Friday 20 September 2019

Home Truths: Ghosts in Dublin Bus machine versus real home values


Out of service: Dublin Bus has a schedule to trim ground from 1,300 homes
Out of service: Dublin Bus has a schedule to trim ground from 1,300 homes
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

They say every cigarette a smoker consumes takes five minutes off their life. Well, I suffer from a debilitating habit that has taken five months off my life. It's an infliction I've suffered from since I was a kid and one I share with tens of thousands of people in my city. We sufferers have a lot of different names for this scourge. But mostly we call it Dublin Bus.

A heavy lifelong user by necessity, I worked it out that unscheduled additional waits caused by buses that don't turn up steal around two hours from my life each week - more than a pack of cigarettes. A lifetime of heavy Dublin Bus use has now taken its toll, adding up to five months extra spent standing at bus stops after no shows - the same sentence handed out to a Government Junior Minister found guilty of expenses fraud and to a chap recently found guilty of assaulting a garda. At least they got somewhere to sit.

At sixteen I propped up bus stops, a Sony Walkman pumping out lyrics from the Dublin band The Blades who understood my teenage pain: "With the problems of a nation, I'm not waiting at an airport, I'm not waiting at a station... I'm standing at a bus stop!" (rolling brass crescendo).

By now a hardened middle-aged user, I have latterly been brought low with the latest DB-inflicted condition - the Real Time Passenger Information (RTPI) ghosts. Since the RTPI appeared, we users hang around on the streets counting down the displayed minutes and wondering if that bus documented as coming towards us actually exists? Recently I waited for three ghost buses in a row (all counted down) over a period of one hundred minutes on a route that is supposed to have a (real) bus arriving every twenty minutes to half an hour.

Waiting on a real bus is bad enough, but you know you have it tough when you are hanging about for ones imagined on your behalf by Dublin Bus. So are they ever on the route? Where do they go? I decided finally to take control of my condition and find out. I emailed DBHQ as follows:

"(a) Can you explain what happens when a scheduled bus is counted down (eg, six minutes, four minutes, one minute, due) on the app and then it doesn't show up? (b) Is there actually a bus on the route when this happens? (c) If so, where does it go? (d) If there isn't actually a bus on the route, why does tracker app "track" a supposed travelling bus when there are no buses actually on the route?"

Dublin Bus replied: "Real Time Passenger Information (RTPI) aims to provide the most immediate and accurate information to the waiting customer at any point in time.

"Occasionally, problems such as road closures, mechanical problems with the bus or other issues can affect bus services. In other cases, Dublin Bus Inspectors may need to make a curtailment to a scheduled bus service because of unplanned traffic delays.

"When issues like these occur, the RTPI computer system needs to be updated as quickly as possible and sometimes an update can happen after the event. Regards."

But what have traffic hold-ups to do with buses listed as proceeding along a route but never showing up at all? So I tried again: "Hi. The above clearly does not answer the specific questions which I asked. Answers which fudge seem to be a policy of Dublin Bus. I'll try again. Please see below, there are four questions. Please can they be answered in order and specific to the questions put?" I got no reply.

So I waited. And waited. For four months. This week I mailed back again. Still nothing. I phoned the press office directly and was told that the person I'd corresponded with previously had left a few weeks ago - so my last mail had gone to a ghost employee. My fourth and final attempt saw a new response promised by Thursday morning. But once again, despite the promised schedule, it didn't turn up.

Okay, so what has Dublin Bus Syndrome (DBS) got to do with the property market?

Well, Dublin Bus will be sending letters to the homes of a good many Dublin families with a view to buying a big chunk of their front gardens.

Around 1,300 homeowners are expected to receive offer letters as part of the new BusConnects plan (which will turn my one-bus journey into two, if you don't count the ghosts).

Meantime, the necessary road work to provide a new bus system will mess up the bus system even more. Refusals will see Dublin Bus using Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs). I've heard some early offers are in the €25k ballpark.

While a front garden portion on its own might be worth about that, its removal damages the value of a home by up to €80k depending on location.

Homes which can no longer park cars in their gardens, or which are now closer to a busy road than before, will see values hit hard.

There are also concerns about BusConnects itself. Despite looking it up online, neither I nor my neighbours have any idea what's going on. Meantime, reports abound about Wellington in New Zealand having completed a similar hub-based system which ended in total disaster and chaos.

Public transport plays a huge role in influencing property values. When the service improves, values go up (Luas added 25pc to 30pc to homes). Conversely, long-term disruption to an existing service like Dublin Bus's already creaking one will impact adversely on property values, particularly in areas served by just one or two routes.

So can we trust Dublin Bus not to mess it up when there's so much at stake for homeowners? Based on how they treat users, we have plenty to worry about.

But on a positive note, it seems standing around for ghost buses is not as unhealthy as I believed. I just read an article about plans to create more standing workstations in offices amidst health concerns that we sit down too much. It's headlined: "Standing for three hours a day has the same benefits as running ten marathons a year says leading doctor." Long term DBS sufferers have already run thousands.

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