Sean Barrett on the transport bill

In today’s Irish Times, Sean is underwhelmed by the transport bill.

In my understanding, the new National Transport Authority merges a number of state bodies and has at least the potential to cut costs and create synergies. I probably disagree with Sean on that point.

I agree with most of the rest. I would have argued, though, that privatising the state-owned transport companies and cutting their subsidies would be welcome news for the budget. Dismantling the transport monopolies would bring welcome cuts in costs for households and businesses.

81 thoughts on “Sean Barrett on the transport bill”

  1. Can anyone provide me with an example of where moving from a publicly owned subsidised transport system to a private transport system has cut costs for businesses and households?

    (I can’t wait to see the premium the DoF would pay for last minute train tickets for civil servants on state business! Much the same as the huge premium I recently paid for a private train in the UK I expect.)

  2. I do not think privatizing public transport will have a beneficial impact. This is especially true in rural area’s.

  3. Zhou – the West Midlands, UK. I regularly go from Birmingham Airport to the city, and then onto Villa Park (equivalent of going to Landsdowne Road in terms of distance) and back again. In total that costs £5.20, or about €6. Contrast to Dublin: Airlink return is €10; Connolly-Landsdown return: €2.80; total = €12.80, or more than twice the Birmingham price.

    Still centrally regulated and subsidised, but with several competitors vying for those subsidies. Subsidies roughly on a par with Dublin, but the system is much more efficient. And they still manage to have an integrated ticketing system.

    It’s the same in Edinburgh.

  4. A privatised bus system sounds like hell

    the problem with publicly owned/ran public transportation is public sector unions – to the extent that the two can be seperated id be all for publicy owned transport

  5. One of Sean Barret’s main examples of the benefits of competition in bus services was Dublin-Galway. This highlights a basic fact: that intercity bus services are a viable commercial proposition and in many if not most countries are a normal commercial activity, subject of course to necessary – principally safety – regulation.

    Urban bus services are different, as are many local rural services, in that they are often not viable without subsidy and there are often significant externalities and/or social factors involved.

    A useful and practical step would be the immediate de-regualtion and privatisation of all intercity bus services. I think that the McCarthy report recommended something along these lines.

    Bus Eireann is involved in the intercity, local/rural and urban bus businesses. While the first should be privatised, ideally the latter two should be the responsibility of local rather than national government (much as I shudder at the thought of our local authorities being put in change of anything). Bus Eireann as at presently constituted is responsible for too great a range of activities, a sort of HSE on wheels.

  6. @ christy

    You posted when I was writing my previous bit. You say “a privatised bus system sounds like hell”. Evidence? I have been on private, and more to the point quite competitive, long distance buses. Generally punctual, safe, and excellent value.

  7. @John
    You duck the bigger issue of Dublin Bus.

    If there would be reason to believe that a private bus service would underprovide certain areas, then what you would want to do is competitive tendering for a bus line from A to B, and you would award the tender to the company that asks for the lowest subsidy.

  8. The London bus system is run along the lines Richard suggests above. Whatever about rail, there is a viable alternative model for competitive bus services, including services deemed worthy of subsidy.

  9. @Richard, Colm

    I concentrated on intercity because I think that’s where there are some straightforward things which can be done. I didn’t intend to duck the issue of Dublin Bus, although I suppose I should have included it in my remarks about urban services in general. But at leas Dublin Bus is a focussed on one reasonably similar set of activities, unlike Bus Eireann.

    There were proposals from the late Seamus Brennan to put some services in Dublin out to tender somewhat along the lines mentioned by Richard, but the Unions and their Drumcondra friend quickly stymied that.

  10. One problem with competitive tendering might be that the company that succeeds often has an incentive to cut costs in every way that is consistent with regulation – which could lead to annoying effects for customers.

    An example might be something like below

    Alot of people simply need to use the bus – they will take it whetehr the bus is old and crap or new and comfortable – the cost of making it new and comfortable is not covered by the extra passengers that such efforts would attract. The result could be old and crap buses or at least the oldest and crapest consistent with regulation.

  11. The privatisation of the London bus services was initially a disaster. The companies all wantd only the most lucrative routes, so much so that they all queued up in the same spots and caused their own traffic jams. It was only when the congestion charge was introduced, and the buses subsidised (a restridibutive measure) that bus travel improved and usage rose. But that is not what’s in the bill.

    Privatisation to plug the deficit is ludicrous, like a skilled worker selling their tools to make ends meet.

    Crucially, it also risks exacerbating the widening deficit on the investment income account, which is overwhelming our trade surplus. To see why that won’t work, read here:

    http://socialisteconomicbulletin.blogspot.com/

  12. @Mark
    Many mistakes were indeed made in the wave of privatisations in the UK, and many lessons were learned from that.

    Would you mind clarifying the analogy “like a skilled worker selling her tools”?

    Particularly, why is public transport a core “tool” of government, and what “skill” has the government shown in applying this tool?

  13. I’m lost Mark. The provincial city bus privatisations in the UK were widely criticised, but not London, which was handled differently. Details?

  14. In general, the government should regulate, the private sector operate. The problems with deregulation, where they occur, tend to be that the regulators have rings run round them by the operators who have sharper legal talent.

    CIE should be split into network and operations forthwith. Network should remain in public ownership as an operator neutral owner of facilities (stations, yards, tracks) to be leased or licenced to one or more operators. This is the lesson learned from Railtrack. Operations could be privatised, or not, but some breakup would have to be contemplated – that is the lesson learned from VHI.

    Irish Rail should then be permitted to run buses while at the same time Dublin Bus could be permitted to run commuter trains and new entrants either or both. Given the impending introduction of smartcards, transferring from service to service and operator to operator should be much easier than heretofore.

    At the same time, the Government should request NI Rail to move the shared assets of the Enterprise service into a separate operating company. At present, the service is hobbled not merely by falling down bridges but by an inability to expand if one or other partner does not front up 50%, while sets of “Mark 3” carriages are laid up in North Wall with their Class 201 engines in storage for want of work.

  15. i’m unaware of any irish government successfully regulating any organisation that provides a utility for the benefit of the public. Whilst CIE and their subsidiaries are poor, at least the minister is the only shareholder and is directly responsible for their operation. Unfortunately, irish people do not vote for decent public transport.

    @Mark Dowling
    “while sets of “Mark 3″ carriages are laid up in North Wall with their Class 201 engines in storage for want of work.”
    Nobody wants these trains as they are too expensive to operate, hence they are being scrapped, not in storage for want of work

  16. @ Richard Tol

    The privatisation of the bus service entails a long-term flow of capital from the public or the public sector (or some combination of the two) in the form of revnues, and crucially, profits. These would be in excess of any gain from a one-off asset disposal, else no private sector operator would entertain the idea.

    The efficient management of the service in public hands is a different matter and improved efficiency would require increased investment.

