Sunday, January 8, 2012

One tiny leap for Dublin

Integrated public transport ticketing, like the Oyster Card in London, has been on the agenda here for about a decade. I recall Mary O'Rourke announcing that it would be operational within a year, just after destroying the LUAS project by ordering the two lines to not join up. Then, as with all things in Ireland, time passed, nothing happened and we all just muddled along with multiple travel tickets and cards or just paid cash.

So it was with some surprise to me that the Leap Card was announced last year and came into operation a couple of weeks before Christmas. This new pre-pay card allows you to use bus, rail and LUAS services in Dublin using a single card. Seems like an awesome improvement over the current situation.

For LUAS and Dart users the smart cards are great. The existing LUAS and Rail smart cards will now be phased out and the existing savings available by using smart cards will continue. These work out at about 10% to 20% over single journey cash fares with greater savings on longer journeys. You tag on before boarding and tag off when you alight and the appropriate fare is taken off the card.

However, for Dublin Bus users the Leap Card isn't up to much. Unless you are going on a very long journey, you still have to queue up, tell the driver your destination and then present your card to the ticket machine. The driver will then deduct the relevant fare from your card. Sure the fare is a bit cheaper than the cash price, but there is no improvement in boarding times or reduced queuing. This seems to defeat the purpose of having the smart card in the first place.

There is so much wrong with this way of doing things I really don't know where to begin. But here's a few ideas that Dublin Bus could have implemented to improve the user experience and their bottom line.
  • Introduce flat fares for smart card users. This would hugely increase the uptake of Leap Card usage.
  • Ditch the crazy stage scheme that harks back to the days of conductors on trams and buses. Introduce zones as used in most other cities and currently used on the LUAS.
  • Tag on/tag off for bus users. Using the inbuilt GPS in the bus, the system can know exactly how far the card traveled.
  • With the roll-out of the RTPI system there is now electronics at each bus stop. The tag on/tag off could happen before boarding and after disembarking thereby further reducing boarding times.
With companies like IBM providing a lot of the technology for the Leap Card, it is hard to believe that such options were not provided to Dublin Bus. So the only conclusion that can be drawn is that Dublin Bus aren't really that interesting in working in the customers' interest. The Network Direct project certainly suggests that the customer is fairly far down the list of priorities.

One other annoying issue with the Leap Card is that it isn't a truly integrated ticket system. If I want to use a combination of transport modes I pay individual fares for each of them. In most other cities, if I transfer from train to bus or from tram to train I just pay a single fare for the end to end journey assuming it is completed within a reasonable time frame. I'm assuming that at some stage in the future the system will be enhanced to provide this functionality, but again it seems like a really basic idea that should have been required as part of the initial implementation plan.

As a user of the annual tax-saver ticket, the Leap Card won't massively impact me for the next few months. However, come June when my current ticket expires I'll have to do some sums to see if the annual ticket still comes out better. I'm assuming it will but you never know!

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