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.