Impenetrable buses in Dublin

Tuesday 8th March 2022

I’ve been visiting friends in Dublin over a weekend in early March for many years and after missing out in 2021 due to Covid was back on the Emerald Isle once again on Saturday and Sunday.

It’s a great city to visit and I always look forward to my annual trip but after many years visiting I’ve yet to fathom out the city’s bus network and really explore the city by bus. I find it virtually impenetrable to use.

No bus map (Mike Harris, Dublin needs you), an unfriendly website – both Transport For Ireland and Dublin Bus – and a seemingly complex network and fares proposition defeats me every time.

Transport For Ireland does have diagrammatic bus maps for some towns including Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford as well as others, but nothing for Dublin.

However two most notable things I noticed this time a couple of years on from my last visit were Dublin Bus have ceased running their airport express routes 747 and 757 to and from the city centre ….

…. and a bright new livery is being rolled out across not only the city network but across the whole of Ireland under the Transport for Ireland (TFI) brand. It was also noticeable there’s been some serious investment in new double deck buses, including tri-axles.

I wrote about the airport to city centre service after my last visit in March 2020 just before Covid struck noting how National Express had just launched a new Dublin Express competitive venture against incumbents Dublin Bus and First Bus’s Aircoach.

After the three airport services were suspended during lockdown it seems Dublin Bus decided to quit the market permanently rather than return and have left it to Aircoach and Dublin Express to fight it out.

Dublin Bus continue to operate two stopping bus routes which link the airport with the city centre – routes 16 and 41 – but they take longer than the express coaches – around 30 minutes instead of 20 minutes, so not too bad.

I caught an Aircoach on Saturday from the airport which was already well loaded when it arrived five minutes late at the Terminal 2 departure point having already picked many up at Terminal 1. We left pretty much full up.

A coach heading for Cork (route 704X) had left just before with just one on board and it seemed odd he didn’t pick up those of us waiting for the city centre (route 700) as the destination blind showed it was operating via the city centre.

A similar thing happened on my return to the airport from the city centre on Sunday afternoon. An Aircoach on route 705X was sitting waiting at the stop at Westmoreland Street showing a destination of Belfast via Dublin Airport but none of us waiting to board for the airport were allowed on, instead having to wait for the 700.

Meanwhile many passengers crammed on to a busy Dublin Bus route 16 which pulled in behind.

A 700 finally arrived ten minutes late – and it wasn’t reassuring that the Coach Tracking facility on the Aircoach website wasn’t working (luckily I was in a Wi-Fi hotspot) – and the driver soon made her presence felt as she got everyone on board efficiently.

At the next stop in O’Connell Street we only had four seats available and two of those were guaranteed for the two passengers who’d booked online and so guaranteed their places. We left about ten behind as we headed off fifteen minutes late.

But incongruously the empty coach for Belfast via the Airport pulled away in front of us, as you can see in the above photograph with no one on board. We followed it all the way to the airport. Very perplexing.

And how stressful for airport bound passengers with flights to catch.

The O’Connell Street bus stop was also sporting a rather unhelpful timetable-less sticker-infested bus stop display.

Not very reassuring if you’ve just been left behind by a coach that’s full up.

When we arrived at the airport I asked Lisa, our brilliant driver – she came with real personality – what the logic of all that was and she explained it’s to do with licensing – the Belfast (and Cork) journeys aren’t licensed to carry passengers between the city and the airport even though they operate between the two so passengers are left behind. Twitter commentators observed there are licensing issues with the 705X as it’s an ‘international service’ crossing the border to Northern Ireland. But this doesn’t explain why the Cork bus wouldn’t take passengers from the airport to the city centre. It smacks of bureaucratic regulation to me.

Except it’s not completely regulated as when I got to the airport I wandered over to Terminal 1 and found lots of activity to promote NatEx’s Dublin Express as the ‘go to’ alternative to First Bus’s Aircoach with competitive matched fares and a similar half hour frequency.

Except for different city centre pick up and drop off points, the two services are very similar.

But where are Dublin Bus? On the strength of my experience over the weekend there’s huge scope to increase frequencies for the demand – we’re not even in the summer season and there’s overloading.

It’s two routes to the airport – 16 and 41 – seemed busy. And certainly the latter had extra luggage racking fitted.

