Seanad Éireann - Volume 194 - 25 February, 2009
Report on Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann: Statements.
Deputy Noel Ahern Deputy Noel Ahern
Deputy Noel Ahern: I welcome the opportunity to take part in this discussion on the cost and efficiency review of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. We welcome all contributions in considering the future of bus services in Ireland. It is important we consider the context in which the review was undertaken. Current and capital Exchequer investment in Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann over the past ten years has been at unprecedented levels. The CIE companies, including Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are, like so many businesses, experiencing serious financial challenges, the magnitude of which was quite unexpected. We have new and exciting opportunities with the launch of the policy document, Smarter Travel — A Sustainable Transport Future.
The Government has, year on year, shown its commitment to public transport as investment has skyrocketed. Since 2000 almost €800 million has been paid to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann in compensation for the public service obligation, PSO, services they provide. In 2009 this will amount to approximately €125 million, an increase of almost 120% on 2000. Over the same period more than €300 million in capital has been made available to the two companies towards the cost of 271 additional buses, 1,150 replacement buses and new and improved garages and bus stations. This investment has delivered new and better services throughout the country and supported the economic prosperity that we have enjoyed over the past decade. Despite the demands on Exchequer funding this year, the Government has taken the strategic view that continued support for public transport is essential to ensure that when the economy regains it strength we are ready to cope with every demand.
The report, Smarter Travel — A Sustainable Transport Future, acknowledges that buses will have to play an even greater role in the future as we seek to make our transport system more sustainable. The report sets a challenging agenda for the bus sector in terms of more frequent, reliable and comfortable services and through this we will get more people using bus services.
We will have more and higher quality bus services and major improvements in traffic management. Such measures will support the frequency and reliability of services and accordingly ensure essential bus services grow and prosper. On first inspection it may seem like an unlikely time to launch an ambitious new action plan for bus services given the financial difficulties facing the sector. However, such an approach would fail to take advantage of and utilise the appetite for change that is now present in how we deliver public transport. A clear and strategic view of the type of bus services we want is essential to assist us in developing a world class public transport system and to guide the development of services. Such a clear view is even more necessary when resources are limited and finances are under pressure.
Like many organisations the CIE group is facing severe financial difficulties. The annual Exchequer subvention in 2009 of €313 million is an all time high and the CIE group was granted a 10% fares increase in 2009 to help offset rising costs and declining revenue due to a drop in demand for services throughout their networks. The CIE companies are considering measures to reinstate their financial stability by reducing costs through greater efficiencies and services reduction. We in Government have emphasised the need for any efficiencies to support the integrity of the public transport networks by maintaining services, especially peak hour services, at the highest possible level.
Against the background I have outlined, the Deloitte & Touche report is very timely. The bus companies now have a valuable resource to assist in designing and implementing effective cost recovery plans that are responsive to the needs of the customer, the community and the economy. The focus of the report is on the effectiveness and efficiency of the network of services provided by both companies. The report emphasises that network design and the scheduling of drivers and buses should be led by the requirements of passengers and that bus services should be integrated and simple to understand.
To date, our emphasis has been on giving the companies the tools they need to supply a high quality service. Now our emphasis is turning to ensuring the best use is made of the valuable tools available to both bus companies. The Deloitte & Touche review facilitates our new focus.  With regard to Bus Éireann, it concludes that the network is efficient and identified no potential scope to achieve cost savings without cutting services.
Encouragingly, with regard to the Dublin Bus network the report reaches a number of key conclusions. The current bus network has not been significantly redesigned for many years and this has produced a complex network with a significant amount of service duplication. Dublin Bus now has the opportunity to create a simplified network offering improved services using fewer resources and serving the customer better. The review identified that on one key corridor alone there may be the scope for savings of up to 17%.
The report also concluded that timetables are not sufficiently co-ordinated in areas served by multiple routes and that bunching is a significant problem due not only to congestion but also to a lack of even headways between buses. However, it is significant that the Dublin Bus fleet was found to be adequate to serve current demand. This is testament to our investment decisions over the past ten years or so. The report also recommends that scheduling efficiency be improved through timetable redesign, measures to deal with “out of service running”, and routes operating to a garage termini without apparent demand.
On foot of its analysis, the Deloitte & Touche report sets out a series of measures which will enhance the role of the bus. With the identification of considerable scope within Dublin Bus to improve services to customers, increase efficiencies and save money through, for example, redesigning the network, eliminating unnecessary service duplication, and improving customer information, we now have an opportunity to improve public transport and we must seize it.
It should be noted that the report rightly draws attention to the impact of congestion on bus services and the critical need to intensify efforts to improve bus priority. Sound legislative frameworks and good levels of funding are important for good bus services. However, from a daily operational perspective, the improvement of bus services is critically dependent on providing more and better bus priority to enable bus operators provide more frequent, reliable and attractive services for passengers and to derive maximum value from their fleets.
In this context and reflecting the priority we attach to ensuring the effective operation of buses, €70 million in Exchequer funding has been allocated for traffic management measures, including bus priority in 2009, despite the current difficult Exchequer funding position. Some €50 million of this funding is available for the Dublin area and I anticipate significant progress being made by Dublin City Council this year in addressing critical pinch points for the movement of buses. Major works planned for this year include the provision of the College Green bus gate.
In the regional cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, approximately €20 million in funding is being made available for bus priority and park-and-ride projects. Major works will include completion of the Carrigaline and Farranree-Blackpool green routes in Cork, the completion of phase 2 of the Dublin Road green route by Limerick County Council and further bus priority works in Claregalway and the Dublin Road in Galway.
Now we have identified opportunities to improve the efficiencies of the bus companies and work in tandem with new policies such as smarter travel, we must consider the next steps. Funding for bus services over the coming years will need to be very carefully managed. Action is needed now not only to secure greater efficiency and value for money but also to ensure bus services can realise their potential to better meet the needs of the public and increase passenger numbers.
We must move quickly to ensure we exploit the opportunities we have. We now have a good framework for the fundamental review and reshaping of the network in the Dublin area to better meet the needs of the public at a lower cost. Implementation plans are expected in the coming days from the companies and I envisage these plans laying the groundwork for more customer-focused bus companies carrying more passengers.
The bus is and should remain the backbone of public transport in Dublin for the foreseeable future and therefore we need to see major bus reform now. People are looking for a fast, efficient, reliable bus service so they can leave their cars at home. Through the implementation of the Deloitte & Touche recommendations and other bus priority measures, we can deliver a better bus service to the public and start to grow passenger numbers again.
