Most of you are probably aware that a plan to change the Dublin Bus network is currently underway. You can read more about it at (www.busconnects.ie), but the main gist is that bus lines will be simplified and instead of having several different bus lines heading into the city centre, one bus line (now assigned a letter rather than a number) will make the trip more frequently. This more frequent bus line will connect with less-frequent feeder buses, the idea being that you hop on a feeder bus that takes you to the main bus line or train station where you transfer onto a more frequent bus or train. This is often referred to as an orbital or hub-and-spokes system.
Now, I am all for a hub-and-spokes transportation system, but there is just one problem: such a system is meant to work with trains not buses. Light rail (underground, monorail, etc.) is the only way to shift a large number of people efficiently through a hub and spokes system, because light rail runs on a separate track from regular traffic, is not subject to traffic lights, carries more passengers and operates more doors allowing for quick transfers. This is the reason every other major city uses some form of train as the backbone of their public transportation system: only rail can provide the frequency, capacity and shelter from the elements that make switching from one piece of transportation to another more efficient (not to mention more enjoyable). While they are more expensive to build, rail can – as cities from London to Berlin to Malaga demonstrate – provide a complex, efficient transportation network for a large city.
So, even abstractly, as it were, trying to do the same thing mainly with buses and only a few trains is a big mistake, and where the BusConnects plan really goes wrong.
Then, however, come the particular problems for us in Fingal:
- Many people have moved to Fingal because they can afford to buy a house and raise their families here, but they are still dependent on well-paying jobs in the city centre to keep that house. Thus, many people are dependent on the 33X (Skerries, Rush and Lusk) and 33D (Portrane, Donabate) buses that take them directly into the city centre through the Port Tunnel (no traffic lights = much faster). Despite the fact that these buses are very full, the current Bus Connects plan calls for them to be axed and for those commuters to instead take an infrequent feeder bus to the train station at Rush & Lusk or to transfer buses at Swords. In either case, this will make an already difficult commute almost impossible, as commuters will either have to wait for the overcrowded train and then stand the entire way into town (and possibly back) or take a much slower bus in from Swords. This will make life much more difficult for families who are already stretched to the limit.
- Another popular place of employment is the Airport. Currently, many people take the 33 bus (Balbriggan, Skerries, Rush and Lusk) to their employment at the Airport. According to the BusConnects plan, these people (who often work irregular shifts) will also have to transfer at Swords, lengthening commuting times. This is particularly the case on the return journey where people could wait up to 25 minutes for the feeder bus. Again, this means people who are working until 10pm at night, having to wait for their bus out in the cold and rain.
- A third popular use of the bus is to take the 33 bus to college at DCU. Again, many college students have to journey to and from lectures at irregular hours. The 33 bus makes it possible for them to live at home and make the journey without their own car, making it easier for families to ensure their kids get an education and that they have time to apply themselves properly to their studies.
- There are currently no plans to build a bus terminal in Swords. This means that buses and crowds of people will be congregating on a narrow road (Swords Main Street) and that switching buses will be even more difficult for people with reduced mobility than it would be if there were a bus terminal where they could get assistance, sit down, etc. This is particularly relevant as people with reduced mobility are precisely those who rely the most on public transportation to be able to live more independently.
[UPDATE: the Emerging Preferred Route for the Swords-Dublin Bus Corridor is envisioned to start at the Pinnock Hill Roundabout (near Airside Retail Park). As this is already a busy location, I can’t say it strikes me as ideal, although I suppose it will come in handy for anyone fancying a spot of furniture shopping on their way home from the office. Although the Roundabout will be modified, there is still no talk of building a proper terminal. It would seem to me that a better location for a bus terminal (preferably in the sense of a building rather than just an endpoint on the route) would be the conjunction with the future Estuary Park and Ride MetroLink stop (currently envisioned to be the final stop). From there some buses could be routed down the M1 and through the Port Tunnel (for those wishing to go into Dublin) and some could be routed down the R132 for those wishing to transfer to another route or stop at one of the Northside suburbs. Once the MetroLink has been completed, many of those buses would become obsolete, but the general flow of traffic to and through that location would not change meaning that the switch from bus to metrolink would not disrupt people’s entire travel itinerary.].
- Due to the narrow roads and already substantial traffic on them, it will be very difficult to coordinate bus schedules with train schedules (as the current plan calls for) and there are no plans to increase the already crowded trains before BusConnects is planned to take effect.
So, to sum up, if continuous feeder buses were dropping people from our coastal towns in front of a high-speed train station in Swords from which 3 or 4 train lines departed every five minutes to all parts of the city, things might look different. That would likely be a much more efficient and enjoyable way to leverage transfer points to facilitate travel. But that’s not what is happening. Instead we are redesigning without the proper investments and safeguards being in place.
In addition to making my own submission on this, I also helped to raise awareness and collect submissions from others outlining the issues with BusConnects. BusConnects received over 20 000 submissions, nearly 2000 of which were from Rush alone.
I also raised this matter at the Fingal Public Participation Network and the Local Community Development Committee (where I was briefly a community representative).
When I asked people what the most important priority for Fingal was in Fuller Democracy, 90% of you said public transportation.
I take this very seriously and will continue to work on this issue and ensure that Fingal gets the public transportation system it deserves.