Its aim is to grow bus usage in Dublin by 50 percent, mainly by making the network simpler to use and understand.
In the crude but real terms of delivering additional bums on seats, BusConnects could be the equivalent of 7 new Metro North schemes, 20 dublinbikes schemes or 6 Luas Cross City schemes. Take your pick.
The difference with BusConnects is that most of the above schemes come with significant infrastructural costs, not to speak of tedious construction impacts. BusConnects, on the other hand, may in all likelihood be a revenue-positive scheme, bringing in significant new patronage and improving mobility for a far wider range of people.
Network reviews do not come without costs, and many people may feel – with entitlement – uncomfortable about the idea.
Dublin has been here before and big credit is due to Dublin Bus, which managed, with its Network Direct project, to maintain patronage levels while the number of buses available to them reduced from 1,300 to fewer than 800. Network Direct was implemented between 2009 and 2013, and the overall number of routes was reduced from over 200 to 110.
But BusConnects is about growing patronage, increasing mobility and creating a city-wide high-quality network. The NTA says it will now invest in the orbital and high-quality services not available in earlier, recessionary times.
BusConnects won’t answer every single problem. There needs to be an equally comprehensive and probably even more ambitious project to provide a high-quality network of transport services to Dublin’s underserved, outlying towns.
This is an entirely different level of transport need, but it is a huge challenge that has to be addressed. It is where most people are going to live in the Ireland of 2040.
Local services need to be thought of too. Where high-frequency, high-quality scheduled networks don’t serve every need, then flexible, on-demand community services must be provided.
Increasingly this is happening in cities around the world. In Ireland we have the Rural Transport Network, which makes an outstanding contribution in our rural communities, and there is no reason why this could not be extended to also serve urban areas.
But in the meantime Dublin joins a small and growing group of dynamic world cities prepared to take a punt on common sense and what we know about human behaviour when it comes to public transport.
Auckland, Barcelona and Houston have all recently engaged in wide transformations to their public-transport networks. Like Dublin, the changes were focussed on buses and the objective was to generate ridership through legibility and better services. They also had to persuade people to transfer within their system.
Transferability: the cornerstone of any public-transport system. The promise of BusConnects is that, in future, Dublin’s public transport will take you not just from A to B, but from A to Z.
So how should we react and what should we do about BusConnects?
Firstly, we ought to get familiar with what it is about. Thankfully, and probably unusually for a lot of transport projects, there is plenty to genuinely help us in this regard.
Aside from a beguiling video to accompany the launch, the BusConnects web presence is good, with more than the usual level of detail and information provided. A “Choices Report” spells it out clearly and in rich detail.
While many cities tend to do this type of work in-house, Dublin has sought advice from international consultants, who have been involved in many such network reviews around the world. Network design seems to be in the DNA of Jarrett Walker & Associates and the concepts underpinning the “Choices Report” are also explored extensively on their blog Human Transit.
The BusConnects website also directs you to undertake a short survey. This is worth doing and itself gives a useful understanding of the key messages involved (hint: it’s about transferability and directness). There is also a Twitter account to follow.
Several opportunities then, to communicate to the project owners, not just whether Irish people are likely to transfer (not that there are reports of them having a problem doing it in other countries), but under what conditions they might be inclined do so.
All very good. But there may still be one key thing missing. Who do you call about BusConnects?
Only this week Transport Infrastructure Ireland rolled trams, for the first time since 1949, across the city on its well-publicised gauge test runs. We have yet to really see how the newly joined-up tram system will hold up in Dublin’s chaotic and unforgiving traffic. But if it is successful, as it is likely to be, the city may have much to thank its communications office for.
The LUAS Cross City Communications Office has had the Herculean task of being the public face for a, frankly, difficult, risky, dirty and often controversial project.
Not just an online presence or managed consultation exercise, they were contactable and had two drop-in offices, one on the northside and one on the southside of the city. Critically, they operated proactively, holding breakfast meetings for businesses and community workshops in advance of difficult or problematic stages.
BusConnects has no doubt sought to engage early. Workshops with key stakeholders have been held around the city. These were well attended and positively received. But it is the councillors, businesses and communities who didn’t turn up who will prove the most difficult to persuade.
A serious consideration might be, not to decommission the Luas communications services once the tram project is completed, but to retain it to provide the same level of proactive engagement for BusConnects and even, possibly, all of the planned transportation changes to the city centre.
A communications office for BusConnects and the city-centre transportation programme could reach out to councillors, strategic-policy committees, public-participation networks, business chambers, community organisations, and the wider public.
It is difficult to overstate how important these projects are and how much we need them to work.
BusConnects can take Dublin, and all her citizens and visitors, to a different place. But a bit of professional communication might be the key to achieving the success it deserves.