How Ireland can move ahead of the curve in public transport
Posted: 4 December 2019 | Barry Dorgan - National Transport Authority of Ireland | 1 comment
Barry Dorgan, Head of Ticketing Systems at Ireland’s National Transport Authority (NTA), shares the organisation’s plans to overhaul ticketing, and expand and modernise services – all while keeping a close eye on the future of urban mobility and potential opportunities for MaaS integration.
What’s the public transport situation like for Ireland at the moment? What challenges are you facing?
In general, public transport in Ireland is on the up. We have seen around six years of consecutive growth in public transport passenger numbers – and in 2019 we’re up approximately 14 per cent in passenger numbers compared to 2018, and 11 per cent in revenue. To improve those numbers further, our challenge now is dealing with congestion.
We are currently experiencing our largest ever financial investment in public transport in Ireland. There are several major projects on the way as a result, for instance, MetroLink – a metro system going to tender in the second half of 2020. We also have procurements for 600 hybrid electric double-deck buses.
We are buying 600 battery electric trainsets because we’ve reached capacity on many of our train services. The same is true for our bus services – they are becoming overcrowded. To combat this, we have a major bus enhancement programme underway called Bus Connects. At time of publication, this programme is at the second round of public consultation. We received 50,000 comments from members of the public in the first round of consultation, with some very good feedback. Bus Connects is a huge initiative to improve bus services and ultimately improve the speed of bus journeys.
Dublin is a very congested city, which inevitably has a big impact on bus journey times. One of our solutions to this problem is large investment in infrastructure, particularly dedicated bus lanes. We’re also going to bring in more buses.
We are investing in infrastructure to improve interchange points and improve junctions. In addition, we have an initiative called ‘Just the Ticket’, to speed up customer boarding onto buses. This is where I’m focusing my efforts, in modernising the ticketing systems that we use for public transport.
What do you have planned for your ticketing systems?
In particular, we are looking to take advantage of new technologies like contactless bank cards and be inspired by the successful implementations of new ticketing technology seen in London and many other cities. Our new ticketing project will hopefully be going to procurement in early 2020. It will be a significant project for the NTA, and especially those within my department, to implement the next generation of ticketing and fare collection systems for Ireland. The system that we put in place will eventually supersede our Leap Card scheme, which has been in place since 2011.
We are looking to take advantage of new technologies like contactless bank cards and be inspired by the successful implementations of new ticketing technology seen in London and many other cities
While Leap Card has been very successful, we want to provide more choice for our customers and better options including mobile tickets, mobile payments, choice of payment methods and other tokens.
We’re starting with the bus, but regardless of the system we put in place, it will have to be extendable to the tram system and to the rail system, across the whole country. The Bus Connects model will also be extended to many of the other cities around Ireland.
Last year we saw the start of services operated by Go-Ahead, with a second set of services due to start in December this year. We have tendered out additional services in regional towns and cities to improve public transport to meet the increase in demand. Bus still makes up most of the public transport in Ireland, so we are investing in bus now as we believe it can make an impact in the short term.
One major initiative that forms part of the new Bus Connects model is a redesign of the network. We’ve discovered that for people who are unfamiliar with the city, our bus network is not always easy to understand. In parallel to the new infrastructure enhancements and new services, we are also looking to reorganise the buses. We are looking at creating a backbone of high speed, high frequency services which multiple feeder services will connect to. This will mean re-numbering the buses, most likely all of them, and placing them all under a single brand.
New bus services, a new ticketing system and continued investment in infrastructure – these are our key aims. Due to the population growth seen in Dublin, we are looking at an uplift of 50 per cent in passenger capacity on our buses in the coming years.
A new ticketing system will naturally require a significant amount of work, traditionally being something that only changes once every 10 years or so. Do you think that model is changing?
I do, and that’s one of the things we’re hoping to achieve with our new approach. We want to move away from the traditional process of buying a piece of equipment, installing it and then maintaining it for 10 or 15 years. Today, we’re more interested in an outcome.
With this in mind, we want to find partners and establish collaborations within the industry. We’re looking for long-term partner that can deliver best-of-breed services in different areas. It’s not a case of us wanting to buy a system and put it into place; we’re more interested in making sure we can have access to the best services and make the customer experience the best it can be.
Achieving that could mean, for example, that we don’t even own the ticketing system – it could be ticketing-as-a-service. The equipment refresh cycle is getting shorter and shorter. The traditional method of buying something that is valid for 10 or 15 years is not the way of the world anymore.
To what degree do you think pace of change in public transport is set by operators and authorities, and to what degree do you think it is set by technology vendors?
There’s huge innovation out there and I think customers now expect to see change quicker and faster. Our customers, for example, are now used to contactless payments, mobile payments and they expect that service to be available to them on transport, too. In the past it has proved difficult to respond quickly to new innovations and expectations – once locked on a particular path as stipulated within your contract, varying it or making changes to services becomes very challenging. Consequently, we’re looking for collaboration, as flexibility will ultimately determine how successful the implementation of our new ticketing system will be.
