Bus users boarding the 304 service at William Street | PICTURE: Michael Cowhey
Following the Limerick Leader’s recent feature on the state of bus services in the city and county, Allen Parker, chief customer officer at Bus Éireann, responds to the criticism and argues that the company remains committed to delivering a first class service to the people of Limerick
LIMERICK city is currently enjoying a welcome new phase of growth and supported by Limerick Twenty Thirty, the best is yet to come. After years of recession, more jobs are coming to the city and the population is growing.
For any modern city to operate effectively and to grow, it must have a properly functioning public transport system at its heart. Bus Éireann has been providing city services in Limerick for over 30 years, and we remain committed to delivering a first class service to the people of Limerick.
There were 3.5 million individual passenger journeys on our city services in Limerick last year, a massive 20% increase on the previous year. However, not only are our services busier – so too are our roads and this inevitably presents its own challenges.
We acknowledge and regret the frustrations articulated by respondents to the survey published in the Limerick Leader on February 23 and the remarks by other commentators about certain routes in the city that are currently experiencing challenges.
We absolutely recognise the role that we have to play in delivering the type of services that passengers in Limerick demand and deserve but our endeavour will require support, we cannot do it alone.
Connectivity is at the heart of what we do. In Limerick alone, Bus Éireann employs 267 people and operate 29 routes every day. On top of that we also operate the School Transport Scheme for the Department of Education and Skills, transporting over 5,000 students on almost 300 routes in the city and county every day. We are hugely invested in the city and every Bus Éireann employee is committed to working with all stakeholders to improve the scale and reliability of the services we deliver to our customers in Limerick.
In this respect, we are in dialogue with the National Transport Authority (NTA), Limerick City and County Council, Public Representatives, An Garda Siochána as well as the business community about what needs to be achieved, both to address the current challenges and to plan for the future.
We have been ardent advocates for the introduction of more bus priority measures in the city for many years, and this issue is not unique to Limerick. In all of our regional cities, and indeed in Dublin, we need more bus lanes and priority measures – both to incentivise bus usage, and to ensure that journey times are more reliable.
Last year, the Government announced details of the National Development Plan, 2018-2027. With overall objectives that include promoting regional growth and transitioning to a low-carbon economy, the plan made provision for substantial investment in public transport for communities across the country. For Limerick this will mean better bus corridors and more of them, new bus stops and shelters, new buses that are cleaner and more sustainable, a state-of-the-art ticketing system, and Bus Éireann will be working closely with the NTA to make sure these are delivered.
When these plans are fully implemented, bus customers will experience an improvement in overall public transport service delivery.
But there are things that can and should be done in the short term, particularly when it comes to bus priority measures in Limerick. With other agencies, we are working to ensure that the current infrastructure is functioning well and is properly maintained. It is unfortunately the case that our drivers can get delayed by cars parking illegally on bus lanes and at bus stops on a regular basis. The knock-on impact of this practice for our passengers can be significant.
We are committed to working with all stakeholders in Limerick to continually improve the reliability and punctuality of our services to and around the city. We recognise that the route 304 / 304A service does not always operate according to the timetable. This is hugely frustrating, both to our passengers and also to our drivers who deliver these services. We have been working with the NTA and we expect to be in a position to deliver the first phase of timetable changes on this route during April 2019 that will improve reliability.
All city routes have recently been reviewed and retimed to reflect the actual trip times. When these changes are introduced on a phased basis during the first half of this year they will deliver an improvement to the reliability and punctuality of services and improved accuracy of Real Time Passenger Information (RTPI). During summer 2019, further network enhancements are planned across the Limerick city network. These improvements will include increased hours of operation, increased frequency as well as improved connectivity across the network.
In order to assist our customers to board our buses quicker we are currently working on a ticketing software upgrade for LEAP tickets, which offer a 30% discount on cash fares.
This is an important step because it means that buses will be stopped at the various points for a shorter amount of time and so is more likely to arrive at its destination on time.
We are aiming to implement this improvement during June 2019.
In conclusion, I want to apologise to any passenger who for whatever reason has been frustrated when using our services in recent months. While we sincerely regret any level of dissatisfaction on behalf of our customers, we welcome the focus that has been placed on the importance of a reliable and punctual bus service. I can assure you that every member of the Bus Éireann team in Limerick is focused on delivering a reliable service for our customers and for the City of Limerick.
We will also continue to work with our partners in the National Transport Authority, Limerick City and County Council, and all local stakeholders, as together we strive to deliver the type of service that Limerick deserves.