Fare deal – BusConnects project aims to increase passenger numbers by 50%
04 July 2017
Transport Minister Shane Ross, NTA CEO Anne Graham and bus inspector Ciaran Keogh at the BusConnects launch (pic: Julien Behal)
With the economy continuing to grow, the upward trend in the number of people making the bus, train or tram their transport mode of choice is very encouraging.
Earlier this year, the National Transport Authority (NTA) announced an increase of almost ten million people (up 4.4 per cent) using State-supported public transport services in 2016. Passenger numbers on Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, Iarnród Éireann and Luas rose to 234 million passengers, compared to 224 million in 2015.
There is good news in the private licensed sector too, where passenger numbers increased by over 10 per cent in 2016 to 25 million, up from 22.7 million in 2015. So there can be little doubt that there is a strong and growing demand for a safe, efficient and reliable public-transport service.
It is our experience that the travelling public responds very positively when presented with better public transport options, which is why we believe that we must continue to invest in public transport projects.
We will be taking a significant step towards a more closely integrated public-transport services across the capital later this year with the completion of Luas Cross City. This means that the capacity of Luas will be substantially increased, and that new areas of the city will be opened up to the benefits of a state-of-the-art light rail system.
This will also be the year when we see an increase in DART frequency and an increase in commuter services through the newly-opened Phoenix Park Tunnel.
Meanwhile, preparatory work on both Metro North, which will link Dublin’s city centre to the airport, and Dart Expansion Programme, which will extend the electrification of suburban rail services around Dublin, are continuing apace.
Radical approach needed to tackle congestion
These measures are certainly welcome and, while they will clearly contribute to relieving pressure in those specific areas, it is the NTA’s view that a more radical approach is needed if we are to truly get ahead of the burgeoning problem of congestion.
We believe we need solutions that are better suited to lower density population patterns in the region, which means that for most corridors in Dublin bus, transport would represent the optimum public transport solution.
BusConnects, our ambitious plan for investment in bus infrastructure, was launched in May and I believe that the plan can radically change the way people get into and around the city, and change the way the city and the region actually works.
Under BusConnects, we will create a bus system for Dublin that is fit for a modern, vibrant city and that enables more people to travel to more places, conveniently and efficiently. We want to fundamentally transform Dublin’s bus system, so that when it comes to speed, reliability, punctuality and convenience, journeys by bus will be much better.
We want to enable more people to travel by bus than ever before, and allow commuting by bus to become a viable and attractive choice for employees, students, shoppers, families and visitors.
BusConnects proposals include:
- Next-generation bus corridors;
- Bus Rapid Transit;
- Redesigning the network of bus routes;
- State-of-the-art ticketing system;
- Cashless fare payment system;
- Simpler fare structure;
- Segregated cycling infrastructure;
- Refreshing the bus livery;
- Rolling out new bus stops with better signage and information; and
- Cleaner technology.
These ambitious proposals will put bus services at the heart of the solution when it comes to addressing congestion in the capital. We estimate that the total cost of BusConnects will be in the region of €1 billion, some €300 million of which is already committed to us under ‘Building on Recovery’, the Government’s 2015 Capital Plan.
Bus and cycling corridors for Dublin
Last year, the Government adopted the NTA’s ‘Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016-2035’, which sets out a network of 11 radial bus corridors, three orbital bus corridors and three Bus Rapid Transit for the Dublin region. BusConnects now brings those proposals a significant step closer to becoming a reality.
As it stands currently, these busy bus routes only have dedicated bus lanes along less than one third of their lengths. This means that for about 70 per cent of the journey, buses must use the general traffic lanes and are therefore slowed down by the increasing levels of congestion that has become such a scourge.
We calculate that on just about every major route into the city, congestion increases peak journey times by as much as 60-70 per cent. This means that bus passengers do not get any time advantage from using the bus system and cannot rely on consistent and predictable journey times.
To tackle this, we propose to provide continuous bus priority – a continuous bus lane in each direction – along each corridor, as far as practicable. These ‘next generation’ bus corridors will deliver a transformation in the performance of these routes. This will mean we can remove the current delays and schedule uncertainties, making bus journeys on these corridors faster, more punctual and more reliable, providing a vastly improved service to users.
Achieving this will in some instances at least, require widening of existing roads, which will have challenges in terms of parking changes and encroachment into private property through compulsory acquisition.
