Dublin bus operator Go-Ahead Ireland and several other public transport providers are experiencing “higher-than-normal” levels of Covid-related staff absences, the Dáil has heard.
Hildegarde Naughton, Minister of State at the Department of Transport, said there has been a “knock-on effect” on service delivery with some routes not operating as scheduled.
Ms Naughton was responding on Thursday to Sinn Féin TD John Brady, who said people in his constituency of Wicklow had been “left abandoned at bus stops” because of Go-Ahead services being cancelled at late notice.
“It’s now developed into a situation where people will not use those particular [bus] routes because they cannot rely on them and people are resorting back into the car,” Mr Brady said.
“To say the privatisation has been a fiasco is an absolute understatement.”
Go-Ahead operates a number of Dublin city bus routes, having taken them over from Dublin Bus in 2018. It also operates some commuter routes in Dublin, Kildare and Offaly.
Mr Brady said prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the “excuse” from Go-Ahead Ireland in relation to poor services was there was “a bedding-in period”.
“Over the last two years and right up until this current moment in time, the excuse is down to Covid, that staff are missing or whatever,” he said.
“But clearly there are staffing issues within Go-Ahead that is resulting in the poor service that is being provided and that is fundamentally down to pay and conditions that are being offered to drivers.
“Drivers are being trained and then quickly leave . . . which has resulted in a continuous recruitment campaign by Go-Ahead to recruit new drivers . . . only subsequently for them to move on.
“So there seems to be this perpetual failure to provide a public service for bus users and potential bus users certainly in my constituency . . . it has certainly now got to a point where it is unsustainable.”
The Sinn Féin TD said there had been incidents in his constituency recently where teenagers had been left stranded after the last two buses along the 185 route never showed up, resulting in them having to walk from Bray to Enniskerry, along a “dangerous stretch of road”.
“It’s now got to a point where it’s putting members of the public safety at risk.”
In response, Ms Naughton said the pandemic had a “significant impact” on the staff of the various public transport operators, with absences fluctuating “as each new wave of the virus spread across the population”.
“Unfortunately Go-Ahead Ireland, in addition to a number of other public transport providers, is experiencing higher-than-normal levels of Covid related staff absences at present,” she said.
“As a result of these higher levels of staff absenteeism across the transport network, there has been a knock-on effect on service delivery resulting in some services not operating as scheduled.
“The NTA [National Transport Authority] have advised that all public transport operators experiencing this issue are endeavoring to ensure that the first and last scheduled services operate as planned and that consecutive bus services are not curtailed or canceled whenever possible,” she said.
“The NTA have further advised that all public transport operators have been working hard to recruit additional staff for some months and as a result, staff levels are beginning to improve gradually.”