We Examine The Current State Of Irish Public Transport
The Metro has been abandoned, the Luas delayed, and extensions to the project cancelled. CIE is to be scrapped, rail lines are being closed, bus services are being axed due to underfunding, other bus services are being privatised, integrated smart-card style ticketing plans (which were due to be in use by Autumn 2002) have been shelved, Dublin Bus are not allowed to decide on it’s own fares and the price of diesel fuel, which the buses and trains run on, went up 2¢ per litre in the budget.
Meanwhile, the government is committed to lower the cost of car insurance, they have halted plans to take provisional licensees off the roads, they are forcing through all their road building plans, the port tunnel is on schedule, toll bridges and roads are going up all over the place, and the price of petrol did not go up at the budget.
Is it just us, or did the car lobby successfully stage a coup d’éta last June?
Last January it was a different story, as reported on BUSRAGE, the government gave the go-ahead to the Metro project, with twelve to fourteen kilometres of the seventy kilometre rail system set to be underground, with lines running from the Dublin Airport to Bray, and from the City Centre to Blanchardstown. The Luas was meant to be upgraded to Metro status along the way.
All of this was due to be completed by 2007. It seems now that this plan was announced, like so many of this government’s ‘plans’, as a cynical pre-election stunt with no prospect of delivery. The Metro is no more, just another faded dream down at the Dublin Transportation Office (DTO). The DTO have been pushing for a metro system since their development plan at the start of 2000, the government only adopted it, it seems, as a temporary measure to beef up their public service credentials. Meanwhile, the Luas is delayed. Although the Minister denies this is as a result of cuts, he isn’t forthcoming with an alternate reason .
Now, here’s a quick question, who do you think said this:
“In most other countries a lot more people use public transport systems than do here, and I am anxious to get more people on public transport, to grow the market, give people choice…I believe that will provide more choice, more services and therefore the public will have a better service. And if the public have a better service they will use public transport a lot more.”
Yes, you’ve guessed it, it was Minister Seamus “Golden Gate” Brennan gushing over his plans for Irish public transport. Leaving aside the obvious point that in other countries public transport receives, quite rightly, a decent state subvention, let’s look at these plans.
Such as they are they seem to be in fact government cuts disguised as innovations, a neat trick if you can get away with it. That isn’t to say the changes being put in place by the Minister are simply money saving initiatives. No, they are much more than that. For better or for worse, these are some of the biggest changes to the public transport sector since the foundation of the State.
For starters, CIE is to be wound up, with Irish Rail, Bus Eireann, Dublin Bus and, presumably, CIE Tours International to become separate companies. They are, strangely, expected to be competing with each other. This is a popular idea with the PDs and people such as the Competition Authority, who would like to see the plans go further, with the splitting up of Bus Eireann in to its urban, long-distance and rural parts. Do we really need a handful of bus companies chasing the same passengers on plum provincial routes, while people in unprofitable areas are without a bus route because it isn’t worth the private sector’s while to provide a service?
Dublin faces a similar problem, with the Minister expecting that by the end of 2004, 25% of public bus routes in Dublin will be ‘franchised’, i.e. serviced by private companies. Considering that the one company currently serving the city does not turn a profit, is this really a sensible idea?
Aren’t the private companies simply going to chase the business along roads like the N11, which is already adequately served by a bus service? Can anybody see a private company sending it’s buses up to somewhere like, for instance, Neilstown or Jobstown every day? Didn’t think so. It seems that this is all really an excuse for a few private bus companies to start making money in a few choice parts of the city where, under current regulations, they are not permitted to operate.
As it is, if a route is serviced by Dublin bus, a private operator is not able to run the same route. Under the new proposals this will, by and large, remain the case. It boggles the mind, but the linchpin of the entire privatisation scheme for Dublin is the idea that it will “give people choice”, nobody seems to have noticed, but under Brennan’s scheme, private companies will operate their routes under a monopoly basis, not unlike the current situation. The only difference is that if Company X doesn’t turn up at your stop one morning, there’s no Minister to complain to, or Dail committee to come to the rescue, zilch, nada, nothing. If a private company lets you down it is simply that, a private company, with nobody to answer to except it’s shareholders. And we don’t need to look far for an example of public transport privatisation gone wrong, do we folks…anyone ever hear of “Railtrack” ?
Speaking of rail, the Minister has been doing nothing to help Iarnród Eireann through all of this. No sooner had they confirmed a €25m deficit then closures of rail links in the South East of the country were being hinted at. If the government had done more to help promote and foster the rail fright industry instead of, once again, pandering to the road lobby, Irish Rail may not be in this mess at all. As it is, the Western Corridor railway, another NDP scheme, looks likely to fall on it’s sword, with the removal of certain sections of track by the company. Local politicians pleaded with the Minister, but to no avail, for a Minister who likes to intervene an awful lot he remained strangely silent, while Irish Rail bleated on about how they could “put them back if necessary”. Some chance.
So what else has gone wrong? Anybody remember integrated ticketing? It was announced by Dublin Bus back in December 2000, they planned to have it up and running by the end of 2002. Well, it’s the end of 2002, and we don’t see them selling these tickets, do you? How does the Minister respond to this? How any politician responds, by announcing the same scheme all over again. The Minister says we will have an integrated ticketing scheme by 2004, although smart-cards are totally off the agenda, there are no plans for them at all now, long term or otherwise, and the Department won’t even comment on the issue! Who would like to wager he’ll be announcing the same scheme in a couple of years, to come into operation by 2006?
Understandably the unions are not happy about any of these plans, Liam Berney of ICTU has gone on record saying the plans caused grave concern.
“It is our belief from our experience that the franchising of public transport in other European cities has been an unmitigated disaster,” he said. Berney has gone on record as saying ICTU were not prepared to jeopardise a service which its members had been running successfully for years.
Spokesman Liam Tobin, also of ICTU, has come out stronger, saying “If he goes ahead with that, well then we are in for a future of industrial strikes, there is no doubt about that. We will not sit back idly and allow it to happen.”
Meanwhile Tony Tobin, the railway division secretary of SIPTU, says that the Minister faces “war” if he tries to implement his plans without first reaching agreement with staff representatives. He says public transport in Britain has “collapsed” because of privatisation and unnecessary competition. “We will not lie down in front of Mr Brennan. He may have succeeded in removing some traffic signs in Dublin but he will not bulldoze us out of the way.”
Ah yes, with “Golden Gate” Brennan at the helm, the many new motorists on our roads will not be impeded by annoying things like traffic signs or even buses. Public Transport run like a Public Service? You’ve a better chance of some cigars and brandy than getting that this Christmas.