Derek Mooney: The Total Mess That Is Dublin’s Public Transport


From top: Bus queue in central Dublin; Derek Mooney

Benny Hill observed: you can sit on top of a mountain, but you can’t sit on top of a pin. Classical Roman poet, Ovid, put it a little more philosophically, remarking that: “dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence”, but it was the late Albert Reynolds who put it best, saying: it’s the little things that trip you up.

You know the type of thing, the everyday irritants that eventually get to you and send you over edge.

For me, last week, it was the total mess that is Dublin’s public transport.

Bad enough that the fares are prohibitive – Deutsche Bank’s 2019 annual survey of global prices and living standards declared Dublin the second most expensive city for public transport in the world – but does it have to be so unreliable too?

With only London having higher fares, Dublin is now more expensive than Amsterdam, Chicago, New York, or even Tokyo, ask a Fine Gael Senator if you doubt that last one.

We have managed to fashion a public transport system with higher fares than Tokyo’s and reliability levels not much above Manila’s.

This was brought home to me with a trio of bus fiascos.

The first came on Monday afternoon via a short bus trip to Blackrock [County Dublin]. I live along the Stillorgan Road (N11) bus corridor, reckoned to be one of the best served routes.

The bus to Blackrock is the #17, now operated by Go Ahead Ireland. The journey there was unremarkable, the problem came with the journey back.

After doing my various errands I was ready to head home around 3:30pm. I checked the TfI (Transport for Ireland) App and saw that the next #17 was due in 3 mins. Great, I thought, and I headed to the Frescati shopping centre bus-stop and waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

I tweeted the details a few days later. Long story short: a 1 minute wait on the App, turned into a 16 minute wait in real time. Across that waiting time the App showed the #17 on a serial loop of: “1 minute away”, “due”, “1 minute away”, disappeared, reappeared and back to 1 min away.

What is the point of having a real time display, apart from giving Scottish stand–up Larry Dean a very funny routine, if it is only going to have an Einstein’s relativity connectiveness to real time?

Incident two was more old school: the old stealth bus ploy. This is where the bus exists on the App and the display-board, just not in this dimension.

It was on Friday. I was meeting a colleague in town at 2.30pm and headed to catch a bus around 1.30pm. I got to the stop and saw that a 46A was due in 5 mins. “Grand”, I thought and waited while I watched the arrival time on the display count backwards from 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 to 1 minutes. The fact that this process took just over 10 minutes is not part of my complaint, just an interesting aside.

The display eventually showed the 46A as “due” or “ann”. I headed to the kerb to greet it. Anyone familiar with this stretch of the N11 will know that it is relatively straight, so you can see the bus coming from a good distance back. You can even see the preceding stop. I could also see that there was no 46A there.

I reasonably assumed if it was due at our stop it must be due there too – assuming there is no break in the space-time continuum between stops number 2068 and 2096.

But there was no sign of it. After a few minutes the announcement of its imminent arrival disappeared from the App and the time-display. A minute later two “out of services” buses passed.

According to the Dublin Bus timetable, the 46A runs every 8 minutes during the day. I was now at the stop for 18 minutes, so I rang the Dublin Bus helpline. They told me that the next bus was due in 8 to 10 minutes but had no idea about any the whereabouts of the earlier one.

A bus arrived 10 miutes later. What should’ve been a 6-8 minute wait turned into a 30 minute one, but at least I could get on the bus when it did show up.

This was not the case on Saturday night. The two of us were heading to the National Concert Hall. As we planned to grab a few drinks before the show we got to the bus stop at 6.20pm. we thought this would leave us plenty of time. Oh, our naivety.

Arriving at the stop we saw on the display that a #145 bus was due in 12 minutes. Rather than drag you though the minute by minute of the next hour or so, I will give you a highly condensed version.

The bus which was due in 12 minutes arrived 30 plus minutes later, not that this mattered as it was so already overcrowded that it was not taking on any passengers. Neither was the next one which followed it some 12 minutes later.

Checking the TfI I found that Dublin Bus had cancelled four successive buses due to run between 6.30pm and 7.06pm (see screen grabs here and here). So, instead of the six buses due in that time, there were just two, hence why both were so slow to arrive and overcrowded.

By the time it dawned on us that getting a bus was a forlorn hope and we started to look for a taxi, most of the fifteen or so other people at the stop had decided to do the same thing, just as the dozens more at the other stops had probably also decided.

