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This is where you get the 17a, says a woman, stood at the bus stop outside Blanchardstown Centre last Friday. “But I hope you’re not in a hurry because it’ll take you all around the city.”
It’s a grey morning. There are 19 other bundled-up people waiting here too. Almost all look down at their phones, or have headphones in, or both.
The 17a starts in Blanchardstown and arcs northeast around the city to Kilbarrack, passing Connolly Hospital, the National Aquatic Centre, Finglas, Ballymun, Beaumont Hospital, and Howth Junction along the way.
It’s one of 24 public bus routes in Dublin to be run by the private operator Go-Ahead Ireland, which won a tender to take them over from Dublin Bus. It’s been doing that gradually since last September. In February, the last two are due to be absorbed into the group.
It’s a bit unclear how the switch is going so far. The first batch of performance data that the National Transport Authority (NTA) collects hasn’t been released yet.
But feedback so far is mixed – with some customers saying it seems more reliable, and others complaining about problems with delays, missing buses and incorrect real-time information.
On Friday morning at 8:20am, a 17a bus rolled up. Its arrival time matched the timetable and real-time information on the board.
About 12 people get on. Samantha Morgan sits on the top deck with her small daughter. She uses this route four times a day, she says, as she takes her daughter to and from the childminder in Blanchardstown from Ballymun where she lives.
She also uses it to get to the beauty therapy course she’s doing at Coláiste Íde in Finglas. When one bus is late or doesn’t show up, it has a domino effect on the rest of her day.
She’d been 20 minutes late for work the morning before, she says. “There was meant to be a bus in three minutes, and it never showed up. […] You know, all the other buses showed up, but it’s just because of that one bus that I was late for work.”
That’s the biggest change she’s noticed since Go-Ahead took over. Sometimes, buses don’t turn up, she says. They don’t seem as regular to her as when Dublin Bus ran the route. “You don’t mind when they’re a few minutes late – buses are normally late,” she says.
But when there’s supposed to be a bus every 15 minutes, and it doesn’t come for 30, it causes problems.
“They need to fix that. They really need to fix that,” she says.
It’s hard to say though how Go-Ahead run buses are actually performing at the moment. And it’s not clear what would happen if they weren’t up to scratch – when asked, spokespeople for the NTA and Go-Ahead did not answer that question.
However, every three months, the NTA releases data on how all its operators are doing, including Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and Irish Rail. It shows how punctual they are, the number of lost kilometres – in other words, kilometres that were scheduled but didn’t happen – complaints, and passenger numbers.
For example, scheduled Dublin Buses showed up around 95 percent of the time in the second three months of last year, according to a reliability report on the NTA’s website. The report says that “at least 95% of scheduled services must be operated” and that “If this target is not achieved, financial penalties apply.”
An NTA spokesperson said it’s in the process of compiling the figures Go-Ahead for the last three months of 2018. “We will publish them in due course.”
Last Friday morning, reviews of the new 17a service were mixed. They’re mixed on Twitter as well. Commuters have called the route both “incredibly efficient” and “a disaster so far” in recent weeks.
One challenge for commuters, though, has been figuring out the new bus schedule.
The old Dublin Bus app is obsolete for the new Go-Ahead routes. Instead, it uses the Transport for Ireland Real Time Ireland app, managed by the NTA. It integrates real-time information from Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, Go-Ahead Ireland, the Dart, Iarnród Éireann, and the Luas.
Morgan, the passenger who was sitting on the top deck with her young daughter on Friday morning, says she has had problems with the app. Sometimes the 17a doesn’t show up on it, she says. Sometimes the app shows a bus is coming, but it doesn’t arrive.
Later that same Friday morning, Barbara Lally was waiting for the 17a after an appointment near Blanchardstown Centre. There wasn’t one listed on the real-time board, but after 10 minutes, a 17a shows up unexpectedly. “I don’t think they have improved,” she says.
This kind of thing makes Morgan question the integration of Go-Ahead buses with the existing real-time infrastructure.
Car at Home
Morgan’s bus went past the Ballymun Library, and she and her daughter stepped off at the stop after. Morgan says she has a car at home, but she’s afraid to drive her daughter in it. “Hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll get confident in my car, and I won’t have to do this anymore.”
A few minutes after Morgan gets off, Liz Buckley gets onto a 17a going in the opposite direction. She is laden with carrier bags for her dad. She takes this bus twice a week to his house five stops away, she says.
The new 17a bus service has improved, she says – the buses seem more frequent and more reliable. “And the lads are grand. The uniforms are lovely. You can write that.”