Statement to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications

8 November 2022

Introductory Statement from Anne Graham, Chief Executive Officer, National Transport Authority

Chairperson and members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to attend. I understand that the Committee wishes to focus upon the provision of bus services in Dublin.  To assist me in dealing with your subsequent questions I am joined by Tim Gaston, Director of Public Transport Services with the Authority.

Remit of the Authority

The remit of the National Transport Authority is to regulate and develop the provision of integrated public transport services (bus, rail, light rail and taxi) by public and private operators in the State, to secure the development and implementation of an integrated transport system within the Greater Dublin Area, and to contribute to the effective integration of transport and land use planning across the State.

Responsibilities of the Authority with regard to public bus services provision

The Authority is responsible for the provision of an integrated, accessible public transport system. BusConnects and Connecting Ireland are key public transport programmes where the Authority in association with transport operators and local authorities have planned networks to allow the continued economic and social development of our cities, towns and rural areas. The services are planned to allow residents and visitors the choice of sustainable, low carbon emission transport for some or all of their journeys. The Authority also provides services if a public service obligation exists following the withdrawal of a commercial licensed service if the funding to do so is available.

BusConnects Dublin

BusConnects Dublin is a key project that the NTA is delivering which aims to overhaul the current bus system in the Dublin region by:

  • completely redesigning the network of bus routes to provide a more efficient network, connecting more places and carrying more passengers;
  • building a network of new bus corridors on the busiest bus routes to make bus journeys faster, predictable and reliable;
  • developing a state-of-the-art ticketing system using credit and debit cards or mobile phones to link with payment accounts and making payment much more convenient;
  • implementing a cashless payment system to speed up passenger boarding times;
  • revamping the fare system to provide a simpler fare structure, allowing seamless movement between different transport services without financial penalty;
  • providing a number of supporting Park & Ride facilities;
  • rolling out new bus stops with better signage and information and increasing the provision of additional bus shelters; and
  • transitioning to a new bus fleet using low emission vehicle technologies.

BusConnects Dublin is a programme of integrated actions which, together, is delivering a bus system that will enable more people to travel by bus than ever before, and allow bus commuting to become a viable and attractive choice for employees, students, shoppers and visitors.

The individual projects that make up BusConnects Dublin are at different stages of delivery. The NTA has implemented four of the 11 phases of the new BusConnects Dublin network in partnership with Dublin Bus and GoAhead. The increased frequency and spine network have resulted in growth in passenger journeys along those spines: 22% on the H-spine; 11% on the C-spine and we continue to see a very good response to improved frequency of services wherever they are introduced.

Six of the twelve Core Bus Corridor projects have been lodged with An Bord Pleanála and all with be lodged by Q1 2023. 228 diesel electric hybrid buses are now operating across Dublin reducing carbon emissions and over 100 fully electric double deck buses and 34 single deck buses will be operating across the city next year. The procurement of an Account based Ticketing system to support new cashless payment forms is well underway and new bus stops and shelters with improved information at a stop level are being delivered across the city. The TFI 90-min fare was introduced last year and following the government initiative to reduce fares as a cost-of-living measure, this fare is now offered at €2 for adults and €1, students and young adults and 65 cents for children.

There is no doubt that this reduction has contributed to the very quick recovery in passenger numbers on Dublin’s bus services over the last six months. The immediate response brought passenger numbers to within 12% of 2019 passenger journeys in that period compared to the previous period where passenger numbers were 25% less than the equivalent 2019 passenger numbers.

The Authority had predicted that passenger levels would be at about 85% of pre-Covid by year end. However, we are happy to report that as a result of the improvements in services as part of BusConnects, the significant fare reductions, as well as the general recovery in the economy, passenger numbers on Dublin’s bus services are now back at 2019 levels (our highest year ever) with numbers exceeding pre-Covid levels at weekends and in the evenings.

Public Transport Contracts

The Authority is responsible for securing the provision of public bus services through two specified mechanisms:

  • public service contracts with operators such as Dublin Bus and GoAhead, where services would not otherwise be provided on a commercial basis, and
  • the licensing of public bus services, which are operated on a commercial basis.