Not only were there no free taxis available to hail along the N11, there were none responding on FreeNow (the taxi app successor to Mytaxi, about which I have moaned here previously).

Net result: over one hour wasted at a bus-stop and €67 wasted on two tickets for the NCH that were not used.

In the greater scheme of Dublin’s dysfunctions these things hardly rate a mention. None of what I have chronicled here is as remotely soul destroying as this city’s appalling housing and rental crisis, nor as harrowing as the state of our public health service.

But, the fact that such stories of the unreliability and inadequacy of public transport, privatised and semi-state, barely register should itself be a concern.

There is now almost no area or facet of Dublin’s infrastructure that is not close to breaking point.

I regularly hear from clients and colleagues about the difficulties they encounter in attracting young talented people to come live and work in Dublin as people are hearing about the spiraling cost of living and declining quality of life here.

We are pushing so much of this city’s infrastructure so far beyond any reasonable point of endurance that we put Dublin’s future as a good place to live in grave risk.

I am very proud of my city and want to continue feeing that way, but to do this politicians and policy makers from across the spectrum will have to come up with radical plans to make this a viable place in which people can both live and work.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010.  Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney


49 thoughts on “Derek Mooney: The Total Mess That Is Dublin’s Public Transport

    1. Cian


      also NIMBYism.

      One solution to improve bus time reliability is to put in more bus-lanes… but not if it means cutting down some trees.

      1. Qwerty123

        What? yes the trees caused Dublin bus to cancel the services in question. FFS… Bad management of the route and timetable is at fault here.

        1. Cian

          I didn’t mean to imply that.
          But the article above was about the whole bus service, not just the 3 specific issues of cancelled busses.

  1. Cormac Kinsella

    You might consider walking the odd time. It’s amazing how far a good hour’s ramble will take you.

    1. Janet, I ate my avatar

      faster than the bus too, if you have a shower at work, run in, then you can eat all the jambons

    2. pedeyw

      I walk the 4k each way into and home from work everyday. I mentioned it here years ago and was told my time was obviously not as important as other people’s. I stroll in with a coffee and a podcast and feel generally better than and more awake than if I’d been on a bus. Yes, I am quite smug.
      Dublin transport is terrible, though, and very classist. Just look at the metrolink: Happy to bulldoze a publicly funded swimming pool and amenity in the inner city but we couldn’t possibly block a minor road in Ranelagh.

    3. millie vanilly strikes again

      I used to get the bus from D8 down to Westmoreland st and nine times out of ten it was faster to walk it, and I always enjoyed the walk after being stuck behind a desk all day.

      Strangely, it never worked as successfully in the morning.

  2. Col

    The problem with that N11 bus corridor in the mornings is the number of schools within a relatively short stretch (Oatlands, Sion Hill, Coláiste Eoin/ Íosagáin, St Andrews, Mount Anville, Teresian School). The buses are all filled to the brim and a good chunk of the passengers are schoolkids.
    Is there a case to be made for school buses? Would surely be more efficient.

  3. Elpeep

    I truly sympathise with you, Dublin Bus is an ongoing disaster. In fact, I would extend it to say that transport in Ireland is shambolic- the NTA should be strung out for their incompetence.
    I won’t bore you too much, suffice to say that I have experienced most of the problems listed above on a semi regular basis (the phantom bus issue being a particular bugbear).
    What really bothers me about the situation is the short-sightedness of those in charge (Ministerial and departmental). You mention how “In the greater scheme of Dublin’s dysfunctions these things hardly rate a mention. None of what I have chronicled here is as remotely soul destroying as this city’s appalling housing and rental crisis, nor as harrowing as the state of our public health service.” But surely the point is that a poorly functioning transport system adds or at least exacerbates the housing problem. If there was a properly functioning transport network, train, bus, Luas and DART, then people could confidently move further out of the city and be assured of getting in for work, education or leisure on time. Right now commuters beyond the pale have very little confidence in NTA’s ability to get this done.
    We need more buses, trains, Luas and DARTs, better information about when services are being planned so citizens/service users can feed into discussions about them, a functioning app (Dublin Bus app wouldn’t work for android users for a number of months recently and disappeared from the Play store for ages), and display boards at bus stops that people can trust.
    Living outside Dublin in commuter towns would ease the pressure on Dublin itself, but to make this happen we need a functioning transport network. Even living in Dublin requires a functioning transport network. But there seems to be very little desire to plan for this, but hey at least we’ve something to complain about on the rare days of sunshine…

