I propose to take Questions Nos. 657 to 659, inclusive, together.
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.
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. In this context, the NTA is engaging directly with both PSO and commercial transport operators. My Department is also engaging directly with PSO and commercial operators to help inform policy decisions in relation to the public transport sector as we progress through the various phases of the 'Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business'.
I understand the very difficult business environment that the bus and coach sector are now dealing with. Indeed, across Government we are acutely aware that the COVID-19 situation presents huge challenges for very many business sectors. That is why we have worked to introduce a wide programme of Government supports for impacted businesses. The Restart Grant support is just one part of the wider €12bn package of supports for firms of all sizes, which include the wage subsidy scheme, the pandemic unemployment payment for the self-employed, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities, all of which will help to improve cashflow amongst SMEs.
I am also engaging with my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation about these matters and am raising with her the concerns and situation of commercial bus operators.