Meanwhile the Department of Transport drop it’s objection to the 41X going via Dublin’s Port Tunnel
A statement was issued this morning by Circle Line, the private bus company serving Lucan and Celbridge, announcing that they are to cease operations. If ever you needed an example as to why a privatised bus service is a bad idea, then this is one.
Circle Line, a paradox not just in name
Circle Line are claiming that they have been forced to go into liquidation due to “…unfair competition from Dublin Bus…” and because “…it was subject to route saturation from Dublin Bus immediately after it started.” This is, of course, nonsense. Unfortunately Dublin Bus are so inadequate at managing their own public relations, preferring to send threatening letters to websites rather than properly addressing inaccuracies in the media. So, for no fee, let’s do their job for them.
We agree that private bus operation in Dublin is not on a level playing field with Dublin Bus, in fact they have the advantage over the public operator. Due to the way transport policy is run in Ireland, and the way the Department of Transport (Dot) like to do business, we do not have a situation were operators can run like-for-like services against each other. In fact, direct competition is prohibited. So much for the “consumer choice” that has been touted every time privatisation comes up.
In fact it is even worse than this, due to the way licenses are managed by the DoT, a private operator can speculatively apply to run a route, get the license, and then sit back and to run no route at all. Meanwhile nobody else, including Dublin Bus, is allowed to run buses on that route due to it having been already awarded to someone else!
Thus you have the current situation in parts of Dublin where locals are complaining, rightly, that Dublin Bus are not providing a good enough service. Unbeknownst to them though, they are faulting the wrong people. The blame for all of this should be placed squarely on the desk of transport minister Noel Dempsey.
An express service that takes a year and a half to arrive
Take for instance the 41X situation. Dublin Bus applied in Spring 2007 to run services through Dublin’s Port Tunnel. They were told the DoT would think about it, but then got put on the long finger as the Swords Express applied to run a service too. In Autumn of last year the Sword Express got the thumbs up and eventually began it’s service, meanwhile Dublin Bus was told to keep waiting.
Then in March of this year, a whole year after applying to run the route, Dublin Bus was refused permission. Why? Because it would be in direct competition with a route run by a private operator. They were then told, if they wanted to run the route they would have to apply, again! Calling this Kafkaesque does not do it justice.
As all of this went on local people became angry and even local TDs, from Fianna Fail no less (!), weighed in blaming Dublin Bus for the situation (!!) claiming they had not applied to use the tunnel in the first place. Finally, today, after presumably finding the right form to fill in (at the back of a filing cabinet in the second basement of 44 Kildare Street, past a sign saying “Beware of the Leopard”) Dublin Bus have been allowed to use the tunnel.
Even with good news to deliver, Dublin Bus are apparently incapable of explaining the true nature of these kinds of situations to the public at large, with the Evening Herald reporting that “…eventually Dublin Bus has decided to use the Port Tunnel in an effort to speed up some bus journeys.” when in actual fact Dublin Bus decided that back in March of last year.
Oddly enough local Fianna Fail TDs are busy telling everyone that is was “they what won it”, blaming Dublin Bus for the delay, not the god-awful leadership coming from Transport House.
Coming full circle
So, what about the Circle Line blaming Dublin Bus for their woes? As the 41X situation demonstrates, our public bus service is a long way from being in any position to stop private bus companies operating and causing them to go bust, with all the protectionism towards privateers that the DoT conducts.
Perhaps the demise of the Circle Line is more to do with how they actually conducted their business. Did people know enough about the service in the first place, how much it cost, where it went and how often? Or maybe it was because they were prone to puling services at a moment’s notice that they deemed unprofitable?
Private operators are just that – private. They do not operate a public service, they are a business there to make a profit, and good luck to them. Certainly there is room for them on our roads in certain situations, but by and large having a properly run state monopoly taking care of your transport needs is what we need. We already have a state run semi-monopoly, now we just need to make sure it is well run.