    @ Colm Mccarthy

    Tendering for London bus routes began in the mid-1980s and full privatisation occurred in the mid-1990s. There were about 60 companies, some went bust and other routes taken over. There was massive duplication of services, different liveries, unconnected and variable timetables, and high and variable fares. Chaos, and plummetting usage.

    The improvement in the bus service since 2000 was a result of a campaign to significantly increase bus regulation, as well as a massive subsidy via Transport for London, paid for by the congestion charge, which reversed what had been a rapid decline in bus usage in London.

    This latter was such a success that the LibDems, no friend of London’s Mayor Livingstone, argued that his model should be adopted nationwide, see below.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2006/sep/20/localgovernment.uk

  17. @Mark
    If the returns to capital are the same for publicly and privately run companies, privatisation makes no difference to the government budget. If the private returns to capital are larger, privatisation has a positive impact.

  18. There are a number of misconstruals in this thread.

    Consumer bus transport in London was never a free market, or even a regulated market. It has always been tendered, route by route by TfL (and its subsidiaries and antecedents). The tendering process is competitive, but the services do not compete with one another. The congestion charge has nothing to do with the competitive structure of London Transport.

    Buses were always subsidised in London. This will nearly always happen when you have a transport system based around a railway system.

    In many ways, London is an exceptional city, certainly compared to other cities in Ireland and the UK.

    The EC directive and the new legislation provides for an arrangement like London. All subsidised and monopoly bus services will have to be tendered in Ireland, eventually. This means that DB/BE won’t automatically get to run them.

    It is up to to the NTA how much they use this arrangement. It seems to be at their discretion whether to operate in this way or to license routes.

    Edinburgh and Glasgow usually cited as an example of a city that functions well with privatised transport through a combination of unsubsidised and subsidised routes.

  19. About 6 months ago, a new operator (GoBus) arrived on Galway-Dublin bus route offering high quality coaches and non-stop(direct) journey. A big success. A month ago, one of the incumbents (Citylink) started the same service.
    Imagine my horror to find the Garda now involved as DoT allege Citylink have no licence. Citylink were happily paying the €6/day fine and claiming that their licence to operate Galway-Dublin was valid. They contend that the licenced route via old N6 and including major population centres like Tyrrelspass, Kilbeggan, Clonard and the like is no longer the approved route. All signposts seem to bear this out and direct traffic via new M6.

    The whole fuss started when an existing operator who had patiently waited THREE YEARS to get a licence made a complaint about Citylink!

    This legislation is 80 years old. Are the DoT capable of regulating? I think not. Perhaps when the full program of political reform has been complete?

    And the foregoing is only one story from Galway. What about the brand new shiny bus station…. without a bus lane next or near it….. and Bus Eireann buses dont use it either. They continue to operate from the path outside the rail station as they have done since the war (WWI)!!

    And there are proposals and planning permission to sell of most of the station lands in a PPP type venture – disposing of the only possible site for an integrated transport centre serving the city and hinterland.

    And another thing…. oh I give up.

  20. @ Richard Tol

    There’s an enormous assumption in that “If…”

    The additional factor necessary to attract private capital is profit. Publicly-owned entities are not obliged to generate profits, but can instead focus on the production or delivery of a public good.

    Now, you could argue that the private sector is so obviously more efficient at managing capital that it can BOTH generate this additional flow of profit as well as providing a better and/or cheaper service. But I would have thought that the notion of the innate superiority of the private sector would have taken something of a knock in the last couple of years.

  21. @ Richard

    Sorry, but I didn’t forget it. The private sector also has a cost of capital, usually at higher rates than the public sector, an increased cost which also has to be met out of post-privatisation revenues.

  22. @Mark
    Sorry for being cryptic.

    Returns to capital is the economic term for the vernacular term profit.

    In plain language, your profit argument is obsolete.

    If a private company would get a higher return on investment than a public company, it is in the best interest of the economy to privatise that invesment. If a private company would get a higher return than the cost of government borrowing, it is in the best interest of the exchequer to privatise that investment.

  23. Contrary to the dogmatic assertions of those at both ends of the spectrum, isn’t it simply the case that, whether or not allowing the private sector to operate in the transport field brings benefits and cheaper prices, depends entirely on whether or not it breaks down monopolies? A private monopoly is no better than a public one.

    In relation to bus services, it is clear that allowing the private sector to operate does indeed break the Bus Eireann monopoly and is entirely welcome. It should be actively encouraged. In addition, by the end of 2010, Ireland will have a superb national motorway network (which, let’s be honest, if Irisheconomy.ie had been around in 2000, most posters here would have opposed). By the end of 2010, it should be possible to have non-stop bus services from Dublin to Galway, Limerick, Tralee, Cork and Waterford, all taking little more than a couple of hours. Absolutely ideal situation for having lots of companies competing.

    In relation to rail services, it is by no means clear that allowing the private sector in will improve matters. It is very difficult to have different rail companies competing on the same routes. In the UK, the railways are now run privately. But, they don’t compete. Each private sector company has a monopoly on its own territory. Last week I got a return train journey from Holyhead to Cardiff, a not much longer distance than Dublin to Cork. It cost £88 return (100 euros), took 5 hours each way, the train was ancient (I think it was Stevenson’s original), totally lacked any modern facilities and there were virtually no refreshments available beyond crisps and coca cola.

    Although having privately-run bus services in the UK has been a success, the same is not true for having privately-run train services there. What we need is pragmatism, not ideology, whicever side of the spectrum it comes from.

  24. Mark: ‘Publicly-owned entities are not obliged to generate profits…’. I hope you understand that this does not mean that their capital is free.

  25. As there are so many John’s here, I should say the previous post was from JohnTheOptimist. I forgot to type my full name today.

  26. @Mark
    “Publicly-owned entities are not obliged to generate profits, but can instead focus on the production or delivery of a public good.”

    I wish. What actually seems to happen is publicly owned entities are run on behalf of the employees. In Dublin we still have a transport system that basically assumes everyone works and shops in the city centre. There is no integrated ticketing system. Dublin Bus has had a long time to deliver a better service. Not a lot has changed since I had to catch the bus before I could drive.
    I don’t know if privately operated services would do any better, I reckon they’d lose money as initially anyway demand would not be sufficient except on a few routes. We’ve all got pretty used to not using public transport. Wasn’t there a private service out Lucan somewhere that claims Dublin Bus flooded the route to drive it out of business?

    In aviation Aer Lingus was forced to hand routes over to Ryanair in the 90s to basically save the company. Turned out to be a very good move. Might be interesting to experiment with this in bus transport and see what happens.

  27. @ Richard

    Im not saying that a public provider would never use old and crap buses but i dont think they have the same incentive to do so.

    In general, if the gov/state cant organise a bus system in the capital we need to rethink how the gov/state provides services.

