‘In the transport hierarchy the bus is below the bicycle’
Do only losers take the bus, as Thatcher reputedly said? Loyal bus users June Shannon, Peter Murphy, David McWilliams and Bryan Dobson would all disagree
June Shannon: ‘The biggest improvement on the buses is the real-time information at bus stops, which is pretty accurate.’ Photograph: Aidan Crawley
The bus is at the bottom of the transport hierarchy. It is now languishing well below the bicycle. It was in this lowly position even before the nationwide fare hikes – announced last month – and the threat of strike action by drivers at Dublin Bus against €11 million in proposed cuts at the company. The rest, a good service, helpful staff and the sheer ramshackle pleasure of bus travel, is silence.
The efficiencies of Ireland’s bus services are a well-kept secret, and its customers – both satisfied and unsatisfied – rarely break cover.
June Shannon commutes between Dún Laoghaire and Sandyford Industrial Estate, to her job as a journalist on the Irish Medical News, on the 75 bus. This is one of the newer routes across the modern sections of Dublin, as opposed to following old tram lines created more than 100 ago.
Every day at 8.20am Shannon’s husband drops her to the bus stop with the travel mug of coffee she brings from home and she gets on the 75. “It actually goes as far as Tallaght,” she says. Her journey takes about 30 minutes, much faster than a car could make the journey, because there are bus lanes the whole way.
“It’s great. The biggest improvement on the buses is the real-time information at bus stops, which is pretty accurate. They have a Twitter account, @dublinbusnews, and they’re pretty good at getting back to you. They’re very active on Twitter.”
She is pretty active on Twitter herself, tweeting, with wit, what she sees and hears on the bus. Sample Shannon tweets: “I love the smell of wet commuters in the morning.” And, last Monday, “the 75 has been on time for the last consecutive five days. It’s great but it’s also unsettling.”
In general, however, the bus systems, both rural and urban, carry on their daily business unrecorded. They are generally regarded as unreliable and inefficient, and only fit for those who are too poor or too infirm to drive.
The bus – cheap and commodious – is the backbone of any successful city transport system. But in Ireland buses are roundly ignored by politicians and planners: the positioning of bus stops alone, particularly on rural routes, tells you as much. Indeed a politician on public transport is a rare sight, unless accompanied by a phalanx of photographers. Buses are surrounded by snobbery by those who agree with Margaret Thatcher (supposedly) and the late lamented band Fatima Mansions that “only losers take the bus”.
Yet there is a sort of resistance movement of people who, despite everything, still volunteer to use it.
‘Buses are cheap’
“I am a great lover of buses,” says the economist and author David McWilliams. “The bus service in Ireland is brilliant. Most buses have wifi now, so you can work on them. The Intercity service is excellent – always on time. And buses are cheap: it cost me €30 to get to Derry, return. It’s like Carlsberg: the bus service goes to parts of the country that other transport doesn’t reach.”
Like McWilliams, the novelist Peter Murphy is able to drive but hates it. With his three children he lived in Ballymotey, six miles outside his hometown of Enniscorthy – “no buses at all” – and now lives in Wexford town. “Buses are absolutely integral to these areas,” he says. “There is a great Bus Éireann service from Dublin airport to Wexford.”