New Bus Operator gets Go-Ahead

operator_newThe National Transport Authority have finally selected a UK bus company, Go-Ahead to operate the 184, 185 and 45A bus routes for the next 5 years. Ensuring that fares and frequency safeguards are implemented will be critical for local bus passengers.

Some may react with surprise to the announcement. The truth is this process has been underway for over 3 years. Basically the National Transport Authority took a detailed look at all orbital bus routes serving the greater Dublin area. They do this on a 5 year basis so that the service meets the developing needs of the local population. That’s what is important here, not scaremongering about privatisation. The buses remain in public ownership as do the terms of operating them.

As tax payers and bus passengers we have a clear interest in this review – value for money and an operator that’s up to the task and doesn’t cut corners.

That’s why the contract between the NTA and the operator is so crucial. What can Dublin Bus (or Go Ahead) do in terms of raising fares or cutting frequency at off-peak times? I’ve written to the NTA on several occasions and asked to see the proposed contracts so I could check them for myself. The NTA have indicated that key service requirements such as fare and frequency will be incorporated in the contracts binding the new operator. They said that to me, and their announcement confirms that it is the NTA and not GoAhead who will determine fares and frequency over the next 5 years.

However a few loose ends need careful attention.

They have not confirmed how comprehensively they will monitor service levels to Kilmacanogue, Newtown Mount Kennedy and Enniskerry when Go Ahead take over the reigns from Dublin Bus. Neither is it clear what penalties apply to bus operators who might be tempted to reduce frequency in remote areas or during off peak hours. Fares and Frequency. These are the very public service obligations that the NTA and, indirectly, the Minister for Transport are charged with protecting.

Then there’s the condition to have a fully functional bus depot in place. Go-Ahead have been given 1 year to build or acquire a depot. It’s critical that their commitment rings true. Several other tenders were considered for these local bus routes. 6 serious players were in contention as recently as last Winter. The NTA statement says that GoAhead were the only contender willing to commit to a depot. If for whatever reason they don’t walk the walk where does that leave North Wicklow passengers when the deadline strikes in late 2018?

While I welcome the decision to put the passenger rather than the bus company first, it’s crucial that no nasty surprises are felt along the way.

As a growing population hub on the East coast, Wicklow needs more transport infrastructure not less. When making the GoAhead announcement, the NTA Chief Executive suggested that as a result of the new operator running a total of 24 bus routes, service levels would increase by as much as 35%. If that materialises that will benefit not only bus passengers, but it should also reduce congestion on our roads and go some way towards meeting carbon reduction targets. Wicklow needs to see a decent chunk of that 35% increase and I’m calling not just on the NTA, but also on Government, to give Wicklow the infrastructure injection it so critically needs.

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