Circle Line bus company ceases operations in Dublin

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.

14 Responses to “Circle Line bus company ceases operations in Dublin”

  1. This was an anti-competition move so you are incorrect in some places, with a rather niaive view of the state incumbent.
    The real issue is that the tax payer (subvention) has paid for a private business to be put off the road.
    Circle Line was providing a superior bus service to the state – keep a watch as the service begins to deteriorate on the former routes while commuters remain powerless to ask the state incumbent to perform.

  2. Sheamus Sweeney on June 21st, 2008 at 10:19 am

    I agree, and then some. I can’t comment on the situation in Lucan. But I have been using the DB service to Celbridge for over four years and have seen no evidence of “saturation”. In fact the number of buses seems to have changed little, if at all. Oh, these private companies, they’re a hoot aren’t they? It’s always somebody else’s fault. They can never seem to take responsibility for their actions. I’m know I wasn’t the only one yesterday who howled with laughter, at the ludicrous premise behind this supposedly Machiavellian scheme by DB.

    This should be a warning to people and we need to see through all of the spin and double talk. When Dempsey talks about changing things to make it easier for private operators what does he mean except forcibly removing Dublin Bus from routes that private operators want to run? That hardly sounds like free market capitalism to me, in fact it sounds suspiciously like state intervention! In the same way that Aer Lingus were forced out of Stansted in the 1980s to let Ryanair in. Contrary to popular myth, private firms don’t actually like taking risks, which is why in this case, their preferred option is to have a captive audience of commuters with no choice but to use them. Similarly the decision to belatedly give Dublin Bus a licence to operate through the port tunnel should be seen in the same light. Evidently it was to give Swords Express time to bed in and establish itself. But now according to SE, they are going to be driven out of business because DB started running services a fortnight ago. If we are to believe that this is indeed the reason then it suggests that given the choice people prefer Dublin Bus. Why? In my case it is because I know that Dublin Bus will be there next week, and also because given the “choice” I would prefer my bus fare to be going back into the company and not into the wallet of a private operator (notwithstanding the apparently grossly inflated salaries of the upper echelons of DB management). But hold on here a minute. Isn’t the alleged reason for competition that it forces the existing operator to raise its game? Shouldn’t CL and SE be applauding themselves, that they have improved services for commuters? Wasn’t concern for the poor commuter the reason they went into business in the first place?? Oh my, how naïve I am. Can there possibly be a suggestion here that their principle concern was making a profit?

    I understand that from the perspective of the “8.30 Monday morning, lashing rain, late for work and buses missing/full” commuter all of this talk of choice sounds seductively attractive. It conjures visions of fleets of brightly coloured buses running everywhere at all times. This is not the reality. In the Irish situation it will simply mean a private monopoly on a given route, instead of a public one. In other situations, notably in the UK in the 1990s it led to a succession of fly by night private operators, on occasion almost literally racing each other to bus stops and disappearing (like Circle Line) at a moment’s notice. Dublin Bus, in theory at least, is answerable to commuters. A private company’s first responsibility is to its shareholders. And the only way to force a private company to run an unprofitable route is, you guessed it, through state handouts and subvention. Friends of mine, who are vigorously for choice in other areas, tend to draw the line at transport, health and education, in some cases because they have experience of competition in England and Scotland.

    The notion of choice, and liberalisation is bandied about in every area as a panacea to cure all ills. Personally my choice is for a state run, properly funded and integrated public transport system, preferably free at the point of use. And the kind of liberalisation we are talking about was in fact a central plank of the recently rejected Lisbon Treaty, which is one reason the political classes are so miffed with us.

    The people I feel sorry for in all of this are the 20 people who have lost their jobs and those commuters who have had their means of transport pulled from under them. What a PR coup it would be if Dublin Bus stepped in and (given the resources) offered to take over these routes and drivers. But of course management in Dublin Bus don’t think like this, and to my eyes seem to be complicit in trying to run down and destroy their own service. Funny that…

  3. B Driver: I’ll admit naivety, in the sense that I am a commuter so can only write about it from that point of view. Any debate, further information or other points of view are most welcome here, so I thank you for challenging our editorial line.

    It has to be said though that comparing Circle Line with Dublin Bus is not a fair comparison. On the one hand Circle Line were apparently free to cut services from it’s timetable overnight on the grounds that they were unprofitable, such as the evening services from Nutgrove and Celbridge last summer, (and we have Graham from Circle Line on record here saying just that). On the other hand we have Dublin Bus who cannot cut such services as they would not fulfil their Public Service Obligations.

    We are not saying Dublin Bus are saints, far from it. It’s just that as commuters, we don’t know what they did wrong. In the war of words currently going on in the media Dublin Bus are saying all they did was fulfil these obligations. The minister meanwhile has swung into action and is “going to write them a letter”.

