Both the National Transport Authority (NTA) and my Department have been engaging directly with commercial bus operators throughout the Covid-19 Emergency. The public transport system in Ireland has played an essential service role over the course of the pandemic, especially in carrying essential workers and others making necessary journeys.
In this regard, the Government agreed substantial increases to the PSO budget to support continuation of PSO services during the Covid situation in 2020 and 2021. In addition, the Government has recognised the situation of the licenced bus sector - which normally operates on a commercial basis without public subvention but which, during the Covid crisis, was in a situation where its operations were no longer commercially viable, owing to the impact of Covid-19 on passenger numbers and the associated drop in fare revenue.
Therefore, last June the Government decided to introduce new, temporary financial support for certain licensed services provided by commercial bus operators to ensure the continued operation of these essential services. The temporary support was initially introduced for a period of 6 months, with a view to protecting capacity across the public transport sector throughout the crisis. The NTA on behalf of my Department, entered into contracts with the licensed bus sector to provide funding for routes where a clear public interest justification supports such intervention. A total of 64 licensed commercial operators throughout the country are being assisted under this scheme.
As it remains the case that commercial bus operators are still under severe financial distress due to the fall in passenger numbers and associated drop in fare revenue as a result of Covid-19, on 26 January 2021, Government decided to extend the temporary funding supports for the licensed bus sector for a further period of 3 months, with an option to extend contracts on a monthly basis thereafter.
These supports are in addition to the suite of other financial support measures that the Government has introduced to help mitigate the impact of Covid-19, including the pandemic unemployment payment which operators can avail of and which remains open to new applicants until the end of March 2021 and the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme, or ‘CRSS’, which offers temporary sector-specific support to businesses forced to close or trade at significantly reduced levels due to Covid-19 of up to €5,000 per week.
A full list of enterprise measures is available on the website of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.