I propose to take Questions Nos. 152, 229, 230 and 271 together.
As Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.
My Department has been engaging directly with the Coach Tourism & Transport Council of Ireland (CTTC) on a regular basis in relation to the impact of Covid-19 on the public transport sector. Formal meetings took place between the Department and the CTTC on: 20/05, 27/05, 03/06, 10/06 and 26/06 and a further meeting is scheduled for 17 July. There has also been extensive informal engagement with the commercial bus sector both by the Department and by the National Transport Authority (NTA).
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.
It is critical for the sector to be functioning so that it can carry the passengers that we need to return to work and to other activities as they re-open. Many of these operators provide essential transport services for people who need to get to work and are vital to ensure economic recovery.
For that reason, I am pleased to advise the Deputies that on 25 June the Government approved temporary funding supports, in accordance with EU and national legislation, for the licensed bus sector. These supports are aimed at ensuring the continued operation of essential licensed bus services for a period of up to six months. The package will be restricted to operators where a clear public interest justification supports such intervention and will be targeted at compensating the gap between specified costs and the revenues generated on the services. The NTA, as the public transport licensing agency, is responsible for administering funding support through the establishment of contracts between the NTA and the relevant operators.
This is, of course, additional to the wider programme of Government supports for impacted businesses were introduced, including new schemes of wage subsidies, rates waivers, re-start grants, lending facilities, equity injection, and business advisory supports for example. Consideration of projects to be included in the July Stimulus Plan will be taken by Government shortly.
With the commencement of Phase 3 of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business on 29 June 2020, changes to the existing public transport social distancing restrictions were agreed, allowing a move from 2 metres social distancing to utilising 50% of the passenger-carrying capacity of fleet. This will help to underpin public transport services provided by both public and commercial licensed operators during these unprecedented times, with a view to safeguarding public transport capacity in Phases 3 and 4 of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business.
Alongside this change, the wearing of a face covering when using public transport is now mandatory, with the exception of those who cannot do so for health reasons or due to young age.