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Revolution at Dublin Bus

Yesterday, a revolution happened in Irish public transport. For the first time ever, someone did something that was both innovative, and in customers’ interests, rather than simply in the interests of employees or management.

The bus and rail unions had a fare strike. Services operated as usual, but no fares were collected. By doing so, the unions got the publicity and financial impact they wanted, but without having to worry about turning the public against them.

This was quite an innovative thing to do. There’s never been a strike like it in Ireland before, and while there have probably been similar strikes in other places, it’s not a common occurrence.

It also did what the unions wanted it to. It drew attention to the situation and hit the employer where it hurt. It succeeded in portraying a positive image of public transport: Usually, a bus strike makes people think of public transport as boring and hit-and-miss. This strike made public transport sexy – rebellious, fun and fast -.

If everything about Dublin Bus and Irish Rail was as clever as this strike, then we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now. The routes would have been revamped, the fare system and the ticketing would be simpler, the buses and the drivers would be safer, and the service would be better.

Of course, the reaction of management to this strike was to penny-pinch. Rather than using the opportunity to promote a debate on public transport, they are telling all the newspapers how they are going to recover the ‘lost’ revenue. Of course, it’s just PR; they aren’t going to be able to realistically recover more than a small fraction of the fares they would have expected to have collected.

The problem in Dublin Bus and Irish Rail isn’t the staff. Like everywhere else there are problems, but most of the drivers and staff are doing their best to provide a service.

The problem is really with the big picture of how Irish public transport is run. It’s incomprehensible. There doesn’t seem to be a master plan. No one is taking control. Simple things, like the ticketing system and the signposting aren’t getting sorted out at the pace that they should be.

That’s why the minister, Seamus Brennan wants to change the way public transport operates in the Dublin area. The only way he can see to do that is privatisation.

Here’s an idea: why don’t a group of drivers and other Dublin Bus staff offer to take over the management of some of the routes? They have the hands-on expertise, and if they can come up with some ideas as good as this strike, I think they could make some big improvements. They certainly couldn’t do much worse.

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  1. “The problem in Dublin Bus and Irish Rail isn’t the staff. ”

    Sorry, but I disagree totally. It’s not the management who refuse to open the centre doors. It’s not management who drive the buses while chatting on their mobile phones. It’s not management who hurl abuse at non-white passengers. It’s not management who make passengers stand in the rain while they sit alone in the bus reading their paper. The truth is that the companies that make up CIE are run for the benefit of the Unions. Passengers are a necessary evil who are treated with utter contempt. Take train travel. The train sits there ready to take on passengers. But are passengers allowed on? No. Of course not. They have to queue. Because someone has to check their ticket. Since tickets are checked again on the train we can only assume the first check is to keep someone in a job.

    The pay and conditions of CIE employees will be protected under EU law. There was absolutely no reason for the unions to take action other than for ideological reasons. They don’t want to have to compete with privatised services because they know they’d only be shown up. And their choice of a no-fares day demonstrates their moral bankruptcy. By refusing to collect fares they were stealing from their employers. Worse, they were also putting the travelling public in dodgy situation. After all it is the passenger’s legal responsibility to have a valid ticket. I shudder to think what would have happened if there had been an accident. Would the passengers have been properly covered by insurance?
    All the no-fares day did was demonstrate the CIE union’s moral bankruptcy.

  2. I was going to post my thoughts here, but I don’t need to – David’s done it for me.

    As for what should be done to fix the woes of public transport, I feel that some research should be done on systems used abroad to see what would work best for us, and then the government, civil service and a professional managment team (not the CIE bunch) should sit down and work out how to implement a new service.

    And legislation should be passed to prevent the unions from having so much power that they can halt the running of a such an important service – I am all for the rights of the worker, but when it comes down to stopping a crucial services on whom so many depend, it’s absolutely unacceptable.

  3. Re: “systems used abroad” — I think what you mean there are better-funded ones. 😉 Or at least ones where more of the money goes on the service, rather than a bloated middle layer…

    Ireland’s public transport is not as bad as everyone makes out — a few attempts at using some of the other systems overseas will point that out pretty sharpish.

    Also, bus drivers aren’t really friendly and helpful anywhere in the world, AFAICS.

    But don’t mind me, I’m writing from SoCal where there is *no* usable public transport. And take a look at
    how the train system runs here.

    My point: Irish public transport isn’t as bad as people always seem to think…

  4. Ireland’s public transport is not as bad as everyone makes out

    When a person in Kerry has to get a train to Dublin, to take a train to Galway, something is very, very wrong, in my opinion.

    Why doesn’t Cork have a rail system similar to the DART? etc etc.

    My point: Irish public transport isn’t as bad as people always seem to think…

    Well, in my experience, it’s awful when compared to the MBTA in Boston, or the Muni / BART systems in San Francisco, or the Metro in Paris or Prague and based on reports from friends based in Munich, that’s far superior as well.

    Then there’s the whole thing in the papers recently about the Metro in Madrid being done for a fraction of the cost of what the Dublin Metro will cost…

    Face it, Dublin transport blows…

  5. The place is cool, the people are all right, the drivers could do with more caffien and everyone wants everything cheaper. Stand in the rain, curse the driver, hand over your money, and clutch your ticket. Watch through the blurred window and decide whether you do actually give a damn, consider how early it is, and how late you are. Lean your head against the window and sigh as the water drips off you and your numb hands clench and unclench over the heater grill, life returning to aching joints. I just want to get home.

  6. Hi, sorry I’ve nothing to say about CIE bus drivers but I’m despatately trying to trace a missing person by the name of Peter Tully. He is my brother and has been missing for 10 years now…he is a former employee of CIE and worked for them as a bus driver in the 1980’s. I’m actually looking for the website address for CIE to see if I can track him down via his pension…its a long shot but you never know! So if you know the website address I’d be very grateful if you could let me have it.
    Many thanks,
    Ruth stern