On Crumlin Road, the 122 bus is trying to make its way to the city centre.

Three cars sit between the bus and the traffic lights and two cars sandwich the bus from behind in the bus lane.

It’s 5:30pm on Friday, which means that out of the six vehicles on this stretch of road in this lane, the bus should be the only one in it.

On the other side of the city, there is the same problem.

Three cars break from traffic and speed up into the bus lane on the Drumcondra Road. They are taking a left turn onto Griffith Avenue and, for their own reasons, decide not to wait in the correct lane.

By the time a number 16 bus arrives at the busy junction, five cars and two taxis stand between it and the lights.

“Why wouldn’t you do it?” asks Sean Yeates, a union rep from the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), which represents transport workers.

“If you thought that you could drive every day and not sit in traffic for an hour and run the risk of maybe once a year you might just be stopped … of course you are going to do it,” says Yeates.

The misuse of bus lanes is a daily event in Dublin, and one which will become, if anything, more problematic as BusConnects is brought in.

This planned overhaul of the city’s bus system envisions a series high-frequency “spokes” into and out of the centre, connected with a bunch of orbital routes. It envisions bus users jumping from one route to the other more often.

So keeping everything moving on time and one bus connecting to the next will likely be even more important under the BusConnects plan, than it is now.

The National Transport Authority (NTA) has predicted that the core bus corridor project would deliver journey time savings of between 40 to 50 percent.

“Dedicated bus lanes can significantly increase bus travel speeds and reliability,” it has said.

There is some enforcement to penalise those blocking bus lanes already. In 2019, 4,734 fines were given by the Roads Policing Units to people for driving in bus lanes in the Dublin Metropolitan Area – an average of 395 a month – according to the Garda Press Office.

Meanwhile, 935 fines were given out for illegal parking in the bus lane, roughly 78 a month, its figures show.

But, with BusConnects on the way, is the system up to the task of keeping the bus lanes clear so the buses keep flowing and riders can make their connections?

When Can Drivers Use the Bus Lanes?

At the moment, whether private car drivers can use the bus lane depends on the bus lane and what time of day it is.

“Some bus lanes are 7 [am] to 7 [pm]. Some are 24-hours,” says Yeates.

The fine for driving in the bus lane is €60 if it’s paid within 28 days, and €90 if it’s paid in the 28 days after that.

“The roads are designed for cars to keep out of bus lanes and for people to get out of cars to use buses,” says Yeates.

The way these rules are enforced is the problem, says Yeates.

The current system of enforcement relies on the physical presence of gardaí to catch people driving in bus lanes.

“The guards, to be fair to them, are under-resourced,” says Yeates. “They just don’t have the people to be standing around to catch one or two people.”

The NBRU wants to see cameras installed in the city that can read the licence plates of cars using bus lanes when they are not supposed to be, says Yeates.

The Dublin Commuter Coalition also wants cameras introduced to deter cars from driving in the bus lane when they shouldn’t.

“Belfast have six, just six, bus lane cameras in six locations,” says Feljin Jose, the public relations officer for the Dublin Commuter Coalition.

There, it cost £162,200 to install the cameras, and another £115,700 to pay staff to monitor the cameras and review the videos for the 2017/18 financial year, according to the Belfast City Council figures.

The Belfast Council has made the over £4.2 million from this scheme, the same report says.

One particular camera has made £1.5 million from catching people driving in the bus lane, the same report says.

But Jose says: “I don’t want bus-lane cameras to make money, I want them so people stop driving in bus lanes.”

Other cities have proven that cameras reduce the number of people driving their cars in bus lanes, he says.

Other Cities

Plymouth, in the UK, has introduced cameras to stop drivers from using bus lanes.

“It’s been a great success,” says the man who helped introduce the scheme to Plymouth, British Labour Party Councillor Mark Coker.

“It’s improved bus punctuality around the city, it’s reduced accidents involving buses and vehicles, and it has just become part of everyday life here in Plymouth,” he says.

Seven years into the use of the cameras in Plymouth, and number of bus-lane fines passed out are now minuscule after people have gotten used to it, he says.

At first, all the income that was raised went into road and pavement repairs, says Coker. “I didn’t want it to be seen like a parking cash cow.”

After cameras were introduced in New York in October 2019 through the use of bus-mounted cameras, bus speeds on one route increased by up to 40 percent in areas with high congestion in New York City, according to a Metropolitan Transport Authority statement..

So if this system has been effective in other cities, why has it not been rolled out in Dublin?

Why Is This Not Being Done?

In Plymouth, the transport authority has the powers to prosecute offending drivers themselves.

The camera will take a photo and send an email out to the offending driver on behalf of the transport authority, says Coker, the Labour councillor.

In November 2019, Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall asked Transport Minister Shane Ross if the government had considered giving these powers to the NTA, and if they would introduce a licence-plate-recognition system.

“There are no plans at present to confer such an enforcement role on the NTA,” Ross said in his response.

As for the use of camera-assisted enforcement, the minister said that it was already possible and up to the Gardaí to bring this in. Garda Press Office didn’t respond to queries about whether they had any plans to do this.

Dublin City Council will be rolling out a pilot of a camera-operated system like this with the Smart Cities initiative in 2020, according to a Dublin City Council spokesperson.

“The pilot has not started as yet, as Smart Cities are still in discussions with possible partners,” the spokesperson said.

Why Does It Matter Now?

BusConnects will rely on bus lanes being unobstructed, for it to be completely successful, said a spokesperson for the NTA.

“If the core corridors of BusConnects are going to work then the enforcement is going to have to be taken very seriously,” the spokesperson said.

There won’t be any physical barrier that separates cars and buses for the majority of the bus corridors when they are introduced, he said.

“In some instances, there is [a barrier] but mostly the road is just marked to separate cars and buses,” he said.

“The key thing is enforcement. I think there is criticism that bus lanes are not currently enforced as well as they could be,” he said.

A spokesperson for the NTA said that enforcement responsibility could be delegated away from An Garda Síochána.

“There will have to be camera enforcement, we have been clear about that,” the NTA spokesperson says.

Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on donal@dublininquirer.com

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