On a sunny Saturday afternoon, a small group of passengers are waiting for Go-Ahead Ireland’s 175 bus to take them home.

Mayara Ramos Da Silva and her four-year-old daughter Aura are in the group, enjoying a bit of sunshine while waiting for the 175 to take them back to their home in Jobstown.

“Normally, I use the 175 route to get from Jobstown to Citywest,” says Ramos Da Silva, “It’s the first time I have used the route to get to UCD to go to the cinema with my daughter.”

Ramos Da Silva works as a dog walker in Citywest. The bus service “is really good”, she says.

Another passenger, Jack O’Donnell, is waiting for the 17 bus route from UCD and says that since Go-Ahead took over the route, “the service has been far more frequent on Sundays than when Dublin Bus ran it. They also seem to be more punctual.”

In 2017, the National Transport Authority (NTA) awarded Go-Ahead Ireland a contract to operate 10 percent of Dublin’s bus network.

Last September Go-Ahead launched their first of 24 routes, the 175. As the rest of the buses and routes rolled out in the months that followed, some passengers complained about the service.

Data from the NTA for the first few months of this year show that Go-Ahead has fallen slightly short of punctuality targets, but hit thresholds for reliability.

“Service performance overall is comparable to the same period last year, when these routes were operated by Dublin Bus,” said Loreto Browne of the National Transport Authority.

On Time, and Running

The contract between the NTA and Go-Ahead sets out the minimum levels of services that the operator has to provide.

For its first full year of operations, Go-Ahead has to meet a punctuality rate of 65 percent. In other words, 65 percent of the buses it runs have to run on time. After the first year, the threshold goes up to 80 percent.

Go-Ahead also has to meet a threshold for reliability: 98 percent. In other words, they have to run at least 98 percent of their services that are scheduled.

Figures so far show Go-Ahead failing to hit the 65 percent punctuality rate.

Between 29 January to 24 February, Go-Ahead Ireland scored a punctuality rating of 63.3 percent.

From 25 February to 24 March, Go-Ahead Ireland scored a punctuality rating of 62.4 percent.

More recent punctuality data is still being analyzed by the NTA, according to Browne.

Meanwhile, Go-Ahead has hit the reliability threshold of operating at least 98 percent of its buses for the first three periods of the year – up to 24 March.

From the beginning of January to 29 January, it ran 99.3 percent of its buses. From 29 January to 24 February, it operated 99.2 percent. While, from 25 February to 24 March, it operated 98 percent of its buses.

Those figures are adjusted based on what are called “cause codes”, said Browne.

Those are issues the operator can’t be considered responsible for, said Browne. Such as “road closures due to a major event, extreme weather resulting in unsafe road conditions”.

Operators apply these, and submit them to the NTA in their reports, he said. That means it’s unclear whether data for periods four and five – which show 2.6 percent of routes not run between 25 March and 21 April, and 4 percent of routes not run between 22 April and 19 May – will fall below the threshold or not, as they haven’t yet had the cause codes factored in.

The punctuality data comes from the NTA’s data-management system, which is connected into equipment on every bus and feeds back to the NTA’s back office, said Browne.

The reliability data is currently “self-reported”, said Browne. It’s being moved onto the same data-management system at the moment, he said.

Under the contracts, Go-Ahead faces penalties if it falls short of meeting thresholds – but those penalties didn’t kick in straight away.

For punctuality, financial penalties or “deductions” for falling below the 65 percent rate have only been in play since 22 April, after all the routes were rolled out.

For reliability, financial penalties for falling below the threshold of running 98 percent of the services kicked in from 29 January, once 21 of the 24 routes taken over by Go-Ahead Ireland were up and running.

“There were no deductions due in the Q1 and Q2 data being analysed at present,” said Browne, by email.

In a written statement, a spokesperson for Go-Ahead said it’s working on not only achieving, but outperforming NTA targets.

In June 2019, it changed the timetable for five routes based on what they’ve learnt so far, they said. “These timetable changes have resulted in an improvement in punctuality.”

“Go-Ahead Ireland are now working on reviewing their remaining 19 routes, to ensure that continued improvements are made network wide, to benefit their customers,” they said.

Dan Grennan is an Irish student of journalism at DIT, and a freelance writer.

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