Back to my failed attempts at exploring the city by Dublin Bus and, now they’re a thing in Dublin, Go-Ahead Ireland.

Having arrived in the city centre there’s nowhere you can obtain useful information about the bus network. No wonder tourists gravitate towards the various sightseeing operators (BigBus and Dublin Bus both operate) as they’re offering is very visible and simple to grasp.

On a previous visit I enjoyed a CitySightseeing tour – it’s a great way to see the city with a wonderful typical Irish live commentary – although CitySightseeing seem to have exited the market.

On another previous visit I explored the tram network as that’s always easy to work out where it goes – at least you get a diagrammatic map – and the nine segment articulated trams are well worth experiencing if only for their leeeeength.

I did manage to find some Go-Ahead buses on a previous visit at the end of a tram line which was fun.

Some years ago I arrived in the city centre early enough on a Saturday morning to find the Dublin Bus travel shop on O’Connell Street open but it’s been reduced to weekday office hours for some time now so pretty useless for weekend tourists.

In any event the availability of printed timetables looked rather primitive through the glass and without a map not very helpful.

And if they’re anything like Dublin’s tradition of posting bus stop timetable departures from the terminal point at every stop (and on line) it just adds to the complexity and mental strain of working out travel plans.

To work out the departure times from the bus stop you’re waiting at you have to be proficient at arithmetic and add up the journey times shown at the bottom between each timing point and add it to the terminal departure time. How unfriendly is that?

I see from the TFI website, and also my own reading in the trade press, Transport For Ireland are undertaking a systematic review of the whole bus network segment by segment under the project title “BusConnects Network Redesign”. There’s even a special website dedicated to the project. It also extends Ireland wide, and isn’t just restricted to Dublin.

The second area involving four ‘C Spine’ routes in West Dublin and East Kildare was introduced last November with some explanatory maps and information about the new spine and local feeder route networks online which is a step forward.

And after a bit of clicking around on the BusConnects website after I returned home on Sunday evening I actually found a full network bus map.

Wonderful.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s visit.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu.

Next blog, Thursday 10th March 2022, and a late change to the -enviously advertised subject: A new chapter for Stagecoach.

23 thoughts on “Impenetrable buses in Dublin

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  1. Those stopping buses from Dublin Airport are only slower outside the rush hour during it the express services get stuck too and take just as long.It seems strange that they don’t have a bus map for Dublin but local buses are operated by Dublin Bus there whereas in other large cities Bus Eirean run them although they are owned by the same holding company and Transport for Ireland are ment to coordinate them.

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  2. I remember being in Dublin a few years ago and finding the bus network equally impenetrable. I think the problem with Journey Planners is that the assume you want to make a particular journey and will then tell you how to make it. But some (?many) of us use the maps as the ‘inspiration’ to make journeys and give us ideas … or we just like maps!

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  3. I’d thought that ‘bus operator mentality’ was just a British thing – perhaps it’s international! I remember Barry Doe saying some years ago, that if the Cambridge Bus-way had been seen as a kind of tram rather than a modified bus, then the publicity and all the other arrangements would have been vastly better and more passenger friendly, and the numbers of users would have been much more. It just seems that when you run a bus service, something tells you not to bother about the passenger experience before and after the actual journey on the bus.

    I do know this is not absolutely universal (Roger French is obviously a very honourable exception for instance) but there appears to be a definite syndrome…

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    1. The lack of interest in the whole journey experience is pretty poor across all public transport.
      Rail operators have little interest (or staff) to assist with non-railway onward travel especially after delays. Traveling to and from stations is poor as many station car parks are seen as an income stream rather than an integral part of the offer and links to and information on bus services is not their job.

      Most bus operators run buses but have wildly varying support for people who don’t know how to use the service.

      For example having researched online I bought a three day pass from an operator but was not told and did not know that I had to scan the QR code on subsequent journeys. Cue driver calling me back and having to negotiate other boarding passengers. Not the end of the world, but indicative of the lack of care.

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    2. From my experience one of the biggest problems in Dublin, is all of the companies see themselves as a brand in their own right, they don’t see themselves as part of a bigger integrated transport system. There was talk a few years ago about how Dublin Bus valued their brand and offered to sell it to Transport for Ireland and they were worried about all bus operators wearing the same livery, because that would erode the brand.

