TRANSPORT minister Shane Ross and his advisers believed anxieties over a revamp of Dublin’s bus network were being deliberately stirred up for political reasons.
The Minister for Transport – who was later accused of having disowned the capital’s BusConnects plan – was under “considerable pressure” over the redesigned network according to internal emails.
Records released under FOI reveal how the plans were causing concern for “southsiders” as Mr Ross was inundated with questions about how it would work.
For one single stretch of route between St Vincent’s Hospital and the minister’s constituency in Stepaside and Sandyford, Minister Ross received more than a hundred inquiries.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) were surprised at the numbers involved. “A hundred queries relating to that particular stretch?” asked their head of public affairs on August 15.
Mr Ross’ media advisor Carol Hunt replied: “Between Ecorr [e-correspondence]/[Minister’s] office and constituency – yes … getting to St Vincent’s [Hospital] seems to be worrying a lot of southsiders.”
In follow-up emails to the NTA in early September, Ms Hunt explained that the minister was getting asked questions about changes to the bus network “pretty much every time he ventures into the constituency”.
“Apologies for so many individual queries,” she said, “but there’s a lot of folk managing to stir up [a] lot of anxiety about the future of routes – for political purposes.”
She said that when people were given accurate information about what the revamp would actually involve that it was a considerable help.
Midway through September, Minister Ross and his team had begun to provide letters to individual households in “certain affected areas” outlining the changes that would impact them.
However, a new issue had arisen in an area along Stonemason’s Way near Marlay Park in the heart of the transport minister’s constituency.
“From our read of it, the current plans would seem to have a detrimental effect on a largely elderly community,” wrote Aisling Dunne, another of Mr Ross’ special advisers on September 11.
“Is there anything positive that we might be able to say to residents to assure them that the situation will not be as negative as they fear?”
Just over a week later, Minister Ross was reported in the Irish Times to have told a constituency meeting on September 19 that he had nothing to do with the BusConnects plan and had no responsibility for the National Transport Authority.
Asked about the documents, Mr Ross said that as a local representative, he had made submissions on behalf of his constituents about “specific concerns”, as had many other politicians.
He said: “During the consultation period it emerged that both constituents and other bus users from all over Dublin had been given erroneous information regarding the BusConnects project, some of which caused unnecessary anxiety.
“My staff were at pains to correct [this] – with the help of factual information from the NTA.
“It was most unfortunate that some individuals and groups chose to disseminate incorrect information and cause unnecessary worry for commuters, one can only presume for their own political reasons.”
Separately, documents released under FOI reveal Minister Ross was being briefed on the bus revamp plan by the National Transport Authority from as early as March 2017.
A lengthy briefing on a wider proposal called ‘Bus-21’ was prepared for his department, which included an explanation of how the fundamental rethink of the network would work.
“That major redesign of the bus network in the Dublin area is now underway,” it said, “assisted by a US firm who specialise in the design of major urban transit networks”.
In April 2017, he was also talked through a PowerPoint presentation on how BusConnects would work.
He was told it would involve taking some people’s front gardens, the removal of mature trees and parking, as well as new traffic restrictions on certain roads and streets.
The briefing paper also said the bus network would be “radically changed, but radically improved”.
It said the idea was to make the system more efficient, to carry more passengers and to make interchange between services much easier.
The minister was also talked through a similar project that had taken place in Houston, and which involved the same transport consultant Jarrett Walker as was being used by the NTA.