Let me tell you guys something: whoever and wherever you are, you are paying too much for public transport.
At the moment, in order to go to and from a job where I earn less than if I was not working at all, I have to pay Irish Rail and Dublin Bus upwards of 25 Euro a week, a huge chunk of my paycheck. And there’s no way around it: I’m way too far from work to use a bike or walk, and a car, through fuel and parking, would be much more expensive. So, I’m a hostage to the transport companies’ constant fare increases. I don’t get to work without them, period.
This creates some mixed feelings for me. My father, mother, sister and brother-in-law all work or have worked for those same transport companies, and this situation naturally creates some bias in me when confronted with stories about transport strikes and other related issues, even as the rest of the country howls its outrage.
I want Irish Rail, Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus to be productive companies with good pay for their workforce. But I also want them to provide a better service – a cleaner, safer, more reliable one, where getting on a bus or train is not a lottery of likely lateness and encounters with anti-social behaviour – for the amount of money I am forced to pay. Instead, they all seem to be in a death spiral, losing customers at a constant rate, dealing with fuel price increases and failing infrastructure, and jacking up fare prices to try and stop the bleeding, a process that simply cannot continue indefinitely. Privatisation does not seem to be too extreme an endpoint with the current state of affairs, and that’s an outcome I dread.
So let’s look at the party promises on fares, and how they propose to deal with this death spiral at the same time. Glory of glories, all the party’s actually have manifestos out, even Labour, who took 12 days from the election being called to do so.
Fine Gael’s manifesto only mentions tickets in terms of an increased rollout of the Leap Card scheme nationwide. On the death spiral front, there’s a promise of 3.6 billion Euro, which would be good, but a weasel-worded indication that privatisation will be both accepted and encouraged: “Fine Gael…supports more choice and competition in the bus market”.
Labour’s manifesto says nothing on fares, and comments on transport are scattered all over the place, with an emphasis on making the network greener. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t really solve my problems.
Fianna Fail make a commitment to freeze fares for three years, but also brazenly suggest cheaper fares for under 25’s “to encourage public transport habit creation during their formative years”, that is, get them relying on the service before jacking up the price. Nice one. Their overall transport section is gratifyingly detailed though.
Sinn Fein are strangely unwilling to discuss transport in detail, it having no heading in their manifesto. No mention of fares, but there is a commitment to halt any privatisation, even a partial one, of transport entities.
AAA-PBP make no mention of transport at all in their “Common Principals”. Sigh. I should leave it at that, since if you run as a common entity you should live and die by your common statements, but PBP’s manifesto commits to opposing privatisation. Nothing on fares.
Renua’s manifesto is woeful when it comes to transport, the word used three times only, and nothing on fares or investment. They seemingly don’t want to say anything.
Save me Social Democrats! They commit to encouraging greater use of public transport by lowering fares – part of their ”Decrease the cost of living” shtick – and have lots of other decent transport ideas.
Lastly, the Greens focus, as you would expect, a lot on green energy and emissions in relation to transport, which is only natural. On the matter at hand, they say that “fares should not be allowed to increase beyond the point where overall revenues diminish” – uh huh – and give an indication of how their feelings lie on the privatisation question: “…we are open to the involvement of private operators in the provision of transport services where appropriate.” Hmm.
Not great stuff overall, is it? A surprising amount of the Irish political system barely wants to address transport at all, and fares least of all. Is this a recognition that the problem is so big that even talking about it is bad electioneering? Perhaps. There are a few, like the Soc Dems, and even Fianna Fail, who actually want to do something about increasing fares, so it is on some people’s radar at least. But not enough I fear.