    So what exactly did Dublin Bus do? Leaving aside the point that they run a different route to Circle Line, did they run extra buses on their own route? If so then they would have been breaking DoT regulations and Paul Morton would have been well within his rights to take legal action to force the DoT to enforce their own rules.

    You make a very good point about commuters being powerless to hold Dublin Bus (or indeed any other public transport provider) to account – this is the situation across the country and neither the DoT, it’s minister, or the operators seem interested in sorting this out. People should not have to lobby TDs every single time they want a route re-aligned or a service enhanced, and private operators should not be in a situation where they feel run out of business unfairly.

    Also I must echo the sentiment of Sheamus, when I say we feel very bad for the 20 people who have lost their jobs, hopefully they can find other employment in the sector soon.

  4. You may debate the rights and wrongs of private vs public transport ’till the next three 25a’s come together – but with the demise of the CL2 many former passegers are now being forced back into their cars.

    Dublin Bus do not provide a reliabe or convenient service to West Lucan. Their staff seem to think that the timetable and routes are flexible, dependant on their humour. Any questioning of deviation from “start time” or route has been met by a “F#$& You” attitude.

    There is no direct link from Lucan to Ballsbridge, this ends with the demise of the CL2. Eight years after we’ve moved into Grange Manor Lucan we are still a fifteen/twenty minute walk from the nearest regular public bus service.

    Debate as long as you wish, but the demise of the Circle Line Bus will have serious effect on the quality of life for many commuters.

  5. Dublin Bus not sticking to the timetable, and an unprofessional attitude from some of their staff are unacceptable and you won’t find us defending it. Even if there is a situation of buses being stuck in traffic – traffic conditions are statistically predictable and it is quite possible for the transport planners to construct a reasonable timetable even in those circumstances. This is a historic problem with transport provision in Dublin that is simple to solve, only the powers that be seem unwilling to do so.

    As far as the few “bad apples” in the shape of a few drivers go, they give the rest a bad name. There’s nothing worse than waiting an hour or so in the rain only to face a torrent of abuse from the driver as you ask why the bus was so late – they may be feeling frustrated due to being stuck in traffic for an hour but at least they were warm. Having said that we’ve come across plenty of decent ones out there, and many of them would be the first to agree with you (at least privately) that the, as you say, “F#$& You” attitude has no place in driving a bus.

    As far as the currently timetabled services, one of the reasons the Dublin Bus service is so rubbish from West Lucan is because the Department of Transport won’t allow Dublin Bus to add new routes there or add more buses to existing routes.

    At least that has been the case up until now, as the department say in these situations that to do so would undermine the private operator. Since the private operator has gone bust then maybe now they might think again.

    As you say, the important point today is that there are local people crying out for a bus to take them to wherever they want to go, and the Department of Transport would be doing a great disservice to all concerned if another operator were not running those same routes as soon as possible.

    When Noel Dempsey is writing his letter to Dublin Bus, maybe he could add a p.s. asking them to ramp up their service in that area as soon as possible.

  6. B Driver said:

    This was an anti-competition move

    Frankly, you cannot compete when it comes to public transport; subvention is needed. Your “profit margin” on your busiest trips is what, about 3 per cent? and you make no money at all on off-peak trips.

    And what DB routes did Circle Line have to compete with, directly? They’re blaming DB on their troubles, after all. Frankly, if “anti-competition” were the case, DB would have operated directly-parallel service with Circle Line and have “unfairly beaten” them out of the business. As Armitage pointed out, DB is not permitted to do anything of the sort.

    (Where is the “pro-competition” thingy, anyway? I don’t see private companies trying to run existing frequent bus routes, e.g. on the 10, 16/16A, 46A, et cetera, competing with the existing DB trips.)

    Ger said:

    with the demise of the CL2 many former passegers are now being forced back into their cars

    How many former passengers does this comprise?

    All this Libertarian focus on “competition” meant, ultimately, that DB was excluded from exploring new route configurations and responding to customer demands (so a sense of apathy ends up pervading through all strata of the DB workforce/management).

    Remember the explosion of service expansion in the early-mid 90s? What caused it to fizzle out? Advance news of the imposition of this “competition” ethos?

    As far as service to/from Celbridge, I’m surprised that the 66B hasn’t been extended to Celbridge, beyond Barnhall/Hewlett-Packard. There are, though, two unusual trips, on Sunday in the 66 timetable and Monday to Friday in the 67/67A timetable, which show service from Maynooth in the early hours of the morning operating via Celbridge, Barnhall, Leixlip (and Dodsborough on the Sunday trip) into town. But those are small fish in this apparently large pond…

  7. There are Some interesting trains of thought being explored in the media on the Circle Line Bus topic.

    The first thing is how Paul Morton and the other less well known Circle Line Bus interests appear to have misread the public mood.

