Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
BusConnects: SIPTU and NRBU
We will resume in public session. I remind members, witnesses and the people seated in the Public Gallery to turn off their mobile phones completely as they interfere with the recording equipment.
We will resume our discussion of the NTA's radical proposals to redesign the Dublin Bus network entitled the BusConnects plan. I welcome Mr. Dermot O'Leary, secretary general, and Mr. Thomas O'Connor from the NBRU. I also welcome Mr. John Murphy, sector organiser for transport and Mr. Stephen Hannan, a Dublin Bus worker director, SIPTU. I thank them for waiting patiently.
I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I call Mr. O'Leary to make his opening statement.
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
On behalf of the NBRU, which is Ireland's foremost and only dedicated public transport union, I thank the Cathaoirleach and members of the committee for inviting us here today. The NBRU will always respond positively to any announcement that brings an increase to public transport accessibility and frequency, along with added jobs in the industry. Industrial relations issues do not feature in our analysis as we purposely sought to stay away from the area for now to concentrate on the effect the plan will have on those communities our members serve as part of the Dublin Bus family.
The three issues of accessibility, frequency and jobs are fundamental to this debate. We contend that the NTA have got the BusConnects plan wrong in its attempts to correct perceived problems in the Dublin Bus network. First and foremost, members, as professional politicians, should not underestimate the reaction that will ensue from local communities should the plan, as announced, become a reality. No direct buses, isolated communities, and a necessity to use multiple buses to reach destinations that are currently served by one direct bus, are just some of the issues that will play out over the coming weeks and months.
What do we mean by claiming the NTA's plan is wrong? To put it simply, the authority's suggestion that the notion of a direct bus to the city will disappear in many instances, and the name of the plan makes that point very clear. To us, the term "BusConnects" means that there will be a significant amount of interchange, quite an amount of walking from stop to stop, etc. Appended to our presentation is a detailed breakdown of the new routes versus the existing routes, which makes interesting reading. I suggest that all members, along with their local councillors and community representatives, give it their full attention. We, in the NBRU, remain willing and available to talk them through its content.
Mr. Jarrett Walker is the consultant who was engaged by the NTA to oversee, redraw, refine and even rip-up the existing Dublin Bus network. Interestingly, he has a number of fundamentals that he uses to advise on changes to public transport providers and authorities. He applies the following seven principles: It takes me where I want to go; it takes me when I want to go; it is a good use of my time; it is a good use of my money; it respects me in the level of safety, comfort and amenity it provides; I can trust it; and it gives me freedom to change my plans. I know that members think Mr. Walker has described Dublin Bus because that is what Dublin Bus currently provides and Dublin Bus fits into every one of his seven headings.
His view on elected officials and community representatives is:
The politics of these major redesigns are never easy. (“Beautiful people will come to you with their elderly parents and their babies and say the redesign will ruin their lives.”) But with a sweeping overhaul, the benefits should be substantial enough to win over elected officials and other community leaders.
Let me give the NBRU's translation of his view: Flood them, that is the people who have reams of information, embellish to the point that it is all about increased, high-speed corridors with more frequency and, hopefully, the devil in the detail will not be noticed. Fortunately for Mr. Walker, he does not have to get elected. He does not even have to drive a bus in Dublin. Consequently, he will not be around to pick up the pieces when his desktop plan is implemented. Let me outline what happens in reality. Behind every beautiful person, elderly parent and baby are real people who matter in our society and who rely on public bus transport. Dismiss the anger from those in society who depend on buses at one's peril. It is easy for Jarret Walker, and it maybe easy for those at the NTA, but it certainly will not be easy for the elected officials and community leaders that he referred to.
Let us dwell on the original BusConnects document. There is not one mention of disabilities between pages 1 and 58. Of course, behind the description of people with disabilities are some of those "beautiful people" whom he referenced earlier. A significant number of our fellow citizens are not alone reliant on their bus but they take part in familiarisation and training on their bus route number, bus stop placement and colour coding, without which they would be unable to use public transport.
What also appears to be lost thus far in the debate is the fact that the people who use Dublin Bus as their primary means of transport and those who may use it for recreation and leisure may not necessarily enjoy having to hop off one bus and onto another just to get to their destination. We contend again that there is an overemphasis on the speed test and little, if any, emphasis on the convenience test. The people who work or socialise in Dublin may place more importance on being able to get on their bus at their stop and get off either at, or adjacent to, where they want to go. We strongly contend that the new orbital routes should be introduced on top of the existing network and that they be monitored to establish their success or otherwise. At least such an initiative would ensure that those commuters who have bought their houses, sent their children to particular schools, etc., could maintain their commuting patterns without fear of major upheaval.
I will outline a summary of the issues and problems associated with the plan. First, it is based on Parliament Street, which is a proposal that Dublin City Council has rejected, and a threat of a High Court action looms over any such proposal. Without that thoroughfare or the College Green thoroughfare the city bus services will collapse.
Second, access to the new children’s hospital is poor for such a large national infrastructure project. None of the new high-frequency spines connects with the hospital. Route 123 serves Marino, Fairview, Ballybough, Summerhill, the Liberties, Drimnagh, Crumlin and Walkinstown. That route has been scrapped in favour of a link to Sandymount, Ballsbridge and Ranelagh.
Third, outer suburban areas have in the main, under these proposals, had their direct services to the city replaced with local services. Dunboyne, Blessington, Skerries, Saggart and Newcastle are just some examples of the highly populated places that will be isolated.
Fourth, our lack of high rise buildings has forced citizens into the hinterland. The BusConnects plan will take away their bus services.
Fifth, these outer suburban areas will be left to the mercy of the private commercial bus operators who will charge a pretty penny and have vehicles that do not cater for our fellow citizens who have mobility difficulties.
Sixth, the changes advanced by the NTA and Jarrett Walker will have a devastating effect on the elderly and those with disabilities both seen and hidden.
Seven, working class communities like Crumlin, Drimnagh, Inchicore, Coolock, Tallaght, Saggart, Rathcoole and Cabra will, under these proposals, suffer far more than communities in more so-called affluent areas.
The plethora of local services suggested in the plan will use 40 new 28-seat single deck buses. That is a big reduction on the current double-decker fleet. The concept of small single decker vehicles was tried and failed in the 1990s with the use of hail and ride buses call Imps.
The stripping of bus services away from areas where the Luas red line operates, or curtailing services to feed the red line, when that system is full to capacity at peak hours is a mistake.
Curtailing direct bus services to feed an already crowded Dublin Area Rapid Transport, DART, is unsafe. The highly trumpeted ten-minute DART service will have no new fleet for at least three to four years. The service will be made up by splitting longer trains into more frequent shorter trains.
A band called Bagatelle made the 46A bus route famous by mentioning it in its song, "Summer in Dublin". According to this plan, bus routes like the iconic 46A will disappear.
The plan isolates rather than connects. The 140 million passengers carried by Dublin Bus in 2017 will be severely discommoded, possibly resulting in many additional car journeys that will be accompanied by chronic traffic congestion. The wholesale changes could lead to the permanent fragmentation and destruction of an integrated network.
My presentation includes an appendix that shows the NBRU's initial analysis of the proposed changes to the current bus routes so I will not go into the changes in detail. The members of the committee have been supplied with a copy of my presentation, including the appendix.
Mr. John Murphy:
On behalf of the SIPTU members in Dublin Bus, the CIE group, the wider transport industry and all sectors of industry and employment, we wish to thank the committee for this opportunity to outline the union's position on the impact of the BusConnects programme.
SIPTU views the BusConnects programme as a largely positive step in plans to achieve the goal of a fully integrated public transport system that will deliver a reliable, affordable, efficient service for the citizens of our society. We also view the programme as an opportunity to ensure Ireland develops a quality road transport service that is convenient for the travelling public, and those who are dependent on such services, and which can deliver decent secure and sustained employment for those that provide the service.
