Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reading the Runes of the Dublin Bus Routes

An Spailpín Fánach is mystified why Dublin Bus isn’t a more popular topic of conversation in the city. Dublin Bus, as the majority public transport system in the city, has a huge impact on the lives of the populace. But there never seems to be any discussion of how the buses operate; why they do what they do, and why they don’t do something else. Perhaps the fact that one so seldom sees the likes of Ryan Tubridy or Gee Ryan squeezed in the standing room part of the bus between the chemically dependent and the hygienically disinclined has something to do with it.

The news reports of the job losses in Dublin Bus have been cursory at best, and overtaken by the hideous scenes at the Anglo-Irish Bank EGM. Is this an instance of news management on Dublin Bus’s part? How interesting to note, for instance, that the latest news section of the News Centre link on the Dublin Bus website does not have any news of the layoffs at all, or their consequent effect on the overall service in the city?

Curiouser and curiouser. How interesting also to note the repeated commitments that, in spite of the great breach in the hull of the company’s finances, no routes will be lost. To which An Spailpín asks: why not?

Who decides what makes a bus route? How do you get that job? Who comes first? The company, the drivers’ union, or the commuter? Perhaps a look at some of those routes – that are immaculate, inviolate, safe from the sickle – will be instructive.

Let’s start at the start. Route 1. Route 1 of Dublin runs twice daily. At half past seven in the morning and eight minutes past five in the evening, a bus leaves Parnell Square East and travels to Poolbeg Extension (whatever that is). A bus makes the return journey, twice daily, at five to eight and twenty to six. There is one bus at the weekend, early in the morning on Saturday, and that’s it. And what An Spailpín wants to know is: why?

Route 5, from O’Connell Street to Sandyford Industrial Estate. Five times daily, there and back. Buses at eight, eleven, twelve, one and three. Why? Who needs to go from O’Connell Street to the Sandyford Industrial Estate at those hours?

Route 58c is a bit of a legend. It’s one for the connoisseur, the same way that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the biggest flop of all the Bond movies, but always gets high marks among aficionados. Route 58c runs from Parnell Square West to Dún Laoghaire, and goes via Foxrock Church on the way. It’s a bus for people that enjoy a spin, clearly – how much better it would have suited Liam Reilly than the 46A during that famous summer in Dublin. But the Bagatelle balladeer mightn’t have been able to catch it of course. Because the 58c runs but once a day – in the morning, it leaves Dún Laoghaire at 7:35, and then returns, from Parnell Square West, at 5:17 in the evening. There is no service on Saturday or Sunday. Why is that?

Route 51 is remarkable for not having a return route. Five times between half-six and nine-thirty in the morning the 51 brings commuters in from Neilstown to Aston Quay. And then just leaves them there, apparently. Why isn’t there a return route? What’s the grand plan behind all this?

Route 86 is one of those buses that is rarely seen. It runs in the deep south, from Shankill to the Sandyford Industrial Estate at twenty-five past seven every Monday to Friday. One of very few similarities between the denizens of Shankill and Neilstown is that, like Neilstown’s 51, the 86 doesn’t seem to have a return route either. Why?

These are just some of the highlights of course – true busmen simply need to say “78” or “142” or even, God help us, “70x” to each other during the Friday night post work pints to reduce the company to tears of laughter. What is sweeter than the in-joke?

Someone once said that, to truly understand James Joyce’s Ulysses, you needed a working knowledge of the Dublin tram system of June 16th, 1904. Reader, imagine the modernist masterpiece that could be written by someone who can figure out the bus routes?

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