Wicklow commuters getting ‘raw deal’ under new National Fares Strategy

Councillor Stephen Stokes on the outskirts of Newcastle, County Wicklow.

Tom GalvinBray People

A new strategy by the National Transport Authority (NTA) to regulate how public transport fares outside the Dublin area are calculated has been slammed as a “raw deal” for Wicklow commuters by Greystones Councillor Stephen Stokes, who said it is “a prelude to higher fares” for hard-pressed bus and rail users.

The new National Fares Strategy has been designed by the NTA to ensure “better value, greater transparency and equality in respect of journey distance”, meaning the cost per kilometre travelled should be “consistent across the country” and will be related to the “straight line distance between the origin and destination of journey”.

The fare for a bus journey of say, 20km, will be the same whether it takes place in the north-west or south-east. Currently this is not always the case, the NTA said.

By way of example, the NTA compared a journey of 30km taken between Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow, to Dublin at a cost of €2.80, to one taken between Fermoy, Co Cork, to Cork city, a distance of 29km with a fare of €5.95.

The example, it said, illustrates the issues in the current fare structure, where journeys are similar in distance but there exists a discrepancy between the fares charged.

“This demonstrates some of the inconsistencies which the NTA would like to address with the implementation of a new fares structure, making the gap between these fares for example, much smaller, if not eliminated completely,” it added.

The strategy also aims to eliminate fare inconsistencies within the Dublin region, and to address, this two new zones have been created which will be problematic for those commuters on the fringes in County Wicklow.

In Dublin, a City Zone is to be introduced which will extend approximately 23km from the city, and broadly equates to the existing 90-minute fare zone.

A new Outer Dublin Commuter Zone extending to approximately 50km from Dublin city centre will also be created. It will include towns such as Drogheda, Navan, Trim, Enfield, Clane, Prosperous, Newbridge, Kildare, Greystones and Wicklow.

The NTA said this will ensure that the cheapest fare is made available for passengers and will help alleviate boundary issues between the national and city fare structures.

While the Dublin City Zone fares remain unchanged, fares for journeys between Dublin and the Outer Dublin Commuter Zone will be “reviewed and revised in upcoming determinations”.

However, Cllr Stokes has expressed concern that Greystones, Charlesland, Delgany, Kilcoole, Killadreenan and Newcastle have been lumped into this new 50-kilometre outer zone.

He said this means Greystones Municipal District commuters travelling to Dublin will pay either a national fare or Express Bus fares, plus a surcharge for every kilometre to the new Dublin City Zone.

"We will have to see what the precise impact is,” he said. “However, it feels like commuters can't catch a break from the Government and the NTA. Many people in Greystones will remember when a return train ticket to Dublin was around €10.

“While I appreciate that the NTA wants to create fare consistency, it seems mad to put the Greystones District into the same bracket with Trim, Navan, and Drogheda which are much further from Dublin."

The new changes are expected to take effect from late 2023.

Cllr Stokes said he believes the NTA logic which created the Dublin City Zone boundaries is questionable.

"The new Dublin City Zone is 23 kilometres. That is an unusual number to pick. Yet when you look at their strategy map, there are several commuter towns like Greystones just barely on the wrong side of the boundary. It looks like a prelude to much higher fares for Charlesland, Delgany, Greystones, Kilcoole, Killadreenan and Newcastle. Additionally, as Newcastle is the furthest away from Dublin, they are likely to be hit hardest by per kilometre stealth charges."

Cllr Stokes has written to the NTA and Transport Minister, Eamon Ryan to highlight his concerns.

"Here we are again,” he said, “talking about the NTA and Minister Ryan giving North Wicklow commuters a raw deal. If we want to get people out of cars we need to ensure that public transport is affordable, available and reliable. You would have to question the decision making.”