Bus Éireann expansion key to connectivity across Ireland
Ireland’s national bus operator is in the midst of completing the biggest enhancement to services in years. CEO Stephen Kent, explains how Bus Éireann has turned things around and outlines the sustainable steps it is now taking.
Bus Éireann is delighted to be expanding its network across Ireland, despite recent challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As Ireland’s national bus company, and the largest public transport operator in the country outside Dublin, it is crucial that we grow our services to meet the demands of a growing population, expand the choice of public transport to a greater number of people across Ireland and do this in a sustainable and professional manner. In the coming months and years, we will play a key role in the rollout of Bus Connects – the plan to improve greatly improve bus services in Irish cities.
Turning things around
In 2019, prior to COVID-19, Bus Éireann saw a return to profit for the first time in five years. This was after a number of challenging years for the company which we addressed through the successful implementation of over 60 business transformation measures. That year we carried 89.4m passengers and the 47.3m road passengers carried was our highest level since 2008, and a 65 per cent increase since 2013. We provide connectivity for local economies by providing services for those commuting to and from work, leisure and tourism travel and our recent performance statistics are encouraging for our future plans.
In 2020 and 2021, Bus Éireann has played an essential role in maintaining services during COVID-19. Many of our services are used daily by frontline workers to commute to and from hospitals and other essential workplaces. Our passengers also use our services to access essential services including retail, medical and education. It has been a huge challenge that our employees have faced with determination and I am very proud of their efforts. Bus Éireann would not be the company that it is without the 2,700 strong team we have nationwide.
The biggest expansion in years
In 2020, we announced the most significant single enhancement of services in more than 15 years. In total, the expansion of services will contribute to an additional three million kilometres of journeys per year nationwide and combines a mix of new routes and increased frequency on existing routes. This expansion was funded by the National Transport Authority through a Government Stimulus package, and was a very welcome vote of confidence in the importance of public transport.
In partnership with the National Transport Authority, we have rolled out services in towns that have experienced significant growth in recent years, with a specific focus on linking residential areas with areas of work. Our experience has shown that investment in the level of public transport service provision will lead to a strong increase in passenger numbers. Our aim is to not only increase the choice for people making short commutes, but to actively entice people onto public transport. This is key to a sustainable future in Ireland. Every new passenger on the public transport system eliminates a private journey.
As the national bus company, Bus Éireann has the capacity to significantly contribute to Ireland’s efforts to reduce emissions and create more sustainable communities. We are shifting towards low emission vehicles, expanding our passenger base and increasing the connectivity of communities across the country. We are shrinking the need for individual journeys which can be done by enhanced services, increase confidence in our services and reliability.
At Bus Éireann we have ambitious plans for greening our fleet. We are making considerable improvements in the transition of our fleet to greener, cleaner, more accessible vehicles and are beginning the process of switching to hybrid vehicles in our city and town services. By 2030, half of our fleet will be zero emissions and all diesel vehicles will be at least of Euro VI engine emission standard, with up to 90 per cent lower emissions than some of our current diesel fleet. Multi-annual funding commitments are critical to ensuring that we can deliver on these targets.
We know from experience that investment in services is quickly followed by growth, which is why this current and ongoing expansion is so important. All this expansion co-exists alongside our other services, such as the School Transport Scheme, which we operate on behalf of the Department of Education and through which we transport thousands of children each day, as well as our 16 intercity Expressway routes which are operated on a fully commercial basis. Although COVID-19 has presented challenges for all commercial services, including Expressway, we are committed to the future of our commercial business and in the first half of 2021 are investing significantly in new fleet and technology to strengthen our customer experience.
As we continue our growth, it is worth noting that our turnaround did not happen overnight or by accident. We are continuing on an ambitious path of transformation, one of the most ambitious transformation processes in a public sector company since the foundation of State. The evidence to date shows we can continue to grow and improve and offer better services, with less environmental impact, while at the same time benefiting more people.
Prior to his appointment as Chief Executive Officer in November 2018, Stephen Kent was appointed as Acting CEO in Autumn 2018, having previously served as Chief Commercial Officer since joining Bus Éireann in 2013.
Stephen joined from C&C Group where he was Sales and Marketing Director, and previously worked in a number of senior management roles in Waterford Crystal and Waterford Foods . Stephen holds a BBS from the University of Limerick and MBA from Herriot Watt University and is also a graduate of the Marketing Institute of Ireland.