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Some Leap Card users travelling on Bus Éireann for free due to lack of correct ticket machines

Privately contracted vehicles driving for the State company in particular are often driven with no machine capable of recognising Leap Cards.

Bus Eireann Strike Continues Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

PASSENGERS ON CERTAIN Bus Éireann services have the ability to travel for free should they choose to do so, it has emerged.

Travellers using Leap Cards, a cross-company transport initiative run by the National Transport Authority (NTA), can often board a bus for free if the specialist ticket machine necessary to process such journeys hasn’t been installed.

The issue is mostly seen on private coaches on hire to Bus Éireann, although a minority of the company’s own older coaches (mostly aged pre-2008) also travel without the newer machines.

At present, the company says it is operating approximately 1,000 services per day across the east and north-east of the country: “On occasion – due to unforeseen operational difficulties – contractors must be hired at short notice,” a spokesperson said.

Larger Expressway coaches (from the Bus Éireann’s embattled commercial arm), which are occasionally used at present to satisfy local routes when no other bus is available, are also missing the necessary machines to validate Leap Cards.

In practice, this means that a Leap Card holder can board a bus and be let on for free once they produce their card. When asked as to the potential revenue loss resulting from this situation, the NTA suggested that it “understands that most Leap Card holders on Bus Éireann buy weekly or monthly tickets”, rendering any loss negligible in those situations as the trip has already been paid for.

This would not apply however with passengers using the Leap Card on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis.

“We’re not going to refuse someone,” one Bus Éireann source told TheJournal.ie.

Our job is to drive the bus. But enough passengers, especially the students, have worked it out.

Leap Cards can currently be used in Dublin and surrounding counties such as Meath and Kildare, Cork city, Galway city, Limerick city, and Waterford city. The system was introduced on a phased basis from May 2013.

The Leap Card programme itself, which also operates on Luas, Irish Rail, and Dublin Bus and means one card can be used on all those networks, was debuted in 2011.

Private operators

The number of private operator coaches driving without a TGX ticket machine (the technology used to validate the cards which operates off WiFi technology) is unknown, with some driver sources suggesting the figure could be as little as one in 10 (it is also unclear how many private operator coaches on hire to Bus Éireann support the company’s Automatic Vehicle Location GPS system, used to pinpoint a bus’s location at all times).

Sources have previously suggested to TheJournal.ie that the amount of private coaches currently travelling from Bus Éireann’s Broadstone base in north Dublin number anything between 20 and 50 vehicles on a daily basis at present.

A small private coach enterprise in one town in the north-east has a machine in place on just one of its coaches. Another company in a separate town, also in the midlands-east, of which it was suggested that no machines were installed on any of its vehicles, informed TheJournal.ie that this is indeed the case, although a spokesperson also pointed out that just one of  the company’s fleet is used, on a sporadic basis, by Bus Éireann.

2 The old-style Wayfarer TX machine

1 The newer TGX machine Source: Ticket-machines.co.uk

Sources we spoke to suggest that whether or not the right machines are on board is not the drivers’ concern.

“The drivers don’t care, they have enough to be worrying about,” one source said.
A passenger with a bit of experience can judge what kind of machine a bus has before getting on – the old machines are rectangular and have a kind of spike in the middle, and the TGX is square-shaped – they’re both very distinctive looking.

“If we don’t have the machine we just say go ahead, there’s nothing else to be done,” agrees another driver.

One passenger who until recently commuted on a daily basis from Navan to Dublin told TheJournal.ie that workers heading to the city each morning would routinely travel for free.

“It was the same private bus most mornings, at 7.20am, that travelled the old route to Dublin via Dunshaughlin,” they said.

You’d walk on with a Leap Card, you wouldn’t be asked for cash you’d just be waved on. The same bus would be on the return run at 5.15 in the evening, so it suited a 9-to-5 commute.

The same commuter said that they had noticed the practice on mostly private contract vehicles, but also “with late night buses, where they would let someone with a Leap on”.

Leap Card revenue

“And then someone in the queue would see another person with a Leap Card and they’d take out a card of their own, and then they wouldn’t have to pay.”

Some of the drivers we spoke to believe that Bus Éireann makes no loss on Leap Cards should a passenger travel for free, as the NTA is the operator of the card system (the NTA is likewise responsible for the provision of the newer ticketing machines).

The authority has made €576 million in revenue from the Leap Card system since its launch in December 2011.

In 2016, that figure was €239 million, with about 7% (€17 million) of that total being provided by Bus Éireann journeys according to the NTA.

90376997_90376997 Then Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe with NTA CEO Anne Graham at a photocall to promote the sale of one million Leap Cards in April 2015 Source: Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews.ie

However, in response to a query from TheJournal.ie as to the nature of how the Leap Card system works in conjunction with Bus Éireann, an NTA spokesperson suggested that it is the carrier that makes the loss.

“Bus Éireann will miss out on the revenue, if no reading is taken, and if the driver doesn’t ask for some other form of payment,” the spokesperson said. “The company takes the hit.”

When pressed on this, they suggested that “common sense prevails in most situations, a driver isn’t likely to tell someone they can’t get on the bus”.

“There is the potential for some revenue loss in those circumstances, but we understand that the majority who use Leap on Bus Éireann buy weekly or monthly tickets, so few or none of those persons are causing a revenue hit.”

The spokesperson did suggest however that while “a lot of private operators do have Leap, some of them don’t”.

There appears to be some confusion among Bus Éireann employees as to which entity takes the loss regarding this Leap Card issue – most employees we spoke to believed, erroneously, that the NTA absorbs the loss. The company itself declined to answer the question. As definitively confirmed by the NTA however, it is the company that takes the hit.

TheJournal.ie queried of Bus Éireann the number of private operators being used to run the company’s routes at each of the last two monthends, and what number of those vehicles were carrying TGX machines for validating Leap Cards.

“We cannot go into details about specific daily operations, or supply you with any revenue figures regarding Leap Cards,” a spokesperson said in reply.

Bus Éireann always aims to use its own vehicles for all services, but contractor cover is sometimes required. TGX machines that read Leap Cards are in place on all contractor vehicles for planned hire.

We asked how many of the company’s services that involve private contractors are examples of such planned hires but the company did not answer that question. Separate sources suggest that such hires involve private contractors with specific terms in place to run certain routes on a regular, rather than an ad hoc, basis.

File Photo. Absenteeism at Bus Éireann has doubled, leading to cancellations of services Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Insolvency

“However, on occasion – due to unforeseen operational difficulties – contractors must be hired at short notice, and only Wayfarer cash machines (which predate the TGX machines) are available,” the spokesperson continued.

“In 2018, all Bus Éireann buses nationwide and vehicles contracted on our behalf will have TGX machines, with funding provided by the National Transport Authority,” they concluded.

Bus Éireann has had a tough 2017 to-date, with the company declaring insolvency at the start of the year and enduring a protracted series of strikes in March.

A Labour Court Recommendation (which brought the period of industrial unrest to a close) from April saw the imposition of new rosters and services which have caused a deal of consternation among passengers and drivers alike, particularly in the northeast of the country.

There was some good news for the company last Thursday however, with the NTA awarding it the contract for its Waterford routes (which are among the 10% of current services that had been put out to tender) for the immediate future, a move that was described by Bus Éireann “as a vote of confidence in the company and its workforce”.

Read: ‘A vote of confidence’: Bus Éireann wins rights to run five bus routes in Waterford

Read: Bus Éireann staff say problems with northeast services ‘have nothing to do with absenteeism’

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