    1. Donal

      Roll on Bus Connects so, and all the improvements to journey times and reliability that this should bring. And boo to the objectors worrying about trees that can be replaced

  4. Qwerty123

    TLDR version – FF Man waits for bus, doesn’t show therefore Dublin is awful place to live and transport doesn’t work. Vote FF

    1. Ian-O

      Look, its Mooney so expect FF propaganda thrown in here and there, doesn’t make his points any less valid although this one was a bit OTT:

      but it was the late Albert Reynolds who put it best, saying: it’s the little things that trip you up.

      No, he did not put it best, this point was made by many people in a much better way long before Mr Punch came along.

      1. Qwerty123

        The ironic thing is, FF were responsible for ripping up the old tram network in Dublin to make room for cars. Ever see a map of that system? Nothing like looking at a map from the early 1900’s to see how backwards we have come.

  5. V

    don’t visitors to Japan get the subsidised JRP (Japan Rail Pass) anymore?

    Relevant and timely article; especially TFI’s invisible buses

    but if Danske told me today was Tuesday I’d still check

  6. Hansel

    I don’t mean to belittle your awful experiences, but Dublin has the best transport infrastructure in the country by a mile. This results in Dublin being considered the only viable part of the country for some companies.

    Dublin currently has trams, light rail, a locally organised bus network, an extensive bike hire scheme, three airports, an orbital motorway and a set of 6 radial motorways. If the area that was earmarked as “the only possible economic counterweight to Dublin” received any investment at all, it would help Dublin to cope. The country is imbalanced (like the UK) and Dublin is overheated.

    This won’t play well for FF: people see MM silent on the M28, M40 north, M20, and most seriously for him, Cork Airport. FF did some good work in the early 2000’s but are absolutely not on the ball regarding infrastructure right now. Speaking to local cllr’s, they’re all badly out of date.

    Infrastructure needs to be taken away from the control of politicians. ASAP.

  7. class wario

    Enough isn’t said about the frankly bizarre Dublin Bus app/timetables. While delays being experienced en route to a stop is one thing (although you’d question how accurate the ETAs are in general if these delays are always happening), the amount of phantom buses that are listed on the app/timetable and yet never materialise is infuriating.

  8. Gockdaw

    I have two suggestions.
    1) Make bus lanes that extend the whole length of the routes. There’s no point having them with gaps causing buses to stop for ages. Then stick a camera in the front of the bus and anything which blocks it gets fined. Have a timer on the camera so if the car is still blocking the bus a minute later they can get fined again.
    2) Make every elected representative in the country use public transport. They supposedly represent the public,so they should get what the public get. I guarantee you, if they had to rely on their Leapcards to get to the Dáil, transport in Ireland would be overhauled within weeks.

  9. some old queen

    Derek’s experiences are down to technology- or more importantly- the timely and accurate presentation of information. It is one thing for a bus being cancelled- people can live with that- it is quite another standing for an hour waiting on a bus that is never going to turn up.

    Each bus is I assume tracked in real time- so they know where they actually are. The problem appears to be when they go to calculate the ETA’s at each stop but node to node metrics have been around for thirty odd years. Likewise when a bus goes out of service, it should feed back to the central system and be removed from all displays.

    They can do it for the Luas and they can do it for bus information systems elsewhere so what is the problem with Dublin Bus?

    1. some old queen

      Actually scrub the techno comment above- it is deliberate- Dublin Bus have KPI’s and if they stick on their public information system that X number are cancelled and Y number are over and above agreed late limits- management get a slap.

      Solution is therefore to not publish changes and sure if Joe/Josephine Public stand freezing for 45-60 minutes- what odds. There is 3-4 cars sitting outside every house in Tallaght because why?

  10. Bort

    11 route, Clonskeagh to O’Connell St. 3 EURO! Wet mornings, bus is full on way into town, only for half the bus to get off at UCD. Some drivers forget about my stop and buzz totally past it, happens ridiculously frequently. Bus completely full by Leeson St on way out of town. Never 20 min between buses as per time table, app is a complete work of fiction, constantly out of service “ghost buses” whizz past. Insane!

