Bus drivers faced ‘mayhem’ as passengers tried to travel, says union

NBRU says drivers faced difficulties trying to accommodate passengers under Level 5

The NBRU has said it is not the job of a bus driver to police public health guidelines. Photograph: The Irish Times

The NBRU has said it is not the job of a bus driver to police public health guidelines. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Bus drivers have said there was “mayhem” on some bus services in Dublin on Thursday as excessive numbers of passengers sought to travel on services, their trade union has said.

The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) said its members experienced difficulties trying to accommodate passengers on services across a number of routes after the new 25 per cent capacity restriction under Level 5 came into effect at midnight.

The general secretary of the NBRU Dermot O’Leary said there had been “several pinch points and locations where passengers have tried to gain access in large numbers to Dublin Bus services”.

“Some drivers are describing it as ‘mayhem’, as excessive numbers of commuters try to board buses across a range of routes. Some Bus Éireann services have also experienced capacity constraints where demand has outstripped the Level 5 reduced capacity.”

“Thankfully (thus far at least) no confrontation or conflict has been reported, though we are extremely conscious that frustration can lead to such a scenario. We cannot blame passengers, striving as they are, to get to their place of work, at a time which suits their particular needs, as opposed to when services may, or can be scheduled.”

Mr O’Leary said from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic his union had been calling for “a plan to be put in place to both accommodate those that are required to travel for essential purposes and also to be given a clear outline of how capacity restrictions are to be policed”.

He said that NBRU had suggested to the Oireachtas that school, work and retail opening and closing times be staggered to manage demand for public transport.

“It is neither fair nor sustainable that you would have those that operate the service (drivers) and those that use the service, in conflict with each other.

“I have, this morning, written to the CEOs of Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann to ascertain their plans for additional services and how they propose to police capacity issues.

“Suffice to say, it is not the job of a bus driver to police public health guidelines. The Government needs to consider wider societal measures during lockdown two so as to manage public transport demand.”

Dublin Bus did not comment on the claims made by the NBRU.

Bus Éireann said most of its services operated close to the revised 25 per cent capacity levels on Thursday morning. It said capacity issues were experienced on a number of regional city services and commuter services. It said its intercity services had seen very small numbers of passengers.

Allen Parker, chief customer officer at Bus Éireann said: “We have been communicating Level 5 restrictions to customers for the past few days – public transport will be limited to 25 per cent capacity and is for the purposes of allowing those providing essential services to get to work. Where available we will try to provide additional capacity – however this is very limited.”

Elswhere, Irish roads were busy on Thursday morning despite the introduction of Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions and hundreds of Garda checkpoints nationwide.

There were long delays and congestion on the N1 from Newry to Jonesborough in Co Louth with heavy traffic also in Julianstown in Co Meath and Balbriggan in Co Dublin during rush hour on Thursday, according to AA Roadwatch.

Delays were also reported on the N25 heading into Cork city and on parts of the N22 in Co Kerry.

Despite the busy roads, Conor Faughnan from the AA said he expected traffic volumes would drop over the coming days but said full analysis would not be available until next week.

In March, at the height of lockdown, traffic levels dropped “substantially” with only essential journeys taking place, said Mr Faughnan. These numbers then rose to about 85 per cent of the normal volume during the summer months and into September, he said, adding he expected traffic levels would drop to around 40 per cent the normal figure over the coming days.

Mr Faughnan urged road users to continue to take care, even when roads are quieter than normal. “Road deaths went up during lockdown in March so we would be saying with the long weekend and schools on half term, let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again. Let’s not be complacent.”

The State’s latest restrictions, which are among the most severe in Europe, will be enforced by new powers for gardaí that are expected to be in place by next week, according to the Government.

Thousands of retail premises and other businesses shut their doors on Wednesday night, while hundreds of thousands of workers will now be obliged to work from home.

Some 132 Garda checkpoints have been introduced on motorways across the country and will be supplemented by hundreds of rolling checkpoints on main and secondary roads, said An Garda Síochána this week.

High-visibility community engagement patrols and support for the vulnerable are among a number of other measures being implemented by gardaí from today to ensure compliance with public health guidelines.

Weekly data from Dublin City Council shows general outbound traffic volume from the capital has dropped since Level 3 restrictions were introduced in September but changes in inbound traffic were not as obvious. Updated data on traffic in Dublin since the latest restrictions came in will be available from tomorrow.