    Moreover, if you cant trust the gov/state to run the sytem what makes you think they will be any good at regulating the system – id be sceptical that is easier to regulate than run it, just cheaper

  28. @ Richard Tol

    We seem to speaking at cross purposes. I was accused of forgetting there is a cost of capital. But this only reinforces my argument in favour of the public provision of public goods, as, I think we can both agree, that the private sector and the public sector both have a cost of capital. My argument is that the public sector’s cost of capital is usually lower, and this is a saving that can be passed on in the form of better services/lower fares.

    As for the return to capital, this is a surplus that can either be returned to shareholders (in the form of profit, possibly to overseas investors, and worsening the BoP, which is where we came in), or can be returned to the public entity and channelled either into investment/lower fares/general govt. finances.

    Again, your “If” contains a large assumption. If the private sector would gain a higher return on the SAME investment as the public sector, then there would have to be something innately more efficient about the private sector’s allocation of resources than the public sector. The challenge for those holding that view is, how do you explain the current crisis?

    @ Colm Mccarthy

    Yes, public cos. have a cost of financing too, but, I hope you understand that, as per the previous argument, this cost is usually lower for the public sector than for the private sector.

    @ Stuart

    Underinvestment in public services is not an argument for privatisation, but instead an argument for investment.

    @ JohnTO

    A private monopoly is worse than a public one. In free competition firms are obliged to maximise profits by winning market share. Private monopolies can best maximise profits by minimising services (or products) and raising prices.

  29. I run a bus company in Dublin. I can tell you that the public sector transport system is immensely inefficient. I could operate the same number of buses And hours as Dublin bus for 25 percent cheaper. I am in no doubt about this. I would still make a big profit. By making the route network more efficient I could improve service and cut costs further.

  30. @ Antoin o lachtnain

    You will not be allowed under any circumstances to create such efficiencies. This country does not operate on the basis of efficiency, it operates on the basis of political patronage. Such patronage does value efficiency it values unquestioning loyalty. That is the reality of life in Ireland and the only thing that will change that is when we cannot borrow any more money. The shelves of the Dail are groaning under the weight of reports from various commissions into achieving efficiency but only those that are politically expedient ever get implemented.

  31. @Mark
    Let’s keep on topic. The international financial crisis was not caused by the privatisation of public transport in some countries, nor by the lack of privatisation in other other countries. Ireland’s exceptional fate in the international crisis is also by and large unrelated to public transport.

    I’m glad that we seem to converge on the accounting principles.

    Various posters, and Sean Barrett in the article that started this discussion, have cited examples where the private sector delivered better quality bus transport at lower costs than the public sector.

    Can you cite an example where the opposite is true? I cannot think of any.

    (As JohntheOptimist points out, trains are a different story.)

  32. I disagree fundamentally with Sean’s analysis of the Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009.

    Far from excluding independent operators, it will gradually open up access to State subsidies for them. In this way, private operators will be able to compete equally with CIE for subsidies for unprofitable routes. They will also be able to compete equally for licences to serve any bus route which CIE currently operate.

    On the seperate matter of privatisation of Bus Eireann/Dublin Bus. I would agree with downsizing them considerably, but I would not like to see the State completely uninvolved in public transport. The very high standards of service from private operators in ireland is (IMO) directly linked with the need to compete with the high standards of CIE.

    In fact, far from the tired notion of Public v. Private ownership, I think we often miss the benefits of having a public and a private system operating in competition with each other. Private operators are compelled to provide a higher level of service and public operators are compelled to make efficiency gains and manage themselves effectively. Keeping a public and a private system operating in parallel can create a healthy competitive tension which will benefit consumers. Perhaps someone would like to develop that further?

  33. @ Richard

    The current crisis has everything to do with the belief that private capital is inherently more efficient than public ownership, that markets are rational and efficient distributors of capital. Your suggestion, that the the state should privatise the transprt cos. it currently owns implicity shares that failed nostrum.

    The ‘accounting principles’ we agree on, does this include the substantive point that the public’s cost of capital is usually lower than the private sector (and, efficiently managed, can lead to better services/lower fares/revenue for the public coffers)?

    Does it also include the point that the obligation of private capital to generate a return to capital for their shareholders is not an obligation that falls on the public sector and therefore may be an additional saving/investment?

    There are innumerable examples of private bus companies having to be taken over by public bodies after they have failed. Even so, the fashion for privatisation (or in the case of East London buses, reprivatisation after private failure and public success), has diminished the field sample. But, for a public success story try Lothian buses in Edinburgh. Helsinki too, I believe.

  34. @Mark
    Sorry. I though we agreed. We do not. You write anonymously and hide your identity also to the administrators of this blog. At the risk of causing offense, I nonetheless recommend that you reread your textbooks on finance and public policy. Your claim that “profits” add “costs” is simply wrong.

    The debate on the causes for the current financial crisis is entirely irrelevant for the debate on public transport. You may be reassured by the fact that I would favour nationalisation of the Irish banks at this point in time. I see no contradiction between that position and my position on privatisation of public transport.

  35. @ Richard Tol

    No-one suggested that the current crisis was caused by any failings of public transport; that’s a straw man. Likewise, the claim that I say “”profits” add “costs””.

    You have failed to address any of my substantive points; private/public sector cost of capital, private/public sector requirement to generate a surplus (and its uses); I have offered examples of well-run public bus services when challenged to do so and argued that private failures are frequently rescued by the public sector.

    In addition, it was you who explicitly introduced the link between bus privatisation and the current crisis when you said at the very beginning of this thread, and here I quote you directly, “I would have argued, though, that privatising the state-owned transport companies and cutting their subsidies would be welcome news for the budget.”

    This is a crucial point we disagree on, as asset sales to diminish the stock of debt simply replenish that stock by creating a long-term outflow, either from the public or the public sector (or some combinatin of the two).

    But no reply on these points.

  36. @ Richard Tol

    I take it that you mean that the private sector can usually borrow more cheaply than the public sector. Please illustrate.

  37. @Mark
    Sovereign borrowing is cheaper because sovereigns are guaranteed by taxpayers. Private borrowers have no such guarantee. You confuse actual and apparent costs of capital.

  38. @ Richard Tol

    So, as you say, “sovereign borrowing is cheaper”. Including usually cheaper than a private bus company. But is it your contention that this is anly an appearance and that the actual ost of borrowing for the private borrower is actually cheaper? If so, again, please illustrate.

  39. @Mark
    This is a blog. Not a tutorial on economics 101.

    Public borrowing appears to be cheaper than private borrowing, because part of the cost is shifted onto taxpayers. You therefore cannot take interest rate differentials at their face value.

    Please do revise your textbooks.

  40. @ Mark

    by your rationale the State should provide all services across all sectors to the public by virtue of their reduced cost of capital. Is this what you are suggesting? If not, what makes the public transport sector special in this regard? Why not airlines, or house building, or even the retail sector? Think of the economies of scale!

    The basic practical premise of either privitisation of semi-state companies or the opening up of public services like the bus network to private companies, is that publicly owned companies are (a) generally run less efficiently than public companies as there is a profit motive and (b) in the Irish context the public sector and semi-state companies are chiefly run for the benefit of their employees and not their customers/the public.