Senator Paschal Donohoe Senator Paschal Donohoe
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his statement on the grave position of the bus market in Dublin and other providers of bus services. In my contribution I will refer directly to the points made by the Minister of State but I will begin by referencing the current position. A statement was made very recently by one of the unions involved in Dublin Bus to the effect that its members would go out and stay on strike until the needs of its members have been met. I have not up to now heard that statement changed or retracted but it is disappointing to hear such a statement.
With very few if any exceptions, the trade union movement has been very responsible and proactive in trying to deal with many of the difficulties faced by our country. I would look to the actions taken by SIPTU in dealing with Aer Lingus and the leadership it exhibited in finding new deals and new ways of working to ensure the interests of its members are protected and recognised while also responding to the changed circumstances that Aer Lingus and our country finds itself in. I would also look to the statement put forward by the ICTU relating to a ten-point economic recovery plan and although I do not agree with everything in it, it is a positive, constructive and detailed contribution to try to find a way forward in the awful difficulties of our country.
These can be contrasted with a statement where a body indicates it will take its members out on strike and not come back until the matter is dealt with. That is the last thing we want and such action would be very bad for members of the union and place them in awful difficulty. It would cause chaos in Dublin and the surrounding region. Things are bad enough for people at the moment trying to get in and out of their jobs, staying in employment and dealing with the mounting levels of stress that obtain. To find our buses disappearing from our roads and streets at this point would deal a hammer blow to businesses within Dublin which depend on transport links for their employees and customers getting in. It would be a severe blow for economic activity and the morale of our country.
I call on the union in question to revise that statement and look to deal with the matter differently. I call for the full machinery of the State that has the expertise and ability to deal with issues such as this to become involved and ensure something such as this does not happen. It is the last thing our bus market and country needs at the moment.
There are a number of points to be made about the Minister of State’s contribution. The overall theme is that many of the measures mentioned are to be welcomed and recognised. The question should be asked why this kind of work was not done sooner and why the kind of reforms being spoken about were not implemented when times were good so that the right decisions could have been made. We find ourselves, when times are bad, looking at the wrong decisions being made. It would amount to nothing less than a colossal failure if Government transport policy resulted in a reduction in the number of buses — bus transport still being the most popular form of public transport here — in operation on routes at a time when commuters need them most. Why were the measures outlined in the report not implemented sooner? Why were they not in place to ensure members of Dublin Bus and the other bus companies would have had time to understand the changes that were needed and for such changes to be gradually implemented to ensure bus users and bus providers would be far better placed to deal with the terrible difficulties we now face?
There are three areas where the implementation of such measures would have been most significant. The first one, touched on by the Minister of State, is the huge investment in public transport by the taxpayer. He rightly referred to the huge amount of money that has been paid to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann since 2000, amounting to nearly €800 million. In 2009 the allocation will amount to approximately €125 million. The key question is why was the release of such a large amount of taxpayers’ money to these organisations not tied to performance measures, measures related to the reliability of bus services and the ability to meet the transport needs of commuters?
In a recent discussion on this matter at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, the Minister for Transport admitted that he could not find reliability measures to gauge if buses were arriving on time at bus depots and bus stations. He said he had provided a map to many of the stakeholders who were involved in this crisis showing huge swathes of the Dublin region where bus routes are not provided or where bus services are not available at the frequency required by commuters. The question that must be asked is why was nearly €1 billion of taxpayers’ money released to these companies during the past nine years without this work being done, namely, without ensuring reliability measures were in place and such reforms were implemented to ensure that bus services on routes operate at the required frequencies. Responsibility for this lies with the Government. Having regard to challenges we face in terms of Dublin Bus and, to a lesser extent, Bus Éireann, I question whether such challenges are not a symbol of the difficulties we face in terms of public expenditure, given that large subventions were made available to these organisations without asking them for explicit guarantees on the provision of their services.
I am not the only one who is saying this. The Booz Allen Hamilton report, commissioned by the Department of Transport approximately a year ago, examined whether the amounts of money released to these companies was adequate and how such allocations stacked up with allocations to providers in other European countries? It had two interesting conclusions. One was that the quantity of money being released to these companies is in line with that being made available to providers in other European countries. That was reassuring. The other question was why was the releasing of such moneys not made conditional on certain elements being delivered. That was an obvious point. Why were the moneys not released on condition that a certain mileage was covered each year or certain performance indicators were met? Now that the Government and the political system will need to manage the difficulties faced by these companies in the coming months, the question that must be asked is why was €800 million of taxpayers’ money released during the past ten years without the necessary preparatory work being done to ensure we had an efficient and a fair bus market in Dublin?
I wish to raise two other points, one of which concerns the Dublin Transport Authority. We had excellent debates here on the legislation establishing that authority. An innovative and welcome measure is that the DTA will have the power to be the provider of last resort in terms of transport. If for some reason transport services are not available, whether it be bus or train services or the Luas service, the DTA will have the ability to step in and provide that service. As we approach a period of what appears to be significant industrial upheaval in our bus market, I want to ensure that a measure such as that will be examined by the Government because the legislative foundation for that measure is in place. The Army made a statement recently that, if called upon, it would be willing to step in and provide essential services. I hope that will be the last scenario we will need to consider. We cannot reach a situation where there will be no buses in our capital or throughout the country. That is unacceptable. We need to examine ways to ensure that is avoided. The law is in place to provide for that. We must ensure that the Government takes this matter seriously and puts in place new or different measures to ensure that we do not find ourselves in that awful situation.
I wish to refer to the role the private sector can play in dealing with the position we face. I lived in London for six years and I saw the diabolical state of the bus market in that city resulting from its deregulation. Under no circumstances should people find themselves in a similar situation here. It is a characteristic of human nature that a person will work harder when he or she knows that another company or person is seeking to do the same work. I have to work very hard as a politician, as does the Minister of State, because he and I know that somebody else in our constituencies would like our jobs. That is a powerful motivator in terms of human nature.
The Minister of State signalled that legislation would be introduced to reform the bus licensing regime. When it is being introduced, we should ensure that, if there are other operators that can provide bus services in an efficient manner and at good value for the taxpayer, we find a way of allowing them to operate in a regulated manner. In opening the market we would need to ensure that such operators complement a well funded well run public service provider. Both elements have a role to play in ensuring our bus market works not only now but in the years to come. As was said here earlier, we know that the difficulties we now face will not disappear next month or even next year. We must plan to ensure the necessary foundations are put in place to provide efficient services and guard against ever finding ourselves in a situation where huge amounts of taxpayers’ money is released to organisations without the right reforms having been made to guarantee the provision of good companies and markets to serve the needs of our commuters.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome the debate on this issue. Although I would probably be more at home speaking about ferries travelling to and from Bear Island, I am tasked with speaking on this matter.
