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Visually impaired couple who work in city say BusConnects will have 'devastating effect'

Politicians from across Dublin have been conveying the concerns of constituents over the BusConnects plan in recent months.

Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

A VISUALLY IMPAIRED couple who wrote to their local TD over the BusConnects plan said the new route proposals would have a “drastic” and “devastating” effect on their lives.

In a letter to a government minister who’s based in Dublin, the husband said they were left “absolutely dismayed” by the new planned routes for their area, which would leave them without a direct route to travel to their jobs in the city.

This correspondence in one such letter released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act over the BusConnects plan, detailing concerns raised by politicians and their constituents. 

Since the unveiling of the new route plans in July, public representatives were inundated with concerns that were then passed on to the National Transport Authority (NTA). 

A public consultation on the proposals was open to the public until the end of last month, but TDs, Senators and councillors still flagged their concerns with the NTA during this period separately.

BusConnects

The network is being redesigned in an attempt to make bus routes simpler for tourists to understand and more efficient so that buses come more frequently.

However, due to the frequency with which some routes will run compared to others, people may have to change buses on the way into the city centre.

busconnects The new spines of routes. Source: BusConnects

One of the main features proposed is ‘seven super-frequent spines’. These spines would flow through the city centre from areas such as Lucan, Stillorgan and Ballymun and have buses travelling through every 4 to 8 minutes.

The spines would be designated by letters A to G, meaning the end of routes named the 46a, 79 or 40. These would be supplemented through orbital routes that stay out of the city centre but link up with the spines in a number of areas.

The theory behind it is that you may have to change your bus on the way into town, but by prioritising the key “spines”, it should actually get you into town faster.

However, many have raised concerns about the new routes which may leave them further away from a bus into town as it had before.

This visually impaired couple are two such bus users who feel they’ll be negatively affected by the change.

“I am not overstating or exaggerating the impact that the Bus Connects proposals could have on the lives of working blind and visually impaired people, as well as those who want to work,” the husband wrote.

The introduction of such routing of buses would create tremendous barriers to employment for both my wife and I. Undoubtedly, there are others in our position too. I cannot, given the proposals, conceive of a viable solution for my wife and I to get to work safely and within any reasonable amount of time.

The pair have a bus route near their home but would need to travel to one of the new spines to access the city centre.

“The route starts a great distance from [where we live],” the husband wrote. “This means that the bus is guaranteed to be very full at rush hour when we would need to use it. In order to make our usage of public transport viable in terms of safety and comfort, it is necessary for us both to find seats… finding suitable seats is simply not going to be an option at peak times.”

Changing buses would be even harder, he said, as visually impaired people can often have a guide dog with them.

The husband cited the existing transport infrastructure where they currently live as a “key consideration in our decision to buy a house in the area”. 

“Without viable direct access to the city centre via bus, the position of our property will suddenly become a devastating and potentially unfixable issue,” he said.

He said he and his wife had “bucked the trends” in terms of unemployment among the visually impaired, but that Bus Connects would make it even harder for them and others like them to go to work. 

I would appeal to you in the strongest terms to do all you can not to further disable my wife and I, and our peers who are in education or employment, or those who are striving to be a part of the working society.

In response, the NTA said that it would consider the issues raised by the man and incorporate them into the BusConnects plan. 

Wide ranging concerns

Although concerns are being raised throughout Dublin, a theme in correspondence between politicians and the NTA since June are a number of concerns being raised again and again about areas such as Blanchardstown, Howth and Celbridge.

From across the political spectrum, concerns have been raised about how the plan will affect people’s commutes, with the Taoiseach and senior figures within the other main parties all raising issues.

One early concern focused on whether constituents would lose parts of their garden to the plan. 

A constituent wrote to government member Finian McGrath, asking for assurance that “this nonsense will have no impact on my property”. 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald wrote that some constituents in the Glasnevin/Mobhi Road area were worried about compulsory purchase orders on their front gardens to facilitate the project.

