Well looking back over the last few weeks as the Dáil was in recess and facing into an uncertain term with the threat of election looming
The public consultation for BusConnects has been a fraught affair there is no doubt about it. But I believe the responsibility for ratcheting up of the concerns to anxiety and worry rests with some political parties who have used this consultation for political gain.
I’ll be up front; there are concerns throughout the city and county; in my own constituency there are fears over the Xpress bus services from Balbriggan Skerries Rush and Lusk, but I understand these worries are being addressed through the process. There are concerns about the 43 bus service which is a major school transport route from Swords down the Malahide road. There are concerns about the 42 route through Malahide. These are real concerns and they need to be addressed through the public consultation process. This is one of the most important public consultation processes that I can remember as the plan that is before is a radical shake up of our traditional bus service and routes. It needs to be handled carefully, diligently and with a measured approach to ensure any change is an improvement and protects citizens through increased, not decreased connectivity.
As for the plan itself, there are elements to the plan which I like. I like the idea of greater connectivity to get to more places at a greater frequency. This is the core requirement I believe of public transport.
The naming of the spine system on alphabetical lines would bring greater clarity of routes and I do accept that would be an improvement on the current system. I use the bus myself but I know how to get from my own area, into Dublin city. I know other bus routes in my own constituency but beyond that, I have very little idea which bus gets one to Rathfarnham, Blanchardstown, Shankill or elsewhere. The proposed naming does make sense and I welcome that.
The identification of transport hubs needs to be very carefully drawn. The hubs need to be in pedestrianised areas with enough traffic and passive surveillance to ensure people feel safe and secure. They can’t be in industrial estates or retail parks which become ghost towns after close of business every day.
We are at an acute point in terms of infrastructural development in Dublin. The Housing crisis is the most visible manifestation of this pressure but we have it across the board. We don’t have enough waste water treatment capacity to deal with the growth that’s needed to solve the housing crisis and we don’t have the transport infrastructure either. We have a great company in Dublin Bus who I liken to Dublin Fire Brigade as being one of the few public bodies which enjoys the faith and good favour of the Irish public. Dublin Bus is creaking under the strain of existing growth and is under pressure from private operators and from people choosing cars above public transport. They see public bus as being the lower option particularly if you are on a train line and or you live at the outer edges of the city.
Dublin Bus needs a new plan and they have been involved in helping to develop this initial proposal.
If we don’t do something radical with our bus service to make journeys quicker and to improve connectivity I believe Dublin Bus will suffer. We cannot continue to expand a service in a piecemeal fashion. There needs to be radical change.
We want to be in a position were young Dubliners in particular are keeping their Leap Card longer before feeling a need to get a car. This requires integration of transport modes, it requires investment and I believe strongly it requires the state to retain control of these critical transport modes. The state needs to lead this; it needs to stand strong, and its part of leading on climate change too. I think what this Motion boils down to is an attack on the process of Public Consultation. This is the first phase of public consultation. At the very outset it was extended until the end of September. Extra information meetings were put on in communities all over the city and county.
This is a proposal for consultation not a plan for implementation. So engage with the process. It will come back for public consultation and if the plan comes back and it is egregious and awful, then we will all ensure that it is not implemented.
But I guarantee you if you asked the people of Dublin 4 months ago do the Bus Service need to be improved or changed in your area the vast majority would say yes. Now we have a plan, I believe it is going to be changed a great deal as this phase of public consultation concludes but I worry that the die has been cast and that this plan will be scrapped.
We heard it rose at Leaders Questions this morning from Independents who have never delivered anything to anyone, ever, calling for this to be scrapped. This Motion itself is from Fianna Fáil, who will be involved in the negotiations for the next programme for government which will begin in either a couple of weeks or after the next election, but either way I would imagine they will be calling for this to be scrapped.
They have used this process as an opportunity to get posters on poles to get Leaflets in doors and to tap into peoples’ fear of change The consultation must be genuine, it must be responsive and I think it will be. There are problems, the Lower Kimmage Road, Santry Village, Terenure, Dublin 15 are all areas which need focus through this process. I mentioned the issues in my own constituency which need to be addressed. I think there is scope for another A Spine from Balbriggan to travel straight out onto the M1 and into the city. Balbriggan is the second largest town by population in Fingal and has further zoned land which will see its population increase to the West of the town by thousands. These people could be at Whitehall on a bus by the time it would take them to get to the train station in Balbriggan town if they had a direct spine service.
Large population centres such as Malahide and Swords need to be considered carefully in terms of the spine routes. I believe Swords is under resourced in the current plan too and a lot or work needs to be done there to ensure there is coverage for a town this large. But it is incumbent on us as politicians to give public consultations a chance, to ensure they are strong and robust. I believe Save Our Bus Service messages are reckless. It foments a belief that public consultations are foregone conclusions and something people shouldn’t engage in positively.
Let’s see what comes out the other end before coming to judgement and execution. And this is a lesson we can apply to many public consultations, from Local Area Plans to Waste Water Treatment Plants to BusConnects.