Dublin Buses at a depot Shutterstock/Damien Storan
ghost buses

Dublin Bus apologises for 'real-time' issues as staffing crisis could delay BusConnects roll-out

Dublin Bus has 150 vacancies to fill, while Go-Ahead has 45 roles.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 8th 2022, 1:30 PM

DUBLIN BUS AND Go-Ahead bus has today apologised for a deterioration in their their Real-Time Passenger Information (RTPI) systems and cancelled buses in recent months.

Acting Chief Executive of Dublin Bus, Andrea Keane, told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport that “the reliability of RTPI systems has unfortunately deteriorated in recent months” due to both software issues and a shortage of bus drivers.

The committee was told today that some of the new BusConnects routes might be delayed if the driver shortage continues, said the National Transport Authority (NTA).

Two phases are already being delayed, which will in turn, knock on to later phases of the orbital route rollouts, committee members were told today. 

Bus driver recruitment crisis 

Dublin Bus has 2,800 drivers, but currently there are 150 vacancies. Around 290 new drivers have been hired this year. Go-Ahead said it has around 500 drivers, but around 45 driver vacancies. 

Go-Ahead said it takes four weeks to train a driver before a test, which is down from six weeks thanks to the Road Safety Authority, though the bus operator said there are a number of other issues in relation to paper work that is holding up recruitment.

When asked about the roll out of new BusConnects services, Anne Graham, the Chief Executive Officer of the NTA, said “these are planned services, it really is down to whether driver resources are there”. 

She said the service improvements will not be rolled out if it will impact on the current services already in operation.

“It may be the case that these will be delayed as we have had to delay other BusConnects routes due to the shortage of drivers,” she said. 

Graham said the NTA will try and get them up and running as soon as possible. 

Tim Gaston, Director of Public Transport Services at the NTA addressed a question posed about at 24-hour route connecting DCU to the city centre.

He said this would be a service connected with the BusConnects A and D Spine which he had had hoped would be running this year.

Delays in BusConnects

Unfortunately, this is not going to be achievable as they are already rolling back on phase five “entirely because of driver issues”, he said, which will have a knock-on impact on other phases for next year. 

Gaston said he is hopeful the F Spine route may be deliverable in 2023. 

In her opening statement, Keane told TDs and Senators that Dublin Bus apologises to customers who have been impacted due to the “significant problems” caused by RTPI systems “not performing as [they] should”.

Dublin Bus currently operates three separate RTPI systems: the Dublin bus app, the Transport for Ireland app and the on-street signs.

These systems operate independent of one another, it is understood.

According to Keane, these three systems have suffered software problems in recent months, with changes being implemented by Dublin Bus in September while the National Transport Authority (NTA) implemented changes in October.

Alongside technical issues with RTPI systems, Dublin Bus has also faced driver recruitment challenges, which has lead to the cancellation of some services.

“The technical issues with the RTPI systems have unfortunately coincided with the current driver recruitment challenges,” Keane will say.

“As noted above, this has resulted in the company having to cancel some trips due to these driver recruitment challenges. These cancelled trips should be removed from the real time system in a timely manner, but in some cases, this was not happening.”

“The inaccuracy of the data on the on-street displays in recent months was as a result of the higher than normal cancellation of services due to lack of drivers as well as a technical fault,” Anne Graham, the Chief Executive Officer of the NTA, said today.

‘Ghost buses’ 

Graham added that improvements made to the system will reduce the presence of “ghost buses” on the RTPI system whenever a driver is unavailable.

Go-Ahead Ireland’s Managing Director, Andrew Edwards, also apologised for bus service issues.

He told TDs: “It is absolutely accurate to say that Go-Ahead’s services have suffered along with those of other operators over the past number of months.”

Edwards will also detail that Go-Ahead was hit with a cyber-attack in September, impacting on the company’s IT systems.

“Furthermore, in September of this year, Go-Ahead Group suffered a cyber security incident which impacted operational IT systems in the company’s bus businesses, including software used to schedule drivers and services,” Edwards will tell TDs.

“This came at a time of increasing service demand with schools and colleges returning, increasing road traffic and changing weather conditions – important day-to-day issues associated with that time period.” 

Impact of cancellations on customers raised 

A number of TDs raised examples of the impacts that cancelled and delayed bus services are having on customers, with Dublin North West Paul McAuliffe stating one of his constituents has received a formal warning from his employer due to his lateness, which has been caused by cancelled buses.

Another constituent had to pay an additional fee to the creche she uses as she was late to pick up her child. 

Green Party TD for Wicklow Stephen Matthews said one of his constituents works in a restaurant in Bray had to use whatever wages she earned that night to pay for a taxi home as the last bus back to Enniskerry never showed up. 

The chair of the committee Kieran O’Donnell asked why planning wasn’t done earlier if it was evident that recruitment was an issue. The NTA said the recruitment issues and the subsequent delays and cancellation of services were not a surprise to them, as they are in regular contact with the bus operators about the difficulties they are facing. 

For not meeting their contractual obligations, both bus operators have been fined around €1.1 million. 

TDs also asked why there are not more park and ride facilities available along other routes, other than the M50. The NTA said plans are underway to roll out more park and ride facilities, with a location already identified, subject to planning, along the N11 in Wicklow. 

The committee was also told that the procurement process for ‘tap-to-pay’ fares on public transport is underway, but the NTA has said it will be at least 2024 before it is rolled out in Dublin.  

Speaking at the COP27 climate conference today, the Taoiseach said that he believed that the issue of buses not arriving had “improved dramatically”.

“Generally bus services, in terms of timeliness, have improved. We have a target to have all buses, energy efficient and electric. I’d like to see that happening sooner than the anticipated target date of 2035. I think we need to bring that forward. And those are practical things we can do.”

With reporting by Christina Finn

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