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Friday 15 December 2017

Sinead Ryan: Rising fares mean it's little wonder we're going off the rails (and into the car)

A Dart train on Dublin's southside
A Dart train on Dublin's southside

What a joy city living can be. You're close to everything when the mood takes you for a trip to the theatre, cinema, a new restaurant - or just taking the kids to a museum or gallery.

Working there is even easier - a hop, skip and jump to your desk without hours spent bumper to bumper.

And yet thousands of us continue to take the car knowing that using public transport can be both unreliable and expensive.

Exactly how expensive wasn't really clear until now - following a Department of Transport report yesterday, which surfaced only after a FOI request.

Fares on DART and Irish Rail are up 42pc since 2009. To put that in context, inflation over the same period was close to zero.

So, while commuters' wages were being decimated fares for buses, trains and trams shot up relentlessly.

Dubliners fared the worst (sigh). You'd imagine that those living in rural towns and cities outside the capital would end up paying more for the privilege, but no.

Short bus hops in Dublin for instance, rose by up to 51pc - that's crazy and completely puts people off using the city bus service despite all the blather foisted on us over our health and the environment.

People are happy to oblige, but not at such cost. Bus Eireann, on the other hand, which caters primarily for rural dwellers, went up by 18pc in the same period.

Logic has never over-burdened those running our public transport system. They argue that the fare increases imposed on the public (also known as 'customers-without-a-choice') are to make up for a decrease in subsidy by the taxpayer - also their customer base - to the tune of €100m.

inefficient

They don't blame over-staffing, or inefficient processes, or out-dated work practices or the massive pensions they provide.

They wouldn't cite too many managers at the top, or an inability to deal with debt either. It's all about what the taxpayer isn't stumping up, over and above the huge fares.

But while many other countries opt to subsidise public transport there is another alternative - privatise it. For years there's been chronic under investment in rail and roads. Trying to be all things to all people is tiresome and expensive.

The argument against privatisation is two-fold, depending on your stance. Transport is one of the most heavily unionised, vocal, and paralysing bodies. They can, literally, bring the city to a halt if they so wish, and regularly have in the past.

Except for the Luas that is. Guess why? It's not State run, it actually does what it says on the tin, and people like it.

Its fares rose by a not unreasonable 11pc and they're still able to plan new lines, spurs and extensions.

But perhaps it's harsh to compare. God forbid any State company would try to act like a private one. What about the pensions, the perks and the pay?

commuters

The other 'argument' against private services is that private operators will cherry-pick the only those routes that were guaranteed a return for them. To be fair it's not an unfounded concern.

The way other countries cope with it is to selectively sell off routes to private operators. In other words, you can have the nice, busy and profitable Dublin-Cork run but you have to take Waterford to Kerry too.

Companies buy a 'bundle' of routes. Some are always profitable, some may not be, but you are contractually obliged to service them all.

Yes, you can run packed buses into St Stephen's Green but you have to cater for fewer people on the Clonee to Phibsboro route also, to a set timetable.

If you need to sharpen your game or change the way staff work well then just get on with it, the same way they do in shops and offices all over the country.

But privatisation is a big step. The last Transport Minister, straight-talking, go-getter Leo Varadkar couldn't get it off the ground, so what of current incumbent Pascal Donohoe (left)?

It's not looking hopeful, but commuters can only take so much.

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