Despite Plans to Make Dublin a 24-Hour City, Expansion of Night-Time Bus Services Lags

“It was a total shitshow,” said Neil Farrelly.

It was 3am early Sunday morning the week before last and several crammed 15 bus sailed right by the Dame Street bus stop, he says. “Everyone was getting pretty pissed off at the bus stop.”

Some walked away, he says. Others started to search for taxis.“I wouldn’t get a taxi,” said Farrelly. “It’s too expensive.”

Farrelly stood around for over an hour for the next bus and made it home to Donaghmede at 5am, he says. Walking would have been faster by the time he got home, he says.

The 15 bus route, alongside the 41 bus, was the first to go 24-hours in Dublin city when that happened in December 2019, after years of calls for better night-time public transport.

Since then, Dublin Bus has rolled out more, and now runs, since an addition from last Sunday, six 24-hour routes. Weekends, those travelling late into the night can also jump on one of 13 Nitelink routes, buses that run every hour between midnight and 4am on Fridays and Saturdays.

The council’s draft development plan for 2022–2028 says making Dublin more of a “24 hour city” would create jobs and boost the economy, and that it’s the policy of the council to facilitate that.

And there are national and local climate policies to move people away from travelling by car and towards using public transport, cycling, and walking more.

But despite these goals, and the expansion of 24-hour and Nitelink bus routes, many of those who want to hop the bus to go home at night from fun or work say they are pushed instead to hop into a taxi.

Or to skip a night out at the thought of it – even as the city seeks to build up its night-time economy.

Farrelly sometimes avoids going out altogether, he says. “I just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of it all.”

In High Demand

In January, a full 39a bus flew past Míde Griffin and a handful of others waiting at a stop on Usher’s Quay, she says.

It was midnight, but she ended up walking home to Cabra, says Griffin. “You could be, I suppose, kind of in a very vulnerable position.”

Weeks before, the same had happened on Blackhall Place in Smithfield, she says. “You can see that the bus is full, but you’re kind of like, surely you could squeeze on like a couple more people?”

Rather than wait 30 minutes for the next bus, she walked home that time too. “But then when I was halfway up the road, I was like maybe this was a bit foolish. It got very quiet.”

Tim Leech-Cleary, who works in a theatre, says he is often on the job at weekends.. “The times I work are very strange.”

That means he goes out during the week, he says. The Nitelink doesn’t run then though.

“By the time I’m actually trying to get home it’s about four in the morning, and the only option at that point is a taxi,” he says.

They’re not always available either though, he says. So he often ends up walking home, says Leech-Cleary .

He feels safer because he presents as a man, he says. “But at the same time, you know, like, I’m a queer man.”

He would much rather be on a bus around a group of people, he says. “You’d want to keep your head on the swivel to try to make sure that nothing’s gonna happen.”

Griffin says that walking home at night can be scary.“We’re so aware of the stories of things that happen to women by night walking alone, or even walking in broad daylight.”

Feljin Jose, spokesperson for Dublin Commuter Coalition, which represents public transport users in the city, says the demand for a better night service is obvious.

“I personally waited almost 40, 45 minutes for a taxi because there just wasn’t any,” he says. “People all spilling out at the same time at 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock.”

Current Plans

On Sunday, the National Transport Authority (NTA) launched its latest updates to the city’s bus network under BusConnects plans, the network redesign that is gradually being rolled out.

The N4 and N6 are two new orbital routes. The N4, run by Dublin Bus, will be a 24 service from Blanchardstown to Point Village, and crossing through Finglas and Dublin City University. The N6, run by Go Ahead Ireland, a private operator, will go from Finglas to Howth Junction.

Expanding 24/7 bus routes is one of three measures that could increase sustainable transport use in the short to medium term, Dublin Bus CEO Ray Coyne said in May.

They’re needed for a truly all-day and all-night city, he told the Dáil during a discussion about the draft Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy, which commits to rolling out more 24/7 routes as appropriate.

The report and the economic needs of the city justify speeding up the introduction of 24/7 buses on routes such as the 46a, the 155 and others, Coyne said. The 46a runs from Phoenix Park to Dun Laoghaire, and the 155 runs from Bray to Ballymun.

A recent Saturday at 2am on Camden Street. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

Jose, spokesperson for Dublin Commuter Coalition, says that he hopes under BusConnects, there will be at least one 24-hour service along each spine of the network.

“Spines” are frequent routes made up of individual bus services, timetabled to work together along a corridor. There will be 8 spines, labelled A to H.

The F-Spine, E-Spine and orbital route O, to be launched in 2023, are being considered for night services, said a spokesperson for the NTA on Tuesday.

But final decisions on 24-hour routes will be made closer to the time of each rollout, they said.

“It’ll be a lot more than we have now,” says Jose. But, he thinks there should still be even more night routes, to cater for people working and socialising at more unusual hours, whether earlier or later.

Finding the Money

Previous governments repeatedly decided not to prioritise spending on a better night service, because it might not be financially viable, says Jose of Dublin Commuters Coalition.

“You need funding to operate these routes. Like they’re not all going to be busy. Some of them will be quiet, but it’s a necessary service,” he says.

A spokesperson for the NTA says it estimates the cost of providing additional service and uses that as a basis for a funding request to the Department of Transport.

“DOT has provided all the funding required for the new BusConnects network in 2021, (phases 1 and 2), and in 2022, phases 3, 4 and 5. Funding for night services was included in those requests,” they said.

In 2020, Dublin Bus received €133.4 million in Public Service Obligation subsidies, and made €130.1 million in tickets.

(Before Covid, these numbers were very different. In 2019, Dublin Bus received €53.5 million in PSO subsidies, and made €247.5 million in tickets).

Jose says that Dublin Bus also faces a driver shortage, which it’s trying to deal with as it ramps up BusConnects. “Everything has to be to be viewed through that lens.”

Dublin Bus recently ran a campaign to hire more drivers. “I know they’re recruiting very, very heavily,” says Jose.

Dublin Bus currently employs 2,802 bus drivers, said a spokesperson on Tuesday. It has an active recruitment campaign to recruit 450 drivers.

But Jose thinks Dublin Bus needs to increase the number of drivers it employs by 20 percent in order to operate BusConnects. “BusConnects increases the level of service, it increases the number of buses and increases the number of routes, so they need more drivers,” he says.

Given funding constraints, Jose says he would prefer if Dublin Bus prioritised more 24/7 routes over more frequency on existing 24/7 routes. “Because I still don’t have a night bus, I could really do with one.”

Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor, says Dublin is over-reliant on taxis for night-time transport.

“Going out is so much more expensive as a result,” she says. “An expanded night time bus network is really important for women’s safety in the city and for reducing emissions.”

Griffin, who lives in Cabra, says she feels lucky that there is a night service out to her house, even if getting a space on the bus can be erratic.

“Instead of running home for that last bus, you’re able to just have a more relaxed night,” she says.

“It does make it more affordable to go out,” says Griffin. “It’s also saving the environment.”

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Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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