While SIPTU welcomes the programme and the many positives it strives to deliver, we must also comment on the negatives with the aim of having such addressed at the initial stages during consultation and planning in order that when the programme is rolled out, there will be support for the service from all stakeholders involved in, and reliant on, public transport. SIPTU has consistently called for the necessary investment in public transport and we welcome the fact the Department, through the NTA, is committing to such investment. This investment in the BusConnects programme can and must alleviate the extreme and increasing congestion faced by our citizens on the roads of Dublin and the surrounding area. CSO statistics relating to 2016 showed that private car usage accounted for 69% of all journeys while bus usage accounted for 4%. SIPTU believes the BusConnects programme, if delivered successfully, can dramatically change this statistic and this would have a positive impact for citizens, workers, business and the economy.
SIPTU believes the BusConnects programme can help reduce our carbon emissions and help Ireland tackle climate change. Not only can this strategy take private cars off our congested roads, the planned investment in low emission buses must be welcomed by all stakeholders.
The BusConnects programme can further improve the interconnectivity of our public transport system, which must be welcomed. With the recent commencement of LUAS cross city, the opening of the Phoenix Park tunnel rail service and the public bike scheme, along with the necessary further investment in additional services, increased DART frequency, new rolling stock for Irish Rail to increase capacity and new LUAS lines, etc, SIPTU sees this programme as a vital step in encouraging and attracting people to use public transport. SIPTU also views the proposals to introduce bus rapid transit and dedicated bus lanes on the entire length of radial routes as a positive step. While there has been increased services and frequency on such routes, the fact that approximately only one third of such radial routes have dedicated bus lanes results in unplanned delays where buses interact with other modes of transport. These delays discourage passenger usage as bus transport is viewed as unreliable. SIPTU contends dedicated bus lanes must be adequately policed to ensure they have the maximum opportunity to provide the intended reliable services.
The proposed redesign of the fares system and the future seamless interchangeability of tickets on the various modes of public transport are also welcomed to improve interconnectivity and encourage usage of all modes of Public Transport.
SIPTU welcomes the plan whereby the NTA and Dublin Bus will be jointly involved in the planned public consultation on the programme. While the NTA is tasked with delivering the public transport services, it is vital that Dublin Bus, with their experience and knowledge of the needs of passengers be part of this process. Dublin Bus has always met and exceeded the key performance indicators, KPI’s, set by the NTA in delivering road passenger transport services. Their proven track record in operating a reliable, efficient and high-quality service and the ability of our members to consistently deliver such a service needs to be retained and built on if this programme is to be successful. Dublin Bus has links in every community in the Dublin region and their staff are the first point of contact with passengers. This undoubted knowledge and experience must be to the forefront of delivering new services.
SIPTU must also comment on the potential negative impact of the BusConnects programme, and particularly the possible impact on passengers dependent on the services and indeed on the workers delivering the services. Under the provision of public transport, the NTA and the Department have an obligation to provide services which may not be economically viable but which are socially necessary. This obligation must be met under the BusConnects programme. The programme should not simply be about getting intended passengers from one point to another safely and efficiently. We need to also take into consideration the needs of the disabled and the people reliant on the free travel scheme: pensioners and social welfare recipients. Many of these passengers have no other means of transport and are reliant on their bus services. There needs to be widespread consultation with the representatives of these groups to ensure they are not left behind, and that the services that are needed for access to education, healthcare and to the community are considered and improved upon in any future transport service changes.
SIPTU also has reservations on the impact of the programme on workers who provide these services. We believe Dublin Bus is best placed to deliver the necessary services under BusConnects. Any plans by the NTA to franchise out such services will be resisted by SIPTU, as it will inevitably lead to a for-profit service which will not benefit the passengers, workers or those dependent on the services. SIPTU has been actively campaigning for the establishment of a sectoral employment order, SEO, for the public bus transport industry and we are again taking this opportunity to promote this agenda. SIPTU, arising from the previous agreement in 2015 between the NTA, the Department of Transport, the public bus companies and the trade unions, whereby 10% of public bus services were tendered, will continue to organise all workers in the industry, as we view this as a way to best protect all workers who provide the services. An SEO will provide a level playing field for all operators and workers in the industry and will provide security of services for the travelling public.
In conclusion, SIPTU is largely supportive of the BusConnects programme, with some reservations. The public consultation process is vital and this consultation must be all-encompassing and involve all aspects of our society to ensure our future bus services delivers for all potential passengers, for workers and for the country. I thank the Vice Chairman.
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
Anyone who knows me and my trade union, in particular, knows that we have a fundamental objection to some of the interventions that the NTA have made over recent years. There is no point in saying that the NTA is going to be going anywhere any time soon. It is the national transport authority. A number of issues were raised during the previous session that we have concerns about. Nothing that was said brought any comfort in respect of our view on BusConnects.
If the changes being suggested and the orbital or radial routes are imposed on top of the current network, we will not have a problem. The NTA officials admitted that they will eliminate 10% of the direct routes to the city and we are interrogating this issue as can be seen from our submission. When one considers that there were 140 million passenger journeys last year, a 10% reduction means the loss of 14 million journeys. The vast majority of Dublin Bus journeys are made into the city. Deputy Lahart referred to Rathgar earlier. He took the 15 bus and there were 12 buses. He did not know where they were going but I know that all 12 of them were going to the city.
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
I was just commenting on Deputy Lahart's comments that the 12 buses go to the city and they go cross-city after that.
There were other issues raised by Deputies in the earlier session. I was encouraged about one or two comments to get the NTA to come back in some time soon regarding the PSO, and plans for 2019. We have major concerns about some of the commentary on 2019.
Regarding delivery, the NTA officials said the legislation says the authority shall have one brand. It does not say that. The authority can have a couple of brands as far as we are concerned.
What was significant about that contribution from them on disabilities is that it was a sad and appalling indictment on an authority that runs transport in this country that they did not defer to the people with the expertise in disability organisations before they designed buses.
The commission knows this. As my two colleagues can tell the members, there is a bus design committee in Dublin Bus. Drivers have an input into their comfort and needs before the buses are even built but people who are visually and physically impaired and travelling on the buses have no input and will not have any input, according to Mr. Creegan. That is appalling and a sad indictment. I will it leave it at this. The NTA is master of all it surveys. It seems to be answerable to nobody. It has all the authority but none of the responsibility.
Mr. John Murphy:
Responding to those questions, we did not take any comfort from the comments we heard from the NTA. We went through a long process with it in 2014 and 2015 when it originally announced the tendering of 10% of Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus routes. As my colleague, Mr. O'Leary, said, the NTA seems to have the wherewithal to make decisions but it is answerable to nobody. When we campaigned and lobbied the Department, the Minister and various other politicians, we got the answer that the NTA makes those decisions. When we engage with the NTA, it says that it is obliged by the Department to make such decisions. It does not seem to be answerable.
It is strange that the body designing and in charge of operating and laying out plans for future transport is also the body making decisions on who provides those services and who wins those services. I do not take comfort from what the NTA said. We hoped we would have been able to engage with it at this forum today, but perhaps we were naive to think that coming in. We are, however, seeking to engage. We believe the consultation process that takes place on any plans, whether it is BusConnects in the present format or in a changed format, needs to be widespread and to encompass the experts who deal with disabilities and free travel. SIPTU is not going to come here and say we are experts on the individual needs of various groupings of people with disabilities, old age pensioners or whoever it might be. Even if we did say it, I do not think we would be believed.
The representatives of those people need to be involved and engaged. It is no use having consultation on a one-to-one basis where individual needs are pushed to the front and the wider picture is not taken into consideration. Consultation is the important phase and we welcome that Dublin Bus is involved. As Mr. O'Leary said, my two colleagues here, who are worker directors and bus drivers, deal with people day in and day out and people identify them. People do not know the NTA, but they know Dublin Bus is providing the service. We want to see that continue but we also want to see the people providing the service having an input into how it is shaped and designed. We welcome the investment and it is badly needed.