  41. @Eoin
    The public sector pays higher wages, so Mark would only nationalise capital-intensive industries (and presumably privatise labour-intensive ones).

  42. @ Richard

    in that case then airlines are the obvious example of requiring Government ownership and control. Eh, even though the example of Ryanair would have to be universally accepted as completely blowing that notion out of the water. It shows that industries with high levels of capital costs can be run far better by the private sector. It shows that capital costs are not a reason for or against public/private ownership. As always, efficiency and the affect of competition are the key concerns to consider.

  43. @Eoin
    And oil. Just compare ExxonMobil to Pemex, British Petroleum to Aramco, Royal Dutch/Shell to Rosneft. The case for nationalisation is overwhelming.

  44. @ Richard Tol

    I think you are very mistaken. ALL of the cost of public borrowing “is shifted onto taxpayers”, not part of it.

    The issue is therefore, is this cheaper for the public than the borrowing costs incurred by the private sector (which they have to pay or either through fares or subsidies)? And the answer is of course Yes, ‘actual’ and ‘apparent’ costs of capital are lower for the public sector.

    “A country such as Great Britain, where money is lent to government at three per cent and to private people upon good security at four and four and a half he present legal rate, five per cent, is perhaps as good as any”. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Penguin, p.457.

    Of course the interest rates have changed a bit. But the interest rate differential is still with us.

    But if I am wrong, no lecture needed, or desired. Please simply cite a source for the assertion that the actual costs of borrowing for the private sector are lower than for the public sector.

  45. @Mark
    You may try Stefano Gatti’s book on Project Finance in Theory and Practice: Designing, Structuring, and Financing Private and Public Projects, or George Peters’ book on Private and Public Finance. Robert Lind’s Discounting for time and risk in energy policy is quite excellent.

  46. Mark, the apparent lower cost of sovereign debt confuses people. The state, as borrower, has a parental guarantee, in the form of the (involuntary) pledge of the taxpayers’ credit. The Government could have borrowed €1 billion to build the (daft) Bertiebowl at very cheap interest rates. But so could a private firm if it had an equally solid guarantee. In the marketplace, such guarantees are expensive. Sometimes not expensive enough – think AIG!

  47. @ Colm

    the other issue is that the States ability to borrow money is limited, it can’t borrow to infinity without consequences, as we have seen recently. As such, its ability to borrow is a limited and important resource. The question is, should be be borrowing to invest in an area where private competition would love to get involved, and in an area where the public need is not necessarily always required (ie we don’t need state involvement everywhere in public transport, or we don’t need subsidisation everywhere), when finances are precarious at best?

  48. Tommy Tighe: Although what Tommy says might be true in principle, and the new situation may be better than the old one, that is by no means assured.

    The NTA will be able to initiate new services as ‘public service’ routes and use these to put pressure on existing private operators. This type of chicanery was previously forbidden, but the section which forbade it is being repealed.

    it will be years or maybe never before private operators will be allowed compete for public service contracts on existing routes. This is written into the legislation (DTA Act 2008) Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann are given special rights over the routes which they currently hold. For example:

    “(a) Dublin Bus has an exclusive right to continue to provide
    the public bus passenger services that it provides in
    accordance with the provisions of section 7 of the Act of
    1958 and section 8 of the Act of 1986 within the city of
    Dublin and the counties of Fingal, South Dublin and Du´ n
    Laoghaire-Rathdown and contiguous areas,”

    At the same time, licensed operations are tied down to an inflexible licensing model which does not take into account recent developments in public transport. The licence periods are relatively short (5 years maximum), far shorter than for radio licences, for example. The rules for ‘public service contract’ routes are much tighter than for licensed routes. This means that in practice, public service contract routes will predominate and licensed route will be a side-show. A lot will depend on how good the NTA is at planning the public service contract route network.

    I cannot see how it can be said that CIE is driving standards in public transport in Ireland. Time and time again, the private (and even voluntary) sector has led the way on improving the standard of the product, as well as the price. Examples: aircoach (airport, belfast); Mathews (drogheda); Nestor’s, Citylink (Galway), national transport generally (Civil Service Transport Club). Time and time again, the state sector has then stepped in to compete with a service that was already being provided adequately by the private sector (although the opposite is generally not allowed happen).

    This is not to say that the idea of having part of the fleet directly state-owned is not a good one. I am not saying that state enterprise in transport is always a bad thing. I am just saying that in Ireland, the experience is that it has generally been a bad thing and has resulted in innovation being stifled and in costs being unnecessarily high.

  49. @Colm McCarthy
    Can you provide us with examples of well-run public transport services in places other than the UK, regardless of who owns and operates them?

    @tommy tighe
    “Far from excluding independent operators, it will gradually open up access to State subsidies for them. ”

    What are the advantages of this gradual approach, when we see Bus Atha Cliath provide less than optimum service by a complete failure to optimise the fleet they have for the routes they have? (see below for details of CIE competes with itself!)

    We have had years of gradualness on this issue. I have little faith that the public authorities have the know-how, skill or competence or desire to do anything that will improve public transport services, in a cost-effective and timely way.

    “think we often miss the benefits of having a public and a private system operating in competition with each other. Private operators are compelled to provide a higher level of service and public operators are compelled to make efficiency gains and manage themselves effectively. Keeping a public and a private system operating in parallel can create a healthy competitive tension which will benefit consumers. ”

    As a regular consumer of public transport in Dublin, let me say that there are two things that would definitely benefit consumers
    1. A stop-based real-time information system
    2. An integrated ticketing system
    for all public transport services, regardless of who owns and operates them.

    Instead of these (both long promised, with many studies paid for Irish taxpayers), we find the public service (the Depts of Transport, CIE in various forms, DTO, the Dublin Local Authorities) using their resources to mess around – commissioning studies, providing overlapping services and challenging private operators who showed some enterprise by finding new routes

    The best example is the number of different Bus Atha Cliath services that emerged following the introduction of Aircoach service centered, initially, on Dublin Airport. (see below for yet more nonsensical services by Bus Atha Cliath)

    The proposed National Transport Authority is just another means of delay in facing up to the long overdue need to properly plan and implement public transport in the Greater Dublin Area.

    Provision of public transport in Dublin strikes me as being very amenable to optimisation using various models for which adequate data is probably already available.

    Even if the models are ignored, common sense suggests that the Bus Atha Cliath fleet (much expanded in past years) be used to feed LUAS, DART and suburban rail lines instead of providing parallel services.