Undoubtedly, the traditional approach of using a dedicated media, like a paper ticket, a magnetic ticket, or even a smartcard, and tapping in, tapping out, is going to change. In five or 10 years’ time, customers might not even need to take their phone out of their pocket; the technology will recognise they have boarded public transport. If we can adapt to these kinds of changes, we will able to provide our customers with the best possible experience – and that will be critical to our success.
What challenges are you anticipating the NTA might face as the urban mobility space continues to change apace?
We are constantly seeing new forms of micromobility and alternative mobility providers emerging. One of the challenges for us as a transport authority is working out how can we collaborate with them, how we can make them work in such a way that they enhance public transport without detracting from it. We must ask how we, as a transport authority, integrate that service offer to our customers. Mobility-as-a-Service as a concept makes a whole lot of sense; a simple and convenient way to access all of these services is ultimately all the customer wants. The passenger doesn’t need to worry themselves with who provides any particular part of a journey – what they are concerned with is having options – being able to pick and choose easily in creating their own journeys.
When it comes to implementing these new mobility services, the responsibility is wider than any individual transport organisation. I think city authorities would need to be involved because there’s such a sizeable infrastructure implication. For example, there’s been a huge investment in bicycle lanes. One of the key parts of the Bus Connects project in Dublin is to create additional bicycle lanes because the programme is all about sustainable transport.
One of the challenges for us as a transport authority is working out how can we collaborate with mobility providers, and how we can make them work in such a way that they enhance public transport without detracting from it
The creation of new infrastructure for new sustainable services then leads to another question: for these emerging micromobility services such as scooters and e-bikes, is it appropriate for them to use bicycle lanes? There is an argument that it could be safer for them to use bicycle lanes rather than main roads, but on the other hand, bicycle lanes are designed for bicycles – they haven’t been built with, for instance, e-scooters, in mind. Cities are likely going to struggle to answer to these kinds of questions in the next few years.
There are good examples across the world of cities adapting to new requirements – San Francisco, for instance, which is reducing the number of car lanes, bike lanes and bus lanes on certain streets. It could be the case in the future that we have bicycle lanes, scooter lanes and bus lanes. Only one thing is certain, though, and that is that the response time for these types of investments will always lag behind the take up of new forms of mobility.
Do you feel that it will be cities that primarily drive a shift towards sustainable public transport in the future?
We need to make public transport a viable alternative for everyone. There are areas where, for travellers, the car is the only realistic option at present. However, within the city, the population is increasing and the roads aren’t getting any wider. We need to find alternative, more sustainable methods of transit than the private car with just one person in it.
There are wider questions in terms of sustainable transport. For example, we’ve chosen double-decker buses that are capable of zero emissions at the tailpipe, but we haven’t gone fully electric. Part of the reason for this decision is the huge investment in infrastructure that is required to support fully electric buses. This is something I don’t think people always appreciate. When you start considering infrastructure, charging points and changing restrictions on car drivers, the question you’re asking is no longer only about public transport; it becomes ‘what kind of city do you want to live in?’
Encouraging people to move to car-sharing. ride-sharing and electric vehicles doesn’t solve the issue of congestion. Car- and ride-sharing services should complement public transport, not to replace it. Equally, as a transport authority, our focus is on public transport – it’s not for us to start promoting privately-owned car-sharing or ride-sharing services.
In terms of setting up a MaaS programme, with whom do you think the responsibility lies? Should it be the transport authority?
Indeed. Our view is that we’re establishing a platform for public transport, for access to public transport, and we want to make that platform as open and accessible as possible. If other forms of mobility want to join our platform, they can, and they can do so openly and transparently, and with free and unencumbered API access to different systems.
At the same time, it might be the case that another platform comes along on which we would want to allow public transport to be available. If we were to do so, it would have to be on the same terms; open, transparent and easily accessible. Critically, somebody would need to have responsibility for ensuring open data and transparency – I think we’re best placed as a transport authority to do that, but at the same time, it’s not our core business today.
I don’t think it’s in the public’s interest for there to be numerous apps all doing the same thing. There’s a balance to be struck in terms of making open data available and making access open. We need to weigh up the optimum way to achieve that and I think it will be consumers that ultimately decide how it’s done.
This is where innovation will come into play. If someone can come up with an app that provides the best user experience and plugs into all of these systems, then customers will use it. From a public transport perspective, that makes our services more accessible and more attractive for customers to use – and that should be a win for everybody.
Barry Dorgan is the NTA’s Head of Ticketing Systems. He joined the Leap Card project in 2003 and was responsible for managing the day-to-day operations for Leap Card. In 2015 he was promoted to Head of Ticketing Systems, responsible for managing all aspects of the operations and development of the Leap Card scheme. This involves overseeing large and complex outsourced contracts for the supply and maintenance of the systems as well as planning the next generation of ticketing across all public transport in Ireland. Barry has a first class honours MBA from UCD Smurfit Business School.