Senator Paschal Donohoe Senator Paschal Donohoe
Senator Paschal Donohoe: It is good to see the Senator and the Minister of State together again.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I acknowledge that the Government has spent considerable sums of money on the development of Bus Éireann’s bus services. Like my colleague, Senator Donohoe, I lived in London for four or five years many years ago and I was a student in Dublin a long time ago. When I am in the capital every week I notice the quality of the bus fleet and hundreds of new buses are now operating on various routes. However, the efficiency of the service is a matter to be taken up under the Deloitte & Touche report.
I wish to raise two points with the Minister of State. I thought the proposal for an integrated ticketing system, similar to that which operates in Paris, had evolved and was being developed. One can buy a one day ticket or a weekly ticket to travel on the metro, bus or rail systems in Paris. Whatever about Cork city or Galway city, in Dublin, the capital city, there should be an integrated ticketing system, given that there is the DART service, Luas services and bus services. I would like the Minister of State to examine the introduction of such a system. I will concede my colleague, Senator Donohoe, is much more familiar with the situation in Dublin than I am. I mentioned the situation regarding the Dublin Transport Authority. It is a point of interest the Minister might deal with in his response.
I chaired a Joint Committee on the Constitution which looked at the proposal to build the metro link from Dublin city centre to the airport. We are living in a very difficult economic situation and I am not sure of the current status of that proposal. An important aspect of it is that we concluded, because of the complexity of the issue of land and building an appropriate tunnel to take the metro underground from the city centre to Dublin Airport, a simple piece of legislation could be introduced to provide, under our Constitution, for land on the route under 10 metres or approximately 30 feet underground, provided no structural damage was done to property, thereby getting over the constitutional issue of dealing with every householder and landowner between the city centre and Dublin airport.
It was an interesting conclusion. There was a parallel situation when gas was brought from Kinsale to Dublin, at little cost. It is an angle which could be looked at from the point of view of securing the property issue and is a sensible provision used in other European capitals in such situations. It is something which could be prepared for and done now, and when money is available down the road, the project could proceed.
It is important to note the Deloitte & Touche report which was published recently has a number of recommendations which the Minister and Government must take on board. There are very valid resources out there. I would like to see more competition, but what is important is that the focus of the report is on the effectiveness and efficiency of the network of services provided by both companies. There is no doubt there is a situation where routes have been established for many years and have been extended, just for the sake of running the routes. There must be a root and branch examination of the efficiency of each route to see if they are delivering value for money, if population shifts are changing, if different routes can cross the city and if there can be linked routes so every route does not automatically end up at the city centre and if there can be a simpler and more integrated system.
It is imperative that we acknowledge the significant contribution made by Government over the last number of years, particularly since 2000. Some €800 million has been paid to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann in compensation for their public services obligations. In 2009 alone, the amount allocated is approximately €125 million, an increase of 120% on the allocation for 2000. The provision of substantial sums of money from the Exchequer and the taxpayer means one must demand and seek out value for money in all areas.
It is also interesting to note that over the same period a total of €300 million in capital has been made available to the two companies towards the cost of providing 271 additional buses. This is something which should be recognised. We can be critical of how things are done, but the fact that has been achieved is important. It is also worth recording that 1,160 replacement buses and new and improved garages and bus stations have been provided in that time. There has been significant investment by Government in this area.
It begs the question of whether we are getting value for money. With all the money that has been spent, we must ask if the two bus companies will turn the corner and become profitable ventures. The point made by Senator Donohoe about competition on routes is of critical importance. As someone who occasionally uses Dublin Airport, I believe it is important to provide at least two or three different options to get from the airport to Dublin city centre. More competition and perhaps more input from private enterprise would also be of some benefit to the public.
There is an imminent threat of strikes by the trade union movement. In particular, I hope those involved with running buses in Dublin stand back from the abyss of having strikes. I was caught in Paris when bus drivers went on strike for two days and it was almost impossible to travel on the metro as it created a major knock-on effect. I hope such a scenario will not emerge in this difficult situation. I ask those responsible to think twice before bringing the capital to a halt and look at the financial consequences and the loss of revenue to the economy of Dublin if that were to happen.
The smarter travel report was mentioned, which acknowledges that buses will have to play an even greater role in the future as we seek to make our transport more sustainable. Perhaps in his reply the Minister, in dealing with the smarter travel suggestion for higher quality bus services and major improvements in traffic management, would also look at the possibility of an integrated ticketing system for the capital. As he has pointed out, significant future financial implications are involved. The annual Exchequer subvention of €313 million in 2009 is frightening. It is a major service.
In the era of the Celtic tiger — it is doubtful if it is still alive or purring and I think it may have gone to its cave — it is difficult to believe that, given the population growth in Dublin, an efficient bus service could not run on a profitable basis, but it is not happening in Dublin. It is a significant challenge for the Minister and his Department.
Another concern, which is sporadic and in a minority, is that of the safety of those travelling on Dublin buses. It is regrettable that in this day and age bus drivers can be attacked, and in one instance a bus was more or less highjacked. It creates major pressure and affects certain routes. I hope the Minister, in conjunction with the Garda, will look at ensuring people working on and driving buses have a safe passage and the vast majority of the commuting public are respected.
I wish to acknowledge the major works planned in 2009 for College Green bus gate are well under way. The Minister also mentioned funding of €20 million for regional cities such as Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford is being made available in 2009 for bus priorities and park and ride projects. I compliment the Minister. I have seen the park and ride efforts first hand in my home city of Cork and it is a significant boost in peak times to ensure city centres are not clogged up. I would like to see a greater roll-out of it, whether in Dublin, Cork, Limerick or other areas where it is feasible. It is something which should be lauded.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House for this important debate. I am sure my other colleagues will give a more in-depth analysis of the successes and failures of the bus and transport system in the city.
Senator Brendan Ryan Senator Brendan Ryan
Senator Brendan Ryan: I welcome the Minister of State. The Labour Party welcomes the report on the cost and efficiency review of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, which we are debating. It is a very useful document which can, if implemented, provide a framework for a customer-focused approach to improving bus transport in Dublin and throughout the country.
The terms of reference specified that the review should assess whether the resources currently available to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are used in the most effective and efficient way possible to deliver an optimum public transport service and to assess the effectiveness and appropriateness of the network of services currently provided; assess the operational efficiency of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann with particular reference to resource utilisation; identify any issues, such as human resource or organisational issues, which adversely impact on the efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of service; and make recommendations in regard to actions required to enhance efficiency, effectiveness and reliability of public transport services.
Those terms of reference were appropriate and, by and large, were met. Under the effectiveness and appropriateness heading, several improvement opportunities for Dublin Bus have been identified, which make sense. They are as follows: over-complexity of network and services; the need for co-ordination of services along core corridors; direct routing where possible; need for timetable redesign such as clock-face departures; marketing and information provisions such as real-time bus stop information; and achieving value for money from service provision, all essential elements of any service.
