Minister disputes Patton Flyer claims

Comments in Dail by Transport Minister claim operator applied for licence in 2007, not 2006

Patton Flyer links Dalkey to Dublin Airport

Patton Flyer links Dalkey to Dublin Airport

Further interesting information has emerged in the long-running saga of the Patton Flyer coach service in Dublin, which the Department of Transport says is being run without a licence.

The service, which links Dalkey and Blackrock to Dublin Airport via the Eastlink and the Port Tunnel runs hourly and is seen to be carrying healthy loadings. DoT officials say they reported the operator to the Gardai in August 2007 for operating without a licence, though what action has been taken as a result is unclear.

Back in March, we reported on claims that a very long delay in dealing with a licence application had forced the coach company to start the service without a licence. According to the operator, they had submitted an application in 2006, without reply.

Now recent comments on the record of the Dail (Irish parliment) by Transport Minister Noel Dempsey seem to dispute this version of events, as according to the Minister the operator only applied for the licence in early 2007.

Below is the full text of the minister’s Dail response when questioned.

Apart from the date of the application, this answer is interesting in that it confirms that the reason for the licence not being granted is, as long suspected, the prior application for a licence by Aircoach, whose Greystone to Dublin Airport service only meets the Patton Flyer along part of the route.

 23. Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Transport  if he will grant a licence to a bus service (details supplied) to operate a scheduled bus service between Dalkey and intermediary points such as Glasthule, Dún Laoghaire and Monkstown with Dublin Airport which are not served by an alternative bus operator; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32450/08]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey): My Department received an application on the 20 February 2007 from the operator to whom the Deputy refers, for a licence to operate bus passenger services between Dalkey and Dublin Airport. At that time, my Department had on hands a prior application for bus services on a similar route, and in accordance with administrative procedures, applications were dealt with in date order. That prior application was finalised in December 2007 and a licence has issued to that operator for the provision of bus passenger services between Greystones and Dublin Airport.

In the case of the service referred to by the Deputy, on the 16 July 2007 my Department was made aware that the operator concerned had commenced the operation of an unlicensed bus passenger service between Dalkey and Dublin Airport. My Department immediately contacted that company and advised that failure to cease the operation of the service in respect of which a licence had not been issued under the Road Transport Act 1932, is an offence under section 7 of that Act. It is also a prerequisite before the making of an offer of a licence that in accordance with road traffic and safety legislation the applicant provides my Department with Garda approvals for all proposed bus stops along the route and holds a Road Passenger transport Operations Licence.

While there is a strong passenger demand for a service between Dalkey and Dublin Airport, my Department would only be prepared to make an offer of a licence to Patton Flyer if that company demonstrates that it would be prepared to operate in conformity with the law.

Circle Line victim of . . who?

The closure of Circle Line this week is making lots of news headlines. But the real issues are not being debated.

Newspapers and radio have been alive with the tale of Circle Line Bus this week, which has gone into liquidation with the loss of 20 jobs, blaming unfair and predatory tactics by the state run Dublin Bus operator.

Circle Line, a joint venture between Mortons Coaches of Rathfarnham and Bartons of Maynooth, operated services from south and central Dublin to Lucan and Celbridge. Originally launched in the late 1990s as a peak hour express service, a move to frequent all-day operation was made in 2007.

According to co-owner Paul Morton, up to 11,000 passengers a week are using the Circle Line service, which will cease after close of business on Friday 27th June. Mr. Morton told AllAboutBuses that it was “impossible to continue operating in the face of saturation tactics by Dublin Bus” who he accused of “flooding the area with buses paid for by the taxpayer, and using these buses to force us off the road”.

“Since we started our all-day service there has been a marked increase in the number of Dublin Bus vehicles running before and after our departures” Mr. Morton said, claiming that surveys conducted by his staff showed the state run operator providing a bus every two minutes along some sections of his routes.

In a muted response, Dublin Bus has said that its services in the Lucan and Celbridge areas are “fully compliant with Department of Transport service authorisations” and that the company remained “fully confident that our actions are entirely lawful”.

Meanwhile a spokeswoman for Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey said he regretted the Circle Line decision and that he had written to Dublin Bus on numerous occasions regarding allegations of anti competitive behaviour on some Circle Line routes.

Mr. Morton told AllAboutBuses that all holders of prepaid smartcards for his services would be fully refunded, and that he would be doing his best to offer some of the affected bus drivers alternative employment at his other company, Mortons Coaches.

According to Mr. Morton, in the year to December 31st, Circle Line recorded losses of €160,000. It had invested more than €3.6 million in a fleet of new single-deck MAN buses in April 2007 to increase the frequency of the service and Mr Morton said he was considering legal action to recoup this.

A spokesperson for the Coach Tourism and Transport Council (CTTC) which speaks for private bus and coach operators, told us that the closure of Circle Line was very regrettable, and highlighted the unfair and unequal situation in which private operators found themselves competing with buses which had been supplied with government funding for their state run competitors.

The issue of Government funding for the state run bus operators is currently the subject of a complaint lodged by the CTTC with the EU Commission.

On the face of it, this closure will add weight to the EU complaint, and cannot do anything but make the operational environment more difficult for Dublin Bus when it approaches the Department of Transport for future licence or timetable change requests.