The major bus corridors also represent the major cycling arteries for the city. The reconstruction of these roads to provide the essential bus lanes that are needed for our bus plans provides the opportunity to similarly transform the cycling infrastructure at the same time.
On each of the Core Bus Network corridors, we will provide high quality cycling facilities, segregated from the bus lanes and general traffic lanes as far as practicable. This benefits the bus system as well. It avoids cyclists sharing bus lanes with buses, where the bus speed can be limited to the speed of the slowest cyclist in the lane.
In addition, a fully renewed road corridor will be delivered along these routes, with new road surfacing, lane markings footpaths, pedestrian crossings and signage, benefiting all road users including car traffic.
Redesigning the bus network
Another significant project within the BusConnects plan is redesign of the bus network in Dublin. The current system of bus routes and services in Dublin is complex. With about 130 different bus routes forming the Dublin Bus network, very few people would be able to describe the routes of more than a handful of those services and most users limit themselves to a few familiar routes.
The bus network in Dublin is very radially focused, with most routes emanating outwards from the city centre. Orbital bus services are few and far between, and as a result, many bus journeys can only be made by firstly travelling into the city centre on one radial route, and then taking another radial bus service out.
We believe that a system with greater scope for interconnection between routes, and where connecting passengers do not necessarily have to travel to the city centre, is one that would be far more attractive and convenient.
We want to move towards a system that minimises the overall period of time needed for most journeys and focuses transfers onto high frequency routes, cutting down waiting and journey times.
While much has already been achieved by Dublin Bus in making the network more efficient, the bus system across the Dublin region has the potential to operate much more effectively than it currently does. And yes, this will probably require a fundamental reconfiguration of routes and services.
The process of public consultation on this element of the plan has just got under way. We are asking members of the public to engage in this process by filling in the survey on www.busconnects.ie, so that the information on their views about bus services and the bus network can be factored into the redesign process and help shape the final outcome in a meaningful way.
But without changing the ticketing systems and the bus fares structure, the overall project would not deliver the full benefits that are possible under this transformation.
Simplifying the payment process
The second biggest source of bus delays, after traffic congestion, is passenger boarding time. Payment of fares by cash is still commonplace, slowing down the boarding process. Even when using the cashless Leap Card, the complex number of payment stages mean a high percentage of passengers have to interact with the driver.
We want to simplify and streamline the process of paying for bus journeys. The fare system will be restructured to make it simpler and to make movement between different bus services seamless and easy, without financial penalty.
It will either incorporate a ‘tag-on’ and ‘tag-off’ facility – as is currently used in both light and heavy rail – or will move to a single flat-fare approach, to avoid the need to interact with the driver for fare payments.
As part of this, cashless operation will be introduced on all buses, to remove the delay issue caused by cash payments. Currently, over 70 per cent of fare payments are made by Leap Card. As this increases over the next couple of years, the transition to a cashless regime will become easier.
BusConnects will incorporate the latest developments in ‘account-based’ ticketing technology, potentially allowing use of credit/debit cards as a convenient means of payment. This will also allow integration with other transport payments such as parking facilities, bicycle hire and similar. Thanks to BusConnects, just about everybody will be able to beat the congestion by using the bus rather than a car, to get around.
We believe that there is potential to increase bus passenger numbers by at least 50 per cent over the lifetime of the project, which would represent a significant step-change in how people get from place to place.
This can only happen if measures are put in place to make bus travel more convenient, more reliable and more appealing and we believe that BusConnects will do precisely that.
Metro North and DART expansion
But Dublin is a low-density city, which means that that very few areas of Dublin have the size and concentration of population to support rail-based public transport. For most areas, bus transport represents the best public-transport solution.
In any case, rail projects typically have lead-in times of eight-to-ten years, and with congestion continuing to worsen every month, more immediate solutions are required.
The solutions we are bringing forward under BusConnects will generally have a much shorter turnaround time, which means that we can make travel by public transport an increasingly attractive option for commuters all across the network, sooner rather than later.
Anne Graham is chief executive officer of the National Transport Authority. She previously served as director of public transport services with the Authority. Graham is a chartered engineer and holds an MBA from Dublin City University. She has worked with the Dublin local authorities as a civil engineer, as project manager on many projects and as an area manager in the southwest area of Dublin city, bringing local authority services closer to consumers in four local offices.