    Yet , Government is spending time on macro-leglisation instead of getting on with the job of structuring the provision of public transport in our capital city

    For those interested, I detail some of the messing around with overlapping services (IMO, you could not invent such a dysfunctional allocation of public transport resoruces, regardless of who provides the capital or who runs the services)

    Which consumers and how many benefit from the following duplication of public transport services in Dublin (I invite others to give their own examples), where these bus services are effectively parallel to either LUAS lines or mainstream rail lines or other bus services operated by Bus Atha Cliath:

    Route 46b Mountjoy Square / Parnell Square West to Sandyford Industrial Estate (http://www.dublinbus.ie/en/Your-Journey1/Timetables/All-Timetables/46b/)
    This duplicates much of the LUAS Green Line and also other bus services eg Some 11a services go to Sandyford
    http://www.dublinbus.ie/en/Your-Journey1/Timetables/All-Timetables/11a/

    Route 151
    (http://www.dublinbus.ie/en/Your-Journey1/Timetables/All-Timetables/151/) which goes from the new Iarnrod Eireann Docklands Station to Adamstown
    http://www.dublinbus.ie/en/Your-Journey1/Timetables/All-Timetables/151/

    Adamstown also has a train service from Dublin Heuston
    http://www.irishrail.ie/your_journey/timetables_junction1.asp?txtFromStation=Dublin+Heuston&txtToStation=Adamstown&RadioOutDirect=all&FromStations=NULL&OutSelectDay=02&OutSelectMonth=11&RadioOutStatus=D&OutFromTime=00&OutToTime=24&cmdSubmit.x=31&cmdSubmit.y=14&optionWalk=yes&optionBus=yes&hidOutDate=&hidRtnDate=&over28Days=0

    The routing of the 151 bus goes past Burgh Quay which is is also on the route of the 90 bus which goes from the IFSC to Heuston Station
    (http://www.dublinbus.ie/GoogleSearch?searchText=90) as does the LUAS from Connolly to Tallaght.

    I have given these details, as it shows that Government policy ignores whimsical and arbitrary practice of the state-owned monopolistic provider of public transport services in our capital city.

    We need quiet competence, instead of the grans gestures to which our governing class are addicted!

  50. Eoin Bond: The clearest element of bus operation in Ireland where the state does not need to be involved is the long-distance market. Expressway should be privatised and the market over say 60 kilometres liberalised. There would be plenty of services on offer without subsidy. City services are more complex, but there are succesful models that involve competition in, or for, the market, with some routes subsidised.

  51. Donal, the evidence from abroad is that real time passenger information only improves service perception as part of an overall route improvement program. Also, because of the structure of the bus system, only around half of trips, at most, benefit from real time signs at bus stops. Applying technology to the problem is more complex than it looks.

    I agree re ITS, but there is a perception that the system being developed will provide a coherent fare system. That is not in the scope however.

  52. This has been an excellent debate – even if, on occasion, it has been a tad fraught. Unfortunately, it appears that some fundamental points have been obscured by specific features of bus and rail transport in the Irish context. These include the limits on state resources, given the multitude and scale of other calls, to invest in sectors where, with effective incentives and regulation, the private sector is perfectly willing and able to participate and invest. They also include the key point that the search to find an effective combination of competition and regulation should be motivated by the objective to achieve efficiency in service delivery and to generate benefits, ultimately, for users.

    It would be good if one of the principal contributors to this site were to see the benefit of kicking off some discussion of these issues across a number of sectors including transport but extending to energy, water and waste water and telecomms. In most cases the state has not being investing directly in these sectors and relies on high point-of-use tariffs to extract investment finance up-front from users.

    Private sector investment in these areas would reduce costs and prices and would be the best form of counter-cyclical stimulus as it would enhance the productive base of the economy.

    Any takers?

  53. @Anton & Donal.

    As I understand it, all routes will have to be licenced -including PSO routes. If any new PSO route is introduced, then it will be open to private operators to also bid for the contract. Therefore, this Bill seems to eliminate the potential for PSO routes being brought in to undermine private operators -they will have an equal shot at operating the PSO route.

    I appreciate the point that 5 years is a long time to wait for this transition, but I also think that some lead in time is absolutely necessary. The fact is, that CIE already posesses licences to carry out commercial and PSO routes across the country. Simply removing these at a stroke would unfairly undermine their ability to plan ahead, and possibly leave them with a large fleet and a corp of staff which had been built up on the understanding that their licences would be honoured, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath it at a stroke of the President’s pen. A transition phase is inevitable IMO.

    I agree that much must change in the Bus services, and as a regular user of both Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann, I suspect the problem is even more acute in Dublin Bus. As well as your two listed grievances i would add a third -the absurdly slow turnaround time at each bus stop. It can take over an hour to drive up O’Connell Street at rush hour, while the Bus Driver issues tickets to everyone. I think a Ryanair approach to getting people on and off the vehicle would do wonders for the reliabilty of the timetable.

    Finally, on the point of maintaining a public presence in a mixed public & private market -of course I mean this to be a market where neither public nor private dominate. Ryanair has done much for aviation, but on the other hand I wouldn’t like to see a world where we depended solely on Ryanair for our flights -they’d have us pedalling to power the plane!

  54. @ Anton
    I also meant to respond to your comment that private operators might never be able to compete for PSO routes. I don’t know where the paragraph you cite is, but Section 20 clearly states that all uncontracted bus routes must be terminated within 2 years of the Minister commencing the Bill. So that seems pretty clear to me.

  55. @ Colm

    i dont think you need to go as far as “long distance”, even medium distance has shown that private operators can do it successfully at a reasonable price – the Swords Express is the perfect example of this. I know a few people who travel on this every day and have only good things to say about it.

    I’ve also heard that many of the customers currently using private bus operators in North County Dublin, who have stepped into the breach created by the problem with the bridge at the Malahide Aquaduct, would prefer to keep using the private bus option even after the bridge is fixed, as the service is better than the train.

  56. @Paul Hunt
    Is this the kind of thing you have in mind – from my personal submission Colm McCarthy’s Special Review Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes?

    “3.1 I propose that the most of the existing regulatory bodies be combined into one Public Utilities Commission.
    3.2 Bodies of this type exist in many states of the United States and even at some subsidiary levels. These work alongside the more specialised bodies that operate at federal level eg. The Federal Electricity Regulatory Council. I do not see that a PUC need differ in any significant or material way from the way in which the existing regulatory bodies work with EU legislation or other international bodies which set standards and enable cooperation eg. Eurocontrol, IATA
    3.3 I propose that the following activities come under the aegis of the Public Utilities Commission
    • Electricity generation, transmission, distribution and sale
    • Gas transmission, distribution and sale
    • Telecommunications
    • Broadcasting
    • Water supply
    • Public Transport – regardless of who owns and operates it
    • Taxis
    • Airports
    • Waste Management
    3.4 The Competition Authority should continue to have full, and enhanced, powers as needed to investigate activities, bodies and persons coming under the aegis of the PUC, in addition to its work covering the provision of other goods and services. This is necessary as part of the checks and balances needed to limit the scope for excess in a democratic state with a market economy.
    3.5 One advantage of the PUC would be to minimise
    • the risk of the regulatory bodies becoming captured by those they are to regulate
    • the duplication of some routine organisational structures in each of the existing bodies.
    • arbitrary interference by Government in the operation of regulatory bodies which come under their aegis
    3.6 Neither the recent OECD report on Public Sector Reform nor the Government appointed implementation body suggested setting up a Public Utilities Commission.
    3.7 PUC should report directly to the Dáil, in much the same way as the Comptroller and Auditor General does. This should limit the scope for day-to-interference by Government. Any changes in the operation of the PUC would have to be made through legislation.
    3.8 Setting up the Public Utilities Commission should be used to broaden the experience of not just those making up the Commission (which should not have more than 5 members), but also the staffing. This should enable learning from different ways of doing things.
    In short, there should be a deliberate, carefully implemented policy of employing people with experience and expertise from outside Ireland. This is no different from public policies and practice for changing economic and public sector performance by bringing in people from abroad eg.
    • Foreign Direct Investment in manufacturing and services
    • Scientific and technical skills eg. as part of Science Foundation Ireland programmes
    • Contractors for the National Roads Authority’s Programme
    • Appointing a non-national as the Inspector of the Garda Síochána
    • The appointment of a person with considerable outside experience to lead the cancer management strategy within the HSE. ”

