22 January, 2009

Radical Reform required at Dublin Bus

Busy times within the Green Party, with Bronwen Maher and Chris O'Leary's resignations. Anyway, I just thought I'd post the full text of the article that I submitted to the Irish Times which appeared as an opinion piece today...

...Dublin Bus requires radical reform to meet the needs of bus users. The company made a profit of €4.7m in 2007, but lost €10 m last year and will lose €31m this year unless action is taken. The company has to avoid haemorrhaging cash. Last week senior management chose the easier option of service cutbacks instead of the substantial reforms required to modernise the company.

Bright yellow buses and customer charters play their part, but the brand must be built on reliability, efficiency and punctuality. Buses play a valuable transport role and help cut carbon emissions but until they are a more attractive option Dublin Bus will continue to struggle.

A decade ago, disagreement over opening the centre doors led to a protracted row between management and unions. Rather than resolving the issue, new buses were ordered without centre doors. Ultimately bus users lost out by waiting longer to board and disembark. It seems that if there’s no easy answer proposals are quietly shelved.

Reforming the bus network is the main area where changes must occur. Although most quality bus corridors are successful, many routes meander around the city discouraging prospective passengers. The number seventeen takes an hour and twenty minutes to travel from Blackrock to the terminus in Rialto. En route it travels six miles to reach Dundrum, a journey of only three miles as the crow flies. More direct routes would attract more passengers from their cars.

The Dublin Transportation Office has computer modelling that show the origins and destinations of the journeys that Dubliners make. This information should be used to transform Dublin Bus’s routes into a clearer network that better serves the city’s needs.

More cross-city routes are required to allow passengers to benefit from faster journey times without having to transfer from one bus to another. The city centre would then benefit from less parked buses.

Too many Dublin Bus routes clog O’Connell Bridge rather than using other Liffey crossings. The network should be more like a spider’s web with easy transfer between routes where they intersect.

An over-supply of bus stops also complicates matters. There are five bus stops on the Monkstown road in South Dublin. Placing bus stop every 250 meters slows down buses. Less bus stops might add a minute or two to the walk to the stop, but would reduce bus journey times.

Consultants Deloitte are reporting to the Department of Transport on proposals for the CIE group, and no doubt have suggestions for Dublin Bus. This has happened before. In the early 1990s a report by the Dublin Transportation Initiative called for real time passenger information and integrated ticketing. Fifteen years later we are still waiting. In London an Oyster card the size of a credit card allows public transport users to transfer effortlessly between buses and the underground. Heads should roll in organisations that have delayed the roll-out of a similar system in Dublin. In London the Mayor chairs Transport for London, and something similar should happen here when we directly elect a Mayor.

Dublin Bus has erected signs on their bus stops stating when the bus should leave the terminus. Instead, they should inform you when buses will depart from the bus stop, as is common abroad. In other cities, buses pause for a moment along their route if required in order to stick to schedule. The increase in reliability would offset any increase in journey time and reduce the tendency of buses to travel in packs.

Dublin Bus ticket types offers forty different types of pre-paid tickets and nine different prices on board. Perhaps a €1, €2 or €3 fare on board, or eliminating on-board cash altogether would speed up boarding times, and make life easier for all.

Drivers could benefit from further training to better serve the needs of passengers. A costly kerb replacement system has been provided that permits level boarding. However drivers often fail to pull in to this kerb, making boarding difficult for parents with young children and the elderly. Gentler breaking and acceleration would also make buses more attractive.

A free bus map would help. The printed map of the Dublin Bus network costs €3 and is hard to obtain. A ‘London Underground’ style of map showing all public transport including Luas and rail would attract more users. The Dublin Bus website is searchable by bus number and destination, but it is left to a private site www.justroutes.com to permit you to chose your destination as well as your starting point, and find the bus you need.

Better bus priority measures in the city-centre and on the approaches to the M50 are crucial. Four lanes of car traffic are allowed through College Green and thus it can take half an hour to get by bus from Mountjoy Square to Stephens Green. Local authorities have to play their part in speeding up buses, and that requires political leadership. Taking cars out of College Green and a South Quays bus lane are required.

Dublin Bus should relocate many depots that occupy valuable land close to the City Centre. Depots should move close to the M50 allowing land at Grand Canal Dock and Mountjoy Square to be better used, and release equity for the company’s development in future years.

Dublin Bus can and must embrace sweeping changes. In the coming months the Government will publish legislation to modernise bus regulation that dates from the 1930s. However the company must also undergo substantial reform to reflect the needs of the city in 2009.

Ciarán Cuffe is the Green Party’s Transport Spokesperson and TD for Dún Laoghaire


Anonymous said...


If the Green Party could bring about that kind of change, then I doubt Chris and Bronwyn would have quit the party.

I know I have come across as an angry sort of bloke in my comments here, but that anger comes from my voting for the Greens as a platform of change. Government with FF however, will not change anything.