All these make sense, are very obvious and have been recommended by the transport user bodies for many years. I question whether it was necessary to engage consultants to come up with these recommendations because they must be part of any comprehensive blueprint for improvement and change.
Given the nature of the Bus Éireann service, there are not many challenges under this heading for the company other than more direct town to town services, which it provides.
Under the efficiency heading, both companies come out well by international comparison and benchmarking. Wages, fuel costs and engineering-maintenance costs are in line with benchmarks and many cost improvement efforts are already under way, which is encouraging. Both companies can be rightly proud of those findings. Before the report came out, I would have expected something worse than has been reported in this regard.
On Dublin Bus fleet size, the report states:
Our analysis shows that the current fleet size is adequate to service current demand. We favour optimising the existing network and extracting full value from existing fleet before considering future fleet expansion.
However, the report does not recommend reducing the fleet size, which is what is being implemented by both companies. It is the subject of some of the union problems referred to by my colleagues on both sides of the House. This decision must be reversed in the interests of the bus user and of maintaining services.
Senator Donohoe raised issues about the unions and Senator O’Donovan said those responsible must reconsider their position. There are two sides to every equation and the company has a certain responsibility in this regard as well. Presenting a group of workers with a fait accompli , saying their jobs are gone and that one is taking the buses off the route is not the way to do business, whether in the public or the private sector. If one adopts that attitude, whether in the public or the private sector, one will get the result we are seeing at present.
The report laments the decline in numbers using the service, yet the decisions being taken by the companies will make matters worse. I was informed by Dublin Bus yesterday that as a direct result of the reduction in the fleet by 10%, a very important route, the 105, which takes students from Malahide, Portmarnock and other points along the way to Dublin City University, is to be decommissioned. These areas, which are within a six to ten mile radius of the regional third level college, will not be served by a direct service to the campus. How can that make sense? This decision must be reversed. Given that the Minister requisitioned this study, should the bus companies not have focused on the recommendations contained in it rather than taking actions which were not recommended in the report?
In the area of human resources or organisational issues, the report does not seriously reference any matters that might get in the way of the required changes being delivered other than the possibility of claims for disturbance money. That is also relatively good news.
I take issue with the methodology employed by the study. Deloitte & Touche’s approach to this review was to undertake a substantial amount of desktop analysis, consult extensively with senior management in both companies covering a range of functions and hold stakeholder meetings with Dublin City Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, the Dublin Transportation Office, Dublin City Council and the bus route licensing division of the Department. All those measures were justifiably carried out, but the key stakeholders are the bus users. Surely there is some merit in gaining insights from the workforce below senior management level. This report would be much stronger if there was some involvement by the workforce. Some effort should have been made to tap into the insights of this very important group of stakeholders.
I refer to the public sector obligation, PSO. The report concludes that Government PSO payments, including capital payments to both companies, are relatively low. It states that in Europe, levels of operational subvention are generally higher as a percentage of revenue — it is 68% in Brussels, 57% in Zurich, 62% in Amsterdam, 79% in Lyon and 38.5% in London. The Dublin Bus PSO payment in 2007 equated to 29% and Bus Éireann was 12% of total revenue. These significant differences in commitment to public transport are worthy of note and confirm what the Labour Party has been saying in this regard for many years. Under the efficiency heading, the bus companies met the benchmark targets but the Government did not in regard to PSO.
The report touches on a number of supply and demand side considerations to deal with congestion, which is rightly considered a major issue for both companies, restricting their efficiencies and increasing their cost bases. One of these is congestion charges in the city centre. These may become part of a solution in the future but not before the various elements of Transport 21 are in place which will allow people to get out of their cars. London had the public transport infrastructure but Dublin does not yet have it.
The report notes that the outdated Road Transport Act 1932, as amended, is the primary legislation governing the provision of passenger services by private bus operators while a separate authorisation regime applies to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. It states that the current system is reactive rather than proactive when it comes to granting licences and that Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are concerned that the current licensing regime does not take into account the impact of granting a licence to a private operator on its overall obligations to operate comprehensive PSO networks. They believe a clearer policy is required to avoid cherry-picking of profitable routes by private operators and I have some sympathy with that position.
We need to modernise the licensing system and have a comprehensive debate on it. We cannot have a continuation of a licensing regime which last year did not allow Dublin Bus, with its 41X service, to pass through major expensive national infrastructure like the port tunnel.
I refer to the recommendations that include Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann recommendations and some general recommendations that apply to both. They make perfect sense and have the potential to deliver real improvements for service users. I do not intend to go through them as they are in the report. However, as mere recommendations they are useless; they must be implemented.
On implementation, the report suggests a three-phase approach: phase one, focus on assembling the team, planning the programme of work and initial consultations; phase two, design and implement a pilot; and phase three onwards, design and roll out new services to remaining corridors.
It estimates that the initial phases one and two could be set up and implemented in a six-month timeframe with the subsequent roll-outs over an 18 to 24 month timeframe. I have some sympathy with the views of Senator Donohoe that perhaps this is not the time to do this, that there is less chance of implementing and achieving these phases now and that if we had done this four or five years ago, we might have had a greater chance of success and we might have the infrastructure in place today.
The Minister has the report so he should implement it. As I said, he should stick to the report’s recommendations and not decommission the buses. He should also heed the warning contained in the report. The programme of work represents fundamental change for the company and should be regarded as a major change and transformation programme. The correct sponsorship and resources will be required if it is to be successful. The changes must be made in a co-ordinated way and it is essential the needs of the customer are central. It is important to remember it is an integrated set of recommendations and that an ad hoc approach or the selection of some elements or the ignoring of others will be unsuccessful. Let us hope the report does not end up on the shelf covered in dust.
Senator Dan Boyle Senator Dan Boyle
Senator Dan Boyle: It is apt that we have this report at a time of considerable public controversy with regard to the funding of bus services. The impression has been created that the Government has been providing fewer resources for Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, but subvention to both companies has remained the same. What has happened is that the number of passengers has decreased and this is what has led to the decisions taken by management with regard to the curtailment of services and routes, particularly in the case of Dublin Bus. This is regrettable, but it was not a Government decision.
It could be argued that Government could increase subvention and if resources were available, that should be given serious consideration. However, due to the current economic situation the two companies concerned must cut their cloth according to their resources. Although I wish it were otherwise, we provide lower subvention for public transport compared to other European countries. In recent years the subvention rate has increased and, by default, will, ironically, increase further as the cost base of both Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann is reduced. This is the sad effect of the current situation.
