Dan White: Lynch can leave CIE with head held high
THERE aren't many public servants who have come out of the past three years with their reputations intact.
CIE chairman John Lynch, who steps down this week after 11 years at the controls of the semi-State, is one of them.
An unlikely champion of the mandarins, Lynch has transformed the bureaucratic monster into something resembling a modern transport company. New minister Leo Varadkar can consider it his bad luck that Lynch is heading into the sunset as the young gun takes over the poisoned chalice at the Dept of Transport.
Running a public transport company is a thankless task at the best of times. While all public transport companies require at least some level of State subvention, taxpayers will inevitably complain if the exchequer grant is too high. Meanwhile, passengers, often the same people wearing a different hat, will complain just as vehemently if services are cut back in order to reduce the State grant.
Since taking over as CIE executive chairman in 2000, John Lynch has tried, with considerable success, to square this circle. He has worked diligently to improve the performance of the group's three operating companies, Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann and Irish Rail, cutting costs and increasing efficiency.
At Dublin Bus, staff numbers have been cut by 440 since 2002, while 200 jobs have gone at Bus Eireann. Despite this, the number of passengers carried rose by almost 50pc between 1995 and 2008. This was the best performance of any major bus company in Europe and compares with an average increase throughout the EU of just 14pc.
Unfortunately, like most other Irish businesses, demand for the services of Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann fell after 2007 as the economy went into a tailspin. In 2010, Dublin Bus carried 119 million passengers, down 20pc on the 149 million carried in 2007. Passenger numbers have fallen at Bus Eireann also, with a 23pc reduction being recorded since 2007.
Lynch responded to this drop in demand at both Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann by seeking more efficiencies. A further 100 jobs went at Dublin Bus in the first quarter of 2011 and a further 40 jobs at Bus Eireann.
Over at CIE's other main operating subsidiary, Irish Rail, Lynch has also been busy squeezing out greater efficiency. Since 2002, 1,722 jobs, over a quarter of the total, have gone at Irish Rail. Yet, despite this, the number of passenger service miles travelled has increased by 77pc to 7.73 million over the same period.
The sharp headcount reductions at Irish Rail compares very favourably with other State-owned and formerly State-owned companies, with staff numbers at the ESB having fallen by 20pc and those at Aer Lingus by 17pc, over the same period.
Despite the fall in passenger numbers at both Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann, the State subvention has continued to fall in recent years. In the case of Bus Eireann, the State subvention has fallen by almost €7m since 2008, while the Dublin Bus subvention has been cut by more than €13m, a combined saving to the exchequer of €20m.
Overall, Lynch has taken €142m of payroll costs out of CIE since 2002 and a further €91m of non-payroll costs. What is even more remarkable is that he has managed to do this with minimal industrial relations difficulties.
Time was when all the CIE trade unions had to do was threaten strike action and Government ministers, fearful of the political consequences of any disruption to public transport, would quickly acquiesce. Indeed, Lynch's predecessor as CIE chairman, Brian Joyce, quit in 2000 complaining of Government interference in the company's industrial relations.
Not under Lynch's chairmanship. Successive ministers have let him get on with the job. As he prepares for a well-earned retirement, Lynch can justifiably claim to be the first CIE chairman in a long time to have left the group in better condition than he found it.