Despite what you might think from my posts, I respect the Green Party and their people. If I didn't, I wouldn't have voted for my local Green candidate in election after election. But that said, I urge the Green Party to see those resignations for what they are, and what the electorate will interpret them as, and resign from Government.

"Let's be clear. A deal with Fianna Fáil would be a deal with the devil. We would be spat out after 5 years, and decimated as a Party."

-- those are your words, written on this blog in May of 2007. The Green Party needs transfers to survive, and coalition with FF will deprive the Green Party of them. Heed those words now, I urge you.

Anonymous said...

Some good thoughts there, Ciarán. Now, if only you were in a Government party so you could implement them ;)

Ciarán said...


Now, you couldn't have back-benchers meddling in the internal affairs of semi-state companies, could you?

Anonymous said...

It's easy to blame the state bus companies.

But unless the greens in government play their part then you should keep quiet. You should be ashamed to let the public bus companies run themselves down like this.

Government should be massively dis-insensitivising car transport by e.g.

Immediate congestion charge with proceeds re-invested to make sure buses travel faster.

Increase car park levy in all urban centres on a phased bases with money re-invested in public transport.

Mandatory carbon impact assessments (along the lines of BERs) of all zonings in the burbs so that it is impossible to build commuter housing in the countryside.

Similarly all development plans have to be optimised for carbon generation.

This is a no-brainer

Anonymous said...

Goodness - some very harsh comments to a very good post. Some excellent points, which will hopefully be picked up beyond our glorious blogosphere (and the IT, which is arguably even more of a marginal readership!)

CD said...

I agree broadly with you on your points regarding reform and I also accept Dublin Bus' actions in cutbacks.

About a year or 2 ago we were told that Dublin Bus was carrying out a root and branch review of the bus network. Surely that is complete, why has it not been implemented and published? I understand it went to the Minister.

The core problem with Dublin Bus costs is, of course, wages and this is related to the unions. All out privatisation does not work for public transport given the natural monopoly but franchising does. So get on with it!

Unknown said...

I listened to your commentary on RTE radio this morning and I have to say that I'm dismayed, disappointed and beyond hope that you and your fellow Green party members, some of whom hold senior cabinet positions, continue to behave and produce comment more worthy of opposition spokespersons. I for one am tired of reading the lectures on what CIE "should do", on what the ESB "should do", on what the HSE "should do", and on what "should happen" with incinerators , e.t.c. e.t.c. e.t.c. Minister after minister continue to tell us what "should" happen and not what they WILL MAKE HAPPEN, merely choosing instead to pass the responsibility and the accountability to others. You choose to hide behind a series of instruments, such as; legislative, and planning rules, quangos or the boards of semi "semi-State" companies (or what ever CIE is at this point!). You have been elected to legislate and to LEAD, Ministers have been elected to LEAD, but none of you are prepared to shake the system or upset the cosy system that rewards you so generously in order to make meaningful and radical change.

If the Minsister for transport is not responsible for The dubln bus decison on PUBLIC transport, then pray please tell me how he defines "Transport" in the context of his ministry? Perhaps he is just responsible for making sure all of his ministerial colleagues are transported about the country at the tax payers expense?

Ciaran, can you honestly tell me that the Minister for transport in any other western democracy could come on radio (as he did recently) and effectively say that he disagrees with the Management approach of the capital's only widespread public transport network, but it is their decison and there is nothing he can do? It is even more disheartening to hear YOU supporting him! I say again, what do YOU think the term "Minister" means in the context of Public transport?

Can you tell me that the Minister cannot haul the management of CIE into to his department and DEMAND reform or face the loss of ALL government subsidies! This is the type of stomach I thought we might get by electing the Greens, but sadly I have been mistaken, and must re-visit my voting preference at the next opportunity - sooner rather than later I hope!! You and your colleagues appear to have acquired the Fianna Fail super bug, MRSA - Ministers Required to Shift Accountability. If you and your colleagues cannot be held to account, nor ensure FF cabinet members are held to account, then do us all a favour and bring this sorry government to an end, and let others get on with the job in hand. And please stop hiding behind the "I'm only a back bencher" - it's pathetic, sad and much too FF like! If you're just a back bencher who cannot be meddling in real issues, then leave your meddling off our national airwaves and stick to solving potholes in Dunlaoghaire. Wake up, you're a TD and your party leaders are at the cabinet table.

I and many of my peers are tired of your and your party's inaction, just as we grew tired of FF, but I think unfortunately, you are begining to believe the polls!

Ciarán said...


Perhaps I should have been more emphatic.

Unknown said...

