DONEGAL’S bus and coach operators have warned that their businesses are ‘running on empty’ and urgent Government action is needed to save the sector.
The impact of the coronavirus has been particularly hard on the sector, with the complete collapse of international and domestic tourism and a huge reduction of passenger numbers on scheduled services.
James McGinley operates John McGinley Coaches out of Gortahork. While they continue to provide daily service between West Donegal and Dublin and Inishowen, via Derry, to Dublin, it is a much reduced service.
In Donegal alone, there are up to 1,000 people employed by the sector. The operators are financially struggling and many of their employees
have had to be laid off.
“This week we should have had nine tours plus the usual buses up and down the road. I’m looking out here now at 20 buses staring back at me through the window.
“The government is keen to retain a daily service to Dublin. We give the coaches a deep clean every day while the drivers wipe down al the
time. We have sanitisers on all the buses too. There is very few passengers but we’re using the 65 seat buses to allow plenty of space
for our drivers and passengers alike,” Mr McGinley said.
Bus Feda continues to operate a similar daily service between Donegal and Galway but, again, at a much reduced frequency.
John Halpenny, an operator who represents the sector, said that everyone is really worried about the long term future.
“I’ve been talking to others around the county and many are worried that they won’t be able to get through the crisis. If we are going to
survive then we are need help from government.”
Mr Halpenny explained that many operators borrowed money to buy new coaches to carry Ireland’s tourists around the country.
“With all the tourists cancelling we’ve had to park new buses in the yards. We need an interest-free moratorium on these loans.” he said.
The sector carries 90 per-cent of Donegal’s school bus journeys and Mr Halpenny worries that if some operators go out of business then the
sector won’t be able to provide a normal school service when the crisis ends.
“We need full payment of the school transport contracts for the duration of school closures” he said.
“That way we protect the school bus services and ensure that they are ready to pick up where we left off when this crisis passes.”
“Our operators have very little reserves and in effect, financially our businesses are running on empty. If we are to get through this and
get back to a normal service delivery then we need help from government, on things like getting paid for rural transport and HSE
contracts through the crisis. Assistance would give us income to keep people employed and to survive this together. I’m calling on Donegal’s
councillors, TDs and senators to support the jobs in the sector and protect one of the county’s vital public services,” he said.