20 January, 2020

On the buses

Loads of interest in my meeting with Ray Coyne Chief Executive in Dublin Bus last Friday. Around a hundred of you responded to my call out on Twitter, and I put some of your questions to Ray in his office on O'Connell Street. I punched the Twitter queries into a pie chart, and both operational changes and cleaner buses came in streets ahead of other issues. 

As it happens Ray started off with a discussion about bus stops. Often they are the place where kids hang out, and we discussed how to make them more interesting, and perhaps less prone to vandalism. Some Parisian bus stops have book shelves, and there's some great bus stops abroad with green sedum planting, so maybe scope for improvement. We also touched on a feminist perspective on bus routes. Always a bit dodgy for two guys to get their heads around this, but my colleague Tara Connolly had suggested that traditionally bus routes emphasise radial journeys between home and work, rather than catering for the multi-point trips that are common for women so I thought I'd mention it.  This opens up a whole discussion about Le Corbusier's flawed vision of the zoned city that separated work from home, but we didn't have time to get stuck into this. In fairness, the Bus Connects proposals from the NTA do stress the routes that encircle the city that are currently poorly served, and hopefully these will be improved in the years ahead. 

On the big picture, @RobinCafolla asked how could we double passenger numbers in five years? Good question, and if we're to tackle climate change and reduce congestion we need to vastly improve our public transport offering. Ray says their bus numbers have more or less been around 1,100 vehicles for a round a decade, but there's been a bit of an increase in recent years. This may have been a way of avoiding the ban on purchase of 100% diesel buses that came in last year, or perhaps it was a response from the NTA to increased demand for buses, who knows. Ray felt if the fleet could be increased to 1,600 buses it would make a huge difference in capacity. Buses aren't cheap though. They cost around €350,000, or €500,000 for a hybrid bus. A fully electric bus may cost up to €650,000 so it won't be cheap to electrify the fleet. No doubt these costs will drop significantly over the coming years. Last Autumn I went along to the annual Busworld expo in Brussels (sad, I know), and there were lots of new all-electric buses on display. Shenzhen in China has an all-electric fleet of 16,000 buses, but is one of the few Chinese cities that has fully embraced electrification. The carbon footprint of travelling by bus has decreased in recent years and is now just over 60 grams per passenger kilometre. This is a big improvement, but congestion has slowed down buses considerably. Everyone wants to see improved enforcement of bus lanes. Some number plate recognition cameras and fixed penalties would help, but in the meantime over to you @GardaTraffic! Reliability came up in your comments, and the hope is that Bus Connects can improve this. @areyousreious asked why can't we have a circular bus service beside the Royal and Grand Canals, and as it happens, this IS proposed in the Bus Connects plans. It'll need to be single decker to make it under the low bridges, and fingers crossed will be in place if Bord Pleanála approves the plans.
Cheaper fares were sought by @Kodomonster, and while that is out of the hands of Dublin Bus, it should be on the agenda of the National Transport Authority and the next Government. In Vienna my Green party colleague and Deputy Mayor Maria Vassilakou introduced a €365 annual fare for public transport and it has been a great success. I see David McWilliams has been advocating free public transport recently, and while I'd love to see this happen, if it was introduced tomorrow we simply wouldn't have sufficient buses to cope with the demand. I feel we should start off with free transport for children on Saturday, and then depending on capacity extend that all week, or to students and see how we get on. I'll be watching Luxembourg closely as they plan to introduce free travel from March of this year. 
@AnnieAura asked that @DublinBusNews tweet when a bus doesn’t run, and maybe this could be considered. @Ten4GudBuddy asked for a clean-up of the cluttered Dublin Bus web site, and I've asked Ray Coyne to consider this. @Seathrun666 suggested signs on the back of buses allowing them to pull out. I actually remember these being in place as part of the Dublin Transportation Task Force's remit around about a million years ago, and it would be good if they could be reintroduced. Issues around broken wheelchair ramps were raised by @karlodwyer; internal ventilation by @PositiveWork, and increasing the distance between bus stops got mentioned by @ChrisClarkprjct. @mushypea007 asked about follow up on complaints, and the dreaded web form also got a mention. It seems to me that publication of issues and statistics from the web forms submitted would be worth undertaking, and I've asked for this.

