Wednesday 20 November 2019

Major revamp of bus services will impact on life in the city for generations to come

In the first of a five-part special, Conor Feehan looks at the €2bn shake-up of Dublin's bus network - a radical plan that promises to transform transport but has divided the capital

'The carrot will be that if car drivers switch to buses, they will get into the city more quickly and efficiently, and reduce their carbon footprint.' (stock photo)
'The carrot will be that if car drivers switch to buses, they will get into the city more quickly and efficiently, and reduce their carbon footprint.' (stock photo)

The biggest shake-up of the city's bus network in decades has pitched commuters against communities.

Aimed at getting the city moving - and avoiding further gridlock for future generations - Bus Connects is a 10-year plan designed to make Dublin's bus service fit for purpose.

When it is rolled out across the streets of our city and suburbs, it will have a major impact, not only on those who commute by bus, but motorists and cyclists, too.

However, it is the communities who stand to lose the most, amid plans to chop down hundreds of mature trees and carve up front gardens to make way for wider roads.

There are two aspects to Bus Connects, which are causing some confusion: the A to G Spines and the 1-16 Corridors.

Orbital routes are also planned, labelled N for the northside of the city, S for the south and W for the west, where services will run at least every hour.


There is also an inner orbital route, the O, which forms a loop around the city centre near the canals, linking Heuston and Connolly railway stations, the Samuel Beckett Bridge and St James's Hospital.

This is designed to allow people to move around the core of the city while avoiding the very centre.

It is confusing enough leaping over one hurdle that the National Transport Authority (NTA) is putting in front of us, but in reality, it is asking us to jump two hurdles in one leap.

Both aspects of Bus Connects have already gone through a public consultation process, where members of the public and other interested groups submitted their reactions to the proposals.

Chopping down trees and cutting up gardens has generated a lot of anger among the general public, but it is the redesign element of Bus Connects that has caused the biggest outcry.

The A-G Spines element of the plan received 30,000 submissions, while the 1-16 Corridors element received 10,000.

The NTA said it has listened to the public in relation to its proposals, and hopes to produce a revised version of the A-G Spines plan in the coming weeks.

It hopes to produce a revised version of the 1-16 Corridors plan at the end of next month.

At that point, it is hoped that the revised plans will be better received by the public, assuming their concerns have been listened to.

There will, however, be a second round of public consultation to come in the future.

How the revised plans will differ from the original plans remains to be seen.

The NTA argues that all these changes need to be made not only to cater for the current gridlock that snarls up traffic in the city on a daily basis, but to protect against that congestion growing in the future with an increasing population.

A recent report showed that Dublin is now the 14th most congested city in the world, and the sixth most congested city in Europe.

Gridlock in Dublin costs an estimated €350m a year.

It is claimed that drivers in Dublin are now spending an average 45pc more time in traffic than they should be.

To make matters worse, the NTA reckons the population of the city will rise from 1.2 million to 1.5 million in the next 20 years.

For this reason, it wants to come up with 230km of continuous bus lanes and 200km of dedicated cycle lanes in its 10-year plan.

Every year, a survey is carried out at each canal crossing to see exactly how people are making their way into the city centre between 7am and 10am.

In 2017, the survey showed that 70pc of people travelling into Dublin did so by "sustainable transport" such as buses, trains and taxis.

Only 30pc of people travelled by private car.

The NTA believes that the amount of road space allocated to "sustainable transport" needs to reflect its dominance.

Bus Connects will target car drivers with both a carrot and stick approach in an effort to try to get more of them to switch to public transport.


The carrot will be that if car drivers switch to buses, they will get into the city more quickly and efficiently, and reduce their carbon footprint.

The stick will be that if they continue to use cars, commuters will find themselves held up at traffic lights and junctions in order to give priority to public transport.

We have now also seen proposals by the Government to tackle the increasing financial and environmental cost of climate change.

The proposals include hikes in carbon tax, which will increase fuel prices.

There are also plans to ban petrol and diesel cars from cities in the future. By 2030, it could be impossible to buy a new petrol or diesel car as a switch to zero-emission vehicles takes over.

Yes, there are people who use cars every day in the city for work, and not just for driving into the city, parking for the day and then driving home.

This cohort are angered at how car drivers are being targeted in this quest for a perfect transport system. However, the NTA argues that if enough daily commuters make the switch to efficient public transport, there will be more room on the roads for the people who need to drive around the city on a continuous basis.

Bus Connects is a balancing act in the making.

It is a see-saw. It is a tightrope. It is weaving physical infrastructure, human emotion and daily habits together while looking through a cloudy crystal ball in the hope that it all comes good in the end.

Only time will tell.

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