Bus speeds in some cities average just 1kmh amid fears of €1m timetable target fines
Bus speeds in some of our regional cities have fallen to as low as 1kmh at peak times due to gridlock.
Growing congestion levels across the State also mean Bus Éireann faces being hit with fines of up to €1m by the end of the year for failing to stick to timetables.
Chief executive Ray Hernan said that the company's contract with the National Transport Authority (NTA) required drivers to rigidly arrive and depart from some 10,000 bus stops across the country at specific times, or be hit with a fine.
But meeting the scheduled timetables was "almost impossible" at peak times, he said.
"We have seen in key cities and towns in the country, not just in Dublin, where congestion is having a significant impact in terms of punctuality around timetables put in place a year, two years or three years ago," said Mr Hernan.
"Trying to deliver services to those has become impossible at peak times.
"We acknowledge there are things we need to do better. We're measuring on punctuality against 10,000 bus stops around the country. It's not about leaving Galway and being in Dublin at a particular time. If you're supposed to be in Athlone or Mullingar at a particular time, you have to be there on time.
"If we don't deliver in the current year against our punctuality targets, at the current rate we could incur fines of up to €1m.
"I'm technically late if I'm more than five minutes late, or if I leave a bus stop one minute early. All the buses are tracked with GPS. It is deducted from your monthly subvention."
Figures supplied by the firm show that average bus speeds on routes into Dublin have dropped by as much as 8pc between 2015 and 2017, including 8.2pc on the 120 Edenderry to Dublin service. On the 103 Ratoath to Dublin, they have dropped by 8.7pc.
"While there's significant priority outside the M50, there are no bus lanes on the motorway trying to get into the city," he said. "We are keen to explore with Transport Infrastructure Ireland and the NTA about using the hard shoulders at peak times.
"Some might say that's not safe, but perhaps you could run it as a reduced speed. That will always be of benefit if you're faster than the lane next to you. You'll only drive significant modal shift if you see the bus go past you."
The congestion problem is particularly acute in Cork and Galway cities because there are few bus lanes allowing priority at traffic signals and ensuring passengers travel faster by bus than car.
In Cork, Bus Éireann services travel on 625km of roadway but just 14km - 2.2pc - is bus priority.
A study by Jacobs Consultants on behalf of the company identified 25 pinch points where speeds fell to between 1kmh and 6kmh at peak times.
In Galway, the corresponding figures are 9km of bus lane on 132km of routes (10pc).
Several pinch points have also been identified - particularly around industrial estates and accessing Eyre Square, where speeds at peak times range from 2.6kmh to 24kmh, but the average is just 9.6kmh.
By November, some 80pc of bus timetables will be revised to reflect the actual running time, which will help avoid fines.
"It will be more realistic," Mr Hernan said. "It will be linked to the real running time, rather than a planned running time.
"All these intermediate stages were built up over years. We need to go to the NTA and say we need this timetable changed.
"That's a massive amount of work. We're looking to change 80pc of our timetables by November this year. We think the timetables need to acknowledge the reality".
He added that more bus priority was needed in the cities, and there was no point in investing in new fleet unless buses could move around.