    @Antoin
    Please let me have chapter and verse on the experience from abroad on the benefits of a real-time information system.
    Based on my regular experience (FYI by preference, I use public transport to go from the North side to Sandyford to work – yes, it does mean using three modes ie, bus/walking/LUAS. Yes, I do own a car too!), I get fed up waiting at bus stops, not knowing how long I am going to have to wait. I firmly believe that a real-time information system is a benefit to users/customers of public transport services.
    We, public transport users, need it precisely because of the uncertainties (eg. delays arising from traffic).
    To put it another way, when things get complex, there are at least two responses 1). to sub-divide ie. give the work out to smaller units 2) improve information processing. In practice, managing complexity successfully does both.
    Those responsible for the provision of Irish public transport (whether through publicly owned monopolies or regulated private services or some mixture of the two) have not shown that they have the know-how and capacity to manage the complexities of public transport in a urban area.
    In the mid 1990s, a senior Bus Atha Cliath manager told me that they were testing a real-time information system and expected to have it running within 5 years.
    IMO, 15 years in long enough to manage the complexities involved.

    @tommy tighe
    IMO, the public authorities have had more than enough lead time to provide us with reliable user oriented public transport services.

    “it can take over an hour to drive up O’Connell Street at rush hour, while the Bus Driver issues tickets to everyone”
    On this, CIE/Bus Atha Cliath refused to answer questions I put to them (last July) on precisely this issue. As these state bodies are not subject Freedom of Information, I used the EU-mandated Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment Regulations to try to understand the extent, if any, to which Bus Atha Cliath looks seriously at optimising the running time of their buses.
    What do you think this refusal means?

  57. Tommy: you need to read the dta act 2007. Cie will be awarded these contracts without any tender.

    Db and cie do not have any licences at the moment. They don’t need them.

    PSC routes do not require licences. This is in the bill.

    Being able to tender for the psc that is put in to undermine my route is no good to me. I contract in my buses, I don’t own them. My investment is in the route. Uk concerns will win whatever few psc’s there are for the next few years in Dublin because of the advantAge of a weak pound and the fact that they own vast fleets of city buses (not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that). I will not be compensated for having invested in developing the route. but now we are diverging into a sob story!

    The important point is that it is far from clear how this will pan out. It really depends on the skill and determination of NTA management.

  58. @Antoin
    “It really depends on the skill and determination of NTA management2

    Yes. Indeed!
    Where do think that is likely to be drawn from?

  59. Donal:

    We will see. The weakness of the authority staff as they are panning out so far (chairman and CEO from the Grangegorman project; technical staff from DTO) is that they have little or no practical operational expertise in purchasing and strategically managing bus services. In practice, this is what the Authority will spend most of its time and energy doing.

    Planning, purchasing and strategically managing bus services is very different from land planning and construction.

    On the other hand, the management appointees are players who are used to dealing with complex political and economic situations. This will be a big benefit to them.

  60. Re RTPI – there is a lot of research, and it is moved on a bit from when I did my last big review of it. However, you will still see the ambiguity in the findings. See http://www.dft.gov.uk/adobepdf/245385/249577/prog-rti.pdf . Habe a look at points A65 and points in the same part of the literature review.

    For your case with the bus, figuring out when the next bus will depart from the city centre to your home in the evening – whether the system will work for you will depend on how well it integrated the RTPI is with the rostering and the control room, because you are depending on the arrival of a bus on the inward run to turn around and start the outward run (because you will be connecting from Luas, and travelling after the peak, the bus will very likely be on its second run of the evening rush hour from the city). It requires a good bit of engineering to sort this out. Unless it works fairly precisely, you will get incorrect or incomplete information. The real issue is getting a good, workable schedule, and having appropriate bus priority in place.

    This is why the key is route improvement. As it happens, one of the most successful route improvement programs ever, anywhere, happened in Dublin, on the Stillorgan Dual Carriageway when the bus priority went in. There was phenomenal modal shif to bus on this corridor – 240 percent over 6 years between 1997 and 2003. This is phenomenal growth, far more than the 2 or 3 percent growth you would expect to see from an RTPI scheme. See http://www.nctr.usf.edu/jpt/pdf/JPT%209-3S%20Mcdonnell.pdf for more information on this.

    In the case of your morning journey from your home, the usefulness of RTPI signage really depends on the density of the area. Unless you live in a very densely populated area, it is very unlikely there will be an RTPI sign at your bus stop, for the simple reason that only around one-fifth of bus stops overall will have a sign. It costs 5k-10k euros to put in a sign. (That said, you could access the information by mobile phone and this might make more sense.)

    Remember as well that RTPI does not actually help you all that much in your transport choices, and does not reduce your travel time. All it really does is give you a perception of control. I did a lot of research on this about 5 years ago, and found that although information is important in public transport, that what is really needed to make it work (indeed to make any enterprise work) is belief. I mean belief in the sense of religious faith, acting on the assumption that something will happen, even though you have no direct evidence that it actually will happen. Inspiring belief in public transport is really what you have to do to get modal shift to happen. Information is one part of inspiring belief, but there are many other aspects to it. (This is a very potted version of what I found.)

  61. @Donal,

    Many thanks. You have presented a comprehensive outline of the nature of the institutional reform required. Just one minor quibble and two observations. I think I see what you’re getting at when you emphasise the need to attract people with experience and expertise outside of Ireland, but I think it would be sufficient to advertise internationally. If properly carried out the regulatory function is quasi-judicial. I don’t think it would do much for public confidence in the process if regulatory determinations were being seen to be made by “foreigners”. I have no doubt Ireland has people with the required capability. For example, the judiciary is held in high esteem both at home and internationally.

    Regulators and competition authorities frequently have quite vicious turf wars and this is where it is necessary to have a very clear allocation of responsibilities and authority. And it may be necessary to establish an effective regulatory appeals process.

