Bumpy road to get from A to B but there's light at end of tunnel
Sinead Ryan navigates through a confusing maze, asking why transport costs are going up while services seem to be going downhill
Buses, eh? You wait around for ages and then two strikes come along at once.
Since Minister for Transport Shane Ross first described his brief as "a doddle", it all seems to have gone downhill. For beleaguered commuters, closing routes, drivers picketing and rising fares add to woes. There are new services coming on stream though. The protracted (and at €386m, expensive) Luas join-up works will finish by autumn, with trams running by year-end; at the same time Expressway has been told to shut down and Bus Éireann has announced strike action less than six months after Dublin Bus workers downed tools.
The Dublin/rural divide is never so stark as it is when it comes to public transport. Those living in Leitrim, Westport or Fermoy can only gaze in wonder at the capital's citizens hopping on and off buses, trains and trams as they go about their day. But commuters will point to the cost of it all in dismay, especially those travelling in from surrounding counties.
A bus/rail/Luas ticket for Dublin costs €2,180 per year. The equivalent ticket in Berlin is €976 for an undeniably better service. What is going on?
Mark Gleeson of Rail Users Ireland says problems are down to a failure by Government to provide a reasonable subsidy. "Irish Rail's state subsidy almost halved between 2007 and 2015, leading to a deferral of works. There is also a lack of commitment to capital investment. The first plans for Dart underground appeared in 1973; 44 years later we still haven't started digging."
Quite why it has been so difficult to amalgamate the different services into one charge, and card, is baffling. Now, with Leap, at least most of the time, commuters are making a saving, in time and money (around 20pc). But Gleeson points to the anomalies. "Fares on monthly and annual tickets have consistently increased at a rate faster than single/return tickets. Daily commuters are a soft target and a captive market with little or no choice but to pay the increases."
"The amount paid to Irish Rail for the Free Travel Scheme is fixed at approximately €15m per year despite the number of free travel passes increasing year on year," says Gleeson. "This figure is not based on any scientific or statistical basis with no relationship between the commercial costs and funding received. Irish Rail suggests it is underpaid by at least €7m p.a., which in the context of its poor financial state is a very large amount of money which could make the difference to retain some routes under threat," he adds. The Minister has firmly ruled out any cuts to the scheme.
The tax relief given for the purchase of monthly/annual transport tickets, although welcomed by commuters, is skewed in a number of ways. Firstly it is only available for employees (your company buys the ticket and sells it to you net of tax). This rules out the self-employed and most contractors. Secondly, as relief is granted at the marginal rate, those on lower incomes lose out. For instance, a monthly Dublin Bus ticket costs €132. A 40pc tax payer will save €65.34 on this, but a standard rate taxpayer only €38.94.
There will be 13 new stops on the Green line. A 'be aware' campaign will roll out next month for motorists. Road layouts will be changing, and in some cases, closed. A permanent car ban for instance, is being applied between Westmoreland and D'Olier streets and the Luas will be one-way around an O'Connell Street loop. But, when the works are completed, it will take just 21 minutes to get from the city centre to Cabra. See luascrosscity.ie for info.