    But……..great during the summer, flys into town, always a seat.

    1. postmanpat

      Clonskeagh to O’Connell St is 20 minutes on bike. And you’ll save 6 euro per day. (and you’ll always have a seat)

        1. postmanpat

          Ah! But its nice after a hot shower when you get home and curl up in front of the telly with a bowl of stew , buttered bread and a catch up on all the vapid celebrity news on Expose…oh wait….

  11. millie vanilly strikes again

    Also, and it’s just a suggestion here, stop running our public transport system (Iarnrod Eireann are particularly guilty of this, afaik) as for profit. Profits are not the point of a publicly funded transport system.

  12. Mountain Talk

    Build one goddamn Tunnel per decade. Just one. East-West 2020/2030. North-South 2030/2040 and so on. Are we the only European city/country w/out a subway? Yes. I think ppl can put up with stuff if they see something happening. By something : not a foot off a footpath, a bandage solution for a city w/ 2 million ppl.

  13. Ian-O

    I’d like to be able to use the bus to get to work but due to the pathetic public transport in Dublin that would involve a bus into the city centre, a wait of between 15-30 minutes for another bus, then the travel time to my job.

    I have checked up on this, it would take me nearly 3 hours in the morning and 3 in the evening and thats providing there are no traffic problems. Also, my local bus service is THE most complained about route on the Dublin bus timetable, the staff in Dublin Bus are not in any way interested in your complaints and I have found them quite dismissive and even downright rude in the past so no point talking to them.

    Cycling would take me at least 90 minutes each way also and some of that would be on seriously non bike friendly routes, plus I don’t fancy cycling in weather like we have today for an hour and a half either.

    The only option left to me is the car as it gets me to and from work in about 20 ish minutes each way.

    Now I see they are bringing in these so called Bus Connects which I have no faith will be any better and will possibly be even worse. On a day like today, you are expected to alight the bus to what will most likely be an already packed bus stop where you can stand for God knows how long to get onto another feeder bus. I simply cannot see how such a system will work, considering we cannot even correctly run a basic point to point service.

    Expect chaos.

    Also, buses are a fupping nightmare in the morning, for some reason, every idiot under 30 seems to think everyone on the bus wants to hear whatever crap they are playing on their phones and if any trouble breaks out you are on you own, expect no help of any kind.

    1. postmanpat

      90 min by bike? where are you coming from ? Lusk, Dunshaughlin, Kilcock, Sallins, Blessington , Sally gap, greysones? (all 90 mins by bike but a hell of a lot longer than 20 min by car )

    2. Rob_G

      I am also curious as to how one gets anywhere in Dublin at rush hour in 20 mins that would take someone 90 mins on a bike…

      1. postmanpat

        Even outside rush hour, the distance covered in a 90 minute cycle takes about 45 minutes by car.

        1. millie vanilly strikes again

          I have a hunch as to where he’s coming from actually. Twenty mins is a maybe a bit of an exaggeration if he’s thinking of where I’m thinking of, then it’s not far off the mark.

  14. Gary Kearney

    You want to understand the article it is Nta and TFI screw ups The big mistake was using the TFI app… so bad it’s shocking

    1. some old queen

      The TFI app has nothing to do with information displayed at stops- in fact I would expect it just feeds of the same streams- there could be additional problems with the app too of course.

  15. Jim Fitzgerald

    Most of the problems with Dublin buses relate to communication. You can’t blame the bus companies if buses are delayed in traffic or have to be cancelled because of driver availability. What matters for the travelling public is having accurate and reliable communication so that they can plan their movements accordingly. What we are getting is misinformation where the real time system, the app, and the published timetable for buses are all giving different information and frequently none correspond to the actual movement of buses. Total chaos for which TFI should be accountable, and are not. It is absolutely staggering that this situation is allowed to persist when our 3rd country public transport system is so heavily reliant on buses.

  16. Gringo

    Given Dereks experience as an advisor to the clusterfuff that destroyed the economy back in the day, he is surely not surprised that stupidity and incompetence still rules the roost in dubbelin.

  17. Mícheál Ó Doibhilín

    Do the bosses in Dublin Bus, Transport for Ireland etc. have company cars? Do they use their own cars? Shouldn’t they be issued bus passes and ORDERED to use public transport only?

Comments are closed.