  62. @Antoin
    “….. the management appointees are players who are used to dealing with complex political and economic situations. This will be a big benefit to them.”
    How will such experience be of benefit to those who either must use or want to use public transport, in addition to those who wish to provide such services?
    Despite the intelligence and integrity of the pair you refer to, they have no experience in designing markets for the provision of services to the general public. The cult of the appointing insiders/generalists (amateurs in the area they are to manage) continues.
    It was this kind of thing that led me to propose to An Bord Snip that we need a new institution to “regulate” for many utility-type services. I hope that the kind of debate that Paul Hunt calls for would inform this new institution. Let me say that I regard an institution as arising from the combination of a shared set of values together with an organisation to serve that set of values.
    The major political complexity is CIE – an organisation that is completely part of the state class and which has shown no capacity to do anything other than preserve it monopolistic tendencies. The economic complexity lies in untangling the present set of subsidies without which CIE would not exist.
    I still maintain that the NTA is a distraction from coming to grips with making it easy for people to more around the Greater Dublin Area.
    Think back over the last 20 years during which we have many report all of which became government policy
    1) The Dublin Transport Initiative
    2) DTO’s Platform for Change
    3) Transport 21
    I remain to be convinced that such messing will not continue. Delay is the deadliest form of denial.

    PS. Can you offer me anything in response to my query re. chapter and verse on the experience from abroad on the benefits (or otherwise) of a real-time stop-based information system for all public transport users?

  63. Donal: My post at 10.21 yesterday has a pointer to a literature review on the subject, which provides a lot of information.

    I agree with you that there are serious shortcomings and serious challenges for the NTA team. I don’t know either of these people, so I’m not here to defend them.

    I could point you to other things – for example, the Dublin Bus network review from 2005 or so – and more lately, the Deloitte report. T21 is a money-spending program, not a comprehensive transport strategy or anything like it. DTOPC and DTI were plans, but there was no one in charge of actually implementing these.

    All I can say is that at least now, someone will be in charge of public transport and have some sort of control over it. Before this, no one was.
    CIE and in particular, Dublin Bus is the ‘elephant in the room’. Ultimately the NTA is going to have to work with CIE to sort things out.

    It is important to say that the NTA is not really a regulator by any normal definition, and it is not intended (from what I read in the legislation) that it will design markets. Its major function is to procure transport services under public service contracts, both competitive and direct award. In practice, it will be the biggest economic operator in Irish transport.

    It has a licensing function as well, and this will be a problem, because the licensing function may well conflict with its role as an economic operator in the same, or a closely related marketplace.

  64. @ Richard Tol

    On project finance theory (although I think privatisation is only comparable, not being actual PF):

    In a no recourse or limited recourse project financing, the risks for a financier are great. Since the loan can only be repaid when the project is operational, if a major part of the project fails, the financiers are likely to lose a substantial amount of money. The assets that remain are usually highly specialised and possibly in a remote location. If saleable, they may have little value outside the project. Therefore, it is not surprising that financiers, and their advisers, go to substantial efforts to ensure that the risks associated with the project are reduced or eliminated as far as possible. It is also not surprising that because of the risks involved, the cost of such finance is generally higher and it is more time consuming for such finance to be provided.

    By contrast, where there is full recourse, ie where the project is backed by a public guarantee, the costs are lower.

    My point is: But in that case, all that has happened is that the public body has extended its own credit-worthiness to the private sector, at additional cost, and risk to the public body.

    @ Colm Mccarthy

    Since all political parties receive votes partly on the basis of their explicit and implicit spending programmes, the pledge received from the taxpayer is not wholly involuntary.

    But I agree with your main point. Very large or unexpected expenditures which have received no voluntary pledge from the taxpayer could be required to seek one before go-ahead. I have a suggestion in this regard.

    How about a referendum on NAMA?

  65. @Mark
    Your reasoning is based on partial accounting.

    A guaranteed loan will pay a lower interest rate than a non-guaranteed loan. That does not mean that the cost of capital is lower for the guaranteed-loan project. It means that that the guaranteed-loan project pays only part of the cost of capital, and the guarantor pays the remainder.

  66. perhaps let the people at CIE buy all the buses, give them a chance to pay for them over a few years and have service level agreements for certain areas that must still be taken care of, I figure the people doing the job might come up with some interesting solutions if they had to create profit.

  67. We could do that, but (a) the CIE management have not expressed any interest in buying the business, (b) the government cannot afford to finance the thing as proposed, (c) breaking up the company for the book value of the buses would vastly undervalue it and (d), most importantly, it’s not just (or even primarily) about making a profit, it’s about providing and developing a service, and it is far from clear that a CIE management team would be the most capable purchaser to do that.

  68. @Anton,
    my understanding is that the whole point of this Bill is to do away with unlicenced bus routes and allow competition from private operators on all routes -subsidised or not.

  69. @ Richard Tol

    Although we began by discussing privatisation, we seem to have strayed down the path of project finance. And although they have some similarities, they are clearly not the same. In particular, privatisation does not include the risk of highly specialised assets being lost bus in remote locations, unless we are talking about the risk of the odd bus going astray. The comparison is a bit lame.

    Under the same terms and conditions, there is no greater risk of the of the either the private- or the public entity-sponsored project failing. What the market is mainly pricing is the differential of the default risk of the ultimate borrower, public lower/private higher.

    This is an innate advantage of the public sector, which, of course can be squandered by reckless investment by the public sector, but need not be. In this regard Colm Mccarthy mentioned AIG, and he is right. But no-one, surely, is offering up AIG as a reason for privatisation?

    Surely?

  70. @ Richard Tol

    Thanks. I knew you’d come round to my way of thinking.

    But maybe we run ahead of ourselves. So let’s agree, at least, not to privatise state assets under the spurious grounds that this “would be welcome news for the budget”.

    Because that’s nonesense.

  71. @Paul
    “I don’t think it would do much for public confidence in the process if regulatory determinations were being seen to be made by “foreigners”…..”

    On the contrary, I think that Irish people have very little difficulty with foreigners. How Irish a name is de Valera or Lemass? Why the constant promotion of inward FDI – in all kinds of ways? What about the raising of all kinds of standards which arise from EU membership – where many things are determined by foreigners?

    The point I make is that we aspire to standards of living and public services that we see elsewhere – either when we have lived abroad or travelled for pleasure/business or have friends/relatives visit us or watch the media.

    All I ask is that we recognise our need to bring in the expertise and experience that we do not have in order to enhance our living standards. At a time like the present, where our existing ways of doing things have proved so inadequate, we need the insight and know-how that people gain elsewhere. One could say that the Government recognised this by breaking with “tradition” in appointing Patrick Honohan as Governor of the Central Bank.

