The coach and bus industry in Northern Ireland is facing a loss of £21m as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it can be revealed.
The loss of cruise ships and visitors to hotels, and a massive reduction in the number of children going to school have had a devastating impact on the sector.
And the uncertainty facing bus and coach companies across Northern Ireland has been compounded further as education officials have not yet given a commitment that they will provide recompense to businesses that provide transport on behalf of the Education Authority. Karen Magill, CEO of industry body Bus and Coach NI, said: "Contracts are in place and the funding for this has been ringfenced, so we are disappointed that we haven't had clarity on this issue yet.
"I have requested an urgent response and explained that we would expect that they will follow the position taken in the Republic of Ireland, which is honouring full payments to operators where school services have been suspended. After all, we need to keep our businesses going so that, in a few months' time when life returns to normal, we will be able to resume our normal home-to-school services."
Ms Magill said the cancellations that have already happened have been "disastrous" for the industry.
"In terms of the cancellations we have within our membership alone, we are sitting at circa £3m, and if this figure is extrapolated across the non-aligned private sector operators, a number of whom I have actually met and spoken to, the actual figure is circa £21m," she said.
She said a number of other measures must be put in place to ensure the sector's future.
"Cash flow is very badly affected and with cancellations over the past eight weeks, the income which should be being paid now is not being paid and companies are suffering and there are no reserves to maintain businesses," she explained.
"Operators need help with wages costs and a holiday on finance, leasing and insurance costs.
"As it sits today the industry needs direct support for those organisations that do not pay business rates, a number of which are in tourism, and are therefore not eligible for Small Business Rates Relief.
"We need more support and advice for self-employed and sole traders and we need HMRC to refund VAT at point of payment, as this has a major impact on coach operators."
"We also need to remember that coach tourism is a major contributor to our local economy, and government and tourism agencies need to acknowledge the importance and value of the coach tourism sector. Coaches help feed a huge domestic tourism industry - where would hotels, bars, restaurants and tourist attractions be without coaches bringing passengers to them?"