Mr. Stephen Hannan:
I would have loved to have had this conversation with the NTA but unfortunately it was not to be. Deputy Troy put it elegantly. This is madness that Dublin Bus livery is going to paint 90% of buses for the sake of 10%. Dublin Bus is painting Dublin Buses as we speak and it is a waste of money. This is all reliant on those bus lanes and corridors. I am a bus driver, Mr. O'Connor is a bus driver and we know that 90% of people ignore bus lanes. Roughly 10% of people in the city do not. What is it that suggests that because bus lanes and corridors are introduced, suddenly this plan is going to work?
In some cities this does work because closed circuit television, CCTV, on buses is used to monitor bus lanes and capture images of vans and buses using them. Those people are prosecuted. I brought this up, perhaps ten years ago, to see if we could get this introduced. It fell on deaf ears. That is the type of thinking needed and that is what bus drivers are telling these people.
I will address wheelchair use. This drives me mad. There are buses that cater for wheelchairs. If I have two people on a bus with prams, however, and I politely ask them to fold them to let a wheelchair user on, they will tell me "no". It happens every day. I cannot enforce that. It should be enforced somehow.
I will give an example from Dunboyne, which is heavily populated. The 70 bus operates from there. People have been told that they can get the 70 bus into town but they will have to get off in Blanchardstown and get another bus. I have been told that the NTA figures show this will be faster. Any bus driver or anyone with a bit of common sense will say that getting two buses into the city centre is slower than staying on one bus. As Mr. Murphy said earlier, we have many reservations on the BusConnects project but we need to get into discussions similar to this with the NTA. That is the only way this will be sorted out.
I thank the members of the unions for coming forward and providing us with a comprehensive breakdown of the BusConnects proposals. As has been said, it is unfortunate that we are speaking with the unions after the NTA because we could have raised some of the unions' questions directly with it. It is important that we engage with the ongoing public consultation process. We have received an assurance that it has been extended to 28 September and that there is a possibility of a further extension, if warranted. I do not need to ask that the unions support those public consultation meetings, and indeed any consultation meetings being organised, to ensure that the wider community is fully aware and appreciates the significance of the proposed changes.
Mr. O'Leary mentioned that we alluded to post 2019 in respect of the direct award contract. That is relevant to BusConnects because it is going to be a cornerstone of who is going to deliver it. BusConnects is going to come in at the tail end of 2019 or the beginning of 2020. We need to know who is going to be delivering it and rolling it out. The clear message from the NTA today is that, under existing legislation, it has the power to change that away from Dublin Bus and put it out to tender. The NTA does not consider that privatisation. I would. I refer also to whether a direct award contract can be carried on with. I suggested we revert back to that in September this year. We will be backing that up and, as a permanent committee member I will be ensuring, as will my colleagues, that it is an item on our autumn agenda.
Some valid concerns have been raised. We will be raising those we did not get an opportunity to address earlier with the NTA. The overall objective is how we can ensure there is an improvement in the service to users. We are all united in that. Dublin Bus carried 140 million passengers last year. It is the workhorse of public transport in the capital. We have to ensure we continue to provide a good service to the people using it. Some elements within this proposal will improve that service and we have to welcome that.
Where elements are going to have a negative consequence, we will need to work within the confines of the consultation period to try to eliminate those. I do not know if the witnesses were in the Visitors Gallery earlier.
I referred to the fact that the removal of the direct route could leave it open for private operators to enter the market and operate on that timeframe. I would welcome hearing the opinions of the witnesses on the matter.
Mr. Hannan alluded to the fact that I referred to branding. I did make the point that if the legislation contains the provision for just one brand, which Mr. O'Leary disputes, there is nothing that states what the brand should be. The Dublin Bus brand has been rated as highly satisfactory and Dublin Bus has said that it would not object to another operator using the brand. It makes sound economic sense that 10% of the buses would change, as opposed to changing 90% of the buses to reflect new branding.
Mr. O'Leary made a valid point about a matter that I was unaware of. He said that before a bus is ordered, a Dublin Bus committee ensures that the buses are fitted out and adapted adequately for the drivers, and rightly so. The drivers have the very responsible job of ferrying between 60 and more than 100 people to their destination and ensure that is done in a timely and safe environment. Therefore, it is only right that the drivers are comfortable in their working environment. Likewise, it would be important that disability advocates would have an opportunity to have an input into the design of buses to ensure that when new buses are ordered, they are properly adapted and fitted out to cater for people with varying levels of ability and disability. I do not just mean physical ability. Some people are visually impaired. Some people are autistic and are sensitive to the colours and textures that are used on buses. It is important that we consider these matters as well.
I have a final point to make but I cannot recall it right now. If I recall it later, I will rejoin the debate.
I thank the representatives of the unions for their opening statements. There is a contrast between both presentations but there is probably a contrast in the views of the committee members in terms of the plan having positives and negatives. We, as public representatives, will first consider how this matter will impact on our communities. In terms of my community, there are more negatives than positives, unfortunately. We must address the public consultation aspect because there is a high level of having to change buses the further out one goes. As many as 50,000 people live in the Leixlip, Celbridge and Maynooth area, there is a lot of development happening and there is a projected additional 30,000 people planned to relocate there up to 2024. It is not a small area in terms of the consideration that it requires. While I am a member of this committee, I must consider the needs of the people who live in the region in addition to the wider needs of making the transport needs of the greater Dublin area work efficiently and effectively so that we reduce the amount of traffic congestion.
Presumptions have been made about capacity levels. I am aware of other transport providers. I refer to the 6.20 a.m. train from Maynooth to Dublin. One will get a seat as far as Leixlip but one will not get a seat from there on in. The capacity on the way back at peak time in the evening is so bad that we have nearly reached the Japanese scenario of train staff having to wear white gloves and push passengers onto trains while hoping that the train doors will close. Presumptions have been made about capacity in terms of other transport providers. The capacity simply does not exist and it will take several years before it is sufficient to deal with existing demands, let alone future demands.
The loss of permeability within communities is a matter that will definitely arise as part of the public consultation aspect, and it should do so. I wonder about online consultation. That presupposes that people are comfortable going online and filling out forms and questionnaires. The success of the consultation process also depends on the type of questions that are asked. I will give some examples. Would I like to be able to connect with other areas? Of course, I would. Would I like orbital services? Of course, I would like orbital services. When I analyse the detail of the questions, however, I discover that they mean something very different. I have real concerns about some of the synopses that have been conducted, as per the NBRU's opening statement, on the loss of some of the routes and changes to some of the routes. There are positives because other options have been put in that will bring balance.
Today we heard that there would be no privatisation. A person who works for the company called Go-Ahead is not working for Dublin Bus and it is not his or her employer. Let us have an honest engagement when we discuss these matters. We will have to return to this matter in the autumn because it may well be seen as a bit of a Trojan horse as well. If this project happens then it must take place and all of the stakeholders must understand what is involved rather than discover something halfway through the project that is at variance with what we expect.
I know that the people who live in Celbridge and Lucan require bus connections for their children to reach second level schools in Leixlip. Such transport will happen in other areas due to capacity being available but, unfortunately, there is no capacity in the other two areas. When we look for buses for schoolchildren, for example, we are told that a business plan is required. Schoolchildren do not make for a good business plan as there is less money in the business for the public transport provider. We could find ourselves in a situation where categories are not adequately considered in terms of their transport need.
I am concerned about another matter. A person leaving town may well end up in a situation where the buses that are going directly to the farther places are occupied by people who are not going as far and there could be delays on the way back. The biggest problems are with areas on the periphery and with the services in existing communities closer to the city being lost. They are the two areas that I am most concerned about. The idea that the witnesses would be available for part of the public consultation process would be very useful.
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
I am conscious of the time. I will commence with the questions asked by Deputy Catherine Murphy as she has said that she must rush off.
I will start by replying to the last point that she raised. I live near Clonee in west Dublin, and the other night people asked me about this matter because they read about it and know who I am. I made the point that there was a negative response from me and my submission reflected same. The people pointed out to me that they bought their houses very recently. Almost 7,000 houses will have been built where I live between last year and the end of this year. Some of those people found their way to the local pub and had these conversations. They said that they bought their houses because the 39A, 39 and 38 buses were available and frequent. Let us not forget that some people only have one car now but years ago people had two cars. The good bus service in the area means that people can commute to the city for work and their children can attend various schools, which are very important issues.
