Passenger reluctance to get on board redesign forces NTA deviation

Dublin bus network revamp’s main obstacle is newfound fondness for existing routes

People, in general, don't like change. If the 50,000 submissions made to the National Transport Authority on its redesign of Dublin's bus network are anything to go by, this seems particularly true when it comes to changes to their buses.

The complaints about the revamp of bus routes proposed 15 months ago included the additional distances people would have to walk to stops, the fact they would have to change buses to reach their destination, and that they would not have as good access to the city centre.

But the top complaint, cited by 45 per cent of those 50,000 people, was that their “existing service” would be lost.

However, this hostility to change was not manifest when the NTA embarked on this adventure. In June 2017 it carried out public consultation on the "general principles" of a network redesign, before it gave US transport planner Jarrett Walker the imprimatur to go ahead with the work.

‘Spine’ strategy

More than 11,000 people responded and they seemed strongly in favour of the plan, in general. Almost 90 per cent were in favour of pursuing the “spine” strategy, where by the existing radial routes would be consolidated into high frequency lines and 81 per cent agreed it was reasonable to ask people to change buses if it gets them to their destination sooner.

The message the NTA logically took from this survey was that people were enthusiastic for improvement to their bus service and that the NTA were heading in the right direction.

Then the plans were produced and people could see what these changes meant for “their” service. When you get down to the nitty-gritty of it, enthusiasm wains and the tone changes to “Well I meant bus services in general, not my bus.” The message that came back was “Mess around with the 46A at your peril NTA”.

Radial routes

The Jarrett Walker plan was due to be in place by the end of this year, but such was the volume of submissions, it is only now that the NTA is publishing its response to those submissions. The plan will not be finalised until 2020 and will not be implemented until between 2021 and 2023.

The NTA said it has listened to people’s concerns. Up to 15 per cent of direct bus routes to the city were to have been removed under the 2018 plan, this has been reduced to just 5 per cent, and a number of new radial routes into the city have been added.

However, in 2018, the NTA said its plan would increase the level of bus service by 27 per cent; it now says the level of service will increase by 22 per cent, which seems like it has watered down Walker’s plan. He warned about this last year, saying his design was “extremely interdependent” and only minor changes could be made or it would “fall apart”.

The NTA has gone for compromise which will please some of the people, but not all of the people. The risk is this fresh round of public consultations will result in more tweaks and ultimately the improved new service will end up looking very like the bad old service.