Go Ahead and Wait: The Failure of Bus Privatisation

When Go Ahead were handed bus routes in Dublin in 2018 it was welcomed with open arms by the champions of neo-liberal capitalism. The then Minister for Transport Shane Ross said: ‘This is an exciting time for public transport and particularly for those of us who travel by bus.’ Now almost four years later the only excitement many Go Ahead passengers are guaranteed is the actual arrival of a bus, and even more so if it takes them to their chosen destination!

At the end of January students in UCD held a commuters’ town hall meeting about failures in the bus service to Belfield. Students travelling from Tallaght to Belfield on the 175 service, which departs from the Citywest terminus, were particularly incensed by Go Ahead’s failures on this route. Some claimed to have been stranded when their bus inexplicably terminated its route in Dundrum; others when their morning or evening buses never arrived on schedule or at all, which meant they had no choice but to take alternative routes, even multiple journeys home.

And it appears that the 175 isn’t the only route with problems. The 17A on the North side of Dublin and the 45A – both former Dublin Bus routes, have come under criticism; all this despite Go Ahead being fined over €70,000 in 2019 by the National Transport Authority for providing a late and unreliable Bus service.

None of this should be too surprising. Go Ahead Ireland is a private company which exists for one thing and one thing only: to make a profit; however, its remit is to provide a public transport service. Both are mutually exclusive.

To ensure the bottom line is met, the profiteers will do anything to ensure the cost of providing a service is kept to a minimum, particularly with rising fuel prices and the losses incurred during the lockdowns, which saw many people and students working from home. The temptation to run fewer buses and even curtail journeys in off peak times, and even rush hour, in order to save on overheads is compelling for capitalist operators for whom profit trumps all.

This underlines the problem: you cannot provide a proper public service with profit in mind. The bottom line should be the provision of the service for those who need it, this applies even more so with public transport. Workers, young people, the elderly, and other members of the community depend on a public transport service to get them where they need to go without stress or hassle.

In the face of an impending climate catastrophe people are looking for alternatives to cars – especially in a city on the constant verge of gridlock where even a simple fender bender can cause traffic chaos.

Troubled companies like Go Ahead sometimes collapse without warning. Recently Go Ahead had to stop trading on the London Stock Exchange after a £25 million breach of its Southeastern railway franchise agreement. It might not be around next year causing even bigger problems in public transport. Privatisation does not provide better choice, competition, or service. Instead it lines the pockets of the few at the expense of the many.

Militant Left argues that everyone deserves a free and reliable public transport service under democratic workers’ control to provide for growing numbers of commuters in the future and to ensure passengers arrive safely at their destinations. The routes currently run by Go Ahead must be immediately brought back into public ownership and returned to Dublin Bus.

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