Bus Connects going around in circles

By Kathrin Kobus

With one week to go till the end of the consultation period regarding BusConnects and the new bus routes (it officially closed on September 28th) the Minister for transport Shane Ross surprised everyone with the news that he didn’t consider the plan to have anything to do with him. After weeks of mounting opposition against the proposals it sounded like a ‘I’m dying out here’ punchline of an unfunny joke.

It also plainly contradicted what the lead consultant on the redesign, US-based, Jarret Walker thought, “It was my understanding that the NTA’s role was to develop the plan for the minister.” The Portland, Oregon company, Jarret Walker & Associates won the contract put out for tender, public consultation was to be finished by December 2017 with work to begin in the first half 2018. It was only in early July this year, the National Transport Authority (NTA) had published their proposals for the new transport network.
Anne Graham, Chief Executive of the NTA said before the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport on July 18th “The objective of our review was to redesign the bus system to make it more useful to more people and to enable more people to go to more places than they currently can by bus.” Her statement also mentioned “too many buses in the city centre” as well as pointing to “complexity” and “poor service.”

Public reaction to the proposals, after a first glance, was disbelief and when studied further, outright anger. Far from connecting bus routes and people, if implemented as it stands, bus routes will be eliminated, shortened, redirected and make life impossible for the commuter throughout the demographic spectrum. Every daily commuter using or relying on the bus, from young school children, older students, daily workers to OAP’s, the sick and the disabled, will be adversely affected.

Newly lettered routes will replace the numbered ones with a radial web design of routes that leave customers either stranded, or taking multiple changes or routes. Unbelievably, the further chaos, inefficiency and inconvenience of adding extra shuttle buses are now being mooted as a service-remedy to the shambles that is BusConnects, one that only serves to highlight its ruinous dysfunction.

There are seven envisaged spines, lettered A to G, to operate radially from the city centre to the outer areas and suburbs through orbital rings, like a spider’s web. South side, these are labelled from an inner ‘O’ ring through to an outer orbital ‘S’ ring. The letters and orbital rings intersect and also indicate routes and route terminals which are numbered S2, S4, O, (all this without having brought a customer to their wished destination). That is the theory, in practice the proposals from the NTA, Jarret Walker & Assoc. and the Dept. of Transport, Tourism and Sport are even more breathtaking for running rings around the public.

Specifically regarding Dublin 4: Under current proposals Donnybrook and Ballsbridge bus routes will become ‘B’ and ‘E’ spine. At a glance, Loughlinstown Park and Sallynoggin lose their direct connection with Dublin city via changes to No. 7A, both lose frequency of service, with one reduced from three buses an hour to one an hour. Rochestown House loses all bus service. Monkstown loses the No. 4.
Interestingly, the ‘affluent’ ‘E’ Spine routes 46A/B, the 145 and others, appear not to be affected at all and users of this corridor, arguably the least in need of, and reliant on, public transport with either the Dart at their destinations’ disposal or within walking and/or cycling proximity to the city centre or their self sufficiency of private transport, will be far less disrupted, if at all.

Sandymount, Ringsend and Irishtown residents who looked at the plans discovered the big impact of the change to the No. 1 Bus route. It will become part of the ‘C’ spine and will no longer run through Sandymount village but along the Beach Road. That same ‘C’ spine will not cross O’Connell Bridge but continue from Westmoreland Street west past Heuston station towards Lucan. The No. 47 will be scrapped and with that the access towards St. Vincent’s hospital and towards UCD Belfield.

Before the official NTA BusConnects’ Network Redesign information session, Sinn Fèin had invited into the Ringsend Community Centre, Tom O’Connor, a No. 1 driver and trade union representative who explained again and again the huge and largely negative impact the proposals would have. There were pensioners from Sandymount who worried, “With these new plans we will no longer be able to get to Tesco at the Green in the Village or attend mass at Star of the Sea church.“

It’s not just the No. 1 morphing into ‘C’ spine that causes concern. One mother voiced how she found out what the scrapping of the No.’s 15A & B would mean. “My daughter uses this bus to get to secondary school in Rathmines. Now with these plans I was told she will have to change at Aston Quay get on another bus that brings her to Portobello and from there she can walk to her school.”

