Dublin Bus takes an overdue shot across the bows

The handing-over of 10% of market to private firm isn’t real competition, but it’s a start

Dublin Bus should no longer take the perpetual custom, patience and hard cash of the travelling public for granted. Photograph: Alan Betson

Dublin Bus should no longer take the perpetual custom, patience and hard cash of the travelling public for granted. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

In its purest form, economic competition is just a system for delivering choice to end users. Will I order lunch in my usual restaurant or the new one across the street? I’ll try the new one across the street because its prices are lower and service has gone downhill in my usual spot. That’s choice, enabled by competition.

When a UK company won the right this week to operate 10 per cent of the routes of Dublin Bus, the watchword on the airwaves was “competition”, as if travellers were suddenly being given some new element of choice in the bus market. But the decision to award the tender for 24 suburban routes to Go-Ahead introduces no such choice for bus users. Commuters can’t choose whether to take a Dublin Bus to work or a Go-Ahead. We have simply handed over the operation of 10 per cent of the existing monopoly to somebody else.

This is not really the introduction of “competition” to the bus market in the purest understanding of the concept. It’s not the sort of competition that the public is used to in other areas of the economy. But for commuters who have grown weary of the strikes, fare hikes, and often shoddy service of Dublin Bus in recent years, it is a welcome start. And a welcome shot across the bows of Dublin Bus and its militant drivers that the perpetual custom, patience (and hard cash) of the travelling public should no longer be taken for granted.

Unions are already warning of “major industrial unrest” if the operation of more routes are handed over to the private sector, which seems an over-the-top reaction to the introduction of a form of competition-lite to the sector.

It has been reported that Dublin Bus submitted a lower-priced tender than Go-Ahead to the State for the 24 routes, but that it lost out on technical aspects of the bid, which ultimately relate to the quality of service.

This is, in itself, a tacit acknowledgement by the State that faith in the service levels provided by Dublin Bus to the travelling public declined in recent years, as fares rose all the while.

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