Bus Eireann CEO hears concerns of local bus users
It has been quite some time since I first sat down with the CEO of Bus Éireann, Ray Hernan, to talk about the concerns of my constituents regarding our bus service. I have met with him and his staff twice more since that first meeting. Time after time, I walked away having been told that our concerns were acknowledged and understood. In the months following these meetings, I would continue to receive a substantial volume of feedback from bus users which painted a picture of a bus service that had lost the confidence of its users.
Rather than schedule another meeting with the same outcome, I asked Ray Hernan to meet the bus users in South Meath. Ray obliged, and we held a public meeting in Ratoath on Tuesday the 29th May.
The meeting was robust at times, but respectful. The meeting ran for 2 hours, and we got through as many questions from the audience as we could manage. Below are a list of the most discussed issues from the night, along with the answers given by Ray and his staff. If you would like more information about the evening, or you’d like to talk to me about your experience with our bus services, please contact me
Outcomes of the Meeting
We agreed a number of actions as a result of the meeting. I will contact Meath County Council and Fingal County Council regarding bus stops at Navan Hospital, The Brock Inn, The White House, and Kilmoon Cross.
A new communication manager is being appointed by Bus Éireann. They will help improve the communication channels between customers and Bus Éireann.
A number of new bus drivers are being recruited, which will help improve the reliability of services.
A customer experience survey will take place over the coming weeks which will no doubt reiterate everything that was said at the meeting.
And finally a review of timetables of the 103, 105 and 109 will take place over the coming months to accommodate seasons and traffic patterns.
We agreed at the meeting that we would keep in regular contact so please keep the information flow coming to me so that I can continue to communicate the issues to Bus Éireann as they arise.
Thank you to everybody who came to the meeting, or who contacted me about their experiences with the bus service. Let’s hope that the changes outlined by Bus Éireann at the meeting help improve the service significantly.
Reliability & Timetable Reviews
Ray Hernan spoke about Bus Éireann’s ongoing efforts to improve service in the region. He noted that the level of no-shows had declined, but that there was an ongoing issue with punctuality. He said that one of these impacts the other – is a bus a no show or just late to the point of seeming so.
Ray said that Bus Éireann were focusing on improving the things that were within their control, for example, stopping buses leaving early. He made the point that traffic had gotten heavier in the past few months and that timetables don’t reflect that. At current, timetables are a one-size-fits-all approach, which is not reflective of the traffic patterns (e.g. Wednesdays being busier on the roads than Fridays, or Autumns being busier than Summers, etc.).
Ray told the meeting that the NTA has planned a review of 80% of Bus Éireann’s routes nationally this year with regards to their timetables and punctuality. Bus Éireann have been collecting data on punctuality which will lend itself to more informed decision making and more realistic timetables given the traffic patterns. The 103 route began its review 6 weeks ago and would be finished by the end of July. Once the revised timetables are authorised by the NTA and implemented, it should lead to an immediate improvement in punctuality.
Customer Experience Forum
Ray told the meeting about Bus Éireann’s new Customer Experience Forum, which had commenced internally several weeks ago. The Forum would be run by an external 3rd party. The next stage of the Forum is a focus on feedback from customers. The M3 corridor will be considered within that process. The 3rd party company will conduct interviews with customers to solicit feedback. The aim is to identify areas or issues that Bus Éireann may have overlooked.
Staffing Levels & Industrial Relations
Adrian O’Loughlin, one of Bus Éireann’s Regional Managers, stated that Bus Éireann currently has 350 drivers working out of Broadstone, which leaves them 20 drivers short of the numbers they need to be to provide a sufficient service level. This has resulted in the usage of a high number of private contractors, which brings its own issues with it. Bus Éireann are currently recruiting new drivers on a national basis. The recruitment campaign started 3 weeks ago. Once they have been recruited and trained, 50 of these new drivers will be assigned to Dublin. The timeline for this should be between 4 to 6 weeks’ time.
Adrian also noted that the high levels of cancellations had peaked over Christmas, but has since subsided substantially.
David Lane, one of Bus Éireann’s Regional Managers, acknowledged that last year had seen unrest amongst drivers over the NX route as a result of longer working days and more time spent driving. This had since been dealt with and absentee rates were back to a normal footing since Christmas. Bus Éireann are continuing to engage with staff over work-life balance through the WRC and the unions.
There were a number of issues raised relating to bus stops. These included the treatment of official and unofficial stops, the location of stops in Dublin City, and the provision of infrastructure at stops
Adrian addressed the issue of official and unofficial stops. He said that the responsibility for bus stops lay with the relevant local authority – e.g. Meath County Council, Fingal County Council, Dublin City Council. He said in the case of some of the unofficial stops along the M3 corridors, that Bus Éireann were eager to formalise the stops. Some of these were currently in the process of being tendered.
Ray noted that there were outstanding issues with Dublin City Council regarding curb space and stops which were impacting Bus Éireann’s ability to provide the service levels that they wished to provide.
David then spoke about how curb space in Dublin city is at a premium. Beresford place is not an idea terminus point, as it can result in spaces being taken for parking of buses. Bus Éireann are in talks with Dublin City Council over other possible locations for the 103 and the NX routes which might suit the services better, but there are no planned changes at this time.
A lack of interconnectivity was raised, particularly with regards to the M3 Parkway in Dunboyne. There is currently no feeder service for the M3 Parkway from across South Meath, and any additional stops to cater for a feeder service would be within the remit of the NTA. That being said, Ray Hernan said that Bus Éireann would give due consideration to the idea of a feeder service.
Real Time Displays
Multiple speakers at the meeting expressed their frustrations with the shortcomings of the Real Time Display system, with it being described as inconsistent in its accuracy and unreliable.
Adrian addressed these issues. He explained that the system works with the bus sending an SMS message to a server in Dublin City Council every 20 seconds. This information then feeds apps, signs, and journey planners. If there is no feed from the bus, e.g. technical difficulties, the bus is run by a private contractor, or if the driver has the system turned off, the real time displays revert to the schedule and will display times from that. When questioned about the level of driver compliance with the system, Adrian said it was at 98%, and that turning a tracker off could be easily identified centrally, and was grounds for a disciplinary interview.
Ray Hernan added that Bus Éireann had approval from the NTA to double their investment in the real time system. This would include adding messaging for when a bus had been cancelled, or other such circumstances.
A number of accessibility issues were raised. These included a lack of direct connectivity with Beaumont and Blanchardstown hospitals, which had been removed with route changes to the 105. This left people with accessibility issues with a lengthy journey across multiple routes to access medical care.
Another issue raised was the lack of accessibility options, and the lengths to which users must go to avail of them.
Both of these issues have been forwarded to Bus Éireann for further follow up.
Thank you again to everybody who came to the meeting, or who contacted me about their experiences with the bus service. Let’s hope that the changes outlined by Bus Éireann at the meeting help improve the service significantly.