Monday, September 04, 2006

Dublin Overground System

In the following item, I'm much happier that I'm posing the right question than I am confident that I've proposed the right answer, but here goes anyway.

Today’s Irish Times features a response from Minister Martin Cullen to Frank McDonald’s article last week on the viability of Metro, while page 7 features an ad from DLRCoCo updating readers on the progress of the roadworks in Blackrock which have disrupted traffic for several months. One of the major objectives of these roadworks is to provide bus lanes on that stretch of road.

The Minister was also reported last week to have promised another 100 buses for Dublin Bus who, according to their website, already operate 950 buses on 140 routes. When one adds in the capital value of the roadspace now being dedicated to Bus lanes, the investment in bus transport in the city is very substantial indeed.

Despite this, other than the bus routes in my immediate area, I must confess to almost total ignorance about what routes service which areas, how they intersect with one another or how I would plan a cross-city bus trip which involved more than one route. There are certain tools on the Dublin Bus website, but without immediate access to the internet I would be snookered. Even there, timetables have a large variety of additional symbols and footnotes which each indicates some caveat attaching to a particular service.

Yet I can visit London or Paris and happily negotiate an unfamiliar city by underground/metro, using a simple system map and confidently changing lines as often as required in order to get from A to B.

Before enduring the disruption and cost of the proposed Metro, surely we should be trying to create a coherent “Dublin Overground System” where bus services could be communicated in a clear manner to current and potential users and managed in a way which improves frequency and reliability.

A Possible Model: The Dartboard would require a radical simplification of the current 140 routes:

10-12 key radials routes from the city centre to the M50 or key suburban hubs, where park & ride facilities should, where possible, be provided at each terminus. Feeder bus routes would take travellers to more distant destinations. These major radial routes would be the focus of QBC development, which might require the introduction of one-way systems along sections of the route.

Within the M50, the radial routes would be overlaid with a 8-10 orbital routes, radiating out in concentric circles - linking with DART and Luas stations on their routes.

The overall effect would be something like the wires on a dartboard.

Such a grid should ensure that everyone would be within half a mile of a bus route, with a simplified route map providing clarity as to how/where to link into the rest of the grid.
The reduction in the number of routes should also mean that more buses can be dedicated to each route, this increasing frequency.
Use of QBCs and prioritising buses at traffic light junctions should reduce journey times and improve the relevance of timetables.
Use of GPS should permit the display of “next bus due” information at bus stops.

In conjunction with this change, additional measures would need to be implemented to reduce/restrict car traffic in and into the city, in addition to the park & ride facilities at each radial route terminus e.g.

- a congestion charge, like London, for the area inside the two canals. This might only operate during morning rush hours Monday to Friday.
- a ban on cars delivering pupils to schools - coupled with a change in school start/finish times and the provision of free bus transport to students between say, 9.00am & 4.30pm.

I have no doubt that there are many holes in this strawman proposal, it may not be feasible and it certainly would mean significant changes for existing bus users - presumably some of them unwelcome.

But the objective of such a proposal would be to start a public debate on how bus services are actually delivered in Dublin, given the existing level of investment and that proposed under Transport 21 for the larger Dublin public transport infrastructure.

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