    Looking further back, this was how the ESB was founded in the 1920s. An Irishman who gained experience with Siemens in Germany was the prime mover. During the late 1970s, the Government decided to modernise the telecom service by splitting it from the Dept of P&T. The first chief executive (of the interim board) was somebody with a strong American experience. You may have heard the story about the time he refused to meet a crowd of TDs who went to see him, without appointment. Unimaginable for anyone whose only experience of how to do things has been gained in Ireland.

    This site owes its existence to people who have considerable experience working and living outside Ireland – some Irish, some not.

    @Antoin
    Thanks for the reference – which I will follow up in due course.

    However, I must comment – at length and negatively – on your statement “one of the most successful route improvement programs ever, anywhere, happened in Dublin, on the Stillorgan Dual Carriageway when the bus priority went in. There was phenomenal modal shif to bus on this corridor – 240 percent over 6 years between 1997 and 2003.”

    This so-called improvement represents the way Bus Atha Cliath/CIE want to do things – saturate any and every route with as many vehicles as possible, preferably on road where it has a complete monopoly. The latest manifestation of this railroad way of doing things in the College Green busgate!. They and the public authorities had to be seen getting the Stillorgan Corridor to work – given that many influential car-driving people live use that dual carriageway. There was anecdotal evidence that buses and bus drivers were reallocated from other routes to the Stillorgan Bus Corridor. I have an internal CIE document (which I cannot put my hand on) showing that this is precisely what Bus Atha Cliath/CIE did when one of the first bus corridors was introduced along Fairview, years ago.

    The so-called “success” of the Stillorgan route does not show any effort on the part of the public authorities to use optimisation techniques for providing reliable and timely services. CIE/Bus Atha Cliath just want as many buses as they feel are needed to cope with peak demand. As others have pointed out, they regard the resources tied up in such over-capacity as free.

    However, I am still struck by the volumes of single occupancy vehicles on the Stillorgan Dual Carriageway at peak times – on the few times that I drive that route on my way to/from work. So I wonder about the extent of modal shift on that route. If the public authorities could not get a modal shift on a route, with an over-supply of buses on a dual-carriageway, the whole concept of modal shift would be damaged. Has the modal shift been independently checked?

    So I still maintain, that from a bus users’ point of view, a RTI system will help modal shift. Why have that facility on services where there is greater predictability eg. DART, LUAS and air travel? These are public transport services, run on what are very heavily controlled spaces.
    It is precisely the unpredictability of buses travelling in congested streets that makes RTIS necessary from a users’ perspective.

    I do not expect a sense of control from a RTIS – just a sense of how much time I have to wait for the next bus on my route. If I know that, I have options eg. continue to wait, ake an alternative but is one if available or take a taxi

    “someone will be in charge of public transport and have some sort of control over it.”
    Perhaps I am naive, but how much more control can anyone have on an organisation that relies on subsidies – which is what CIE/Bus Atha Cliath is now?

    In what ways will the new powers-that-be be exempt from the kind of arbitrary interference and whimsical intervention that our governing classes regard as “good government”?

    Time and time again we have seen this myth perpetuated ie. that a new state-sponsored body will deliver the goods, to a high standard and in a consistent manner. It starts like that, but it does not take long for standards to slip.

    Let me give you a lengthy example based on the Dublin Port Tunnel(DPT). The two people who you say will now take run the NTA were very heavily involved in this project, particularly before construction, but also during construction.

    After two environmental impact statements and a sworn public hearing, the then Minister for the Environment (Noel Dempsey) made an order to go ahead with the DPT. As specified, the operating height was set at 4.65m – the same height as most public roads throughout the EU, with exceptions in the UK.

    After the contract to build was awarded and the DPT was in construction, another Minister (the late Seamus Brennan) re-opened the question of the DPT operating height. This was in response to a very small number of truck owners, with very strong support from a PD Senator and the Irish Road Haulage Association. Note that these same people did not raise the operating height as an issue when the specifications for the tunnel were open for public discussion during the EIA and public hearings. Quite the opposite – they called for the DPT to be built without delay.

    As importantly, the two people about to be directly involved in the NTA said nothing in public. Being public servants, they probably felt they could not. If they had, it is extremely unlikely that they would have been appointed to the positions they have held since or are now about to hold!

    When I sought, under FoI, a statement from the then Minister on what powers he was using to raise this whole question again and spend more public money on a matter which had been decided (by a Minister in a government of which he was a member!), you can imagine that I got a very bland and evasive response. Yet another Minister (Martin Cullen) then started yet another public consultation on the issue to which I responded.

    The point of this long story is that we cannot trust our Government not to interfere in arbitrary and whimsical ways in anything – no matter how decided it is by legislation, Ministerial order or contracts. Nor can we rely on the public servants to stop such waste of time, brains and money – precisely because of the way the public service in Ireland operates.

    In short, what is to stop similar abuses in power with the NTA?

    You ask for faith in a certain way of runnning bus services which seems to be based on not doing the hard work needed to get an RTIS to work.

    My experience (set out about) that there is wisdom in the Arab proverb which says “Trust in God, but tie your camel”

  72. Tommy: you are not quite correct in your understanding. It is important to read the current bill in the context of the 2007 Act. The new statutory legal framework will still allow unlicenced routes, called psc’s. New psc routes will have competition on them but old ones will not, generally speaking. there will be no on road competition on psc routes themselves.

  73. @Mark
    You’re right. Economics is shaking at its foundations. All textbooks will have to be rewritten, and public policy will never be the same again.

    If I were you, I’d hurriedly write up your dramatic findings and submit them to a learned journal. If not, some of the boffins that read this blog may steal your idea and, who knows, the Nobel Prize.

  74. Donal: I am not advocating the bill or the new regime. I am not asking you to have faith in anything. I am just presenting what I know and understand of how this new system and new authority will work, and what I see as the advantages and disadvantages.

    From my reading, the literature does not suggest that you will get large-scale modal shift as a result of real-time information systems alone. My view is that what is needed is overall route improvement, and RTPI could be part of that. But I wonder whether RTPI is the best use of scarce money resources. An RTPI system for the city (which is underway) will cost around EUR 50m. You disagree with that and I wonder how you can back that position up.

    I gave an example of an instance where there is said to be large scale modal shift. You doubt whether this shift really took place. I understand this is based on counts done by the DTO. It seems plausible enough to me. The high preponderance of single occupancy vehicles is as much to do with the demographic of the area as anything else.

    Presumably the NTA will have control over CIE because it will control the dispensing of subsidies through public service contracts?

    I am certainly not here to defend Dublin Bus/CIE, but surely it will sometimes make sense to take buses off minor routes if they are little used and transfer the capacity to larger routes and use them to develop a critical mass through a higher-frequency service? Certainly, it is the case that Dublin Bus ended up with an awful lot of buses, and I think they deployed them in a silly and often unfair manner, but allocation of resources has to change as part of improving the service on routes and corridors.

    I have no idea whether there will be abuses of power with respect to the NTA. I hope not, but given the way our political system is, it is quite conceivable that there will be. If we want to address that, we will have to see changes to the political system overall, not just in transport.

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