Bus company Bus Éireann has reported a strong return to pre-Covid passenger levels for 2022.

It reported 89.5 million passenger journeys for the full year, despite some pandemic impact in the first two months of the year.

The company made 57.5 million passenger journeys in 2021.

Bus Éireann operated more than 225 million kilometres during 2022 - the largest public transport network in the country.

This includes more than 220 Bus Éireann and Expressway routes, and more than 8,000 school transport routes.

Bus Éireann operates the city services of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, town services in Athlone, Balbriggan, Drogheda, Dundalk, Navan and Sligo, as well as county and regional services.

All are under contract to the National Transport Authority.

It also operates Expressway, the largest commercial inter-regional coach service in the country with 14 routes, and the school transport scheme on behalf of the Department of Education.

For the past number of months, Bus Éireann noted that overall road passenger numbers are 15% higher than in 2019.

The services which have seen the largest increase in passenger journeys compared to 2019 include Route 115 services between Mullingar and Dublin and Route 303 services in Limerick city. Both have between 40-60% more passengers now than in 2019.

Bus Éireann hired 215 new drivers to join its workforce during the year with plans to recruit more next year.

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"The exceptional growth in passenger demand for our services is explained by a number of factors," said Stephen Kent, chief executive of Bus Éireann.

"First, we are operating more and better services following National Transport Authority investment - typically, when additional services are introduced, passenger numbers increase by up to 70% within a year," he explained.

"Second, the Government's 20% fare reduction and 50% reduction on Young Adult Leap Cards means that public transport represents extraordinary value, bringing fares to what they were 20 years ago, at a time when the cost of motoring is higher than ever and people are facing cost of living pressures," the CEO said.

"Finally, there is an increasing interest in sustainable modes of transport and some people are very consciously choosing public transport options," he added.

Speaking to RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Kent said that increasing the frequency of bus services contributed to the rise in passenger numbers, along with new bus routes.

"That 20% reduction has seen fares return to where they were maybe 20 years ago, and there was a 50% reduction for 19 to 23-year-olds and both really helped," he said.

"Increasing the frequency on bus routes has the most beneficial impact to our services," Mr Kent added.

Another factor according to Mr Kent was the high price of fuel, due to the cost-of-living crisis, and which is affecting motorists.

"Since September, we're seeing a lot of our routes increasing between 15 and 20%, that is very strong uptake as people begin to realise there they can save on parking and fuel," he said.