We must not only acknowledge the slight increase in subvention over the past ten years, but also recognise the significant capital spent, which has provided some 1,400 buses for both companies. While these were mainly replacement buses, some 271 were new buses. This demonstrates the redirecting of a commitment towards public transport, particularly bus transport.
We need to make public transport more diverse and to provide people with more options, but at the same time, any public transport policy must have a bus-centred approach. This is true not just for Dublin, but for the rest of the country. The figures mentioned by Senator Ryan, indicating the level of subvention for Dublin Bus as opposed to Bus Éireann, demonstrate how significantly the major urban centres outside of Dublin continue to be at a disadvantage. Dublin Bus gets two and a half times the subvention rate provided to Bus Éireann, despite the fact it has alternative public transport in the form of DART, Luas and suburban rail. In all our other major urban centres all we have is a bus service, often quite a meagre service.
Despite this, the report indicates there are better management and efficiencies in Bus Éireann than in Dublin Bus. We need to ask the reason for this. Two years ago, Dublin Bus earned a profit of €5 million, but this year it has suffered significant losses. Following the introduction of Luas and an overall increase in the numbers of people using public transport, Dublin Bus, despite being given additional resources and new buses, found itself carrying fewer passengers. We must ask why this has happened.
Ten years ago, I was appointed through the social partnership process to represent the community and voluntary sector on the public transport consultative forum, which was established by the Department of Transport and included trade union and business representatives and representatives of community interests, to examine the direction public transport should take in the years ahead. It is somewhat depressing that we have not moved far down that road, but we should still give consideration to some of the proposals made then.
We had a somewhat fruitless argument about whether State transport companies should be privatised or whether more private interests should be included. There are other alternatives, such as the French public transport system, the city-based bus system in particular. A method used in France to reinvigorate the public transport systems in metropolitan areas is to put the management of the companies, which are municipal companies, up for tender every five years or so. Therefore, there is a new management system every five years. This system is successful because it avoids the ennui and predictability we see here with public transport.
This may be off the point, but I remember as a first time councillor visiting the manager of a train station in Cork who did not seem to realise that the towns of Cobh and Mallow were of equal size, but was considering withdrawing a successful train service to Cobh. I have often found it frustrating that many of the principals in our public transport companies do not use public transport. It makes the situation even more difficult when we have this kind of mindset in the management of companies meant to be promoting public transport and making it more efficient.
We still have difficulty in Ireland convincing the public that public transport should be the first option for getting from A to B. This is the norm in most countries, but in Ireland public transport seems to be the poor relation. Until we can get past this mindset, we will continue to be, despite recent economic circumstances, one of the most car-dependent countries in the world. There is no reason we cannot have greater reliance on public transport. I welcome the increased subvention and capital for public transport, but we are still in a situation where the greater preponderance of resources is given to private motor transport. Until we get the right equilibrium in this regard, we will still treat public transport as the poor relation.
Dublin has successful alternatives to buses in the Luas and the DART. Despite this, we have seen obstructionism on the part of Dublin Bus, in terms of both competency and management, with regard to bringing about the changes needed in public transport in our capital city. The main reason we do not have an integrated ticket system — as is found in most developed public transport systems of the world — is reluctance on the part of Dublin Bus management. Until it overcomes this difficulty, Dublin Bus will remain a loss-making company and will be portrayed as a company that does not fulfil its potential to meet public transport needs.
Given the lower level of subvention it receives, Bus Éireann does far better with the resources available to it and has a more effective management system. The Government needs to discover why the company with fewer resources is doing better than the company that receives more. This is the essence of what we must learn from this report and I hope we do that. If we put the lessons we learn into practice, we can, I hope, point the way, because we have a considerable journey to make. I am not playing a pun here on the Iarnród Éireann slogan — we’ll get you there, eventually. Public transport has a journey to go, but it can get there given the appropriate resources, political support and attention to the details of this report.
Senator Jerry Buttimer Senator Jerry Buttimer
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I am sorry Senator Boyle is leaving the House because we share common ground on this issue. I welcome the Minister of State.
It is important we focus on two aspects of the report, namely Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. The issue of subvention is controversial and Senator Ryan read into the record the public service obligation. Capital payments here are low compared to other countries. The basic question is whether we want proper public transport. We must stop hiding behind the unions of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann or behind their management. We need ministerial leadership and authority on the question of the provision of public transport by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. Let us stop the charade of blaming the workers and managers and let us have leadership and authority from Government.
We need value for money and we must examine and create better efficiencies in the provision of public transport. The bottom line is that public transport must be about serving people and, as Senators Boyle and Donohoe rightly said, offering diverse transportation arrangements. We must think beyond the old regime and the traditional formats of public transport. Undoubtedly, much change has taken place and much of it has been good, which we welcome. This is down to commitment by workers, management and successive Governments. As Senator Boyle stated, we made a profit of €2.5 million and it is gone. Where did it go?
The report states that Bus Éireann passenger numbers increased between 2001 and 2007 and they increased by 6% in Dublin Bus. Surely at a time of economic recession and frugal living more people will look to public transport. I will return to Senator Boyle’s comments on the French and Spanish models. The French model with regard to putting the management up for tender is one we should examine and I would have no difficulty with this.
We should tie in more with local authorities. Rapid transport corridors will be introduced in Cork in three parts of the city. I welcome this and I accept that at a time of economic stringency the money may not be available to fund and promote these new routes from the train station to Ballincollig via UCC and the CIT and from the airport into town and to Blackpool and from Mahon to the city centre. The planning process should begin now so that when we come into times of money again, which will happen, we will have the plans ready to go and we will not be waiting or procrastinating. It is important that we look at how the local authorities and the Department of Transport interact and the way in which people use various modes of transport. Is the Minister of State prepared to do this with regard to Cork city?
The car is the first port of call, and it should not be, for the majority of people in our cities and in metropolitan Cork covered by the Cork area strategic plan, CASP. Last week, when schools were on mid-term break, one could drive from Bishopstown to the city centre in ten minutes. On a school day, it takes almost 45 minutes at peak times in the evening and in the afternoon. We have failed miserably to move people away from car dependency. The modal shift must start again and we must sell the package better. We must offer people a reason to move.
To prepare for today’s debate I spoke to a number of people who use buses on a regular basis in Cork and Dublin. I was told services were unreliable, expensive and had poor timetabling. Dublin has the Luas and the DART but Cork has no competition. I praise the workers of Bus Éireann in Cork and Joe Fitzgerald, the manager, who is very affable and is willing to meet and speak to public representatives. By comparison, private companies are reasonably priced, well structured and reliable.
