Since the beginning of the Covid-19 health emergency, the Government has been clear that continued operation of the public transport sector is important and designated public transport as an “essential service” during the Covid-19 emergency, recognising the importance of keeping the system running especially for carrying essential workers and other passengers making necessary journeys throughout the crisis period.
The introduction of restrictions on public movement and the temporary closure of many workplaces, education centres and leisure and social activities across the country has led to an unprecedented fall in demand for public transport. Nonetheless, public transport has served, and will continue to serve, a vital role in transporting essential workers and in supporting Government’s Roadmap to Reopening Society and Business in the weeks and months ahead.
Public health advices on social distancing are relevant across the public transport sector, and operators are implementing measures to facilitate adequate social distancing measures on-board; this significantly reduces the carrying capacity of public transport services.
While the majority of public transport in Ireland is provided by the publicly-subvented bus and rail services funded through National Transport Authority's (NTA) public service obligation (PSO) programme, the public transport system also includes non-subvented bus services provided on a commercial basis by bus and coach businesses of varying size. I understand that about 90% of the commercial bus operators have suspended their services or are providing significantly reduced services at present.
From my Department's engagement with their representatives, and indeed from the NTA's regular engagement with them throughout the crisis, I understand the very difficult business environment that the commercial bus operators are now dealing with. Indeed, across Government we are acutely aware that the Covid-19 situation presents huge challenges for many business sectors.
That is why we have worked to introduce a wide programme of Government supports for impacted businesses. The range of supports available includes new schemes of wage subsidies, rates waivers, re-start grants, lending facilities, equity injection, and business advisory supports for example. I am engaging with my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation about these matters and am raising with her the concerns and situation of the commercial operators.