    I suspect there may have been an expectation of mass public outcry,particularly on the issue of Dublin Bus “Forcing” CLB off the road.

    This outcry has not happened and the general tone of both media and general public conversation has been reasonable and levelheaded.

    There is also a realization that the cessation of CLB services did not happen on a whim.
    Given the administrative and operational restructuring of CLB last year,it would appear that a certain level of preparedness was in place to facilitate such a wind-up.

    B Drivers comments re the competitive ethic are worth noting also as the supposed Dublin Bus campaign to run Mortons off the road was a very poor one indeed when compared with how the Big Boys operated in the aftermath of Bus deregulation in the UK (Ex London) scenario.

    It can be argued that this post deregulation Competitive outburst alone totally eradicated any supposed benefits of the Free Market in Public Transport terms.
    It can also be argued that Public Bus Services (EX London) have still not made up this lost ground in terms of operational or public appreciation matters.

    It is apparent that there is quite a discerning travelling public here at present and most have had first hand experience of the UK Bus Scene and most certainly do NOT want us to trot down the “Competitive” road.

    With certain high ranking members of the EU commission now making remarks regarding a “Two Speed Europe” being a post referendum option it may well turn out that we will be able to avail of a more realistic interpretation of this Competition Directive upon which Paul Morton had staked so much.

  8. I have no idea about the political side but I am sad seeing Morton’s go. Living in Oldtown Mill (one of the largest estates) it was the handiest service to use as no other bus service goes passed the estate and they provided an early start. So what will I do know, take my car and park in front of some ones house in order to avoid a lengthy walk to a bus stop every morning?

    All I can say is that Morton’s was friendly and reliable and I can not say the latter for other bus services in Celbridge.

  9. Hi Ger;

    You said the following:
    “There is no direct link from Lucan to Ballsbridge, this ends with the demise of the CL2. Eight years after we’ve moved into Grange Manor Lucan we are still a fifteen/twenty minute walk from the nearest regular public bus service.”

    Well I live in Grange manor also and bus service is brillant. Bus is 5 minute walk or less for the 25x which goes at 735, 745, 750, 755 and always on time and reliable. The 25a stop is only 10 mins away at finnstown and is very good for town too!

    Also the 25x goes to baggot St, just by waterloo pub and thats a 5 min walk from there to Ballsbridge which i do every morning, so either you want everything handed to you on a plate or you just lazy!


  10. Hi Saint,

    For your five minute walk to Ballsbridge, you must be flapping your wings!

    When this walk was attempted, in the glorious Irish summer rain it took 25 minutes to my destination, I didn’t stop at the bridge.

    No existing 25x compares to the evening journey home provided by the CL2. 25a /25x drivers do pick their own start times. “Via Griffeen Avenue” as a destination is optional, as from personal experience the drivers go their own way.

    Not all passengers have the luxury of travelling light nor do we share the same level of fitness. With the CL I had a minimal distance to walk and no necessity to change busses.

    Good luck in the “speed walking”!

  11. Hi Ger;

    The 25x with the sign via Griffeen Avenue, goes to Grange manor everytime and always leaves at 6pm on time!!

  12. Lets not forget how Dublin Bus objected to ALL of the Celbridge bound Mortons buses NOT going through Lucan village, and won, thus taking the biggest competitive advantage the Celbridge service had over Dublin Bus.

    As for saturation, in respect to Celbridge, Dublin Bus (despite a population increase) haven’t added extra buses in about 10years. The last thing we needed was for Morton’s to stop.

  13. Hi have lived in Celbridge for the last twelve has seen no increase in the bus service from Dublin Bus. Paul Morton ran a reliable bus service but he is disloyal to his customers in Celbridge to say that Dublin Bus saturated the route to Celbridge with buses IT IS A LIE what a joke!!!!! Unfortaunatly while this debate goes on it is the people who use public transport in the Celbridge area who are going to have to suffer…. It is crowded now imagine the winter…We need an reliable and frequent bus service serving Celbridge anybody thinking of starting a lobby group!!!!! At the moment i am sick of Paul morton Dublin Bus and the Dept of Transport is anybody doing anything for the travelling public in Celbridge……..

  14. I am lucky to live on the luas line because when they strike the busses run or when busses strike the luas runs I know if other companies try to set up bus companies dublin bus would distroy them again but if luas linecextended to other parts of dublin example from blanchordstown to city centre orvfrom coolock to city centre places with no DART services so next time one company strikes the other one takes over.

    As a side note like luas to get free wifi.

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