A passenger who uses public transport to get to work in Dublin told me it was preferable to walk a mile to get the Luas rather than wait for a bus. When I ask why I was told by the person that taking the Luas would mean getting into town in 20 minutes and getting to work on time whereas the No. 44 bus would take at least an hour. Another passenger told me of seeing people who, after waiting for a 46A but, flagged down a taxi. This does not make sense. Surely, as the report states, our bus schedules should be led by the requirements of passengers. Passengers must be at the core of public transport delivery. It is a service for people to ferry them from point A to point B.
I call for more radical routes. Displays at bus stops showing real time arrival, as at Luas stations, must become part of our commitment to the people. Integrated ticketing has been discussed and I blame the Government for failure to do this. There is no other excuse. Stop blaming the management and the workers. The Government has the authority and it should drive it on. It makes no sense that we do not have integrated ticketing in this city. Consider Barcelona where one can buy tickets for zones and hop on and off.
I welcome the commitment of Bus Éireann in Cork and I acknowledge what the Minister of State stated about the Carrigaline route. I hope we will see it come to fruition. Recently, Bus Éireann changed the Cork city to Monkstown route. These are growing satellite towns in Cork which require a proactive bus service. CASP must be integrated with the local authority and Bus Éireann.
How many people here can tell me the cost of a bus ticket in Dublin? The last time I checked, it was €2.20, which is preposterous. We should consider allowing bicycles to be carried on buses, DART and commuter trains during off peak hours and on Saturdays. Introducing ticket zones, as exist in Barcelona, would also be of help. To incentivise people, can we provide a better discount for buying tickets in bulk?
We can get people away from cars and into buses. I travel by train, bus, plane and car. If we had a proper bus system and public transport system we would have a healthier society with less traffic congestion and pollution and more efficiencies. This is in the hands of the Government. The Minister of State can drive the bus or be the back seat passenger. It is his choice.
Senator Ann Ormonde Senator Ann Ormonde
Senator Ann Ormonde: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am a very fair-minded person and I am delighted to be here because all contributions so far, even Senator Buttimer’s, have been very constructive.
Senator Jerry Buttimer Senator Jerry Buttimer
Senator Jerry Buttimer: It must be a full moon.
Senator Ann Ormonde Senator Ann Ormonde
Senator Ann Ormonde: I love constructive thinking rather than talking the talk, as we do much of the time here. At long last we have what I would call a brainstorming exercise. I do not have great knowledge on this area. I did not have time to read the report. I scanned it this morning and, from my scanning, I can see there is much more to read in it. I would love to have a more detailed debate on it. Listening to the contributions this morning, I will echo many of the points made already.
This report is on how to bring about better efficiency and a reliable mode of transport in cities and towns and in rural and express services. Because I had not done much thinking on it, yesterday morning I stood at a bus stop for 25 minutes at which point four buses came together. I had thought I would have had to get a taxi to the Seanad. I love the line in the report which refers to this as “bunching”. What a lovely line to use. I would never have thought to use it. When the four buses arrived, each of them had approximately three passengers. Before they arrived, there was an out-of-service bus. I believed I was going to have a heart attack at that stage. It was the first bus that came and the others came after it. The report touched on the fact there is a real need to ascertain how we can best stagger timetables such that buses would come every five minutes and that one would not have to wait any longer than this. During the 25 minutes for which I was waiting, I looked at the timetable, which was on a little barrelled thing, but could not read it. I took out my glasses, looked at the timetable and tried to see the print but one would have wanted binoculars to read it. I could not get the feel of it.
We talked today about subvention and the very bad economic times. It was suggested that, with the downturn, we will not be able to invest much in the bus service. I sometimes wonder whether money has any bearing because it is a question of efficiency and management. How do we go about managing routes and integrating services? I live in Dublin 4 but I figured out that if I wanted to go to Tallaght Hospital, I would have to get a bus to the Luas stop at St. Stephen’s Green, from where I would get a Luas to Tallaght. That is not too bad for me. However, if I were living farther out, for example in Stillorgan, how would I get to Tallaght? How is the system working, if at all? Perhaps it is and I do not know about it. It should not be too hard to create an integrated system.
Have we debated linking services with big schools, retail centres and HSE services? Have we thought about the City Imps? Are these buses still in existence? How about facilitating senior citizens to travel from A to B between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.? I do not know if such services exist. I have not done enough reading and am, therefore, not knowledgeable enough to say much more, but I would like my questions to be answered simply so the public will have the relevant information. Perhaps timetabling is the way forward, such that people could, at various points, step on the bus with their tickets. This seems to be the European approach. We should certainly consider it because I am not so sure we have got it right yet in this country.
Duplication on routes is a waste. Five or six buses of different numbers may travel on the one route, albeit coming from different angles. Perhaps I am lucky to live in a location where four or five buses of different numbers operate on the route that serves me. However, when one sees two No. 10 buses coming one after the other, something is not right. A 64A and 46A may be coming behind them, which is not right either. We must stagger the service. Timetables should be made easy to understand. Out-of-service buses should not be going to garages during peak traffic times and they should come on stream during non-peak times.
It is not always a question of money. The way to deal with any changes is to sit around the table with the unions, management and other interested parties. People want to co-operate. Now, more than ever, there is need for change. The philosophy of life is changing, as is our psychological approach to everything. We have the opportunity to interact and bring about change in a non-confrontational way. We have been confrontational in the past. Let our union representatives and others sit down and negotiate. The change I propose should not be too hard to make. I look forward to a more detailed debate on this subject, perhaps in a couple of months when circumstances stabilise somewhat. At present, everybody is frantic in his or her thinking and I hope we steady up, settle down and decide how we will make services work in every way.
Senator Paddy Burke Senator Paddy Burke
Senator Paddy Burke: I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on transport. The bus service is so complicated that the ordinary individual is put off using it. Reports show a drop in the number of passengers using the service last year and it is forecast that there will be an even bigger drop this year. I presume the same will be the case in 2010.
While Dublin is not a big city compared to others, it lacks a major central bus station where all buses from rural areas would converge and from which all routes would begin. There are a number of central stations in Dublin and this adds to the complication. Coupled with this, there are two Luas lines that do not join up. The transport system in Dublin is an absolute mess and the Government is not doing enough to create a system for the whole city that is considered easy to use by both urban and rural passengers.
Integrated ticketing has been on the agenda for quite a number of years. It is unbelievable to think we have not progressed further in this regard than we did five or ten years ago. Integrated ticketing is essential in a city such as Dublin. That one cannot avail of it in this day and age, regardless of where one comes from, is unbelievable. I do not really know what is holding us back from having integrated ticketing but achieving it should surely be high on the agenda. It should not be too difficult to solve the problem.