Ghost buses came up for discussion. This refers to buses that appear on Real Time Passenger Information displays (or online) and then disappear. This is infuriating and Ray is well aware of the problem, which is often caused when a bus gets to a terminus to late to start at the correct time and then waits for the next slot. The new contract between Dublin Bus and the National Transport Authority which kicked off within the last month penalises Dublin Bus for not keeping to time, so fingers crossed things will improve. Using the centre doors came up as an issue from @GIviable, @SeanPolDeBurca, @_somerville_, @BrahmaMull. It seems to be a no-brainer, and although perhaps drivers are concerned about fare evasion, it makes sense to use them at crowded bus stops. Many of you including @athenamediaie @wrafter_colin @AlanDillon68 want Dublin Bus to go cashless. This would reduce 'dwell time' and is certainly worth doing. It is the norm in other cities. The percentage of Leap card users is increasing every year and it makes sense to make the change over as the cost of a €5 Leap card is similar to two bus rides. The NTA has plans to further reduce the extra cost of transferring from one bus to another, and the sooner this happens the better. In London you don't even need the Oyster card anymore as public transport works using a debit card, but Ray told me that this is at least two years away.
Many of you raised the issue of close passes by buses of cyclists. From personal experience this can be really scary. Most drivers are absolute professionals, but it would be good to know what action is taken if a driver doesn't make the grade, and I've asked Ray to come back to me on this. I know that there are some good driver education videos produced by Dublin Bus, but it would be great to get bus drivers out on a bike to see things themselves from over the handlebars rather than through the windscreen. @BrightYoungTing mentioned the 'cat and mouse' nature of cycling in shared bus lanes, and @Lorraine_F_22, @Dublin_Suzy, @Rachaelworld, @thearthritictri, @nick_murphy_ie, @xart00n, @DublinPedaller, @WeCanHave, @DevinemjMark all mentioned their concerns about close passes. City centre congestion got several mentions. @AlanDillon68 asked why every bus seems to go through College Green. Shift changes in the city centre came in for criticism as passengers can be left waiting. In addition several people suggested new routes. @FintanDamer wants to see a bus service for Stamullan in County Meath from Dublin Bus, and why not if Newcastle in County Wicklow has one? Both @dwain_schouten and @AcuRodos would love to see a service connecting Dublin Airport to Blanchardstown and Ashtown. Some of this will make it into the Bus Connects plans.

Another long-term issue is freeing up some of the inner city bus depots for redevelopment. I've been harping on about this for over a decade, and Ray was engaged with the issue. He would prefer to see these locations intensified, rather than seeing Dublin Bus being moved out altogether. As the bus fleet gets cleaner and quieter there could be scope for mixed-use development in several locations. Living over the bus station could even become a thing! I still believe some of the sites currently occupied by Dublin Bus at Broadstone and Summerhill could serve better uses and we'll see how this develops. @aoifemace would like to see Sport facilities at Summerhill, and @dgunningdes would like to see the equivalent of the Barbican at Broadstone! I warmed to this one, as two years ago I set my MSc in Urban Regeneration and Development students at TU Dublin the task of reimagining Broadstone Bus Depot, and they were enthusiastic about seeing more appropriate uses on those lands. The big picture is that buses are the real people mover in Dublin City. The entry of Go-Ahead, a private operator into the market has given an opportunity for Dublin Bus to meet growing demand, though I believe Dublin Bus should remain as the lead player in the market. I congratulated him on the provision of the two new night bus routes since last November with the 41 linking the city centre to Swords via the airport, and the 15 linking Clongriffin via the city centre every half hour through the night. We desperately need improvements in bus reliability, and if Bus Connects is delivered properly it can be done without felling hundreds of trees, or removing heritage buildings and features. There's also huge scope to increase capacity, and, looking to the example of cities abroad that provide better value fares. I didn't get a chance to raise all your queries with Ray, but I have written to him separately, and will update this piece once I hear back from him.