Deputy Murphy asked the NTA about some of the peak services that go beyond Lucan. The NTA indicated that some services will travel directly to the city at peak times. Yes, but not as much as they are now and that is a fact. Some of the services that the NTA thinks go beyond Lucan will go to Adamstown. Of course, the NTA did not tell the Deputy that fact.
In terms of the public consultation, the NBRU will be involved. The Deputy made a very good point that elderly people do not engage online and have no notion of ever engaging online.
It is okay to say there are public meetings. I have a slight reservation about Dublin Bus. It is positive that it is involved from one perspective, but from my experience I fear that Dublin Bus is in a type of Stockholm syndrome where it is beholden to the NTA and the NTA is the master of all it surveys. That said, it is involved and we will take the positive from that for now. We on the union side will keep an eye on its contribution to ensure it is not going to be negative.
There is a high level of change in buses. The population increase in Deputy Murphy's area is going to be significant. There is no extra capacity in Irish Rail. My understanding, and I am open to correction on this, is that the next time there will be an increase in the Irish Rail fleet will probably be 2021 or 2022. There is little point in having a BusConnects plan kicking in during December 2019 and January 2020 that pushes people towards trains if they are already full. That is contradictory.
With regard to the privatisation debate that took place, I have covered some of that. Deputy Troy put the same question. Obviously, there was much uneasiness in these chairs when that question was being asked. People can call it franchising, tendering or whatever they wish, but for us in the working community and the trade union family, it is privatisation. My colleagues represent people in the private sphere and, of course, they will endeavour to improve those conditions. That is what trade unions do. Dublin Bus's tender for the 10% it lost was 5% cheaper. That is on the public record. Given its actions, it shows the NTA is determined, and the ideology demands, that it will move further if it is let go further. As Deputy Troy said, this committee should have a role to play in how it moves forward in 2019.
Regarding the public consultation, the unions will make themselves available. Who knows the industry better than us? People should not lose sight of what we said in our submission. In the middle of all the negatives, we did not go near industrial relations issues. There might well be industrial relations issues following this in time, but we do not know. At this juncture, however, we are getting involved with the communities we serve and looking out for them. The people who drive buses are in the community, and we could not deliver the service without the people who work in maintenance depots and the offices.
On Deputy Troy's other question, there is a concern about the potential commercialisation of Dublin Bus. We fear that is what will happen, and what better way is there to create an environment where private operators will step in than to create a mess or come up with a plan such as BusConnects? It creates corridors directly into the city from places such as Celbridge, Balbriggan, Greystones, Bray and Blessington by creating a new service called BusConnects and creates that gap. There is a fear that commercialisation is at play here.
I will make a last point before letting my colleague speak. It is about the bus design, and Deputy Troy took up this point. My two colleagues have sat on that committee from time to time over the years. Without labouring the point it is an absolute disgrace that people with disabilities, who use the service and need it more than most, were not consulted.
Mr. John Murphy:
I will not go over every point Mr. O'Leary addressed but I wish to comment on a few important issues raised by Deputies Troy and Murphy. We have said that we regard the consultation as key. SIPTU and the trade union movement generally have been calling for significant investment in public transport and all public services for years. We welcome anything that will invest money in public transport. It is a service. It is not a for-profit service but a service for the public, so there should be investment from the Government. I welcome the fact that the NTA has indicated it is willing to consider extending the consultation process. August is probably the least favourable month one could pick to carry out this consultation. Even in Dublin Bus there are reduced schedules agreed for the summer weeks, which shows there is a reduced number of passengers and reduced usage. If the NTA is going to consult people in the various shopping centres and elsewhere, it will only get certain answers if people are not there. It has to consult when there is peak usage and peak passenger numbers.
In fairness, Dublin Bus has advised us it will be part of the consultation and it will consult drivers and workers in the various locations. Most of the people who use these services do not identify with the NTA. They do not know what the NTA is. They are not going to be people going online, using social media and commenting on proposed changes or network redesign. They will bring their frustrations out on the drivers they meet each day, so if that is the position, at least the drivers can give feedback. Perhaps consideration could be given to some type of access on the current services for people to be part of the consultation through a mechanism for that on the bus, such as a survey that could be filled out. As Deputy Murphy said, the questions are important. One can ask questions to get the answers one wants so there must be ample opportunity to give an opinion and not just answer questions.
Deputy Murphy said there appeared to be a contrast between our submission and that of the NBRU. There is a contrast in certain respects. I will not say we do not want investment in public services because we do. I will not say that we do not want to remove congestion and improve the environment and climate through changes in the city centre because we do. I will not say that we do not want better fare systems and interconnectivity of transport because we do. However, it must be done right. That is the reason our main issue is the consultation, the protection of people depending on the services and the protection of the workers delivering them.
Mr. Thomas O'Connor:
Mr. Gaston said he wanted the new inner orbital O service to be a jump on, jump off service. We had that back in the 1990s. It was the hail and ride yellow and red imp buses. The slogan on the back of those buses referred to Dublin Bus serving the entire community. We are now going to do the same thing except this time we will not be serving the entire community. I will outline what is indicative of the plan. There is a garage in north County Dublin at Harristown which provides many bus services at present. Under this proposal, not one bus will serve it so bus drivers will have to use their car to get to the bus garage. There are many similar issues throughout the plan. It has not been thought through. Howth is a big tourist attraction but the direct bus, the No. 31, will be taken away. It will be local services. In the case of the national children's hospital, a direct bus will be gone from many of the estates. I could spend an hour going through the plan and dealing with little details such as those. I do not believe proper thought has been put into it and the impact it will have on people.
I am a bus driver and have been driving for 20 years. I drive the No. 1 bus. There are two ladies who suffer from MS in Larkhill and they spend their day going up and down on the bus to Sandymount. They have to get the No. 44 out of Larkhill to the road and then the No. 1. That is their entertainment and how they get out. They will be stranded under this proposal. They will have no bus. How many thousands of such people are suffering in silence because they are unable to attend public consultations or use online surveys?
Dublin Bus still has the slogan of "serving the entire community". It is still on the back of the double deckers in Dublin. I remember the imp buses very well too. The witness referred to the national children's hospital - I live in its shadow - and how it will be impacted. There are stops on the Luas red line in Rialto and in St. James's Hospital. The hospital is packed with cars probably because the buses have been removed from it. They are being removed further with this and it is ignoring the interconnectivity with the Luas in the city.
There are also to be interconnective hubs and it refers to places such as Blanchardstown and Liffey Valley, which are busy areas. I expect it will try, as did the national children's hospital, to use the Red Cow for staff who had to travel when a car park was removed. Every morning we are told by the "Morning Ireland" programme to avoid the Red Cow, so how will that work given the overflow and chaos that occur there?
I am delighted that the representatives continually refer to a public service and a social service within that. This is very important. It is a disgrace and it is unacceptable to not have this infrastructure designed in from the get-go and that persons with a disability, such as the guy mentioned by the bus driver, are unable to access the bus. As an able-bodied person I can jump on and off the bus but a person with a disability will find it absolutely impossible. This could lead to more isolation. There are swathes of areas, especially in the inner city and in housing estates, where bus stops have been removed. We are told that the distance from a housing estate to the nearest bus stop is now nearly 400 m. An older person or a person in a wheelchair must now travel nearly half a kilometre to access public transport, never mind trying to get onto it if a person is disabled. It is an awful long way to go and people will just stay in their homes.
I am not a permanent member of this committee. I am standing in for Deputy Munster but a suggestion for this committee would be to do a press release with all of this information. The most important thing to do is not let the NTA away with the short timeframe allowed for the public consultation. We attended the meeting at the Royal Hibernian Academy and the deadline was extended to 28 September. It is completely unacceptable. Dublin is empty in August and we need to ask for it to be extended. A press release might be a way to give the NTA a bit more of jolt into respecting that.