I received an e-mail in recent days from a student going to college in Sallynoggin. He outlined the difficulties he experiences trying to obtain public transport to travel to college. There are no feeder buses at one end of the DART line, which makes it very difficult for him to travel on the DART, and he must therefore take the bus. The bus costs him €3 per day, or €60 per month, which, as student, he cannot afford. There should be feeder buses serving the DART and Luas systems. It seems there is none in many cases. It is reasonable to have feeder buses rather than to have all buses come straight into the city and go from the centre out.
There is a lot to be done if public transport is to be improved. As Senator Buttimer and others have said, a better public transport system would be better for the country and the passenger and it would reduce air pollution. Some of the issues raised today need to be prioritised urgently. There is no doubt that we need union agreement on some of the issues and I am sure that, with negotiation, this is possible. The problem needs to be tackled urgently because it seems to feature from one year to the next.
Integrated ticketing has been on the agenda for some considerable time but we are no closer to achieving it than we were some years ago. I do not know how advanced the plans are for linking the two Luas lines. I am delighted to have had an opportunity to speak on the report. I urge the Minister to put an integrated ticketing system in place as a matter of priority.
Senator Maria Corrigan Senator Maria Corrigan
Senator Maria Corrigan: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern. I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this important issue which has a real impact on people’s quality of life. I was struck by the contributions made by speakers on all sides of the Chamber. I will not repeat what has been said but I support many of the points made.
I wish to focus on a number of the report’s recommendations. There has never been a better time to consider how we can improve the public transport service for customers, increase efficiency and save money. I note that the report recommends an increased move towards cashless transactions and the introduction of an integrated smart card ticketing system. The report outlines that such a system would be especially important to decrease the amount of time buses are stopped at bus stops. As buses operate on a driver-only system, customers paying cash can result in an increased amount of standing time. I strongly support the recommendation for a number of reasons that go beyond the decrease in the amount of bus dwelling time. It is essential to have an integrated ticketing system if we are serious about enhancing the attractiveness of public transport as a viable option for the travelling public and if we are serious about asking people to leave cars at home.
When reading that section of the report I was reminded of the time I spoke to staff in Dublin Bus about the provision of a shuttle service that would not necessarily go to town but would link into other modes of transport, for example, the Luas or DART. I was told such a service would never work because people would not use it and that I did not understand the psychology of the commuter. As a psychologist I was especially taken with being told I did not understand the psychology of the commuter. I was informed that commuters do not like to switch vehicles and that they like to get from the start of their journey to their destination using only one vehicle. I was not able to locate the study that came to that conclusion and I am not sure which psychologist carried it out but we have all had opportunities to travel abroad and utilise complex transport systems and we do not appear to mind if we have to switch vehicles in other countries. I do not see what psychology has to do with us not wishing to switch vehicles when we come back to Dublin, Cork, Galway or wherever.
I believe that being asked to pay twice for the same journey is an issue for commuters. Without an integrated ticketing system in place people are asked to pay for the bus that takes them to the Luas station and then they must buy another ticket at a vending machine to use the Luas. I welcome the fact that so much work has gone into the integrated ticketing system and that we are coming to the stage where it will be possible to pilot it. I urge the Minister to look carefully at the fare structure we put in place for the system. It could be useful to base it around designated travel zones to get the maximum benefit from the system. The journey from Leopardstown to Stillorgan could be one travel zone and from Stillorgan to Donnybrook could be another one so that a journey from Leopardstown into the city could be two or three travel zones. It should not matter how many vehicles one utilises to get from one point to the other if the journey cost is based on the number of travel zones involved. That system is in place in London and New York, for example, and it is beneficial in that one pays once for the journey and one does not have to spend time buying another ticket. The recommendation on real time passenger information contained in the report is a practical one that would be of benefit also.
I understand that given the economic circumstances we will have to consider readjusting some of the services we provide. I urge that those changes be made on the basis of knowing and meeting customer need. We must bear in mind that certain customers do not have an alternative. I refer to schoolchildren going to school, students going to college, commuters going to work or older people living within the community. We should readjust our thinking and not assume that all journeys begin and end in the city centre. That comes across strongly in the report. We must consider introducing radial routes, alternative modes of transport and taking people directly to centres of public use such as schools, shopping centres or hospitals.
Dublin Bus must take into account that continuing infrastructural developments such as the ongoing development of the Luas system will present a challenge to it. There is no point in it trying to compete directly with the routes served by the Luas. Rather it would be more beneficial, efficient and better value for money if Dublin Bus could consider ways to augment and supplement the transport options provided by the Luas.
Deputy Noel Ahern Deputy Noel Ahern
Deputy Noel Ahern: I thank Members for their constructive comments. We had a good discussion. It is evident that people wish Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann well and that they would like to see a greater use of public transport.
Senator Donohoe referred to the danger of a hammer blow in the event of a strike. Today we are discussing the Deloitte & Touche report and the strike relates to day-to-day public transport operations. The subvention is at a very high level but there are financial problems in Dublin Bus because of reduced passenger numbers and increased costs. The company has to meet that challenge in the same way as any other organisation. This year the subvention for Dublin Bus is approximately €125 million and it is more than €300 million for the CIE group of companies this year. The subvention is at its highest level but, obviously, Dublin Bus would like it to be higher.
Meetings are taking place at the Labour Relations Commission today and it is for the companies to work out matters through the industrial relations process with the unions. I hope they can do business. I agree strikes do not achieve anything and it would be better if both sides could work things out. I fully agree with Senator Ryan’s suggestion that companies should consult people below management level. That is a good idea. Nobody has a patent on good ideas. Many workers in Dublin Bus and elsewhere have good suggestions and ideas about how to run everything on a proper basis. We are in a new world and times are difficult and different. Many workers realise circumstances have changed and people must give a little. Sometimes workers are more understanding of the realities than managers. If everyone is reasonable, I hope there will not be a strike but that is for the relevant parties to work out. Sooner or later they will have to do this and, therefore, they might as well do it before the workers strike.
Senator Donohoe asked why a review was not conducted previously. Dublin Bus says it was, but it was not implemented fully. Equally, public representatives have been blamed occasionally where the company had proposals to amalgamate services and amend routes. People at different levels as well as public representatives, together with local community groups, might have lobbied against proposals by Dublin Bus. Occasionally, the company puts that forward as a partial excuse.
I refer to the Finglas route highlighted in the report. Amalgamations and linkages are proposed but a number of the new routes could not have been put in place ten years ago because they serve housing estates that were not built at the time. One route serves Hampton Wood, Charlestown, Lanesborough, Macetown and Meekstown in north-west Dublin where between 3,000 and 4,000 houses and apartments were built in the past few years. The bus route goes through Finglas into the city centre. That could have not happened ten years ago because the houses had not been built.
