Covid-19 has swept across our nation showing absolutely no mercy. Some industries have been more affected than others, while many have had to come to an abrupt stop. With travel restrictions and socially distanced measures in place, the transport industry has had a particularly difficult time attempting to navigate their way through this epidemic.
While navigation is something bus drivers are generally skilled at, the practice of finding their way has been made impossible according to one bus company owner from Thurles in Co. Tipperary.
Jerry Ryan, of Jerry Ryan Jnr Coaches has been in operation for over 30 years. For the first time since opening Mr Ryan’s 22 buses have been parked up for over four months, officially closing shop on the 12th of March.
“COVID-19 as affected our business 100%.We have no business. We have no busses running. Everything is powered off since the 12th of March”, said Mr Ryan.
The Tipperary man voiced his concern surrounding the lack of clarity the travel industry has been provided throughout the epidemic.
“At this very moment, on the 10th of June, we know absolutely nothing. The Department of Transport has told us nothing. We don’t know when we’re going back to school. We don’t know when school buses are back operating and we don’t know that there will be summer camps on in the month of August. We simply don’t know”, he went on to add that “The Department of Transport has all the operators in Ireland in limbo at the moment”.
With recent speculations around an adjustment of the currently two-meter social distance rule to be reduced to one meter, Mr Ryan maintains it won’t be enough to keep his business afloat.
“We don’t know exactly how long social distance measures are going to go on for. If they brought the two-meter back to one meter it mightn’t be so bad” he said, however, abiding by a possible one-meter rule would still mean only 15 pupils could occupy a 33 seater bus. Mr Ryan said, “the driver has a job to drive the bus not to go down and tell half (of the pupils) to scatter to the top of the bus and half to stay at the back of the bus”.
Waterford TD Matt Shanahan, articulated the bus owners worries when he queried Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross in the Dáil.
“Minister COVID-19 has presented significant challenges to many sectors, but certainly your portfolio of transport, sports and tourism is seeing a significant fall out” said Deputy Shanahan.
The Waterford politician addressed the issue of viability in terms of passenger capacity, alluding to the fact that a two-meter distance would see only 20% of the buses capacity being filled and one-meter would see a not much better 40% capacity. Mr Shanahan queried whether this was economically viable for bus owners.
” I don’t think you’d have to be a genius to understand that no business can operate viably with a reduction of income of between 40 and 60 per cent and up to 80 per cent”, he said.
The Deputy went on to seek assurance from the Minister that the public sector of transport will be supported and provided monies to “overcome the loses and certainly suffering at this present time”.
This assurance was later granted by The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when he declared that a sum of 460 million would be allocated to the transport sector to subside for their loses throughout the epidemic.
While the Jerry Ryan Jnr Coaches owner admitted he would like to remain optimistic about the future of his company, he believed the lack of communication bus owners like him have received from the Department leaves him little hope. Mr Ryan asked that the Department of Education also considered his industry when reporting on updates as schools made up a large majority of his companies income dependency.
“The biggest fears around if we reopen is if it is such a thing schools do come back in the last week of August or the first week in September whether we’ll be travelling to the likes of Dublin to the RDS or will we be gone to the matches in Limerick? Will they be going to the matches in Cork? Will schools be travelling? We don’t know that. Schools have lost so much time off they mightn’t let the pupils travel for the day to lose the day to a hockey match or the hurling match or etc” voiced the concern Thurles native.
So just when will we be back singing “The wheels of the bus go round and round”, or even better yet “Stop the bus I need to…” 😏