Something new is about to arrive on the streets of Dublin in September.
A new bus operator, Go-Ahead, will start running buses on 24 routes across Dublin, most of them local and orbital routes, such as the 18 service from Sandymount to Palmerstown and the 17A, which connects Blanchardstown with Kilbarrack.
But there is also another surprise in store. The buses will carry a new livery for Dublin’s streets, which has been spotted while out in testing.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) has confirmed that the new look will at least be based on this livery (see photograph), “but with some further changes to be made to it”. If there are to be tweaks to the design, what should they be?
Initial reaction to the new-look bus on social media was that the chosen colour scheme is less prominent and recognisable than the bright yellow and blue buses the city has gotten used to.
There is good reason people might be dismayed at the loss of the distinctive yellow, and not just for the nostalgia of it. The bright yellow, which Dublin Bus has made its own, is effective for both visibility and branding
It’s not by accident that the marketing leviathan that is Ryanair chooses much the same colour palette. Blue and yellow combined makes for a sharp but pleasing contrast. The blue is calming. But the bold yellow is persuasive and almost unmissable.
The new livery is nonetheless a quite aesthetic one, clearly well-designed. It was one of a number of options put to the public as part of a consultation exercise earlier in the year.
But there is a real concern that the loss of the yellow may make the sighting of oncoming buses challenging for the general public, let alone the visually impaired user.
There could be some (very justified) objections raised by disability interest groups, unless they have already been engaged with directly on this.
There is also an additional concern. The new livery will carry the principal brand “Transport for Ireland”.
This is more problematic than you might think for transport in the city. As a brand it no longer evokes a dedicated urban transport service for Dublin. In a sense, it eviscerates any notion of a properly run city.
There is no problem with new contracted operators, along with Dublin Bus, operating a portion of the city’s transport services (so long as fair labour and working conditions are adhered to by all). Go-Ahead have already been advertising for bus drivers and management staff.
The 10-point question here is will Dublin Bus also be transitioned into the new livery? Presumably they will over time, otherwise the idea of contracting more than one operator becomes faintly ridiculous in a supposedly integrated city transport system.
Everybody visiting London recognises the iconic red bus when it comes along, but few bother to look at the name of the operator, usually written discretely on the front or side of the vehicle.
Many major public-transport utility companies vie for the bundles of contracts that Transport for London tenders out on a routine basis. But to most people, it is still the familiar big red London bus.
The NTA is empowered to do precisely the same under its legislation. The Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 empowers it to design and implement “a single brand to be used by all public transport operators providing services in accordance with a public transport services contract with the Authority in the GDA”. But this statute relates to the Greater Dublin Area, not the entire country.
The NTA, as the principal regulatory authority for all transport in Dublin, is in a position to do this. It is what their original incorporating legislation intends and enables them to do.
Public transport is not only a vital service. It is also forms part of the identity and culture of a city.
Paris would be a lesser city without its gorgeous metro motifs, a classic of the art nouveau epoch. San Francisco’s cable cars are among the most significant tourist attractions in the city. London’s most iconic image is its tube map, a recognised design classic.
Dubliners get about mainly by bus, and if Dublin Bus is no longer to be the sole operator in the city, there needs to be a brand they can recognise, relate to and identify with the city.
Regulating and operating an urban transport market requires a particular attitude and organisational capacity. This is a fundamental feature of any of Dublin’s successful peer cities across continental Europe and Scandinavia.
In short, there needs to be a strong, effective and recognisable transport brand for Dublin. It needs to be something that people relate to and recognise as belonging to the city. It would be extraordinary for a city with an advanced public-transport system, such as Dublin’s, not to enjoy this.
In addition, the NTA should state publicly what measures it has taken to consult directly – with regard to the visibility of the new livery – with disability representative groups, who may have justified concerns.