Georgina Montague says before the bus routes from Ballyfermot changed, her commute to work was a lot shorter.
She used to get the 79 or the 79a from Ballyfermot Main Street, which would take her to the quays in the city centre, and she would jump on a Dart train at Tara Street down to Dún Laoghaire.
But the G1 and G2 routes – introduced on 16 October as part of the rollout of the new city bus network known as BusConnects – take a different route. “It hits a few areas of congestion,” she says.
Last Wednesday, councillors on the South Central Area Committee agreed to write to Eamon Ryan, the minister for transport, and the National Transport Authority (NTA) asking to review the service, because of the flurry of complaints they are getting from people about these routes along what’s known as the G-spine.
At the meeting, Hazel de Nortúin, a People Before Profit councillor, said that she had been inundated with messages.
“About buses [that] aren’t showing up, and if they aren’t showing up, they’re packed. What we were promised, a service every 8 minutes, isn’t the case,” she said.
Montague says her commute used to take a little over an hour, which was manageable. But no longer, she says. “Some evenings it has taken nearly two hours.”
The National Transport Authority said, in response to queries asking about delays, cancelled services and longer journey times on the G-spine, that issues with the bus service had been addressed by Anne Graham, the authority’s CEO, during her appearance before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications on 8 November.
“I would like to apologise to those customers as the service has not been at the standard that we would all like to provide,” she said at the meeting.
Bus operators have reduced service frequency and delayed the introduction of BusConnects services, as well as run recruitment campaigns, in order to handle these issues, they said.
The rollout of the G-spine seems not to have been received as well as earlier changes to bus routes, such as the H-spine and the C-spine, says Feljin Jose, spokesperson for Dublin Commuter Coalition, which represents public-transport users in the city.
There’s always friction when a new bus route is introduced, Jose says. But a month in, the response doesn’t seem to be improving.
At the council’s committee meeting, Dáithi Doolan, a Sinn Féin councillor, said that Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard locals had already been nervous about the route changes before they were brought in.
“Unfortunately I think people’s fears have borne fruit here, insofar as the bus route is not good. The connectivity between Ballyfermot, Cherry Orchard and the city centre isn’t good,” he said.
The problem is bottlenecks, he said. “It’s the traffic jam.”
“I was talking to a resident from Cherry Orchard who said it now takes an hour and a half to get to Ringsend, where originally it took 50 minutes,” says Doolan.
Jose says he’s heard the same. “People who previously had a 30-minute bus ride, now have a 50-minute bus ride.”
Bus users, especially morning and evening commuters, who used to rely on the 79 or 79a to go into town at rush hour, now face bottlenecks as the G1 and G2 take new routes and visit areas in Inchicore, Kilmainham and the Liberties.
“What they’ve implemented is not reliable, not efficient. It’s not the transport service that was promised,” Jose says. “It’s very disappointing if you’re living in Ballyfermot, Cherry Orchard and Inchicore.”
However, it also coincides with poor reliability on the bus network, which is down to problems recruiting enough bus drivers.
Darragh Moriarty, a Labour Party councillor, said he questioned whether now was the moment for changes. “Is this the time to be doing this, when we don’t have the drivers in place?”
Doolan, the Sinn Féin councillor, says people in Ballyfermot, unable to rely on the bus, have felt let down by the service and frustrated.
“When you have older people disconnected from their community, not able to get buses, when two days before they were able to get buses,” says Doolan. “Even the old service, with all its limitations, was bringing a better service than we have now.”
De Nortúin, the People Before Profit councillor, says an 87-year-old woman called her to say the service was affecting her routine.
“Can’t get down to the main road to go to Mass and to go to the shops, and it’s difficult to be hearing these types of phone calls when people have been locked up from Covid,” she says.
Doolan said the NTA should carry out a review of the service, and then if the review is unsatisfactory, return to the 79 and 79a services.
“And wait for a proper updated service at some stage in the future,” he said. “Because otherwise people are just waiting on buses, frustrated and angry.”
A Clear Route
From Ballyfermot Main Street, through Inchicore and down Thomas Street in the Liberties, there aren’t any protected bus lanes, so buses share lanes with cars.
During commuter hours, those are full of traffic, says Jose.
The NTA does have plans to change that through its Liffey Valley to City Centre Bus Corridor Scheme, which will accommodate the G-spine, among other bus routes.
The NTA filed an application with An Bord Pleanála in July for a compulsory purchase order it says it needs for the scheme.
This scheme would see 24-hour bus lanes along some of the route, which runs from Liffey Valley Shopping Centre, over the M50, through Cherry Orchard, Ballyfermot, and Inchicore, then further eastwards past St James’ Hospital, along Thomas Street, before ending at High Street just before Christh Church.
The proposal for the scheme says two bus gates, meaning only buses, taxis and bikes can use the road, would be installed on Mount Brown.
One bus gate would be westbound, during the afternoon, starting from the proposed entrance to the National Children’s Hospital underground car park on Old Kilmainham, and one would be eastbound, during the morning, from the entrance to St James’ Hospital.
“Mount Brown and Old Kilmainham are constrained due to the narrow nature of the existing road and the fact that buildings front onto the road on both sides which limit the options to provide bus priority,” it says.
“By staggering the Bus Gate, there will be no impact on access to the local area including the Children’s Hospital and the Adult hospital at the St James’s Hospital campus,” it says.
Jose says the bus gate could be installed here without planning permission, which would help the buses to skip the bottleneck on Old Kilmainham and Mount Brown.
Dermot O’Gara, a spokesperson for the NTA, said on Tuesday that the planning processes around putting in a bus lane can vary, depending on whether they’re a straightforward reallocation or road space or more complicated.
Said O’Gara: “I imagine it would be difficult to make a strong argument for putting in bus infrastructure now, if we have to rip it out again when the [core bus corridor] goes in, in a year or two.”
In the meantime, Montague says she now leaves her house in Ballyfermot half an hour earlier for work, to account for the new bus schedule, which can be unreliable. “Some mornings I could be half an hour early for work.”
It’s the stress in the mornings as well, she says. “Since the changeover, I haven’t been 100 percent sure that I can get the bus with no hassle.”
She’s taking the 60 bus route now, rather than rely on the G1 or G2. But it only runs once an hour, she says.
“I’m seeing a lot of the same people I would have previously seen on the 79,” she says. “We’re all collectively adding time on our commute.”
She is rethinking bigger life plans, too. She isn’t sure if she should keep her job in Dún Laoghaire, as sometimes the new bus schedule makes her later home in the evenings, she says.
“Dance class starts at 8pm. There shouldn’t be any reason why I should be late for that,” she says. “But no one should have to change their place of employment because of the public transport network.”