There’s no silver bullet that will fix the climate crisis. There’s a myriad of small actions that together will make a difference. One of these is getting us all out of our cars and onto the buses. Even using diesel powered buses is better than using one’s own car. But it’s easier said than done. Getting people out of their cars means the buses have to provide a service that people can rely on. And in my city of Cork that’s not the case. The conversations at your typical bus stop say it all. There’s real anger with the bus service that leaves people waiting in the rain, or crushed into hot, over-crowded vehicles, missing their appointments and thinking, I should have used my car.
Here’s a note that I have sent to various people including councillors, TDs, the business company etc. relating to my own bus service with ideas of how it could be improved.
Making the Buses Work
Since I retired, I have been making great use of the bus system in Cork. My wife and I now only need one car and we, like many, are really keen to reduce our emissions impact and using buses is a key part of this. And living in Ballincollig we were delighted to hear that the 220 route is now operating a 15 minute schedule.
But, sadly the reality is a bit different. The bus is great if you don’t have a deadline, need to be at a place at a specific time, or if you don’t mind waiting in all weathers, sometimes up to 60 minutes. Or if you don’t mind your plans being completely trashed when the service appears to have been completely cancelled or suspended for an unknown period. The Bus Eireann app looks great. Bin practice the data is completely unreliable.
Now I’m new to Cork, and not sure how things work. Who the big cheeses are? But I have a few ideas that could make the buses work better.
The 200 route goes from Ovens to Carrigaline and beyond. This is an incredibly long route. I’m aware that the roads in and out of Carrigaline get very busy in the rush hour. The same in Ballincollig. So delays in one place will cause delays right down the line. It’s obvious that adherence to the schedule is impossible.
IDEA 1: Split the route. Make Ballincollig to Grand Parade separate from Carrigaline to Grand Parade. This will mean that there are fewer points of delay on the route. I could show you this in maths, but if you think about it, it’s obvious that double the number of delays will double the effect on the schedule. We would just need a small circular route in the centre to allow the buses to reverse their route. Surely that’s not difficult.
IDEA 2: Reduce the length of the route for some of the buses. At the moment the buses go way out into the countryside, to Camden, Ovens etc. By shortening the route for say 3 out of 4 buses per hour, there will be more buses per hour on the route. I know this may be disappointing for people that live at the outlying places, but we need to recognize that much of the time spent in those parts of the route the bus will be carrying fewer passengers.
IDEA 3: Dump the schedule. Clearly it doesn’t work so why persist with it. The idea of a bus every 15 minutes is great, so focus on achieving that target, not whether the bus arrives at a stop at a predetermined time.
Now a lot of time is spent by people buying tickets from the bus driver. If the bus from Ballincollig to Grand Parade takes 20 minutes with no traffic holdups, the actual time the bus is stopped may be as much as 15 minutes, making the journey 35 minutes. In Berlin, for example, the bus (and train) tickets are purchased from machines that are located at every stop. The tickets can be single, 1 day, 3 day, 1 month etc. When you get on a bus with a new ticket you validate the ticket in a machine that stamps the time you first use the ticket. You can buy a ticket from the driver, but very few folk do. So the buses are stopped for very short periods of time. It’s very noticeable, the bus is always on the move. Now this might be hard to organize in the short term; it would need investment in machines, inspectors etc. BUT it’s in everyone’s interests to keep the buses moving fast and frequently. So we already have the Leap card, and it’s already much cheaper than the pay as you go. We just need bus users to use the cards.
IDEA 4: Make the Leap cards even cheaper and make the pay as you go more expensive and then use massive publicity to encourage pre-payment.
Now you might think that if these ideas were adopted it would make the buses even more popular than they are, and more crowded. That’s a good thing, and with more passengers presumably Bus Eireann would consider putting more buses on the routes. But if we could find a way to spread the loading, so that the buses were well used all day, not just in the rush hours, this would help everyone. Now I mentioned I’m retired, and that means here in Ireland I get a free pass to use the buses and trains wherever I go. Suppose we say to older people, “many of us have more flexibility to travel out of the rush hour, and when the buses are less crowded”. Why don’t we help to spread the load across the day?
IDEA 5: Make the free card for use out of the rush hour periods. Provide a discount Leap card for retired people that would encourage them to use the service in the off-peak times. Now I know this would be hugely controversial. It would break the solemn contract the Irish state has with older people for free travel. However, it’s such an obvious thing to do that would help us to encourage “everyone” to use the buses and I would hope most older people would see that this makes sense.
Another simple idea to get the buses flowing more freely would be to minimize traffic holdups. In Cork city we know we have real problems with too many cars in the city. And many of the roads are in narrow streets that don’t allow bus lanes. However, there are many streets that do have space for bus lanes, but we currently only make them bus only in the rush hour periods. Why?
IDEA 6: Make the bus lanes car free all day for buses, cyclists and climate neutral taxis. It won’t solve all the holdups, but it will help keep the buses moving.
In summary: I don’t pretend these ideas are foolproof; or will all work. But perhaps they might get people connecting the dots between what we all do every day and how we can all help to solve the Climate Crisis.