Sunday 8th March 2020
Dublin’s hotly contested airport to city centre public transport market began a new three way contest this week with the arrival of a new Dublin Express branded route run by Bernard Kavanagh Coaches on behalf of National Express alongside the long established Airlink operated by Dublin Bus and Aircoach run by First Bus which celebrated 20 years operation last year.
Inevitable the new competitor has led to a bit of a price war with both online and pay as you board fares getting keener.
Dublin Bus operate two Airlink branded routes 747 and 757 linking different parts of the city centre including O’Connell Street and the Central bus (coach) station as well as both Connolly and Heuston Stations.
Airlink also uses the slightly faster route into the city via the toll Port Tunnel as does the new Dublin Express, whereas Aircoach uses the traditional route avoiding the toll; but the end to end journey times are not hugely different.
Aircoach also serve conveniently located city centre bus stops on their route 700 but Dublin Express has three bus stops none of which are quite so central as O’Connell Street – Custom House being the closest and fairly close to the coach station and Connolly Station. Strangely they’re numbering these with three different route numbers (each on an hourly frequency) depending on which stops are served.
Custom House is served every 20 minutes by all three routes, 782, 783 and 784 with the 782 continuing west to serve Smithfield and the 784 south to Merrion Square. Impressively this pattern continues right through the night as a continuous 24 hour operation. It means the new entrant offers the best night time service.
Airlink 747 has a best frequency of every 10 minutes between 08:00 and 19:30 Monday to Friday with 15 minutes at weekends and weekday early mornings and evenings and 20 minutes weekend early mornings and evenings. It’s not a 24 hour service with an 04:45 to 00:30 operating day (less at weekends).
Airlink 757 runs half hourly.
Aircoach route 700 also runs 24 hours around the clock with a fifteen minute frequency except between 00:00 and 04:30 when it drops to half hourly.
Interestingly there’s been a revision to the all important picking up points outside the Terminal buildings at Dublin Airport.
Aircoach and Airlink both used to pick up from outside Terminal 1 and then pick up outside Terminal 2, both with prime spots either end of the two down escalators from the arrivals hall and overbridge at Terminal 2.
Aircoach still retain their advert presence at the top of the escalator leading to where their coaches used to pick up …
… and is now on the walking route to the new pick up point further on.
The new arrangements now see Dublin Express take over Aircoach 700’s former prime spots …
…. with a revised pick up point in the main coach station area sited in between the two Terminal buildings for Aircoach.
The advantage of this for Aircoach is it gives their control staff visibility of Aircoach’s other routes in Ireland including the long express service to Cork …
…but the disadvantage is every potential passenger for Aircoach now has a slightly longer walk to the pick up point no matter which Terminal building they arrive at. Perhaps the departure charges are cheaper for them? (Update: see Ronan’s comment below for further background information explaining this change.)
I arrived at Terminal 2 yesterday and had pre-booked online with Aircoach and found myself walking past the Dublin Express pick up point and onward along what seems like a much longer walk to the coach station than it really is – it’s only just over two minutes and you can see it from the overbridge- but when you’ve already walked a long way along corridors and escalators from the aircraft it can seem psychologically a distance too far.
I was amazed to see how many ambassador type staff Dublin Express are deploying at both Terminal pick up points. It may be a temporary arrangement to raise awareness and be slimmed down in the future but in the meantime both Aircoach and Airlink are also deploying staff and high profile pay points.
Dublin Express even had a member of staff at Custom House this afternoon helping with luggage loading although he told me he was a ‘temporary human bus stop’ as the bus stop pole had recently been knocked down!
Dublin Bus have the advantage of linking their Airlink service with their city sightseeing options as a package deal and have a significant presence in Terminal 1 as well as at their departure point outside.
However their vehicle offering is much more traditional bus company style with old style bus seats in a double decker ..
…. although the lower deck gives the option of easy to access luggage racks (rather than underfloor side lockers on a high floor coach with Aircoach and Dublin Express) and of course Airlink is fully accessible for wheelchair users. However they also persist with using their incomprehensible bus stop timetable displays showing terminal departures and leaving you to do the maths to work out the actual departure time from any pick up point along the route. Very strange.
The coach seats in First Bus owned Aircoach looked uncannily similar to the Stagecoach interior colour scheme in their latest buses. Just a coincidence I know.
So you pay your money and take your choice on these three city/airport options.
And on the paying your money front you can buy tickets from drivers with cash or contactless with Aircoach but only cards (not cash) with Dublin Express and only cash (not cards) with Airlink …. if those ambassadors haven’t got to you first (who take cards) – or online of course.