      Sadly things are a long way away from London style integration. Transport for Ireland and the Government could certainly do more, but there’s many agendas at play.

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    1. Hi Peter,it’s a huge project and well under way now,even if a Tad late. Everybody is looking towards the Kremlin now,to see if such plans can make it to completion ?

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  4. Isn’t the restriction on local passengers to the airport on the Belfast service simply a case of wanting to ensure there is room for long-distance passengers ? If the 705X carried local passengers to the airport it could easily fill up with them leaving any walk-ups for Belfast waiting at least another hour.
    Similar rules apply in the UK on express services – for example (as far as I can see) National Express will not carry passengers from Birmingham Digbeth to Birmingham Airport despite there being numerous departures.
    But as you say, the problem is made much worse by Dublin Bus withdrawing from the 747 and 757 which, from my experience a few years ago of frequent work trips to Dublin, were always well-used.
    Incidentally, these trips were 9 or 10 years ago and exactly the same issues with lack of a bus map and at-stop displays of times from the terminus applied then. Particularly unhelpful on cross-city services !

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    1. The National Express thing is because if they carry local passengers, they have to register the route with the traffic commissioner and it makes it harder for them to adapt to demand as you need the registration notice period etc

      In Ireland, they have weird ways of doing things. Common sense would say, if at 2 minutes before departure, the Belfast bus has seats, let people for the airport board it to save them sitting there. You have to be beyond all reasonable doubt that you wouldn’t leave longer distance passengers behind but common sense can’t prevail in licencing areas.

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    2. In Ireland, commercial bus routes transporting passengers within the country have to be licensed by the National Transport Authority under the Public Transport Regulation Act (2009) and there are restrictions in terms of how many operators can be on a route, there must be time separation between them and other safeguards to stop bus wars and predatory behaviour.

      Guidelines here:

      Click to access Guidelines_for_the_Licensing_of_Public_Bus_Passenger_Services.pdf

      Belfast to Dublin as an international route, is run under EU cross border rules under a system known as ‘international authorisation’ and is not directly under the control of the regulator in Ireland or Northern Ireland like a domestic route is. Therefore it cannot have a license in terms of carrying domestic passengers. Therefore since the route cannot be licensed by the domestic authorities as it’s outside their scope, it cannot carry domestic passengers.

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  5. I am overdue a Dublin-based visit to Ireland. Thank you for some very useful preparatory planning information.

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  6. Very concerned about the withdrawal of the direct Airport to Heuston station bus, even though it took around an hour. Used this a lot to access Tralee from flights at LBA as it was significantly quicker than hanging about for the Kerry flight, cheaper too.

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    1. Interestingly, this National Express service operates with pre-planned duplication at busy times, especially at weekends. The 782 service appears on the regular dups list provided by NX with coaches supplied by Kavanagh of Urlingford.

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  7. On the subject of the service frequency of Dublin Express and Aircoach, both of those operators have been steadily increasing their timetables since the start of the year, with Dublin Express adding a further 3 services a day on the 782 from later this week. Aircoach added another 3 on the 700 in February. Both Aircoach and Dublin Express are looking at potential expansions of timetables in April or so.

    Whilst it is a shame to lose the Dublin Bus service, when both Dublin Express and Aircoach are back to pre-pandemic timetables there won’t be much difference in capacity really, since Dublin Express was a new entrant, there was only three operators on the Dublin City to Dublin Airport route for a matter of weeks in the past.

    The reason the Dublin Bus service was cancelled was simple. They were running a fleet of 13 year old city buses with bench style seating with very little mod cons at a similar price to a coach. It wasn’t deemed economical to spend millions upon millions on a new fleet for the service up against two multi-nationals with deep pockets in First and National Express.

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  8. Correct the Belfast service is not licensed to drop off at the Airport heading towards Belfast. It can’t also pick up at the Airport heading towards the City.

    Same with Cork can’t drop off at City Centre towards Cork or Pickup in City towards Airport, again due to licencing.

    Cork service can also get very busy from Terminal 1 so may not even have space for people going to the City.

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  9. Quick update on the route 7 from Reading to Fleet about whose demise you reported on – Reading Buses are bringing it back on a 8/9 bus per day schedule but only between Reading and Riseley – at least restoring the connection for some bus users.

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  10. It is all change with Stagecoach. Anyone have a clue as to who Inframobility UK Bidco Ltd are ?

