Update on the 304, and other Limerick buses

This morning I had a 90 minute meeting with Bus Éireann’s national Network Manager Robert O’Mahony, and Limerick Services Manager Bláithin McElligott, to discuss my research and proposals to improve service on the 304 and other Limerick bus routes.

I had made three main suggestions to Bus Éireann:

  1. Introduce a separate Leap card tag-on machine, as Dublin Bus have;
  2. Change the route through Raheen to a one-way loop;
  3. Change the route the 304 takes through the city centre in the UL to Raheen direction, to cut out the Henry Stree-Sarsfield Street loop.

I got one out of three. Here’s what they said.

1. No Leap card tag-on machines.

I asked Bus Éireann to install standalone Leap card tag-on machines on all buses, as seen on Dublin Bus, to reduce driver interaction time.

Bus Éireann responded that although their on-board fare machines look like those of Dublin Bus, they have different software and back end office processes. This is a consequence of the same machines being used across all Bus Éireann services, including city services, Expressway intercity, etc. The Leap stand-alone tag-on machines are not compatible with Bus Éireann’s systems.

This is very disappointing. However, they do recognise that dwell time at bus stops is a massive issues – hard to deny, when my data shows that over a third of a peak-time journey is spent sitting at stops.

What they will do in the short term now is update the current machine software to halve the number of keystrokes the driver needs to make. This will be in place for the start of summer, and should start to reduce loading time.

The main effort to reduce loading times will be centred on increasing Leap card use. Currently in Limerick, Leap card use is only 36%. Efforts have been promised to try and significantly increase this proportion, which should speed loading up as less people use cash. They are particularly focused on increasing use of Leap card day tickets, weekly tickets etc, which are much quicker with the machines.

One of the roadblocks to increasing Leap card use is accessibility. I asked Bus Éireann to place Leap card machines – such as seen at Luas and Dart stops in Dublin – at key bus stops in Limerick, including Sarsfield Street and the Crescent. Bus Éireann responded that they could not place these same machines in the city, due to the cash boxes inside, but that they would consider installing cashless Leap Card machines.

They are also now considering copying the Dublin Bus ‘Exact Change, No Refunds’ policy, to further encourage Leap uptake.

Longer term, the NTA is working on a new ticketing system to include mobile payment apps and contactless cards. I will be contacting the NTA about this.

2. The Raheen loop through the housing estates will remain

The 304 currently does a loop through housing estates in Raheen-Dooradoyle-Ballycummin, reaches the end of the line, and then turns around and does the same loop in the opposite direction. I suggested making this one way, which would cut 15 minutes from total journey time, and allow a greater service frequency.

Bus Éireann rejected this suggestion. They made the case that loops are not best practice. I think this is a mistake, but they won’t budge on it.

In fact, they are going to add new stops to the loop; in particular they are now looking to add a stop opposite Cormac Byrne’s.

3. The city centre route going to Raheen WILL change

I suggested to Bus Éireann that instead of the 304 making a loop from Roches Street to Henry Street to Sarsfield Street to O’Connell Street, that the bus simply turn left from Roches Street onto O’Connell Street.

While they would not commit to following my suggestion exactly, saying that passenger destination data and the O’Connell Street redevelopment plans would need to be taken into account, they confirmed there would now be ‘movement’, with change likely in the summer. Raheen-bound services will likely not serve Henry St or Debenhams on Sarsfield St. after the change.

4. Middle Doors

I also suggested to Bus Éireann that all new buses have middle doors, and that these be used to exit the bus. Bus Éireann confirmed that all new buses WILL have middle doors, which will be used. 9 buses currently in the city have these, with more arriving in June. The plan is to roll out consistent use of the double doors once there is enough buses with them to service entire routes. At present, drivers may be changing from a bus without middle doors in the morning to one with middle doors in the afternoon, which leads to issues with inconsistent use. Some stops are also currently unsuitable for middle doors, due to street furniture (signs, bins etc), which Limerick Council needs to work on; and due to cars parking in bus stops, which we need the Garda Traffic unit to enforce.

5. William Street breaks

This was not one of my original suggestions, but Tom Dowling and others asked me to raise the issue of drivers taking breaks on William Street.

Bus Éireann responded that this is NOT just drivers taking a break, it is specific individual instructions from Limerick control on a case-by-case basis to reduce bus bunching (where buses end up with two or three moving together). It will always be the FOLLOWING bus which pauses, so if there’s two, get the front one. It is hoped the new timetable will end the need for this.

6. New Timetable

A new timetable is about to be introduced, and will take operation from the second week of April. This is based on long-term location and time data (of the kind I collected, if not at such high resolution) and they hope it will accurately reflect actual travel times. Every bus stop will have a specific timetable, at the stop. I had suggested moving to a service frequency model, but Bus Éireann feel specific stop timetables is a better approach.

I will of course be testing the new timetables after their introduction.

7. Broader changes to services

Once the new timetable is operating, bigger changes will be brought online over the summer. That will include:

  • EARLIER AND LATER BUSES, to facilitate those who start work early morning, and social activities in the late evening.
  • EXTENSION OF ROUTES to Mungret, Parteen, Ardnacrusha, and perhaps others.
  • AUDIO ANNOUNCEMENTS for visibility impaired passengers. This is waiting for re-naming of stops, such as the Xtravision stop near the St Paul’s Roundabout.
  • POSSIBLE FREQUENCY CHANGES, with the 304A a strong candidate for increased services.
  • Several other changes are dependent on the NTA and Limerick Council. 

Overall, I am disappointed at the lack of movement on the Raheen route and lack of Leap tag-on machines, which together would have cut around 25 minutes from a return journey. I am happy that they will be moving forward with my suggestions on the city centre routing, Leap card machines, and middle doors. I hope that the new timetable will be more accurate; I will be investigating, and if there are issues I may renew the rejected suggestions, or make new proposals for change.

If there’s anything you’d like to ask about now, feel free to add it in the comments below, or email breandan.macgabhann@greenparty.ie.

If you would like to see more data-driven and evidence-based solutions for Limerick, I would really appreciate any support you can give for my campaign to get elected to Limerick Council in Limerick City West.

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Have Your Say on the 304 bus

On Wednesday morning (13th), I will be meeting Bus Éireann’s Limerick Services Manager to discuss my research and recommendations for the 304/304A bus route.

I’ve had plenty of feedback so far, but the more the better. So, if you have any thoughts, experiences, or ideas to share for the route (or the 301 and other routes in Limerick), please let me know. Leave a comment below, or send me an email at breandan.macgabhann@greenparty.ie.