Single fares are €7 with Airlink currently knocking €1 off online to match the Dublin Express €6 fare. Dublin Express are currently offering a return for the price of a single as an introductory offer during March (nicely called a ‘free return upgrade’) *…
…. with Aircoach offering a bargain €8 return online and Airlink €11 return online (€12 cash/card at pick up points). So it’s quite competitive with the new entrant just having the edge … for now.
Looking at loadings this afternoon I saw some amazingly busy coaches and buses with all three operators …
… including a very impressive busy departure for Dublin Express bearing in mind it’s only its first week ….
… but I also saw some very lightly loaded journeys which is probably the nature of frequent airport services very much peaks and troughs.
National Express state they have plans to expand the Dublin Express service and I’d expect to see an increase in frequency and more city centre stops added but perhaps a reduction in those ambassadorial staff in the coming months.
One to watch.
* photo courtesy Alex Hornby who’s also been road testing Dublin’s airport coach services in the last few days.
Aircoach didn’t openly choose to move to the new stops which are out the way. There was a tender exercise which was undertook by Dublin Airport, it wasn’t just based on price, but also on operators proposals to eventually service new areas and operate decent schedules all around the clock.
National Express are said to have went big and went in hard in the tender and massively outbid everyone else which is why they got the best spot at the airport. They started operating their service from the moment that the new arrangements on stops were due to commence.
Unlike the UK, Ireland is not deregulated. The commercial environment is based on a regulated and licensed system where applications for a route have to be made to the National Transport Authority who will consider the merits of such a route based on the existing level of demand, potential future demand, current provided services and if areas are poorly serviced by existing operators.
The reason that they are using three different route numbers is because the services are under three different licenses and each license and route number come as a pair.
A list of licenses can be found here:
Click to access 200227_CurrentLicences.pdf
You will notice that a third company is involved, Express Bus Ltd, who own the route licenses – this is an independent Irish company. National Express currently do not have their own operators license in Ireland, therefore they appear to be using that of Express Bus whilst subcontracting the service to Bernard Kavanagh.
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Thanks ever so much for this very interesting background information.
For a 40 minute trip you’ve also got the cheap and frequent local bus. We got the 16 from O Connell St last August.
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You are correct, Roger, about the number of Dublin Express staff visible during the launch period. Customer service and contact centre staff of National Express in Great Britain were offered the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks on secondment – accommodation, travel and a meal allowance paid – in Dublin, to help get the new operation started.
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Excellent; many thanks.
How many staff are National Express actually employing themselves in Ireland?
The drivers are all contractors for Bernard Kavanagh and if you want to write them a letter you’re asked to pay the price of an international letter to Birmingham and all their call centre and customer care staff are also based in the UK who not surprisingly, when asked a question about the Irish social welfare free travel pass start talking about concessionary passes not being valid before a certain time – the rules of concessionary bus pass in the UK have absolutely no relevance to a completely different travel pass and confusing Ireland as being part of the UK can be downright offensive to some people.
Taking people over to Dublin for two weeks is no substitute for actually living in the country and local knowledge and there are differences between Ireland and the UK and the habits of consumers and what they value. Anyone who has been involved in the Irish market knows these things and the biggest threat to National Express in the new operation is not understanding this.
For example in Ireland vastly more people prefer to pay in cash upon arrival at the airport or in city centre when they get their coach rather than book in advance by card, but NX still try and ignore that fact and instead plough down the card only route on bus, because that is what it’s like in the UK. If they would have hired a good, local MD with Irish market knowledge, they’d know this, but instead they hired someone from the UK who has never worked in the country.
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You’ll be lucky to get anywhere near 40 minutes at peak times though. Can be over an hour.
Aircoach user some of the same roads but diverts onto motorway whereas the 16 take the local roads and stops every couple of hundred yards. When there’s no traffic the 16 is great. When there is if your heading to airport it can be quite stressful. Also there is less luggage space.
There is also Dublin Bus route 41 which serves the airport on its way to Swords. This also operates on a 24 hour basis, every 30 minutes throughout the night.
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I doubt the early morning traffic in Dublin has improved much so to be honest it’s cheaper and just as quick to get the normal service bus run by Dublin bus if you are traveling at peak time in the morning.the fast airport express services are still stuck in the same line of traffic heading into the city centre, mainly private cars with one person sat in them.im guessing that at say 0730 there’s no difference in the time the fast and local bus takes?