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Bus Connects back on track despite huge union unease

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Buses in the city centre yesterday. Photo: PA

Buses in the city centre yesterday. Photo: PA

PA

Buses in the city centre yesterday. Photo: PA

The Bus Connects plan to revolutionise public transport in Dublin will continue as planned, despite calls for it to be scrapped by bus and rail workers concerned about the effects of Covid-19.

The National Bus and Rail Workers' Union has called on Bus Connects and the proposed MetroLink to be shelved, saying public transport cannot work with social distancing if it goes back to pre-Covid-19 levels.

It written to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and other party leaders seeking changes to public transport to protect workers and passengers.

Surge

The union has also suggested that school, college and workplaces could stagger their opening times to reduce a surge in demand on transport services.

However, Bus Connects, the ambitious €2bn plan of the National Transport Authority (NTA), has said the project is still on track.

"Bus Connects remains on target and we are still working on the network redesign element with a plan to deliver Phase One by mid-2021," said Grainne Mackin, director of communications for the project.

"Not only does the plan aim to deliver a new and efficient bus service, but it also plans 200km of cycle lanes and a better public realm with wider paths, and this is proving to be increasingly important now."

Ms Mackin said that since the Covid-19 lockdown, people have seen the benefits of fewer cars in the city and how it is easier to navigate safely on foot or by bike.

Asked about concerns about capacity on buses and how there will need to be fewer passengers to adhere to distancing, Ms Mackin said there would also need to be a larger number of buses moving quickly through the city to deliver a service.

"If more people are working from home post-Covid, it would mean less demand for access to the city at peak times, but those who do use public transport will need an efficient and safe service," she said.

While the NTA has been trying to persuade people out of their private cars in favour of public transport, Covid-19 has probably reversed that sentiment for many who might now favour travelling on their own rather than mixing with others on buses.

Concerns about the environmental impact of traffic have also now probably taken a back seat to many commuters' concerns about their personal safety in relation to viruses.

BusConnects has said it still sees a good public transport infrastructure as vital to modern society.

"In the long term, cars are not the solution, and Bus Connects is a live project and we are still committed to it," Ms Mackin said.

"The car mentality may be there now, but will it be there in the future?"

Because of Covid-19, BusConnects has introduced another phase of public consultation on its plan to change Dublin's transport infrastructure.

"This will allow people another chance to make submissions on the plan," Ms Mackin said.

Webcasts

"While people may have been able to attend public exhibitions of maps and information before, we are now looking at ways of introducing webcasts of meetings and the use of virtual reality software to allow people to access information on the plans if they can't, or do not wish, to attend in person.

"This virus is terrible. The most important thing is getting rid of it, and there will be a lot of unanswered questions in cities all over the world in relation to public transport surrounding seat numbers, whether people wear face masks or not, and who supplies face masks. These are questions not only for Dublin, but for all cities."

An NTA spokesperson also said that the plans for the MetroLink project are "continuing in line with the current timetable".

The proposed MetroLink is a high-capacity, high-frequency rail line planned to run from Swords on Dublin's northside to Charlemont on the southside.

It will serve Swords, Dublin Airport, Ballymun, the Mater Hospital, the Rotunda, Dublin City University and Trinity College, with much of the 19km route running underground.