    Announcement from @stagecoachgroup this morning that it is no longer recommending acceptance of the National Express bid and instead is recommending a bid from Inframobility UK Bidco Ltd. Means merger of Stagecoach and NatEx now off the table at Stagecoach
    8:48 AM · Mar 9, 2022

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      1. Inframobility UK Bidco Limited is indirectly wholly owned by Pan-European Infrastructure III, SCSp (PEIF III), an infrastructure fund managed and advised by DWS Infrastructure.

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      2. Letter of Intent Received

        RNS Number : 2653E
        Pan-European Infrastructure III
        09 March 2022

        NOT FOR RELEASE, PUBLICATION OR DISTRIBUTION, IN WHOLE OR IN PART, IN, INTO OR FROM ANY RESTRICTED JURISDICTION WHERE TO DO SO WOULD CONSTITUTE A VIOLATION OF THE RELEVANT LAWS OR REGULATIONS OF SUCH JURISDICTION.

        THIS ANNOUNCEMENT CONTAINS INSIDE INFORMATION.

        FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.

        9 March 2022

        RECOMMENDED CASH OFFER FOR STAGECOACH GROUP PLC BY INFRAMOBILITY UK BIDCO LIMITED
        Threadneedle Asset Management Limited (part of Columbia Threadneedle Investments) letter of intent

        Further to the announcement dated 9 March 2022 (“Firm Offer Announcement”) regarding the firm intention of Inframobility UK Bidco Limited (“PEIF III Bidco”), a company indirectly wholly owned by Pan-European Infrastructure III, SCSp (“PEIF III”), to make a recommended cash offer for the entire issued and to be issued ordinary share capital of Stagecoach Group plc (“Stagecoach”) at an Offer Price of 105 pence per Stagecoach Share (the “Offer”), PEIF III Bidco is pleased to announce that it has received a non-binding letter of intent from Threadneedle Asset Management Limited (part of Columbia Threadneedle Investments) confirming that it is their current intention to accept, or procure the acceptance of, the Offer (or to vote in favour of a Scheme at the Court Meeting and the resolutions to be proposed at a Stagecoach General Meeting, as necessary) in respect of a total of 93,579,341 Stagecoach Shares in respect of which they are able to control the exercise of the voting rights (the “Threadneedle Letter of Intent”), representing approximately 16.98% of Stagecoach’s issued ordinary share capital (excluding treasury shares) on 8 March 2022 (being the last Business Day before the date of this Announcement).

        When taken together, the Threadneedle Letter of Intent and irrevocable undertaking to accept the Offer (or to vote in favour of a Scheme at the Court Meeting and the resolutions to be proposed at a Stagecoach General Meeting, as necessary) from Dame Ann Gloag (through HGT Finance A Limited), in respect of a total of 151,241,308 Stagecoach Shares, represent approximately 27.44% of Stagecoach’s issued ordinary share capital (excluding treasury shares) on 8 March 2022 (being the last Business Day before the date of this Announcement).

        Capitalised terms used but not defined in this Announcement have the meaning given to them in the Firm Offer Announcement.

        Enquiries :

        Morgan Stanley

        Financial Adviser to PEIF III Bidco

        Laurence Hopkins
        Luca Lupo
        Bhavneet Alg

        Corporate Broker to PEIF III Bidco

        Andrew Foster

        Alex Smart

        +44 (0) 20 7425 8000

        Finsbury Glover Hering (Communications Adviser to PEIF III Bidco)

        Guy Lamming
        Ed Simpkins
        Gordon Simpson

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  11. Dublin Bus seem to work with the Moovit website. They have a map here –
    https://moovitapp.com/index/en/public_transit-Offline_maps_Ireland_Dublin_Network-map-Ireland-502-3919

    I have been collecting online bus maps and find that operators fall into a number of camps. The best have a full PDF of a proper route network and the worst have nothing at all. Some believe that they can rely on Google maps to do the job for them, whilst others do not take on board the concept of selling their network, thinking that people only want to know about a single bus route at a time.

    When Jarrett Walker & Associates (from which the Human Transit blog mentioned above comes) were called in I had hoped that this would bring a different view of how to not only provide a network but how to sell it would come. Whilst the reorganising of the network has happened, the selling seems to not have yet arrived.

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