I thank the Minister of State. I want to raise the important issue of the fuel concerns affecting all sectors in the road transport sector in Ireland, in particular smaller private bus operators. There is not a community in Ireland that is not serviced by the work undertaken by many coach hire companies. The work they do to promote tourism is very much appreciated throughout rural Ireland, as is the work they do with sporting clubs and other organisations in our communities that heavily rely on the private bus sector.
It is important to mention that millions of road journeys are provided annually in Ireland because of the coach hire business in terms of school runs. We have to acknowledge that the sector has a significant role to play in reducing traffic on our roads and encouraging people to transition to public transport. The sector is under particular pressure at the moment when it comes to increasing fuel costs.
As the Minister of State might be aware, 90% of school transport routes in the country are provided by private bus operators on behalf of Bus Éireann. However, the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland, CTTC, recently conducted a survey which showed that 95% of school transport providers cannot guarantee provision of transport for students up to June without some degree of subvention. I wanted to mention this, which was brought to my attention by the representative body for coach tourism and operators around the country, for the information of the House. That gives us an indication of how serious this particular issue is.
Progress was recently made, which was very welcome and was brought about by the hard work of the Road Haulage Association. I want to compliment its president, Eugene Drennan, and the officials working in that organisation for the efforts they have secured from Government and I want to thank the Government for coming to the table in that regard.
However, we need to do more for coach and bus operators around the country. more than 11,000 people are directly employed in the sector and it contributes over €600 million to our economy on an annual basis. When it comes to tourism and school transport, it is absolutely essential. The Government has to do more. I sincerely hope that in the absence of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, departmental officials are listening to my contribution. I will raise this issue directly with him on his return and I ask the Minister of State to bring my contribution to his attention.
I would appreciate if the Department can take into account just how hard fuel prices are hitting smaller operators, that is, those who have fewer than 20 vehicles in their fleet. No matter what parish we go to in the country, we will always find at least one, if not many, coach companies. The Government should identify this as an issue and work specifically with the sector.
I welcome the fact that meetings with the CTTC and the Government will take place in the coming days. Overall, we must provide additional supports similar to those currently in place for the haulage sector, such as a direct subvention on a temporary basis. We need to recognise that we are now in a war situation internationally and we need to make sure that we look after this sector which, quite frankly, was thriving before the pandemic. Unfortunately, the industry was hit by the pandemic and is now being hit by high fuel prices.
The price of a barrel of oil has stabilised but unfortunately it is still high. Supply is outstripping demand, but it is only a matter of time before we return to the situation that pertained three or four weeks ago. That is highly concerning. The Government needs to act urgently.