Dublin Commuters Get Taken For A Ride On The Bus Fare Rollercoaster
We wait awhile for the much-heralded fare increases and then, very much like the buses themselves, three come at once. Without a doubt, everybody is confused. Yes folks, it’s another strange twist in the power struggle between the Minister for Transport and CIE, with the travelling public caught in the crossfire.
It all began a little over month ago, in early November, when Seamus “Golden Gate” Brennan announced a major shake up in Irish public transport, including the scrapping of the CIE group, and putting the constituent parts of the organisation in competition with each other. He also announced that Dublin Bus, along with the other CIE companies, would be permitted to raise fares for the first time in some years, 9% was the figure given to Dublin Bus. A far cry from the previous Minister, Mary O’Rourke, who insisted on a fare decrease at the time of the euro changeover, costing the company an estimated €1.4 million.
Of course Brennan had already gotten word from Finance Minister Charlie McCreevey that no further money would be available in the form of state subsidy, and with the PDs gradually winning FF over to the idea of privatising most, if not all of the company, a fare increase seemed to be the only viable way of raising cash. It had the added bonus, of course, of its obvious political capital. That is, by giving the option of a 9% rise to Dublin Bus, with no clear instruction as to how the rise was to be applied, any unpopularity associated with the move could clearly be deflected from the Minister’s door and the buck firmly passed on to Dublin Bus.
Here’s what happened.
The powers that be at Dublin Bus looked at their fares and decided to simplify the fare structure, by merging the two lowest (and apparently most travelled) fares into a flat €1 charge. This was popular with drivers, who immediately saw the benefit of a single coin fare, meaning less waiting time at bus stops, and less fare evasion (it is felt that many people paying the lowest fare are travelling a lot further than the 3 stages permitted by it). There were mutterings from some quarters, understandably so, that the jump from 70¢ to €1 was excessive, but it was felt that in the long run, people would appreciate the benefit of a simple €1 fare in terms of faster journeys due to less idle time at stops. No such luck.
No sooner had posters gone up with the new fares, then Dublin Bus management were falling over themselves to disown them! The posters printed were incorrect, human and technical errors were responsible, they claimed. The only error, if stories coming from inside Dublin Bus are to be believed, was the answering of a phonecall late one night, ordering a change of plan. It is some leap of faith to expect people to believe that posters were designed, discussed, sent to the printers and then put on buses before somebody noticed that they didn’t pertain to the correct fares. To expect us to believe any of this is, to be fair, totally idiotic. Designs simply do not get sent to the printers without being approved, it’s as simple as that.
After that little hiccup, and the ‘human error’ was resolved, fresh posters were printed and put up (although as late as last Thursday one of the old ones was spotted on a bus servicing the 46A route), new fares advertised 90¢ for stages 1-3, €1.20 for stages 4-7 and €1.60 for stages 8-23. There were also increases for outer suburban and child fares. These new fares came into force on Monday December 2nd, and apart from the obvious “nobody told me” reaction from passengers over the first few days, drivers felt that, by and large, they would be accepted. So it was all going smoothly then. Or was it?
For one thing, the fares were too high, and even worse than that, they appeared to be too high. On the day the fare increases came into force, the Minister decided to voice his objections, and got officials from the Department of Transport to let Dublin Bus know he was not a happy man. He told the Oireachtas Transport Committee as much, who agreed with him, and from then on, the pressure was on Dublin Bus to alter the new fares yet again. At the heart of the objections was the matter of the famous 9% allowed by the Minister.
A cursory glance at the figures suggested rises of greater than 9%. The company countered these criticisms by pointing out that the figures were based on an average rise of all fares, from the pre-Jan 2002 level, before Mary O’Rourke forced a fare decrease (with no commensurate increase in state subvention). The Minister was having none of this, and insisted that Dublin Bus thought again. Dublin Bus decided to think again.
So why did all of this happen? If the Minister wanted to have a say in what the new fares were going to be, why didn’t he just tell the company what the new fares should be? It’s a strange situation where the Minister claims he wants more people to use public transport, and then sanctions any fare increase in the first place! It seems more likely that he simply wanted to give Dublin Bus lots of rope, so he could drop in later and tighten the noose.
Seamus Brennan’s motivation appears to be to let Dublin Bus get itself into trouble with the public (for they surely have made no friends this week) and then ride in and save the day. If he can make the company even more unpopular than it already is, it may give him room to manoeuvre as he tries to get the State out of the public transport provision business. Clever politics? Maybe. Good for his career? Perhaps. Will it improve Irish public transport? Give me a break!
So where does that leave us? Fares are still rising, although not as much as we first thought. There is no increased state subvention. Dublin Bus will have to pay higher fuel costs due to the recent budget. They may also face wage demands in the New Year. On top of all this, they face losing 25% of their routes, possibly profitable ones. There must be some confused folk down at CIE, dealing with a Minister who wants to privatise a portion of the company, but still maintain state control over fares.
On top of all this, with industrial action looking increasingly likely in the New Year, we really could be looking a winter of discontent, Irish style.
New Fares, From December 9th 2002
|Stages||Old Fare||New Fare|
|Outer Suburban 1||€2.15||€2.00|
|Outer Suburban 2||€2.95||€3.00|
|Schoolchild/Child fares remain at pre Dec 2002 levels|