By 2040, the population of Dublin will be almost 2 million. We need to do something about our transport, 69% of which is private car use, compared with 4% public transport. Compare and contrast this with other European countries. The population of Dublin will reach 2 million and we have to plan for a lot more capacity. As a councillor, I was on the Dublin Bus forum for a long time. The threat of cherry-picking of routes for privatisation was an issue that came up constantly. I am not sure of the figures but the people are putting billions of euro into our public services and by God, it will not be privatised. It is ours. It is a gem and we need to make it more accessible to everybody and get this city moving.
I thank the representatives for their presentation because it sheds a better light on it. Can I clarify that the unions are agreeable to inserting the orbital routes but keeping the rest of the structure there? Perhaps the witnesses will tease this out a little for me as it is quite important.
This is probably the biggest public transport proposal we have seen in the city in decades. I am concerned that is has been presented as a fait accompli. Jarrett Walker has already said that anything more than a 15% change to this plan would render it unworkable. They are trying to contain the potential changes.
That the plan tries to push so many people onto the seven spines rings alarm bells with me. In September we will have to push the whole question of the legislation around the public service obligation, PSO, and what it means. If a person, for example, wanted to use the 123 bus to get to St. James's Hospital from Walkinstown, and if the route changes and goes in a different direction of Suir Road Bridge, the person is then forced into one of these proposed spines. This prepares the ground for a very lucrative route for a private company in 2019 or 2020. I am very suspicious of the trajectory of the NTA and what it pushes, no matter what it says. This is the way of the world now and what it wants. Big business wants access to our public services. This is what I am wary about but I feel the plan is a fait accompli.
We will get into the public consultation aspect of this and there will be public meetings informing people about what is going on. If an older lady from Galtymore Road cannot access a bus until she goes out onto the Crumlin Road to get a bus on one of the spines, it will cause huge problems for people with issues around disability access and for people with younger children. These issues were raised nearly five years ago also and we managed to keep those inner estate routes in the estates to a certain degree. We must raise these points again. It raises a suspicion in my mind around how genuine is the consultation process.
I live beside the Blackhorse Luas stop. It is packed in the mornings and one needs to cram to get onto the Luas. If there are any difficulties or stoppages on the Luas line it always stops at the Blackhorse stop and all the passengers must get off the Luas to go to the bus stop on the nearby Tyrconnell Road. One can see up to 200 people getting off the Luas and trying to wait for a bus. They must wait for a 63 bus, which comes every hour. The proposed plan would be a disaster from that perspective.
I question the genuineness of the consultation, whether or not it is a fait accompli and if the NTA is going to just railroad the plan through. We had this experience with the 19a route in Inchicore. The NTA wanted to change this route and get rid of it. We launched a big campaign in the community and a lot of people got involved with petitions. The concession we got was an extra three 68 buses in the mornings to cater for the schoolchildren going to Synge Street and now those extra buses have been taken out of the estate. There are huge questions around this.
We have done a lot of our own work in the area and have linked in with the unions, that is, the NBRU and SIPTU, as well as with drivers in this regard. This consultation has to go beyond September. It has to go into October and there must be serious negotiations and discussion with Age Action, with the student unions and other groups that have an interest in getting from A to B and to and, for example, from UCD on the 17 and 18 routes. The plan is a fundamental game changer for Dublin Bus but it has taken "public" out of public transport. It moves the public transport away from the hearts of the communities. I understand that Ireland subvents the least amount of money to public transport of any country in Europe. It needs investment, absolutely, but this is a sneaky way to try it. The plan is, as Deputy Catherine Murphy has described it, a Trojan Horse.
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
I will start where Deputy Joan Collins finished. The plan is, of course, the biggest change. In 2009 we had a big change with a major network review when Dublin Bus went from 180 routes down to 111 routes. This is approximately the current number of routes. The biggest change before that was, dare I say it, the disappearance of the tram. Again, there is a connection. In my submission I referred to us pushing Dublin out. We can talk about successive Governments, but Dublin has been pushed out and unfortunately an urban sprawl has been created. Linked to that, a situation has been created where it is commonplace for frequent services to be pulled out.
Deputy Joan Collins spoke of the plan being a fait accompli. I put it to every elected representative - and I meet lots of them, be they in this room or outside - that it is only a fait accompli if people believe it has become a fait accompli . I do not want to stretch too far outside the subject matter, but people power has worked before in this State on lots of occasions and for different reasons. It is up to people themselves and community leaders. Jarrett Walker said the plan should be substantial enough to win over elected officials and other community leaders. I suggest that Jarrett Walker does not know the Irish political system and how engaged people are with politics. I hope I am right when I say this.
The members' suspicions about the PSO have come through every contribution so far. There are major suspicions in this regard. I am glad to sit in the committee today with my colleagues and hear that elected representatives also have this concern. It means that something will be done and at least questions will be asked. Conversations can take place and hopefully we will contribute in a major way.
Senator Devine spoke of cherry-picking, which also comes through in every contribution today.
Sometimes people do not believe me when I say that there is no compulsion on the NTA to privatise, franchise or tender. There is no law in Europe that says it has to do it. Despite what people might say, there is no EU directive or regulation that says the Irish Government or any of the 28 EU member states must privatise or franchise any service. The Irish Government and Irish legislation dictate that the NTA has a choice. Senator Devine is right that this amounts to cherry-picking of a public service.
The Luas red line is packed at peak times. Taking out bus services and putting them up against the red line in the hope that the bus services will take people will not work. Deputy Joan Collins mentioned working-class areas, which I mentioned in my submission also. The 63 bus only comes once an hour now. She mentioned Crumlin, Drimnagh and Inchicore and services are being stripped out of all those areas, as they are in Rialto. The public representatives and ourselves will have to ensure that this is not a fait accompli. Ms Graham referred earlier, in what may have been a Freudian slip, to the "existing network" as opposed to the new network. That is the language of a fait accompliin anyone's game.
Mr. John Murphy:
I have a few comments on the questions raised by Senator Devine and Deputy Joan Collins. The Senator is right that we have a fear about the cherry-picking of services. If the example of Bus Éireann and the services it has been providing for a long number of years is considered, its obligation to provide services whereby they must stop in the smaller towns and villages, which the private operators do not service was partially to blame for the near-extinction of Bus Éireann in the past 18 months. The company simply could not compete with the private operators and we do not want to see Dublin Bus being used as a last provider for public and social obligations. That cannot happen and the NTA need to accept that. The NTA come in here talking about what it must do on tendering. At times the NTA states quite clearly that it can, if it chooses, fully award a direct model to whoever it chooses and that needs to happen. The one thing the NTA cannot get away from is that under legislation, it is tasked with providing services which are uneconomical but socially viable. That needs to continue and that is what the consultation is about.
I read the article to which Deputy Joan Collins referred on Jarrett Walker's comments to the effect that were more than a 10% to 15% change made in respect of the public consultation, then the system would collapse. If the proposed system is not suitable, however, then it should collapse and if the system that is needed for Dublin and its citizens is not something with which Jarrett Walker can assist, then we need to get the right people. Figures of up to €2.5 billion have been touted for investment and that needs to be kept in place for public transport. We have an opportunity, the population of Dublin is growing, there is urban sprawl and the city is going outwards. These people have to be serviced and have a right to be serviced, whether they are commuting to work, seeking community access or seeking access to health services or education. We need to grow and expand the network in the right way and in consultation with the people who need the service.
On disability, I cannot say for sure if it is still there but at one stage, Dublin Bus had disability assistants who were employed and placed to help people where there was recognised need for assistance. I do not know how widespread or well known that was but it is something that needs to be looked at and the NTA should be funding such initiatives.
Mr. Thomas O'Connor:
Deputy Joan Collins spoke about the PSO subvention. The subvention of Dublin Bus is the lowest in Europe bar none. The company is 85% self-funded and only gets 15% of its revenue from the State. That figure is not matched anywhere across Europe, even where there is privatisation.
Senator Devine spoke of the orbitals. When Dublin Bus changed its network between 2009 and 2012, it did not have the funding to introduce these orbitals. Some of the orbitals in this plan replicate existing routes such as the 17A, the 75 and the 76 but there are new ones like the north 6 and the west 4. They are needed and they should be introduced on top of the existing network and monitored. However, trying to introduce changes of this magnitude all at once is a recipe for disaster.
