From Faecal Brown to Loop-the-Loop: the changing colours of Dublin Bus

Hugh Linehan: Watch out for Dublin Bus and its wince-making new colour scheme

It’s a tribute to the effectiveness of the graphics for Covid-related signage, ads and other visual information over the past 14 months that so many of us are now heartily sick of the colour yellow. I for one will be glad to see the back of that garish colour scheme, necessary and effective though it has been. But it might be a good moment to start looking around at the wider public realm and asking a few questions about how everything got so yellow.

Hi-viz clothing is partly to blame, of course. But the first item on the agenda should be public transport vehicles, and especially buses. These very large lumps of metal have dominated city streets for decades but are more prominent than ever, as urban planners pivot slowly away from the hegemony of the private car.

The fresh green color [sic] will serve to convey the TFI brand, sustainable travel and a sense of Irishness

You may have noticed that Dublin Bus is in the midst of one of its periodic redesigns of its colour scheme. The yellow-and-blue livery which has been the norm for more than a decade is being replaced by yellow and acidic green. The overall impression is of a huge lemon-and-lime slab – a gargantuan Loop-the-Loop ice lolly – rolling down the street towards you.

What is the thinking behind this psychedelic apparition? The redesign forms part of a plan to impose a new uniformity across the various services which come under the remit of Transport for Ireland (TFI), the umbrella body covering the country's various public transport companies. "The fresh green color [sic] will serve to convey the TFI brand, sustainable travel and a sense of Irishness," gushes the TFI website, which is decked out in the same wince-making shades. "It has been designed specifically to align with the look of new bus stops and other information channels to present a unified overall experience to passengers."


TFI goes on to say that: “the vibrant yellow color at the front is intended to enhance visibility, particularly at night”. This at a time when buses have better, brighter digital displays than ever before.

The argument that garish colours make safer vehicles seems to be at the heart of why buses look the way they do these days. Over the years, buses in Dublin have been through many incarnations, from modest dark green or navy and cream to the nadir of the early 1980s, when a shade best described as Faecal Brown was chosen by some nameless functionary with a twisted sense of humour. Few things better convey the shittiness of the city at that time than a simple photograph of a bus. After that, a rather drab, grassy green gave way to blue and white, blue and yellow and now this new colour scheme.

It’s fair to say opinion was divided on social media this week when I expressed some reservations about the new design. Some people thought it was perfectly fine, while others responded with horror. One brave soul even harked back fondly to the days of Faecal Brown. Others again got agitated that the capital’s buses would be decked out in the colours of some of Dublin’s fiercest sporting rivals. But the whole point of this exercise appears to be nationwide standardisation (and what better colours to pick for that than those of Donegal?).

When everything is hi-viz, nothing is

There were, inevitably, complaints about money being wasted (there is no waste as the buses need to be painted anyway). Advocacy group the Dublin Commuter Coalition pointed to a consultation process which had contributed to the choice of colours (I have to confess it passed me by), and also highlighted the position of disability groups who argued in favour of bright yellow for maximum visibility. But, as another person pointed out, “When everything is hi-viz, nothing is.”

The freshly painted buses will become more prominent over the coming months and years as new vehicles are added to the fleet and existing vehicles get repainted. In 2021 about 93 coaches, 280 new hybrid buses and 87 existing buses in the new colours will make an appearance throughout Ireland and those numbers will grow in the following years.

It seems an abrupt turnaround from the Dublin Bus position only a couple of years ago when it said the company’s own brand should be maximised, but then the labyrinthine processes by which the State’s multiple overlapping transport bodies arrive at a decision is pretty opaque.

And that’s the point – design decisions by State agencies can have a dramatic impact on our visual surroundings so we have a right to expect them to be of a decent standard. We know from the proliferation of ugly street signage in recent years that safetyism and visual illiteracy more often than not trump good practice. And as our roads fill up with lemon and lime, will we be getting more of the same?