CIE can prosper - but only if it provides people with services they want
Published 07/07/2015 | 02:30
This isn't the first time that CIE has sought partners to help redevelop prime sites in its portfolio, but timing is everything.
The company was granted planning permission in 2010 to build a 12-storey office development at Tara Street, and in 2012 was given the green light for a major redevelopment of nearby Connolly Station, but the recession put paid to those plans.
However, as a 10-year permission was granted, it means those proposals could be resurrected or new ones drawn up.
What is clear is that our public transport companies have to think outside the box to survive. While CIE, which incorporates Bus Éireann, Iarnród Éireann and Dublin Bus, has a land bank which it can utilise as a valuable source of annual funding, bigger thinking is needed so the companies reach a point where they not only survive, but prosper.
The fact that 75pc of all journeys are made by car is worrying. That poses a huge challenge for the Government and the public transport companies, one they must urgently address.
The first thing that could help is eliminating car parking charges. It costs €4 per day in most stations, or €30 per month. That's a major disincentive, so why not provide free parking for regular commuters who hold a weekly, monthly or annual ticket?
The second pressing issue is the cost of travelling at off-peak times. Given that buses and trains are already running, would it not make sense to reduce these fares so buses and trains carry more than a driver? This already operates on Luas, albeit with minor savings. There is no reason it cannot be extended to other operators.
There is also the lack of an airline-style booking system, where passengers who book well in advance are rewarded with lower fares. This is coming, but should be given priority.
The National Transport Authority is also undertaking a restructuring of the fares system, so it is more transparent and easier to understand.
That should result in passengers being able to compare the cost of travelling and allow them to weigh up which is the most suitable mode of transport for them.
But there is a real need for a public relations exercise to highlight that public transport often represents the best value. By way of example, consider the cost of travelling by train from Dublin to Galway.
A return ticket between the capital and west costs €50. Too expensive, it is claimed. But the AA says the fuel costs travelling by car amount to €30.55, or €61 return. Add another €4.80 each way in tolls, and it means the trip will cost more than €70 by car - 40pc more expensive than the train.
Improvements in the local transport network - including the public bikes schemes and the fact you can use the Leap card anywhere in the country - could encourage people to make the switch.
But the most valuable thing which CIE and the National Transport Authority could do is to talk to the travelling public. An extensive public consultation should be undertaken, where passengers are asked to set out the services they need across bus and rail networks.
Only by providing services which people want will the companies grow numbers and prosper. If nothing else, it would put to bed the often-cited criticism of a lack of services, and put it up to the public to use the network.