Bus Eireann Expressway
The Pandemic and the Privatisation agenda
13 October 2020
Citing the coronavirus pandemic as the reason, Bus Eireann has cut express services between Dublin and Cork, Limerick, Galway and Belfast.
Although in this case the usual method is not being used the privatisation agenda is nevertheless being vigorously pursued. In the case of these express services no further issuance of licences was necessary as the privatisation of the routes in question was already well established. The NBRU has pointed out that the “corridors being affected, by this decision, have been well-saturated with licences by the NTA for a number of years.”
Following the collapse in passenger footfall from universities and the airport the private companies operating on these routes withdrew services, while picking up emergency aid along the way, and promptly “disappeared” according to the NBRU, because “there was no market there for them to make their profits.” Only the State owned Bus Eireann was left to provide transport for essential workers.
Now that emergency support for the routes is set to expire in 2021, and the opening of the economy has seen a slight increase in transport usage, the management of Bus Eireann has abandoned these routes to private interests.
The NTA is a body set up under the false pretense of seeking to improve efficiency by introducing competition but which has privatisation as its real objective. In its relatively short life it has succeeded in privatising around 25% of services and an expansion on that figure is central to their agenda. Although tendering was not required this tactical departure is both in keeping with that agenda and is an opportunist attempt to “never let a crisis go to waste.” Private transport interests, which received their share of the additional €460 million in government support during the pandemic, are being prioritised at the expense of the publicly owned transport system.
The NTA's single most essential consideration is profitability, not the provision of a service. The result of the conditions that they have imposed is that the profit metric is well established within Bus Eireann, meaning it is not a 'service' put in place to meet a human need but is entirely profit dependent. In Bus Eireann's own words the consideration cited for withdrawal of the services was “commercial” - that they are running at a loss.
The crisis faced by public transport companies is real however, and this represents an attempt at consolidation of already privatised services at the expense of the State provider. This is ringing alarm bells with workers in Bus Eireann who, despite being 'assured' that no jobs will be lost, find themselves in increasingly precarious employment. The trade union leaders play their role by grumbling loudly and appealing to the Transport Minister, and leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan while accepting his 'assurances' and doing nothing to prepare for the obvious inevitability of further attacks on State transport provision.
Responding to protests that midland towns are being isolated by the cuts Ryan has claimed that “no town will be left behind” but the responsibility for making sure of that will be the NTA who will go through the usual process of tendering and will again use the opportunity to expand on the levels of privatisation. There is no doubt that the crisis will see this process continuing to attempt to shift transport provision towards already existing private services and even the new smaller routes providing local services will become attractive to the corporate vultures as pickings become slimmer. Bus Eireann will continue to be squeezed out as public transport workers face being dumped on inadequate pensions or on the dole.
Safe, Clean and Free
The only way to provide an efficient transport system that incorporates social distancing is by the removal of the profit motive. This is, unsurprisingly, anathema to the main capitalist parties including the thoroughly bourgeois Green Party.
Instead, the Green Party leader enthuses about the private bus companies that “have grown in recent years [and] are doing a good job”. Sanctimoniously lecturing transport unions' over their, frankly pitiful, requests for “the government to intervene” he insists that Bus Eireann is well enough supported, despite the fact they are withdrawing services, and he further adds the caveat that, “I don’t think that precludes us also supporting other companies who provide important public services.” This confirms his commitment to the provision of public subsidies to the multiple private operators on these routes as empty buses still wastefully ply the motorway corridors picking up whatever business is 'generously' conceded by Bus Eireann's withdrawal.
The NTA's 'competitive' capitalist model for public transport is disasterous for the environment, for public health and for transport workers. We need a transport service that is hygenic and free at the point of use, a transport system that will encourage people out of cars in to a public transport that allows for social distancing during the pandemic, is environmentally friendly and is frequent enough to provide the necessary services.
With the growing availability of hydrogen/electric powered vehicles this is easily realisable. The fuel itself can be produced using water and wind power making it completely clean and apart from the costs of the infrastructure very cheap when the profit motive is removed. But for capitalism profits are primary and a clean, healthy environment is very much a secondary consideration. The generation of profits and anarchic capitalist free competition has led to environmental degradation and the novel coronavirus health crisis. The task of cleansing the globe from pollution and disease is clearly reduced to the task which falls to the working class of overthrowing this corrupt and destructive capitalist system.