Ciaran, as a relatively recent supporter of your party, who truly wants this party to make a difference, I don't want you to be more emphatic, I want you and your colleagues to stand up, show some leadership and start changing the corrupt system of inaction and unaccountability we've been living with for decades. Staying in this government as long as the Green agenda is making progress (which it is) is not enough. Many new Green voters, such as myself, didn't elect you to govern on Green issues alone, we elected you to govern full stop! WE elected you to bring some accountability to Irish Politics. This cannot happen in a day or a month or a year, but the Green Ministers and TDs do not inspire confidence by adopting the Spin tactics and PR tactics so ably used by our former and current Taoiseach! If achieving accountability at the current cabinet table is beyond your Ministers right now, as may it well be, given the entrenched attitudes in FF, then do us a favour and take them down. Consider tusting the electorate to reward your bravery and at least spare us the same - it should be fixed but "that's not my job" rhetoric we've had to listen to now for nearly 20years!

Ciarán said...


The Minister can haul in Dublin Bus or CIR if he wants do, but cannot and should not micromanage a semi-state body. That's why they are semi-states in the first instance.

As it happens I am meeting Joe Meagher, the CEO of Dublin Bus tomorrow.

In that meeting I will repeat much of what I've written, but I can't tell him what to do. It's up to the company to take the necessary action.

It is a similar position with Eamon Ryan and the ESB. (although Eamon is a Minister). In that case the ESB HAVE taken a radical step to invest €20 Bn in renewables.

I can't manage Noel Dempsey, though, but I believe that he's on the same wavelength, even if we haven't yet discussed what needs to happen in detail.

The DeLoitte Report from last week outline clearly what needs to happen. I'm still working my way through it, but it seems to tally closely with what I wrote in this post.

Finally, if the Greens had half a dozen Ministers you'd see greater capital investment in public transport than in roads, but we don't, and we have to see the money better spent.

Dublin Bus are receiving more money than ever before, and yet they are losing more money and more passengers than they were two years ago, that's the nub of the problem.

CD said...

Brendan completely misses the point, those appointed to semi-state boards don't dare not toe the government line if they want to keep their job, that's how the system works. So Dempsey can deny disapproving of Dublin Bus' actions all he likes, if he really disapproved he'd just appoint a new chairman.

Dublin Bus needs reform. Inflation is falling, prices are falling and wages should follow them down...and so should Dublin Bus fares but in this noddyland, people want pay rises when prices are falling and people are losing their jobs...pathetic!

Unknown said...

Thanks Ciaran for your analysis of the mess that is Dublin Bus. You seem to be one of the few who compare the awful service in Dublin with what is the norm in most European cities..clear timetables that are adhered to..simple fare structure. most passengers with pre-paid tickets allowing fast on off access . O'Connell street must be the only street without bus shelters. No 7 bus stop is now on the windswept O'Connell Bridge! And all of this with empty buses with "out of service " signs clogging up the congested streets. I could go on and on about such matters as closed buses parked on the streets whilst wet bedraggled passengers wait in the rain etc etc
I am inclined to blame management but clearly Dublin Bus does not have any management worthy of such a name.
Keep up the good work and maybe Dublin city and county will have a bus system typical of a modern European city.

Paddy Mulhern

Anonymous said...

I lived in Toronto 4 years ago and during my year I noticed how a city with a relatively good transport system works. The key to it was the fact that with 1 ticket I could get on and off the underground go onto a streetcar and then finish my journey with a bus. 1 ticket. It was quick and easy. It is a struggle in Ireland to do anything and to be honest this country is an embarrassment when it comes to public transport of any type.
Where are all those bikes that we were promised in exchange for the advertisements dotted around the streets of dublin.

Anonymous said...


Though the article contains excellent ideas, ideas it seems that come from one who actually uses the service, what I have noticed increasingly over the years is the seeming lack of power by various Ministers to change or do anything to fix problems within their Ministerial remit. Why would it not be possible for you to present this to the various parties and implement it immediately. How can Bus Eireann let drivers go and cut routes without consulting with you in the first place. Perhaps I am missing some obvious reason, but it sometimes seems that Ministers have become nothing more than figure heads for their departments rather than the driving forces behind them. In fairness, this does not necessarily refer to you, but in many cases your colleagues in Cabinet sound more like spokesmen, and their spokesmen sound more like Ministers. Health is one in particular which comes to mind.

Ciarán said...


Dublin Bus received more money, but a lot less people are travelling to work, or for other reasons. That's why I believe they need to make lots of changes, very quickly.

I do think the Greens would do things differently from Fianna Fail if we controlled the Ministry, but we don't. In fairness Noel Dempsey has been saying the right things in recent weeks, but a sea-change is required.

The reason for setting up a semi-state in the first instance is to give them some degree of autonomy, but it is odd that Dublin Bus's plans seemed to come as a bolt out of the blue to the Minister for Transport.

Anonymous said...


I understand what you are saying. In fact it underlines my earlier comments about how Ministers seem increasingly incapable of effecting real change. Many years ago I pointed out that privatisation and self autonomy for semi states etc had more to do with Government distancing themselves from thorny issues rather than any attempt to reform or change the way things are done. A kind of corporate passing of the buck. Not my problem now says the Minister. Talk to this or that spokesperson or Head of Department. Let them take the flak.