways is key to incentivising people to make the shift from car to bus. Where infrastructure is in place, the impact is clear. We look forward to planned BusConnects projects sitting under this plan. We see it as a key in transforming bus transport in our cities.
It is essential that sustainable funding is in place for all routes that have a public service obligation and that supply and demand is carefully considered and balanced for routes which require a commercial licence to ensure that these services can become sustainable again when the recovery begins.
We also provide services to more than 1 million people through our free travel scheme. As our population continues to age and grow more generally, demand for our services will increase again. The demand-led school transport scheme we operate on behalf of the Department of Education continues to grow.
We look forward to actively participating in the Department of Education review of the needs of the scheme, including the sustainable transport plans for schools for the future over the coming months.
Under the headings of sustainable mobility and a transition to a low-carbon and climate resilient society that are called out under the national development plan, this year we have confirmed orders for 204 new vehicles and we are making considerable improvements in the transition of our fleet to greener, cleaner, more accessible vehicles. We will not be introducing any diesel-only buses to our city and town fleets. We are beginning the process of switching to hybrid vehicles in our city and town services very soon and that will start in Galway over the next couple of months. For longer routes, we are exploring hydrogen fuel cell power and investing in Euro VI diesel vehicles.
In 2020, we were the first transport company to operate Ireland’s first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in a unique trial between Dublin and Meath. That was led by Hydrogen Mobility Ireland and we plan to add three hydrogen buses on route 103 in Meath in quarter 2 of this year. We are also leading on a project to roll out the electrification of Athlone town services in partnership with the National Transport Authority, NTA, and our company car and van fleet will all be fully electric by 2025. By 2030, half of our fleet will be zero emissions and all diesel vehicles will be at least of Euro VI engine emission standard, which have up to 90% lower emissions than some of our current diesel fleet. We need multi-annual funding commitments to continue. We see them as being critical in ensuring we can deliver on these targets.
In summary, we believe bus and coach transport is highly flexible, safe and demand responsive. It produces much less carbon dioxide per passenger kilometre than the private car, and can increase passenger numbers more rapidly than any other public transport solution. It can do that within a year to 18 months of investment approval. The current national development plan includes very ambitious plans to grow and to green public transport nationally. Both will help to deliver economic recovery post Covid-19. Bus Éireann is looking forward to the opportunities presented by both the growth and the greening of public transport. I thank the committee for its time.