Update on meeting with Martin Walsh, Area Manager Bus Eireann

Martin Walsh, Bus Eireann Area Manager, came to the February meeting of the Ballincollig-Carrigaline Municipal District today.   We councillors were asked to submit our questions well in advance by email.  I gather that most of us were raising the same issue: reliability.  Other more specific queries were also raised, although I have details only of my own.  Today’s meeting was moving too fast for me to accurately note the all that the councillors said but I have done the best job I can of noting the responses from Martin Walsh as follows:

  • Martin Walsh acknowledges that he has had extensive communication with most of the representatives over the past few months, whether by phone or email.  He thanks us for the invitation to our meeting.
  • The 220 service was introduced in August 2014.  The 220X was introduced in February 2016.  They operate every hour.  The routes were extended to Grangemanor and subsequently to the Ferney Road.  You are saying there should be reviews; there have been multiple reviews and these alterations to the service are examples of the results of these reviews.
  • For the 220, the plans going forward are to increase frequency to every 15 minutes,  7am to 7pm.  That will take extra allocations of buses and drivers.  We’re recruiting to do that.
  • We’re expecting new fleet this year too.  The NTA generally approves our services and funds them.  They’re happy with what has happened in Cork over the last 4 years.  Any investment they have put in has delivered a good response.  We will be increasing the Saturday and Sunday evening services.  The route will be extended to the Carrigaline Primary Care Centre.  There will be more extensions to Crosshaven.  The loop within Carrigaline will be re-examined.
  • As part of that review, for Passage West and other locations along the route, connections will be improved.  The timetable on that is still work in progress with the NTA.  It will include routing through Waterpark.
  • We discuss proposals with the NTA.  We have an avalanche of suggestions coming back to us and pass them on to the NTA.  At the end of the day, they’re the ones deciding.  I don’t think what will come will be bad.  There will be changes on the 220X, 223 and 216 to improve connectivity.  Those changes are work in progress.  What shape that wil be in the end, I can’t say.  We’re talking about this with the NTA.
  • There are no plans to divert Bus Eireann services into Ballygarvan.  The NTA is examining how to do connect Ballygarvan to the Bus Eireann network.
  • Passenger numbers have doubled on the 220 and 220X since 2014. That’s a significant figure.  We have 115,000 passenger journeys per month.  The pages most relevant to Cork in the Statistical Bulletin I forwarded are pages 10 and 12.  Our growth in Cork is greater than any other place in the country or service in the country.  We’re not sitting on our hands.  We’ve hired well over 100 drivers in the last few years.  Fares were reduced so that will create further passenger demand.
  • To give you some background info on resources allocated: the 220 at peak has 9 buses, the 220X has 3, the 223 has 6.  There are up to 20 buses and 30 drivers each day operating on these routes.  Frequency going to every 15 minutes means we will need many more drivers and buses.  Were recruiting for that at the moment.
  • Traffic congestion is the main issue along the routes. 90% of my correspondence with you is between September and December.  That’s when schools and colleges come back and the whole thing goes pearshaped.
  • I forwarded you extracts from a pinch point review of Cork City to identify the worst nodes in Cork.  This was an NTA commissioned report carried out by Jacobs.  It really points out that we need bus lanes.  We have them in various places and they’re great where they are.  We’ve taken figures of our average speeds where there’s a bus lane: 20 – 22 km/h at peak vs 2 – 3 km/h at peak where there’s no bus lane.  Bus Eireann has 2,637 bus movements through Cork City each day.  972 of those are through Patrick St.  There needs to be serious investment and commitment in giving street space to buses.  People will use the buses.
  • There was a mention of buses lying idle and drivers not being available.  Drivers are governed by driving regulations.  When they’ve hit their time, they can’t drive.  I have been asked about overtime: we have a staff notice pinned up asking drivers to do overtime.  There is no reluctance on giving overtime.  If someone wants it, its there.
  • We have contractors coming in to help us out.  We’re using more than we did in the past.  We need to but would like to see that revert.  We will use contractors going forward on Fridays and Sundays as we did in the past but we’ve always been proud to say that we have been able to cover 99.9% of our trips ourselves.
  • You ask about splitting the route.  One of the reasons the Carrigaline – Ballincollig route is so popular is that there is a direct connection to UCC, CUH and CIT.  I can’t split the route anyway even if I think it’s the right thing to do.  I was very vocal when it was brought in that it would serve every customer along the route.  The service has to be as convenient as possible.  People in Douglas now use it to get to UCC or CIT.
  • Capacity is an issue.  We had a double decker operating between Crosshaven and Fountainstown.  We had an issue with overhanging trees and so now we use single deck buses.
  • New routes between Carrigaline, Mahon, Ringaskiddy, Little Island – I have asked that question and have been told that they are not being considered at the moment.
  • There are no plans to extend services to Carrigmahon but the 223 is still work in progress and this can be examined further.
  • The 206 is a good route. I would like it to stay like that.  You heard Shane Ross the other day.  We don’t have the authority to change things but we’re very open in what we think is right and wrong.  I get feedback from all the meetings I go to, staff, etc. and feed all that back into the decision-making process.
  • On being contactable in the city: we are working on getting a presence in the city centre again.  It is difficult to cover the Patrick St/South Mall area.  Sometimes the city centre is difficult traffic-wise.  We have CCTV in the city centre.  It is linked back to Capwell.  We have an AVL locator on all the buses and there is someone monitoring this all the time so we can tell where a bus is or whether it is delayed.
  • Bus shelters – in the past we would have fed information through our own head office to the NTA as to where we thought bus shelters should be. We still do that but have less say in it now.  Now it’s up to the NTA.  They completely decide where to put them.  I’m sure our requests have some impact.  I have been asking for a bus shelter for the bridge in Carrigaline for years. I have been getting the same answer for years; the bridge isn’t wide enough.  I think they don’t want to dig the bridge either.  They don’t want to move on up the street because the shelther would be outside premises.  It is just unfortunate because it is one of the busiest bus stops.  The NTA and CCC could possibly talk about how to improve on the situation here.
  • Will pass on the request about increasing frequency to Donnybrook to the NTA.  The 207 on the south side comes out the Douglas road.  So does the 220 and 216.  It is only beyond Grange Cross that people have a half hour frequency.  The schools on the Back Douglas road are a big driver in the peak.  I don’t think a direct Donnybrook service is likely to happen.

