Are Operators facing new hope or a false dawn?

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How long will it continue? We all seem to be taking one step forward and two steps back, with new restrictions due to the Delta variant sending a shiver through the passenger transport industry.

Out on the roads everyday more buses and coaches are on the move. Pictured is two views, of one of Keolis Coaches depot in Belgium. The picture tells the story, a full yard in 2020, almost empty in 2021. As one of the largest operators in Belgium, it is seeing an increase in demand and an appetite on behalf of the company to open up services again.

Here we have a similar situation, with operators chomping at the bit to get going. Passengers are happy to move about also. Some tour operators are confident that there may be a trickle of inbound visitors as the year progresses. But as the economy starts to re-start and get back into action, the conflict between politician’s, government officials, state agencies and the private sector will likely become more noticeable and pronounced.

It is a stark reality that an economy needs activity to survive. No matter how good our civil service and officials are, a day will come when we will neither be able to afford them or need as many of them. Of course, this is unlikely to happen and it will not get to that stage. But there may be other consequences. For decades, our aviation industry and general connection by air to the world has been significant. As the world economy restarts, we may lose that advantage. Our tourism industry and obviously the coach tourism sector is hugely dependent on a healthy aviation sector.

We have gone through an eighteen month period of lockdowns and restrictions, with new rules and protocols at every juncture. Of course, all of this was needed at the time, but let’s hope our regulators and officials have not become addicted to this practice. I thought it was a bit strange that Fáilte Ireland saw the need to issue guide lines for operators going back to work. I would have thought there were enough of regulations around. In fact, most operators have rules coming out of their ears. I would have thought agencies promoting the country as a destination should be selling rather than regulating.

I am not sure how long it will be before an Irish operator, like at Keolis, could produce a picture of their yard empty of vehicles, with not a bus in sight. Not this year may be, but hopefully next year. Irish passenger transport operators are proactive and will keep at it, to survive and thrive . Earlier this month some Irish operators supplied vehicles for the Global G7 Summit in Cornwall (report in next edition).  This is the kind of resourcefulness that has allowed us as a nation to survive. Politicians and officials could impede all this type of activity going back to normal. Public health is paramount, so too is economic activity, the time is coming when some leaps of faith will be required by our leaders.

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