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'It confirms our worst fears about privatisation': Half of Go-Ahead bus routes fail to meet punctuality targets

The British-owned firm began operating 24 routes in Ireland in September 2018.

Image: Julian Behal Photography

ALMOST HALF OF services operated by bus firm Go-Ahead have so far failed to meet punctuality targets set out in the company’s contract with the National Transport Authority (NTA).

The British-owned operator is set to be fined more than €30,000 after its services collectively failed to achieve a punctuality rate of at least 65% between April and June this year.

The company won a contract worth €171 million over five years to run 24 routes previously operated by Dublin Bus in 2017, and commenced operating services on a phased basis last year.

The services were given a number of months to bed in, before targets set out in the firm’s contract came into effect during the NTA’s ‘Period Five’, which began on 22 April.

Performance reports published by the NTA earlier this week show that 11 of the 24 routes operated by Go-Ahead failed to meet their punctuality target in Period Five, when the company’s overall punctuality rating was 60.4%.

The reports also show that the same 11 routes failed to meet the 65% target in Period Six, which began on 20 May, when overall punctuality rose marginally to 61.9%.

Meanwhile, figures obtained by TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act show the NTA received more than 4,000 complaints in relation to Go-Ahead since the start of the year, almost half of which related to late services or buses failing to show up.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Go-Ahead said the company’s failure to reach its punctuality target was largely as a result of changes the company made to its timetables in light of data it collated after it began operating routes.

“Dublin is experiencing a significant period of growth, which in turn has resulted in increased traffic volumes all of which has placed additional pressure on our services,” the company said.

“There are a wide range of reasons as to why a bus might be unable to operate…[but] we will always try and minimise the impact for our customers.”

Contractual targets

As part of its contract, Go-Ahead is required to meet targets in relation to the punctuality, reliability and the quality of its service.

When targets are not met, the authority can impose financial penalties on the company, although services are allowed to be within 1% of the punctuality target.

Its current punctuality target of 65%, in place since April, will be measured over thirteen four-week periods until the end of the NTA’s ‘Period Four’ next year, when it will increase to 80%.

Punctuality is measured as the percentage of times that buses are at a stop within a minute before schedule, or are up to six minutes later than their scheduled time.

The NTA measures the punctuality of the company’s routes at all Go-Ahead stops over each of its four-week periods.

A spokesman for the authority explained to TheJournal.ie that penalties are not imposed if punctuality targets are not met for reasons outside of the control of operators.

These reasons include events such as severe weather, road closures, or traffic congestion.

However, the spokesman confirmed that Go-Ahead was subject to a penalty of €34,739.73 for having a network punctuality below 65% in Periods Five and Six.

The authority’s CEO Anne Graham told the Public Accounts Committee last week that fines return to the NTA’s public service obligation budget and are not a projected part of its income.

‘Our worst fears about privatisation’

According to the NTA’s punctuality reports, 11 services failed to meet the 65% punctuality target in Periods Five and Six, specifically routes 17/B/C, 17A, 18, 33A, 45A/B, 75/A, 76A, 104, 175, 220/A and 236A.

Route 102 also failed to meet the target during both periods, but was within 1% of a 65% rating, while route 239 came within 1% of the target in Period Five, but improved enough to meet the target during Period Six.

The figures also show that the punctuality rate fell on 12 Go-Ahead routes between the period they began operating and Period Six, although punctuality also improved on 11 routes to Period Six.

The worst performing route over the two periods was the 75/A, which operates between Dun Laoghaire and Tallaght. It had a punctuality rate of 49.5% in Period Five and 51.2% in Period Six.

The 220/A, which operates between DCU and Tyrellstown, and the 18, which operates between Palmerstown and Sandymount, were the second and third worst performers in Periods Five and Six.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett, who has previously spoken out against the decision to put the routes out to tender, claimed the figures showed the problem with the decision to privatise the 24 routes.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that this private operator is failing to meet targets,” he told TheJournal.ie.

“They have admitted themselves that they’re unable to hold on to drivers, which suggests they’re being treated less favourably than those who work for public transport firms.

“It confirms our worst fears about privatisation, and the government should review the decision to put these routes out to tender.”

In a statement, the company said that it had taken action to address complaints about its service, and claimed that it had seen a reduction in the number of issues raised about it since doing so.

“We have been operating services in Ireland for just over one year and our performance data is in line with existing incumbent operators,” a spokeswoman said.

“Dublin has challenging traffic conditions, [but] we are confident improvements will be made.”

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