However, in many cases routes are fundamentally the same and when new housing estates were built, two stops were added to the end of routes and the company did not adjust them. The view is that the company did not take a fundamental look at bus routes, and now might be the time to do so. Timing is important with everything. Senator Ryan asked why a consultant was needed because everything he came up with is based on common sense and everyone knew this, but if everyone knew this, it did not happen previously. Actions are often proposed but they do not happen because the timing and the other ingredients needed are not right. This might be the time to examine the issue more deeply, as people realise funding is not limitless.
It is a difficult set-up and Senator Donohoe referred to reliability measures, which are debatable. It is more difficult to adopt such measures on public roads compared to, for example, a railway track where everything is under the company’s control and such measures are easier to employ in theory. I do not excuse Dublin Bus, but traffic is an issue on a public road, policing comes under the Garda, the roads are managed by the local authority and other motorists use the roads. Even with investment in bus lanes, it is difficult for bus companies to operate. When buses arrive in bunches, it drives everybody nuts because they have waited 25 minutes for a service, but it is a complicated business. At the same time, the Senator stated that subvention payments are linked to memoranda of understanding with the companies on the basis that they meet targets relating to mileage, hours of service and so on. The money was not lashed out willy-nilly. Reliability measures and other standards relating to what should be achieved might be laid down but, unfortunately, they are not as easy to implement as we would like.
A number of members, including Senator O’Donovan, mentioned integrated ticketing and I do not deny it has been debated for a long time but progress is being made. The CIE companies launch interim smart cards towards the end of this year and next year. IBM was appointed last year to build the back office computer system and it is hoped the full roll-out of real time passenger information will be completed by 2011. That is currently one of the problems with the DART and Luas. While one reads the timetable, it is sometimes a work of fiction. It outlines the services scheduled and planned but they are not provided sometimes and, therefore, proper real time information is needed so that customers can have a greater belief that the service they expect will be delivered.
Dublin Bus is introducing an automatic vehicle location measure. Every bus will have a gadget that will signal its location and this, in turn, will provide real time information at bus stops, which will be updated, as necessary. It will never be perfect because even if the bus is only 100 yards from a stop, it could still be delayed. However, the system will be programmed with information about how long it takes to travel, for example, from Parnell Street to College Green at different times of the day. If real time information was provided at bus stops and linked to the smart card system, commuters would be able to move between services more freely, which is the ultimate aim. This would provide for the DART, Luas, metro and bus services to be linked.
Senator O’Donovan raised the issue of the metro. The oral hearing for the railway order, which concerns planning permission, will commence next week. Hopefully, it will remain on schedule, subject to the railway order application. The final say so will be given when the cost of the project is finalised. It will be part funded by the Exchequer and a PPP will be pursued. Four major companies are working on a price and, hopefully, a good price will be achieved. Some commentators will say times are difficult and large projects such as this should not be undertaken, but this is the time to do it and I sincerely hope it is undertaken. Fewer people are at work, which means fewer people are using buses and the M50, for example, which means it is easier to move around to do one’s business. If major capital works are to be undertaken in the city centre, it is better to do them when business is quieter than when it is hectic.
A number of Members said that even if subvention to the bus companies amounts to €300 million a year, it is still much lower than in other countries. However, I referred to the number of new buses bought by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann through Government funding in recent years. Other countries might have a better subvention system but buses are never supplied by the Government. The subvention might be more generous but the bus companies have to replace and purchase news buses themselves. One should watch out when considering international subvention statistics. It is important to realise that it is sometimes a case of apples and oranges in that one may not be comparing like with like. While I accept the general principle and am not suggesting that Ireland has the highest subvention levels in Europe, since we certainly do not, we must be careful concerning what we are considering.
Senator Boyle referred to the mindset, in that a number of people view public transport as the poor relation. Unfortunately, this contains a degree of truth. The Luas and DART are labelled as good services, but I accept that there is a bit of an attitude. Despite how much CIE and Dublin Bus have done over the years, they have not been able to change how people think. While it is sometimes the case that the bus companies and staff need to realise that they must be nice to their customers, that the customer is king and that the customer is god, the real issue is the question of service reliability. Had we real-time information to let people know when buses are due and were four or five buses not to arrive together, people might feel better about it.
While the ongoing subvention problems and Dublin Bus’s management of its funds are issues, the report concerns existing resources, how to improve the service, how to sharpen up on some routes, whether they reflect people’s movements, whether life and age profiles in certain suburbs have changed, for example, whether there are more pensioners in the area, and whether the same number of buses are required at 7.45 a.m. as were needed 20 years ago. During the morning, commuters will walk five or seven minutes to a service if they know where it is and that it is reliable. An older clientele does not need a bus every five minutes, but the elderly want to be sure that the 11 a.m. bus will arrive on time. They also want it closer to their homes. Different age groups, time periods and parts of the city have different requirements. Some bus routes are more or less the way they were 20 years ago. They have not adjusted to the fact that aspects of life have moved on.
Several Senators referred to real-time information and integrated ticketing. Senator Burke referred to the need for a single large bus station, but I am unsure. It was discussed a number of years ago, but I do not know whether we want to revert to it, including the plans for Bachelor’s Walk and so on. Since so many routes enter Dublin city, the Senator’s suggestion is not the plan at this stage. It was planned for Temple Bar, but life has moved on.
I note Senator Corrigan’s comments on switching vehicles, in which there is some truth irrespective of whether a study has been done that backs them up. The theory is that someone who gets on a bus in Finglas west and who is dropped off in the village will switch to another bus and, hey presto, head off. It is a question of reliability, as such a switch would not be a big deal if the bus arrived in Stillorgan or Finglas on time. People are worried they will spend seven minutes in the rain at a bus stop and then spend another ten or 15 minutes in the village. Were the service reliable, jumping from bus to bus would not be a big deal, but people do not want to be left standing for 15 minutes or sitting in a bus on Parnell Square or wherever while a driver goes for dinner or tea.
Senator Maria Corrigan Senator Maria Corrigan
Senator Maria Corrigan: That is it.
Deputy Noel Ahern Deputy Noel Ahern
Deputy Noel Ahern: Everything links to people’s belief that any switching means a delay or problem. Were the service good and reliable, people would get past that belief.
This is a report from a consultant that is trying to say what is probably obvious and to have the workers and company sit down together. Implementation plans are being drawn up. The Department is not a bus operator and, at policy level, cannot tell the workers or Dublin Bus what to do and where and which buses should stop. However, we are asking them to examine what they are doing in an attempt to be more efficient and to make routes and times more relevant. It is for management, unions and workers to work in this regard. We look forward to receiving the plans to determine to what extent the report, which contains a number of good ideas, can be implemented. I thank Senators for their contributions.
Sitting suspended at 1.25 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.
Seanad Éireann 194 Report on Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann: Statements.