I am quite suspicious about whether it is a question of having this plan or no plan and whether the money would then disappear. The committee should tease that one out with the NTA as well because it is almost akin to a threat-----
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
It is up to the elected representatives to ensure that the funding stream that is now available is maintained. It should not be for the NTA to decide whether to turn the tap of funding on or off. That is the job of legislators.
I did not answer the Senator's question earlier and Mr. John Murphy touched on it. She talked about the population of Dublin increasing to 2 million-----
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
-----and here we have a plan, read it and investigate it thoroughly, that does not even talk about decongesting the streets of Dublin at all. We should be decongesting rather than facilitating the motor car. Deputy Troy said in the earlier session with the NTA that there is a distinct fear that the car could become more prevalent or used because people do not want to go into a hub and get off, walk across the road and get on another bus. Rather than decongesting we could end up encouraging more travel by car.
Mr. Stephen Hannan:
The key to this is through the consultation process, whether we like it or not. Deputy Joan Collins hit the nail on the head as well when she said that elderly people do not go online. They just do not understand it and they do not use it and they are some of the most affected people. The NTA is not an honest broker and is not serious. One only has to look at the questions that will be asked online because they lead people one way and they do not lead to the necessary information. If the NTA was serious about this and wanted to listen to people, it should quite simply go out to the people who are losing their bus services and do surveys on the buses. That is how simply it can be done but it does not want to do that because it knows it will not get the answers it wants.
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
We have done quite of bit of interrogation of the plan thus far, as the Deputy can see from our submission, and we are continuing to do that work. Some of our fears were raised by Deputies in isolation from us, despite what people may think. There are fears about commercialisation and the withdrawal of services. I can tell the Deputy about Dublin South-West, for example. As I had prepared a description for Deputy Rock in case he had been present as well, it is not exclusive to Deputy Lahart. In Blessington, Ballymore Eustace and Ballyknockan, there will be no direct service under this proposal over route 244E. I am aware that Deputy Lahart has done some study himself on this proposal and I have been following what he is saying online. Killinarden Heights would have no direct bus to the city but only the local bus route 240. Routes 65B and 77A would be gone. Tymon North, Seskin View and Tymon Castle would have no direct bus to the city. I know some of these routes myself.
There will be no direct bus from Killininny Road to the city. Route 65B would be gone, with only the 58 orbital to Dún Laoghaire left. Ballyboden and Whitechurch would have no direct bus to the city and route 61 would be gone. Route 69 would be gone in Rathcoole and Saggart with no direct bus to the city, only the 242 local service. Ballinteer is interesting in terms of the 16 bus that is used by people going to the airport from inside of those housing estates. They will have no direct access to the city any more and only a local route. The 16 is one of the iconic routes. Access to Ringsend Road and Pearse Street for Tallaght buses would be gone. Lots of customers use the 77A, the 56A and the 15B from Dublin South-West to access Google, Amazon, Facebook and construction jobs and those routes would be gone at the stroke of a pen. There would be no direct access from Killinarden to Citywest shopping centre, which is currently serviced by routes 77A and 65B. The main bus route from Templeogue is now an airport bus, which is good for connectivity but without the 15B, 65B and 65 bus routes, there would be capacity issues as are currently experienced on the 16 bus at present and this would impact railway commuters.
There is no direct rail link to the children's hospital. The people of Tallaght have a children's hospital on their doorstep, but they have no connectivity to access the children's hospital at St. James's Hospital. There will be no direct bus link to the city from Monastery Road and a new local service, the 255 bus, will replace the 68 and 69 buses. That is only one constituency.
I appreciate the work the NBRU has done on this issue. In spite of what Mr. O'Leary said about public representatives, I am the only public representative from my constituency present. Let us consider some of the positives before going into the negative because I agree with much of what Mr O'Leary said. When we enter the public consultation process, people will need to see both sides. I will address some of the points made by him.
I think Mr O'Leary took me up wrong when I said the 15 bus route would be the A spine. If I catch it from Knocklyon and get off on Rathgar Road and all of the buses on the route carrt an "A", I will know that they will all take me to approximately the same destination. We do not need BusConnects to do that, but it has come up with that suggestion which is positive. The 15 bus service was rerouted because of the Luas cross-city line. The closest I can get to Leinster House is the Bleeding Horse. With the proposed introduction of the 90 minute Leap card, I could get off at the Bleeding Horse and get on board the Luas to Dawson Street. There was not that connection before this plan.
I do not see how this proposal can work within the existing infrastructure. If the bus corridors are not built outwards and there are regular bus spines, a place like Terenure village will clog up. The cart cannot be put before the horse. Work on infrastructure has to be undertaken. There may be alternatives such as the Stillorgan dual carriageway, on which there are dedicated bus corridors all the way into town which can carry more buses.
There is, undoubtedly, a penalty for connecting. The stereotypical senior citizen boards the 15A bus at Limekiln to travel directly to the city. He or she will have to connect at Crumlin to travel to the city. They might be first on the bus at Limekiln and last off at Crumlin. The National Transport Authority, NTA, states it does not matter whether he or she is first on or last off as there will be multiple buses every five minutes. There is, however, something undemocratic about it.
One of the weaknesses in the Jarrett Walker design is that he describes it as a metro style system, but on a metro or a Luas tram many doors open at one time and there is equality of access. Even if the bendy buses are introduced, there will be a maximum of two doors opening at any one time and on regular double-decker buses only one door opens. That issue has to examined.
My party has proposed a transport police force for public transport. That issue needs to be factored into the plan. Deputy John Curran raised it in the case of the service from Rathcoole into the city. The Rathcoole bus service runs on the hour to the Red Cow from where there is a bus every five minutes. It is great going if someone is travelling into the city, but in coming out where will a person wait if they miss the hourly bus service? Some of the interchanges will have to have accommodation, perhaps even somewhere someone can get a cup of coffee but certainly somewhere someone will be secure and have shelter. Even in the shopping centres such as Blanchardstown and The Square, the existing infrastructure is not adequate. If people are expected to connect, they need to be able to shelter, particularly single people at night who need to know they are secure and in a lit up place. That is definitely a factor. There is a Dublin Bus–Luas forum that meets once a month and in which I acknowledge its role.
Everybody has said the public consultation process is critical. I trust Dublin Bus to run it. It has run consultation processes in my time as a public representative and I trust it. In a constituency such as mine where there are several centres, Tallaght, Templeogue, Knocklyon, Rathfarnham and Greenhills, two venues will not be enough. It will have to sweat the maximum out of the number of venues. The NTA is to write to Deputies seeking suggestions for the location of venues.
From places on the periphery such as Ballymoreustace and Blessington, people will not have a direct route to the city. They will connect at Tallaght. We need to hear what they have to say about this. Deputy Darragh O'Brien talks about everything connecting into Swords and has said there are a couple of direct routes into the city. That opens the opportunity for a private operator. My party is committed to public transport and Dublin Bus, on which we could not have been clearer, particularly in the past six or eight months. I am a strong champion and supporter of Dublin Bus. It is a terrific company which has turned itself around in the past ten years. I hope the delegates are reassured that there are legislators here who, if necessary, will curb the powers and enthusiasm of the NTA for privatising, contracting and franchising out routes.
Deputy Thomas Byrne was concerned about the direct services from Dunboyne through Ongar. That issue was addressed recently. It was also mentioned by Senator John Dolan, which is why I mentioned the Dublin Bus forum. I know about the bus services provided for the summer camps in Killinarden and Jobstown. Dublin Bus provides outreach services for the community, even in the event of incidents. Its staff go into schools to lets kids or teenagers who are causing problems know that their mothers and grandparents will suffer if a bus has to be withdrawn.
Senator John Dolan has made the point that the livery was designed after consultation with people with disabilities and special needs, particularly young people with a visual impairment, in order that it could not be missed. He specifically adverted to the training provided for people with disabilities on how to access a bus.
