"Urgent need" to address bus mechanic shortage as service cancellations in Meath continue

Sinn Féin TD for Meath East Darren O'Rourke says there is an urgent need to address the shortage of bus mechanics at Bus Éireann's Broadstone Depot as cancellations to Meath bus services remain all too common.

Teachta O'Rourke made the comments after Bus Éireann presented before the Oireachtas Committee on Transport last week and in the wake of further local service cancellations at the weekend.

He said;

"Huge numbers of people across Co. Meath depend on our public bus services but they are let down far too often. This weekend alone, we saw a number cancellations on the 103 route on Sunday, for example, when lots of people might have wanted to get the bus into the city for matches and other events.

"We know that there are shortages of drivers and mechanics across the country. There were times in 2023 when this caused major problems on services in Co. Meath in particular. We saw service cancellations on practically every route in the county. "

O' Rourke said that Bus Éireann responded with a contingency plan which remains in place and, while far from perfect, it did improve things. He said it is clear, however, following Bus Éireann's attendance at the Oireachtas Committee on Transport last week, that the shortage of mechanics at Broadstone Depot remains a significant problem and is still contributing to bus service cancellations in Meath.

"Responding to questions from me, Bus Éireann's Chief People Officer, Jean O'Sullivan, confirmed that there are 6 vacancies at Broadstone out of a complement of approximately 30," said the Sinn Fein TD.

"Chief Executive Stephen Kent went on to confirm that each mechanic is responsible for approximately 7 buses per day and that the shortage continues to impact on the company's ability to deliver services."

Bus Éireann and other bus operators were before the Oireachtas Transport Committee to outline the challenges facing the sector. Bus Éireann said mechanic shortages are particularly acute in Cork and Dublin and that, while they improved the pay for mechanics in January and continue to recruit at home and abroad, the cost and availability of housing is a barrier. They also said that it will be difficult to meet service standards while the positions remain unfilled.

"Bus Éireann said there is a need for a co-ordinated approach to address the shortage, involving state agencies such as the Education and Training Boards, Solas and the National Apprenticeship Office. This needs to happen," said Teachta O'Rourke.

"While driver shortages in Broadstone aren't a problem at the minute, they have been in the past and may well be again in the not-too-distant future. Bus Éireann estimate that they will need to recruit in excess of 2,000 drivers in the next 3 years, due to retirements and service expansion.

"It is very clear that we need an urgent and comprehensive response to the shortages within the sector. In the first instance, this means addressing the mechanic shortage at Broadstone. Until that happens, commuters in Co. Meath will not have the public bus services that they need or deserve."