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Needles, stabbings and attacks... so why doesn't Dublin have its own transport police?

“It’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed or stabbed.”

Luas Tram figures Source: Niall Carson/PA Wire

IN SEPTEMBER OF last year newspapers around the country were filled with stories about a baby girl that was rushed to hospital after sitting on a syringe on Dublin Bus.

In November a woman who broke a woman’s eye socket in an attack on the DART avoided a custodial sentence after her victim asked for leniency on her behalf.

Shortly after this in January, a couple were jailed for smashing a beer bottle over the head of a man in an attack on the Luas red line service. 

luas article

While each transport provider has their own security operations in place to stop incidents like these from happening, it does raise the question: Why does Dublin not have its own transport police?

Hang on, does anyone actually care about this?

It isn’t exactly at the forefront of the political agenda, but there is an appetite out there for it.

In an freedom of information request sent to TheJournal.ie, almost a quarter of complaints made to the Department of Transport in the first three quarters of 2015 about the Luas service mentioned the possible introduction of transport police.

Representations were made to the Department by workers for STT Risk Management – the organisation that currently runs security on the light-rail service – who called for their powers to be extended.

One worker drew attention to a poster used at a Luas stop carrying the following slogan:

STT Rail Security: Serving and Protecting Luas Passengers

transport police

There is some political backing for the idea.

In their manifesto, a resurgent Fianna Fáil have given their full support to the idea, suggesting a public transport police section within the gardaí.

“Security issues on public transport are a serious issue in Dublin,” the policy document says, “particularly on the Luas services and late night bus services.

Anti-social behaviour and intimidation are rife.

Acting government party Fine Gael are a lot less keen.

Speaking in the Dáil last September, minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald said that she had “no plans to establish a separate transport police service for the Dublin area”, and would instead be focusing resources on improving policing generally.

Dublin isn’t really big enough to have its own transport police though? 

Dublin may only have around 530,000 in its urban area, but these people take an awful lot of journeys.

Last year was the fourth year in a row that passenger figures climbed in Ireland, with journeys taken across Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, Irish Rail and Luas services totalling 224.1 million.

In Dublin DART journeys (17.5 million), Luas journeys (34.6 million) and Dublin Bus journeys (119.5 million) make up a total of 171.6 million, more than three quarters of the country’s total.

Dublin bus fare increase Dublin Bus was Ireland's most used public transport system Source: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Around the world transport police can be found in cities with similar populations to Dublin.

Boston (MBTA Transit Police) and Portland (Trimet Transit Police) in the USA and Glasgow and Sunderland in the United Kingdom, cities of comparable in size to the Irish capital, are all served by autonomous transport police (the British Transport Police provide transport security across the UK).

Looking closer to home, Ireland’s Airport Police Service (APS) work in a similar way, outside of the control of An Garda Síochána and have been in existence since 1936.

The APS serve Dublin and Cork airports and are responsible for “general policing and aviation security duties at the State airports”, as well as enforcing airport bye-laws.

Aren’t things pretty safe at the moment?

Currently, each transport operator has to look out for its own security operations.

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie, Dublin Bus stated that it has a firm policy in place for tackling anti-social behaviour.

Security is enforced through extensive use of CCTV on its 945 buses, close cooperation with An Garda Síochána and interaction with community groups.

In recent years specific measures have been taken to reduce aggression towards drivers.

Ireland IMF Dublin Bus use CCTV on their 945 services across the city Source: AP Photo/Peter Morrison

Even so, if there is a violent incident on a bus, in that moment the driver remains the person who will most likely have to deal with it.

Asked specifically if they would welcome the introduction of transport police, Dublin Bus said:

Dublin Bus believe that the security measures already in place on our vehicles, combined with mobile and radio supervision and close liaison between Dublin Bus, the Gardai and local Community groups are the best way to deal with anti-social behaviour issues.

Security on the Luas services is looked after by STT Risk Management.

As a private security contractor their workers are limited in how they can deal with the public.

In April last year an STT worker was stabbed and hospitalised after trying to break up an altercation between three men on the Milltown Luas station platform.

stt security An STT security guard pictured in 2012 Source: RollingNews.ie/Mark Stedman

The company did not respond to queries made for this article, but on its website it emphasises that its staff go beyond an “observe and report” brief. 

It says:

STT Risk Management differ greatly on the basis that our team are equipped to handle potential issues and resolve on the spot avoiding any disruption to service, staff assets or passengers.

Asked about their interactions with STT Risk Management, a spokesperson for Transdev – who hold a €150 million contract to operate the Luas service until 2019 – said:

The contract between STT and Transdev is a commercial contract and private. Transdev is not in a position to answer your questions.
Iarnród Éireann, who operate Dublin’s DART service, also contract a security company (currently Brink’s Ireland Ltd), and a spokesperson said that they are deployed “according to agreed priorities and in response to specific issues”.

Does anything look likely to change? 

At the moment, it wouldn’t seem so.

The Department of Justice has said that its pretty happy with the way cooperation between transport operators and gardaí is working at the moment, and that “a range of regional and local operations have been put in place as required to address issues that have arisen at specific locations.

The Department of Transport – who work closely with the APS – said that security was a matter for individual transport providers, and that they would work in conjunction with gardaí.

luas strike Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The Department did note however that a Transport Operators Forum – which is made up of transport providers in Dublin – held its first meeting in February, and it will allow the different providers to share information and best practices.

It is hard to get a firm grasp on exactly how many crimes are committed on public transport in Dublin as the CSO does not record them separately – but as can be seen, horror stories about attacks are a frequent occurance.  

Someone else who backs the idea is Independent TD Finian McGrath, who told TheJournal.ie: “Yes, we need transport police to deal with threats and anti-social activity.”

Innocent people are suffering,” he said.

And it’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed or stabbed.

Read: There were over 220 million public transport journeys in 2015

Also: New government needs to act to avoid ‘season of transport strikes’

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