I disagree with Mr. O'Leary on decongesting. He said it could lead to more congestion, but it will not if it is built outwards right. The basic principle of BusConnects is to encourage people to leave their cars behind and opt to use public transport. The only way to do this - it is the chicken and the egg - is for the infrastructure to provide a seamless and unobstructed route. The second way is to provide enough buses to persuade and give people confidence that if they choose to leave the car at home, there will be a regular bus service, that it will be efficient and that it will take them on an unimpeded and I hope segregated route to their destination. One cannot work without the other, but this does not address the mum or dad who may have a school run to make in the morning to different schools. The bus service does not offer that flexibility.
The NBRU has given us a lot of food for thought and done a lot of work on this issue.
However, there is not one positive thing about it. Mr. O'Leary is asking me, as a public representative, to take this on board. I will do so and it will influence the kind of questions I ask. I ask the NBRU to leave the National Transport Authority, NTA, out of it and look at some of the ideas in the report by Jarrett Walker & Associates and see that there are some positives and wins in this. However, there are issues that need to be addressed and it is our job to ensure the public is informed about what is being lost. We must point out that this cannot happen and that tweaks are necessary. The NBRU is an influential voice and stakeholder in the matter, and reading Mr. O'Leary's presentation it is clear that this is a no-no. The Services Industrial Professional And Technical Union, SIPTU, is saying it embraces the concept. I embrace the concept, but I take on board Mr. O'Leary's point that this must be tweaked. I have to listen to what I am told by the men and women who use the bus service every day. Is there nothing in this report that the NBRU would recommend to the public?
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
I could say easily answer "No" to the Deputy's last question. However, that would be unfair given the effort he made to provide context for the question. The NBRU disagrees fundamentally with the concept of BusConnects, where people have to get off one bus and get on another. Furthermore, the public consultation should be named for what it is. We have to get down and dirty on this. If I go to Ballymore Eustace and, without saying who I am, tell a person who uses the bus that the service is to be reduced significantly and that he or she will have to get a bus to Tallaght and get off again, I know what answer I will get when I ask what that person thinks of that. If I ask someone else what he or she thinks of a plan to increase the frequency of a service from every ten minutes to every five minutes, I will be told it is fantastic. We can carry out the public consultation from here.
Regardless of whether Deputy Lahart agrees with me on addressing congestion, many submissions have been made by the NBRU, colleagues and other organisations to the NTA and the Department over several decades. One of the central planks of the submissions about a reduction in congestion was to build park and ride hubs, north, south, east and west in this city. Some day, someone will listen to me and others who have made similar submissions. People have to get into bus rapid transit, BRT, and use it. I will not mention the metro plan because I do not know how many iterations of it we have seen at this stage. I have no doubt we will see another such plan in my lifetime. BRT would reduce congestion. We have done significant work on this already, but we have to do much more work on it. We will not do this for the sake of it. The Deputy and I are both in the business of representing people. I represent those working in the industry and those who are using the industry. My colleagues here do the same thing, under different banners.
This committee has to ask what the problem is with the current system. Our submission was not entirely negative. Senator Devine picked up on one line in our submission which suggested that we put the new orbital routes on top of the existing service. What is wrong with the current service? The bus lanes do not go far enough. Those that are built are blocked by traffic and no sanctions are applied to those who block them. Infrastructure has to be created to facilitate the current network. I do not understand the current approach and I certainly do not accept it. The NTA has decided that it will change the current network because it is not working. Can it show me what is not working? The infrastructure is not working but that is a different debate altogether. The services that exist, their frequency, and the fact that they go to housing estates in working class areas and peripheral towns such as Ballymore Eustace, Balbriggan, Greystones, Skerries and Malahide, are all to be welcomed. Why are those places different from a place that has a regular service every five minutes? People are not different because of where they live.
If the mistakes caused by decades of bad planning are to be corrected, houses cannot be knocked down in order to build them higher, even though that is what should be done in Dublin, and that is something that Dublin will have to grapple with at some stage. Jarrett Walker stated that if 15% of this plan is changed, it will all unravel. My colleague, Mr. John Murphy, picked up on that point. How dare Mr. Walker come to our city and tell us that if we do not agree with his plan, or remove 15% of it, everything will collapse? What gives him the right to say that? That is wrong and it is also wrong that we are beholden to people who have no responsibility, for example, the National Transport Authority. I am sorry for getting emotional about this, but I represent people working in the industry and people who use the industry. How dare we tell an old person or a person in a wheelchair to get off a bus and cross the road to get another? Who are we to do that?
I am sorry for using Deputy Lahart as a battering ram, but I fundamentally disagree with BusConnects because it is based on people being discommoded. That is not what public service is about. It is about helping people get from A to B conveniently, not running and racing around. Dublin is not London or Tokyo. Someone mentioned white gloves. People have to work and commute, but we should not insist that they get off the bus in all kinds of weather. The reference to building facilities is a joke. Bus drivers are here. Bottles are being thrown into bins full of you-know-what. There is nothing wrong with the current network; the problem is the infrastructure. We should fix that.
I share much Mr. O'Leary's passion about this issue. Members are always parochial. I was a councillor when a number of roads were widened and quality bus corridors, QBC, were put on the Ballycullen Road and Firhouse Road. They are the most underutilised QBCs, and I saw an opportunity for the people of Ballycullen and Oldcourt to acquire a speedy exit from their communities. I contacted the NTA on this and it indicated it will visit the area in September to examine the issue. I told it that this has not been incorporated into BusConnects. I would like Mr. O'Leary to convert his obvious passion into using this as an opportunity to make changes. I have been making the same point he made about infrastructure. It does not matter how many buses are run along the Templeogue Road because once they reach Terenure village-----
-----the traffic stops. The same is true in Rathmines. Dublin Bus uses the term "resilience". The route is not resilient, and I disagree with the NTA on this. If the infrastructure is not in place in the first instance, this plan will not work.
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
There is a petrol station and a car sales room in the middle of Terenure. We all drive cars and we are all reliant on cars. Forgive me for speaking across the Deputy. Deputy Noel Rock, who is not here, will have a problem in Dublin North-West. There is talk of the proposed metro being changed to accommodate Cumannn Lúthleachas Gael Na Fianna. Under BusConnects, no buses will pass Na Fianna GAA club or the Collinstown pitches because routes 27B, 13 and 4 are to be removed and no replacement bus services are proposed. That will not happen. Fine Gael was in Government the last time I checked. Buses will continue to run out there; I can tell the Deputy that for nothing. The proposed metro will be realigned because of Na Fianna. This is a serious issue.
I apologise for venting, but people are relying on those services. Kids playing matches on a Saturday morning get the bus at Ballymun and Whitehall and their matches. If the bus service is removed, we will effectively tell families that their children cannot go and play football or hurling on a Saturday morning.
I am as passionate about public transport as Mr. O'Leary is. In my area we were able to live with traffic congestion in the early 1990s when it was at its peak because we saw the M50 being built. All the ring roads and other infrastructure was put in place. I now have tell people at public meetings that there is no silver bullet now and no outer ring road that could be built. Even if it could be built, it would take 20 years to deliver it. We need a solution that is deliverable in a much faster timeframe, and public transport is the only way to do that. Mr. O'Leary and I have the same view on that issue and I am a strong advocate for public transport. However, transport infrastructure, by which I mean obstacle-free, segregated buses - essentially a Luas on rubber wheels - travelling into the cities or orbitally around the cities are the only solution. I champion that idea.
Mr. O'Leary is the first person to make the point that his basic objection to BusConnects is that a person will be asked to get off a bus and to get onto another bus as part of his or her journey. That approach will not work. I am not defending this or playing devil's advocate here. We are having a to and fro on a committee, which is not always possible. However, people connect with different modes of transport all the time. The example was given of getting off at the Bleeding Horse pub and walking around the corner to connect to the Luas, which can be done in 90 seconds.
Jarrett Walker & Associates did not consult about London. I am sorry for mentioning Mr. Walker's name, but it is out there and I did not bring it into the equation.
