Appeared on RTÉ.ie

The coach tourism industry and private coach hire is involved in every aspect of Irish society, according to Caoimhe Moloney, Group Operations Director at family-run business Pierce Kavanagh Coaches.

“We take your kids to college on Sunday evenings; we take your kids home on a Friday evening with their dirty laundry; we take your mum and her friends away on an active retirement break; we take you to the city working, and we take your kids to school,” she said.

“We’re involved in every aspect of connectivity for rural Ireland.”

A fleet of coaches is parked at the depot in Urlingford, Kilkenny. It is three months since they were last on the road.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, coach tours and transport came to a halt. Nobody was allowed to travel. Nobody wanted to travel.

It has been a major blow to the 1,700 coach operators here who carry 75 million passengers every year, and employ 11,500 people.

An economic report for the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland finds the sector, which normally contributes €400m to the economy, will be decimated without government intervention.

“Unfortunately over six days in March, our entire business ground to a halt,” Ms Moloney said.

“School transport stopped, tourism stopped – just before St Patrick’s Day when we had loads of groups coming in, and the private schedule services stopped. Not only did everything stop but we had to start issuing refunds to people.”

The concern now is how to get the sector moving again.

Ms Moloney pointed to a Volvo 9900 coach at the depot which cost around €270,000. It normally seats 53 people.

“With the 2 metre social distancing restrictions, we’re down to 11 people on this bus. If we reduce it to 1 metre, if they were couples, we’d get approximately 25 people on this bus,” she said.

The business, established by her father-in-law, will not have coaches on the road on June 29.

“No, our coaches will not be back on the road. There is no business. All our American tours have been cancelled. All our retailed Irish tours have been cancelled. There are no clubs or organisations booking coaches for the summer,” Caoimhe Moloney explained.

“Even the cruise ships have stopped, they won’t be coming until next year. 300,000 people came to Ireland on a cruise ship last year. They were a great earner for the industry,” she added.

The CTTC commissioned economist Jim Power to conduct research into the sector.

The report found that turnover has decreased by 95% which equates to a €585m loss. It also finds that without significant assistance from the Government, many operators will not survive.

Regional and rural economies are disproportionately affected as bus and coach operators provide significant regional employment and transport services.

Chairman of the CTTC John Halpenny said concerns are further compounded by the fact that public confidence is badly shaken by the pandemic “so it will take some period of time before we see a degree of normality resume”.

The CTTC is calling for a financial support mechanism based on self-certified turnover for 2019. It also wants a further €140m for commercial services to allow the industry maintain services at pre-Covid levels.

It said it wants the retention of the wage subsidy scheme until 2021, and forebearance by banks to be extended.

It is also calling for a recalibration of the Government’s credit guarantee scheme to permit applications for refinancing loans.

Mr Halpenny said sustaining services will prove dreadfully difficult as most routes will be unviable and this will result in disruption for passengers.

“This begs the questions who will service areas state operators will not venture into? Who will spend large budgets advertising Ireland as a destination to international visitors and help deliver a product that lends itself to delivering 2.2 million tourists per year?”

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