The place for this meeting, upstairs at the RICC, was easily three times the space including seating that had been booked by organisers for the original, official public information session at the Ballsbridge Hotel. There, the organisers had booked a tiny room with only ten chairs lined up against one wall to face the four white billboards with the colourful proposals lined out, and three round tables, piled high with the shiny booklets but scarcely any forms to be filled in with suggestions and/or complaints.

apped up early and almost gone, when, less than 45 minutes in, NTA’s Hugh Creegan had to find a photocopier at the hotel to print some more. He and other officials from NTA and Dublin Bus were met with a lot of scepticism and questions from pensioners who could be there at the afternoon start. Other members of the public studying or working could and did arrive during the second half of the very early evening / late afternoon.

Everyone concerned with the No. 1 becoming spine ‘C’ heard the same explanation that day: Amendments will be made and Bus C will run the route of the current No.1 between St. John’s Church and the destination in Lucan at the other end.

That promise was verbal only, though. As Hugh Creegan, deputy chief executive officer of the NTA pointed out, “All these, are proposals for consultation and not yet a definite plan for implementation.” In a letter to Labour Senator Kevin Humphries he specified this a few days later. “I can confirm that it is the NTA’s intention, in the revisions that will be made … to change Route C1 to run along Sandymount Road and through Sandymount village, along as the same route as the current 1 service.”

Intention is not the same as assurance, and similar amendments to other affected areas are being promised in all directions. One thing is certain, the ‘C’ spine will not cross O’Connell Bridge, there will be no direct bus link from Sandymount towards the north side of the city.

Getting to the GPO: a customer will take a ‘C’ bus up to Westmoreland street, get off and have to board the Luas for half a kilometre, or wait for it, hop on one of the shuttle buses to take you up towards Parnell Square, totally contradicting the proposals to eliminate “too many buses in the city centre.” Also making a mockery of O’Connell Street as a bus-free zone.

The No. 47 will be scrapped, meaning no direct access to St.Vincent’s hospital if you are coming from the direction of Pearse Street, Ringsend or Irishtown. Suggestions in line for discussion include a shuttle service from St. John’s church towards Belfield, or to prolong spine ‘C’ up to Belfield. The main problem is the railway crossing near Sydney Parade which would impair any reliable timetable for journeys. Remember there was once a No.3 that covered the route to UCD Belfield which had to be amalgamated with the No. 2 into the No. 1 we have currently. The No. 18 it is to be replaced by orbital route S2.

There are two standard fares planned, the 90 minutes basic fare for Bus, Dart and Luas and the short distance fare, cash fares will still be available, payable with the driver but no prices have been mentioned. Indicator poles to measure journeys will need to be installed as they are right now on the Luas.

Questions about how this will affect timetables when having to log on and off were brushed aside as not being part of that evening’s meeting. NTA and Dublin Bus officials explained by rote to their customers how the new routes would affect their journey.

The provided booklet showed plenty of examples showing how to travel from various destinations and gave as their example the rather ideal time for travel of 12pm. Midday conveniently ignores the peak rush hour times of morning and late afternoon post-school and work times.

As Friday 28th September – deadline day to submit recommendations, opinions and objections to the NTA regarding the new plans – arrived, representatives of campaigns from all over Dublin, came out to physically hand in petitions collected throughout the Summer through to September in local communities who stand to lose direct city centre routes under the proposed BusConnects plan.

Mainly, it was from senior citizens who might not have access to the offered option to submit via the online survey. Expectations are that they definitely outnumber the 12,000 who had participated in the survey back in 2017.

A comprehensive revision is now required to consider how to improve the proposals. A new outline will be presented to the public, according to the NTA, some time next year.