The councillors were then invited to each follow up questions they had posed that they felt hadn’t been answered.  The second round was a little slower and I managed to get a grip on most of the questions …

Cllr Canty:  The bus is full all the way up the western road.  Buses will pass passengers on a wet Friday evening coming home.  The problem is relief buses.  We need them.

MW:  Expects that to improve when we go to a 15 minute frequency.  As long as the bus doesn’t get stuck in traffic.

Cllr McGrath asks about real time information.  Concerns about indefinite answers being given about the 223.  Reinforces Cllr D’Alton’s and Jeffers’ request for the Lehenaghbeg bus shelters.

MW:  Real time – there are apps that will find your location automatically and tell you how soon the buses will arrive.  You will get funny figures when you don’t get guaranteed trip times.  There are dreadful bottlenecks on the route.  Douglas village is one of the worst.  The junction at Tesco is frightening.  I don’t think we can take the relief road only.  People want to be picked up in Douglas village.  Douglas LUTS is there for a long time now.  Even when that happens there will be difficult decisions to be made.  Have to prioritise buses through Douglas.  Hopes we will support them.  If there isn’t public transport priority through the village …  There are no bus lanes to Ringaskiddy in the N28 plan.  What about plans for the Shannonpark roundabout?  If we have 10 or 20 or 30 buses there and we don’t have bus lanes, it isn’t going to work.  Bus shelters – copy me in on emails and I will send on your requests.  The decision is with the NTA.  Agrees that the 223 changes are vague.  Confident there will be improvements but doesn’t now what they will be at this stage.

Cllr Jeffers: Asks again about Donnybrook – Ballygarvan – Grange

MW:  Doesn’t know when the Ballygarvan review will be complete.  Maybe ask the NTA.  Will look at South Mall to Grange.  If you do something like that, you’re taking a bus away from another route.  Any extra trip we operate in peak is an extra bus.

Cllr Murphy:  Took the 6.20 heading for Passage recently.  At 6.50 I was still outside the Briar Rose.  Home at 7.20.  Wonders if it could be run on the Link.  Private buses have no facilities for Leap cards.  Got a private bus but had no change.  Was in Dublin recently for the Ard Fheis.  Is it that on Dublin Bus you have to have the right change but you can flash the Leap Card separately on the right rather than have a single queue?  In the old days when you used to get the 223 from the city, the bus would never stop on the Douglas routes.