It consulted in cities that are gridded like the Melbournes and the Aucklands of this world, with big boulevards. It did not consult in London. What was done in London was very simple; they took the car out of London. We look at things and they are very complicated. London had public services to replace he car, which is what is needed here. The infrastructure here is broken in many cases and absent in other cases. Instead of fixing it where it is broken or introducing it where it is absent, we are damaging the very fabric of the public transport service that we are providing to citizens. That is what we are doing, if we are honest about it. It is proposed that we break and smash up what people have been used to doing for God knows how long. I do not get it and I think it is madness.
This would be a huge missed opportunity because there is a great deal of enthusiasm for the proposals. However, the rubber has not hit the road yet because there has not been proper and full engagement. Deputies and councillors are all looking at the maps. I see some positives and negatives. Mr. O'Leary referred to the 15B route. I understand the witness he makes that the route will no longer serve Rathmines or Pearse Street. However, it will connect with the A spine in Terenure, where buses will run every five minutes.
Mr. Thomas O'Connor:
We have to look at the detail. Tallaght will be on the D spine, with routes 1, 2, 3 and 4. According to the legend for the spine, a bus will operate every six to seven and a half minutes. That does not mean that I will get the D3 to Jobstown every six to seven and a half minutes. It means I get a D bus. I could be standing-----
People watching the proceedings will think I am defending the plan, which is not the case. We are having a conversation about it. Mr. O'Connor should not shoot the messenger when I am only teasing it out. The NTA made clear that those maps are mid-day as opposed to peak-time timetables. That is a critical point. Buses will operate on Route 15 serving Knocklyon every 15 minutes, whereas they operate every five minutes at the moment and sometimes every four minutes at peak times. I asked the NTA about that. These are mid-day-----
Mr. John Murphy:
If I can respond briefly to Deputy Lahart, at a risk of repeating myself, I commend the submission made by the NBRU on the proposed changes and their effects. We did not come here today to get into that detail. The NTA will not accept an argument just because SIPTU makes it. We have tried that tack numerous times in the past when engaging with the authority. When we meet a roadblock, the NTA hides behind legislation, obligations and the Department. The NTA will not engage with us on specific routes and how they will be serviced or how social factors will be addressed to ensure people can use the bus service to meet their needs.
Mr. Jarret Walker stated that if 15% of the plan is removed, the entire plan will collapse. If BusConnects needs to collapse, it should collapse. The money needs to be provided and we cannot accept the NTA deciding to take the ball and go home because the rest of the players would not accept its game. These are the conversations we need to have. We are in favour of looking at the whole network and properly funding and protecting public transport.
As I said to the Chair earlier, I got no comfort from the NTA's view on privatisation or franchising out. I do not want to see a scenario where Bus Éireann was driven into the ground by some of the decisions and the policy made by the NTA. We are trying to get the company back on an even keel and the position is improving but there is a lot of work to be done. That should not happen to Dublin Bus, which is an iconic company. I would put it on a par with the red buses of London. People have become used to Dublin Bus serving communities. Its services have links in the communities and need to be protected. We need, however, to have the conversation on investment and how best to use that.
People with disabilities, pensioners and others who depend on bus services will not like the idea of having to reconnect from one bus or mode of transport to another. Many others, including young people in the workforce, colleges and education, will not have an issue with this. The social aspect needs to be protected and built on but we should not be afraid of the conversation.
I am very much aware of the issue of discommoding commuters on existing routes. Will the new or revised routes reduce travel time? As I stated earlier, under BusConnects, the core bus corridors will have a free run and only traffic lights will get in their way. My concern is that we need to discuss the whole project. Ms Graham stated the core bus project will conclude after BusConnects, which will confuse people again.
People get used to having the same bus routes. If someone told me tomorrow morning the bus from Cork to Dublin would stop in Limerick, there would be war.
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
I reiterate that if the proper infrastructure is put in place and proper incentives, such as park-and-ride facilities, are introduced to keep people out of their cars, if all of these elements are put in place, when the time comes one will go hand in hand with the other. A few months ago, we heard of plans to take people's gardens. If too many things are thrown into the mix - I will be generous and say I am not arguing that this is being done deliberately to confuse people - something will give somewhere. It goes back to the fundamental point that we are not protecting the infrastructure we have, namely, bus lanes, and we are not building extra infrastructure, namely, more bus lanes and park-and-ride hubs. The answer as far as I am concerned is to get people out of their cars and into public transport and to do that we need to build infrastructure.
If the whole plan is to come together, the investment required will amount to roughly €2 billion. We could build an awful lot of park-and-ride facilities and do a considerable amount of work on bus rapid transit, BRT, with €2 billion. My solution is to create the infrastructure because it will deliver speed.
Mr. John Murphy:
I do not disagree with Mr. O'Leary. The infrastructure needs to be in place. A plan cannot be rolled out without infrastructure. BRT is a great idea. As I stated in the submission, only one third of these routes have dedicated bus lanes and they are not policed to the degree they should be and there is interaction with other modes of transportation on them. If we are serious about this and if there is investment being made in that direction, complete quality bus corridors are needed and they must be used for the purpose for which they have been introduced.
On the disability issue, I read recently that the Porsche car manufacturer wanted to access to the Chinese market. Porsche is obviously an expensive car brand. The company remodelled the car by extending the wheel base by a couple of inches because our Chinese friends like to be chauffeur-driven.
I would not either, but I came across it and it is a fact. Mr. O'Leary and Mr. Murphy raised the issue of access for people with a disability. It is becoming a big thing. We are being quoted EU directives and so forth. Surely to God the bus manufacturers are complying with these requests and directives. We are told the French love this and love that, and are ahead of us. Do French bus manufacturers-----
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
Like any manufacturer, they will build to spec, as ordered. I was over in San Sebastian a number of years ago. Bus Éireann uses a large number of buses manufactured by a company called Irizar. I visited the factory, which is in fact a co-operative venture.
We could learn lessons from it. One goes into the back of the warehouse where one finds a steel beam with wheels, a kitchen chair and a steering wheel. The bus is built to a specification. Whatever specification the NTA has ordered it will get, including with wheelchair access. There is not a manufacturer in the world that would not do this. I draw members' attention to Ryanair which squeezes in an awful lot of seats into its Boeing 737 aircraft. Our contribution on the disability issue is that the NTA - in fairness to it, it will admit this - did not consult disability groups in advance of ordering the fleet of buses referred to by Senator John Dolan. That is a fact.
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
The Dublin Bus fleet is 100% wheelchair accessible. All of the buses in the Bus Éireann public service contract fleet are wheelchair accessible, as are Expressway buses. The problem with Expressway buses is that the accessibility infrastructure is not available at rural bus stops, but that is not Bus Éireann's issue to resolve. It needs to be addressed by the NTA and the local authorities.
Mr. Dermot O'Leary:
The point we are making about the BusConnects plan is that people will be asked to get off one bus to get on another. Able bodied people can do this, if they want to, and have the choice. However, people with a disability have a difficulty in that regard. My colleague spoke about two people in Larkhill.
Mr. Thomas O'Connor:
There are 900 double-decker buses in the Dublin Bus fleet. I believe the NTA is buying another 93 to cover BusConnects routes. It also purchased 40 single-decker vehicles. These are the vehicles with which Senator John Dolan has a problem. There are only two single-decker vehicles in the Dublin Bus fleet which cover the 44B bus route up the mountain to Johnny Fox's pub. As we do not generally operate single-decker buses, this is new for us.
Mr. Stephen Hannan:
What is the use in having wheelchair accessible buses if people with disabilities cannot use them? I am going through this issue every day of the week, but people are not listening to me. If a person in a wheelchair tries to get onto a bus, if there are two people with prams already on it who refuse to fold them, the person in the wheelchair cannot gain access. That is how simple it is. The people with prams should be made to fold them. It may need legislation, but something needs to be done to protect people with disabilities in that regard.
The previous delegates received as much attention and we are just finishing up. The committee will request the NTA to extend the public consultation process period in order that more people will be able to access it. That is the big issue that has come from this engagement.