Passengers in regions to benefit most from public transport fares overhaul
Two in every five public transport passengers will be hit with fare hikes from December, but commuters living in the regions will see substantial falls in their monthly travel costs.
A complete restructuring of bus services in Cork, Galway and Limerick cities will see fares drop by up to 46pc following the introduction of a "city commuter" fare, while those using Bus Éireann commuter services into Dublin and between towns and villages will also enjoy average reductions of 18pc if using the Leap Card.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) has announced fares for 2018 which, it says, will result in a "significant decrease" in many Bus Éireann fares, with rail commuters in Cork city in line for savings of up to 25pc.
It has also decided that all children under five can travel for free on any public transport mode, apart from Bus Éireann's commercial Expressway service, while light-rail passengers travelling in the city centre will pay a flat-fare of €1 during off-peak times when Luas Cross-City opens in early December.
But there are losers. Most Irish Rail passengers, or 85pc, can expect to pay more for their travel, with prices on commuter services in Dublin rising by up to 4.6pc, with some hikes for intercity return services.
In Dublin, the cost of a monthly and annual Luas ticket will increase by 10pc, to €110 and €1,100, with hikes also for one day, seven day and 30-day fares by almost 5pc.
Most Dublin Bus passengers will escape substantial rises, but fares for journeys between four and 12 stages will increase.
The fare changes come about due to higher operational costs in the public transport companies, including higher wage and fuel costs, and cuts in Government funding.
The NTA has also raised concerns about the failure of the Government to cover the cost of the Free Travel Scheme, which accounts for one-in-five trips made across Bus Éireann, Irish Rail, Dublin Bus and Luas services. The cost of subsidising these trips is partly met by paying passengers, it said.
Funding for the scheme was frozen at €75m as part of the so-called National Recovery Plan between 2011 and 2014, and there is a €33m shortfall which has not been made up.
"The steady increase in free travel passenger numbers was not matched by funding from the Department of Social Protection," it said. "The freeze…has resulted in a greater proportion of revenue from fare paying passengers and the subsidy from the Department of Transport contributing to the cost of the Free Travel Scheme."
The NTA expects passenger numbers to grow by almost 5pc next year, and plans to introduce a new bus service in Kilkenny.
The Leap Card system will be across the entire Bus Éireann fleet by mid-2018, which will allow for an average 18pc reduction on Leap fares that it believes will "drive usage".
Radical changes to the fare structure in Cork, Limerick and Galway cities would allow passengers to get lower fares.
There will be two fares in each city - one for trips up to 7.5km, and a slightly higher fare for longer journeys, with a single schoolchild fare across the entire city zone. In Cork, the 'city' now includes Ballincollig, Blarney, Cork Airport, Carrigaline, Ringaskiddy and Cobh, while in Galway it extends to Barna and Oranmore. In Limerick, it includes Castleconnell, Clonlara and Ardnacrusha.
The NTA said a passenger travelling from Carrigaline into Cork city currently paid €3.52 using Leap, or €4.40 in cash. This will fall to €1.89 Leap or €2.70 cash. Similar savings will be available in Galway and Limerick.