MW confirms that is correct about private buses not having Leap Card facilities.  We intend to be covering those services ourselves in the near future.  Dublin Bus had the Leap Card system on the right since the beginning.  We have the card reader on top of the ticket machine.  You can use the card 24 h, 7 d or monthly.  You can use your e-purse as well if there is one reader.  There is an interaction with the driver if you’re using your e-purse.  The driver has to know how far you are going.  It is also the case that in the past when the Carrigaline and Monkstown buses were coming through Dougls, they wouldn’t stop.  People used to give out about it.

Cllr D’Alton asks about several questions that weren’t addressed.  The first is was about rationalisation of drivers as a result of the Labour Court recommendation.  You had mentioned it when we were speaking in October.  Was this done? Many of the complaints about the 223 came in since December.

MW:  Rationalisation of drivers was carried out at the beginning of December.  There was a strike during last year and the resulting Labour Court recommendations were  accepted by staff and company and trade unions.  They included a range of changes and measures that would be put in place.  It took a while to get agreement.  We’re practically at the end of implementing those changes now.  They have affected staff at every grade and every area.  We’re recruiting drivers at the moment.

Cllr D’Alton:  Want to reinforce what Cllr Jeffers said about Park and Rides.  Forever mentioning the planned Park and Ride at Carrigaline for which a site is zoned.  Had asked about the potential use of the Black Ash.

MW:  The Park and Ride in the Black Ash is owned by Cork City Council.  We operate and mange the facility on behalf of the City Council.  We have been involved since 1997.  Doesn’t think using the Black Ash will work.  Generally people don’t like to have to change buses.  We have the 220X from Crosshaven going in the N28 to the South Link Road.  Park & Ride in Carrigaline will be a challenge.  Are you going to take a Park & Ride to City Centre?  A Park & Ride at Shannonpark roundabout for people working in Ringaskiddy might work.  If you’re going to do it you want bus lanes going into Ringaskiddy and back out.  You need bus lanes for serious modal shift.

Cllr D’Alton:  I asked about the timing of bus connections: 223-220-220X?

MW:  For good connectivity you need guaranteed trip times.  If buses are late they won’t make connections.  Connections will become easier when the frequency of the 220 is increased.  It will be sorted from Passage West anyway when the direct service to Carrigaline is delivered.

Cllr D’Alton:  I had asked about the % change in missed trips.

MW:  Missed trips are no shows.  I don’t have the exact figures but we don’t miss that many trips.  We missed more than normal this year because of traffic but that’s inevitable with 2.5k bus movements each day and almost all of those via Patrick street.  The missed trips percentage is in low single figures most of the time.

Cllr D’Alton:  Echoes Cllr McGrath’s concerns about the indefiniteness of the reponses wrt the 223.  We can’t bring back this indefiniteness.  So important that Passage West is connected to the new Primary Care Centre in Carrigaline.  The public health centre in Passage West has been closed and referrals are now all to Carrigaline.  When do you think the direct service will be in place?

MW:  Is aware of the health centre closure.  Changes to the 223 will be in place, best guess, by September.

Cllr D’Alton:  That’s not good enough that there would be no direct connection with the Primary Care Centre for almost a year.  Got a written response from the NTA which said that it would be in place in spring.  What can we do to emphasise to the NTA that this is really urgent?

MW:  When does spring start???   February or March???  Will bring back the message to the NTA about the urgency.

Cllr O Donnabhain: There can be a problem with stacking of buses in the morning.  Although they leave separately, they arrive together in bunces.  Can they be staggered more?

MW says that can happen when buses hit traffic.  He will keep an eye on it.

Cllr Collins:  On the Ballygarvan connectivity – the road adjacent to where the new schools are being built at Ballinrea connects to Ballygarvan.  It will be upgraded, although we’re not sure when.  It is worth considering using this route.  On bus shelters – thinks the main street of Carrigaline isn’t suitable for bus shelters, thinks it is worth considering putting buses on bypass only.  Would help traffic to go through Main Street and you could build superb bus shelters on the bypass.  Agrees a bus shelter on the bridge could be the victim of anti-social behaviour.  The one on the other side was.

MW says people mostly like to wait at bus stops where there is footfall.  Taking buses through Carrigaline on the relief road only wouldn’t reflect the policy of convenience that they’re trying to pursue.

Cllr Desmond (Chairperson) thanked MW for coming and said that  she was drawing the session to a close.  He has been with us for an hour and a half.