THE Department of Transport has been forced to issue eight written warnings to the country's two main bus operators because of anti-competitive policies designed to damage financially private companies.
A total of 22 investigations have taken place since 2000, the department said, with eight of these upheld and Bus Éireann or Dublin Bus forced to halt or alter services as a result. The majority of the complaints allege that either Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann set up a route in an attempt to put private companies out of business.
In a recent case from June 2008, the operator of the Swords Express bus route alleged that there was "a conspiracy between the Department of Transport... and Dublin Bus".
In a letter of complaint, Antoin Ó Lachtnain – a director of the firm that operates the route – claimed that "confidential departmental information" had been passed on to "undermine [his] business".
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey denied any confidential information had been passed to Dublin Bus with regard to running services through the Dublin Port Tunnel.
He said: "It is normal practice for my department to meet with applicants or other interested parties to discuss bus passenger services, however, the details of applications from private operators or notifications from state companies remain confidential."
The previous year, complaints from Swords Express resulted in Dublin Bus being served with a written warning. It claimed that the state company was operating a new service under the guise of an old bus route and using the Port Tunnel to cut journey times.
Ó Lachtnain stated: "There is apparently no licence for the operation of this service. It is not listed in any timetable. The Dublin Bus information office has no proper information on it, although seems to be aware of its existence."
The Department of Transport issued a written warning shortly after. It said: "The department is aware that in respect of four routes [including the 41X]... the services being provided do not comply with the authorisations given."
In September 2008, Bus Éireann was given a written warning after Citylink made a complaint about its operations on a route between Galway, Limerick and Cork.
The company told the Department of Transport that Bus Éireann had immediately dropped its fares and changed its schedule to make life difficult for the new operator.
Cathy Cullen, managing director of Citylink, wrote: "Their activities, most of which [were] conducted without apparently considering the costs involved, could be considered at best unethical and possibly anti-competitive.
"Citylink has made a professional and fair attempt to compete and be profitable on the Galway-Cork-Galway route but it is impossible when a state-owned company abandons commercial sense and uses public funds to protect their market share."
The Department of Transport issued a written warning to Bus Éireann claiming it had been operating extra "auxiliary" services, which were not timetabled.
In November 2008, Bus Éireann was again in trouble over its operations on a route from Cork to the city airport.
Neil Hogan, general manager of Skylink, wrote: "My application [to run a service] was supported by Aer Rianta at the time because of the insufficient service provided by Bus Éireann.
"However, since I commenced the service, Bus Éireann has reacted by flooding the airport with buses every few minutes."