What’s disappointing in all of this is that the role of the Department of Transport has been barely mentioned in the news coverage, despite the fact that their hand lies heavily on the shoulder of both Dublin Bus and Circle Line, controlling what services can be operated by both companies, and crucially, failing to introduce the integrated ticketing promised for all operators long ago, which would have removed at the stroke the single largest disincentive on passengers to use Circle Line buses – the fact that only Dublin Bus offer tickets that can be used on buses throughout the whole of the Greater Dublin Area.

The irritation felt by Paul Morton and many of his colleagues in the private sector about “taxpayer funded buses” is compounded by the fact that every new bus he sees on the local Dublin Bus routes carry stickers asserting that they are funded under the Transport 21 project. In fact, only a small number of buses purchased in recent years are taxpayer funded additional buses, but Dublin Bus is required to display the T21 sticker on all of them, for the greater glory of their political masters.

And so, to Paul, every Dublin Bus is a free bus, whereas in fact, the majority are paid for out of operating revenue – your bus fares and mine.

Denied access to government grants, taxpayer funded bus stations, infrastructure and integrated ticketing, the playing field is indeed stacked against the Circle Lines of this country.

But it is the Department of Transport, not Dublin Bus, who have the real questions to answer . . and those questions are not even being asked.

Why the 141 is needed

The Department of Transport have done the travelling public a great disservice by delaying the licencing of the the 141 route.

Somebody at the Department of Transport’s licencing division should look at the photo above (click for fullsize version) or ideally spend a morning or two travelling on the Swords Road QBC at rush hour.

The picture is taken just after 9, and shows a large crowd waiting at the inbound stop close to the Airside junction, two 41s have just passed with standing loads.

Close to 20 people were waiting at this one stop by the time the next 41 arrived 15 minutes later and squeezed them on as standees. The position at other stops along the road is often similar.

This is exactly the demand that the Dublin Bus 141 route was designed to fulfill, providing a 10 minute even-headway service along the whole of the Swords Road QBC down through Drumcondra, and across the city to Rathmines.

The Department, despite approving the finance for Dublin Bus to buy the lowfloor accessible buses to run the service, has not, after almost two years, granted the licence for them to actually run the service, for fear of offending the private operator Swords Express, who run in common along a short stretch of the route.

Swords Express do not run along the entire Swords QBC, and do not provide lowfloor accessible vehicles, but instead provide a distinctly different and faster service via the motorway and the Port Tunnel.

Why can not two services so different from each other be allowed to operate?

Does the Department of Transport think that bus users are children, incapable of distinguishing between two different routes, and making a conscious choice as to which they want to use?

As can be seen in this photo, after a 41 had been and gone, some passengers chose to remain for the next Swords Express service (nice bus stop branding, but very little on the bus itself to tell you who it is or where its going).

The travelling public are perfectly capable of making this kind of decision, and there is no reason why we could not have alternative services along all the main corridors, with normal stopping bus services, and higher-priced express services offering speed or extra comfort.

There is nothing more pointless in transport terms than a QBC with too few buses, and an unserved demand. This just encourages motorists back into their cars.

WAKE UP Department of Transport!

Patton Flyer expansion to challenge DOT

A pioneering independent bus service challenging the 1932 Act is a thorn in the side of the Department of Transport, but the operator says they only have themselves to blame.

20071001-patton.jpg

Fascinating article in the Irish Times today about plans by the operator of the unlicenced Patton Flyer bus service to expand with further routes. (paid registration required to view)

The service which has been running since last summer is, according to the Department of Transport, illegal, and they have referred its operation to the Gardai, though no action seems to have been taken yet.

Now the operator has announced plans to expand with a further 4 routes being designed, which could turn this minor irritation into a head-on challenge to the current licencing regime.

However Trevor Patton says that his company has attempted to comply with all relevant legislation, and has had a licence application for the original Dalkey service with the department since 2006.

From the Irish Times article:

Referring to the Dalkey route, Mr Patton said: “If there was a good reason why there should not be public transport on that route, then the Department of Transport should have been able to determine that reason in almost two years since the licence application was made.”

With publication of the Dublin Transportation Bill promised in December, January, February, before easter, and now “next month” the chances of the root cause of the issue being resolved any time soon are slim.

Minister Dempsey also promises reform of the bus licencing system, but can’t say when it will happen, telling the Dail recently that While it is not possible at this time to indicate a precise time as to when the legislative proposals on regulatory reform of the bus market will be published, applications for new bus licences and notifications from State bus operators will continue to be processed under the provisions of the Road Transport Act 1932, as amended, and the notification system with reference to the Transport Act 1958, as appropriate.”

Which would fine, if the licences were processed in a timely manner.

But again, like the case of the Swords Express and the Dublin Bus 41X licence application, the Department seems unable to make licence decisions in any kind of a reasonable timeframe.

And the losers, as always, are the passengers.

Is it OK to compete or not?

 41x Tunnel ban to stay.

Interesting piece in the Fingal Independent this week about the Department of Transport’s decision to refuse the application by Dublin Bus to run the 41X through the Port Tunnel.

Apparently it is refused because “it would give rise to competition to an existing licenced service” – i.e. Swords Express.

This is all very well and fine, but if the rationale for the refusal is so simple, why has it taken the DoT a whole year to come up with this response?

Competition with existing services seems to have been allowed in the past – otherwise many of the private operators in Dublin or elsewhere would not have been granted their licences. Indeed, recently a licence was granted to an independent operator to service the Waterford to Tramore corridor.

I am not arguing either for or against such competition here – simply that the Department should make clear its position, and most importantly for the sake of the poor travelling public – deal with such applications speedily.