She said: “I’d ask that you deal sensitively with this matter and that you explore all alternative options. It’s also important that you engage directly with all of those who may be affected by the project at an early stage to avoid creating further anxiety.”

Thomas Byrne – Fianna Fáil TD for Meath East – wanted info on how it would affect the 70 bus route that goes to Dunboyne. And he wasn’t happy at apparently being left out of communication so far.

thomas byrne angry

“I would be greatly if this continued effort, whether negligent or deliberate, to exclude me from information relating to this process could end immediately,” he wrote. “My constituents are entitled to know what is going on… I think that the communications on this effort have been nothing short of atrocious.”

‘Great displeasure’

Kildare North TD Bernard Durkan, on a number of occasions in the past few months, has forwarded on the concerns of his constituents from Celbridge.

One wrote: “I am writing with great displeasure regarding the proposed changes to the Celbridge routes… the journey from Celbridge to Dublin city is already outrageously long.”

Another said: “People in Celbridge will be hardest hit – where are morning services going? This is a worse service… Can you contact Dublin Bus ASAP. Kildare last again.”

The local community council welcomed some aspects of the plan but said the positive elements were “overshadowed by the negative proposals”. 

With a clear eye on the ultimate goal of enabling as many people as possible to use public transport, we fear that the increase in commute times to Dublin indicated by the BusConnects route proposals for Celbridge will have the opposite effect.

NTA chief executive Anne Graham wrote back to Durkan. She urged Durkan to encourage constituents to participate in the public consultation and said that public information events would be organised to address people’s concerns.

‘Strongly object’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had a letter sent from his constituency office, asking for the concerns of a Clonee citizen could be addressed.

The constituent wrote: “I would like to strongly object to the proposed changes to Dublin Bus routes specifically the 70 bus route from Dunboyne. This is a service I rely on to get to and from work and the proposed changes will have a detrimental effect on my commute from the City Centre.”

The 70 bus route is one such route that would be abolished and replaced by a new route that would link with the spine at Blanchardstown shopping centre, requiring people travelling from Clonee and Dunboyne.

Another local wrote to the Taoiseach: “Your current proposals I cannot see improving commute times for anyone wanting to get from the Hartstown/ Huntstown/ Clonsilla/ Clonee area to work on the southside of the city.”

Joan Burton also raised concerns on a number of occasions in the past few months.

She said feedback she had received from residents included worries about “late night security at the proposed hub” in Blanchardstown. 

“The congestion in Blanchardstown Centre is seen as insurmountable by the majority of people I have spoken to,” she wrote. “Has the NTA surveyed traffic volume at this location at peak shopping and holiday seasons?”

Local independent councillor Tania Doyle wrote to the NTA: “Whilst in general, the community do readily acknowledge that change is necessary, they are concerned that the change which may take place may not necessarily be for their benefit.”

‘A disaster for many people’

A consistent feature of this correspondence is a fear among people that the changes proposed won’t make things easier for them, and in fact make them worse. 

Politicians hear the worries of their constituents but a lack of general understanding about the plan means that they seek answers from the NTA.

At least three politicians admit themselves in correspondence they find the plans difficult to comprehend, and the website which explains it difficult to navigate. 

While the NTA stresses in much of its responses that these plans are subject to change and that the plan was put to public consultation for people to have their say on it, there was a strong belief among a number of people that the changes to the bus service would leave them worse off.

Going back to the visually impaired couple, there was particular concern that switching buses in order to get where you’re going would penalise those with disabilities in particular.

Last month, Minister of State with special responsibility for disabilities Finian McGrath wrote: “I would be extremely grateful if the NTA be very careful in how it treats people with a disability in the new BusConnects proposal. The local 123 Bus service is great here in Marino and changing it would be a disaster for many people with a disability and elderly constituents.”

In response, the NTA said it understands the issue of interchange is more difficult for the elderly and people with disabilities, and “accordingly, we intend to make interchange between services as seamless as possible”. 

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Sean Murray

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