Photo courtesy of Graeme McQueen

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.

Branding is a critical component of urban passenger transport planning, which is itself a very distinct discipline. There is a huge and growing field of literature in this area.

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.

David O’Connor lectures at DIT and co-runs the MSc in Transport and Mobility, a new multi-disciplinary programme in transport planning. Follow him on:

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  1. I think discussion on logos, colourschemes, etc,. hides a much more fundamental issue, quality of service. The first image of many visitors to Ireland is Dublin Bus and then the cornucopia of other bus services littered around what seems like several acres of Dublin Airport. No coherent information service, no layout map of what buses are where, etc.

    Noticably, the 747 service is front and centre on exit from the terminal, why? who decides? In addition that service has probably the most poorely designed interior layout possible. All bags have to be lifted into the (inadequate) storage area, downstairs only, where there are only a few seats. Many customers worry about the security of their luggage. Additionally, the information about location of sfops is haphazard, some are announced, some are not, there is no location map.

    No, we need to proritise the service provided, not the colour scheme.

    1. You’re being over harsh there. The 757 and 747 services have plenty of information and a route map at their departure slots. Plus the other bus services are well placed and easy to find; I’ve never had a problem anyway. You should visit Toronto to experience a truly dismal airport bus service.

  2. I get the need to mark this as a bus service for Dublin. Anything that will remove confusion or take away distinctions between two service delivery operators is good. Blind comparisons of service is probably necessary and it will take away misconceived comparisons. All comparisons should be about the quality of the service.

    Picking Blue for private might be apt though.

    I agree re London Bus and their iconic Red. I may be showing my age here, but we had an iconic green. Its one I have always missed and I do still believe it should be looked at again. We are not branding a company, we are branding a service, Dublin and Ireland.
    And yes, the key important thing is the quality, reliability and the price of the service.

  3. Agree with most of what the author has to say; I actually think the current branding and livery is quite strong. I’d rather if they could keep this but I understand when that might not be possible.

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