Dublin Bus and GoAhead Ireland are contracted by the Authority to deliver bus services in Dublin. The NTA contracts with Dublin Bus and GoAhead Ireland are available on the NTA website. Along with a number of customer service metrics, the key performance metrics for both operators are as follows:

  • lost kilometres which is a measure of the contracted service kilometres that were not operated
  • punctuality is measured for each stop along the route and is measured differently for low frequency routes compared to high frequency routes.

Low frequency bus routes are defined as services that operate less than 5 times per hour on a weekday, outside of peak periods. A departure from a bus stop is classified as ‘on time’ if the bus departs not more than one minute early or not more than five minutes and fifty nine seconds late, when compared to the scheduled departure time. High frequency bus routes are defined as services which operate at a frequency of 12 minutes or greater on a weekday, outside the peak periods. On this basis, the NTA measures the regularity of High Frequency Routes using a metric called Excess Wait Time (EWT). This metric provides a measure of the average time a passenger must wait for the next high frequency bus, in excess of the wait time which would be expected as per the schedule for that route.

The NTA meets with operators on a very regular basis to review performance. The reports on transport operator performances are regularly published on our website and an annual performance report is produced, the latest being available for 2021.

It has to be recognised that both Dublin Bus and GoAhead Ireland continued to deliver services all the way through the Covid pandemic and I will take the opportunity again to record the deep appreciation of the NTA for the dedication of front line public transport staff in delivering services for essential workers through the pandemic. In the early part of the pandemic the Authority reduced operated kms across the services in Dublin in a planned way recognising the potential for staff absences due to Covid and that less people were travelling. Once the first wave of the pandemic was over services returned to the normal frequency albeit at reduced capacity per service in accordance with Government Covid advice. However, sudden absences due to Covid infection reflecting the level of Covid in the community impacted on service provision. Managing services at this time was very difficult for operators as it was hard to predict how many drivers would be available for a particular shift and service cancellations were inevitable.

As the country came out of the last wave of Covid in the spring this year, operators were faced with an added difficulty of recruiting and retaining drivers in their companies at a time of full employment in the country. This has resulted in a higher than normal cancellation of services which has impacted greatly on public transport customers as services have been cancelled at short notice. I would like to apologise to those customers as the service has not been at the standard that we would all like to provide. Both operators and the NTA have taken a number of steps to seek to address the current critical shortage of drivers including running recruitment campaigns, meeting with the Road Safety Authority to secure improved throughput of driver testing, reducing some service frequency, delaying the introduction of phases of the Bus Connects Network Redesign and reassigning resources to better match the demand post Covid. In the meantime operators have faced lost kilometre deductions from their contractual payments.

Thanks to the efforts of both operators, driver recruitment has increased and we are now seeing a much improved services delivery and the level of cancellations has significantly reduced. It is expected that both operators will be very close to meeting their contractual targets of lost kms in this current period.

The impact of congestion on punctuality has intensified in recent weeks and this can result in curtailments or cancellation of services as services are running so late. On the busiest bus routes, bus lanes are only in place for less than one third of the corridor. This means that for most of the journey, buses are competing for space with general traffic. The only solution to this is to reduce the number of cars on the road and move as quickly as the planning process allows to deliver the Core Bus Corridor projects as part of BusConnects.

Real Time Passenger Information

There have been a number of complaints relating to the accuracy of the Real Time Information (RTPI). The RTPI provided on signs and Apps is driven by the Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) systems on the buses. The AVL systems are constantly monitoring the bus’s progress along its route and use prediction algorithms to look at scheduled timings for the buses, the actual position of the buses on their routes and generates a prediction of when they will arrive at each stop. The inaccuracy of the data on the on-street displays in recent months was as a result of the higher than normal cancellation of services due to lack of drivers as well as a technical fault. A number of fixes have been applied by the AVL and RTPI contractors in recent weeks. It is expected that the cancelation of services due to drivers not being available will also reduce the inaccuracies i.e. ghost buses. Initial surveys have shown a significant improvement in the accuracy of the Real-Time in recent weeks.

That concludes my introductory statement. I trust that we can answer any queries that arise.