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October 30 2018
By Tim Deakin

Tim is Editor of routeone and has worked in both the coach and bus and haulage industries.

Go-Ahead optimistic for its future in Irish market

By January 2019 Go-Ahead Ireland will fully mobilise a contract for 24 services that were formerly operated by Dublin Bus. It’s a staged takeover with a mix of new and used buses. How is it going?

Ed Wills is MD of Go-Ahead Ireland; he was formerly with Go South Coast

When Chris Moyes and Martin Ballinger led a management buy-out of Northern General in 1987 as part of the privatisation of the National Bus Company, it’s unlikely that they ever envisaged that their company, Go-Ahead, would grow into a global business that now has 30,000 employees and revenues of £3.46bn.

Its latest venture is a little closer to home than some of its others in recent years. It’s in Dublin. Heading up the Irish operation is MD Ed Wills, who is based at the depot on Ballymount Industrial Estate, five miles from the city centre.

Ed has been with Go-Ahead since June 2010, formerly as Operations Director of Go South Coast. Before that he held positions with Yellow Buses in Bournemouth and Stagecoach in Cambridge, but his career started with Southern Vectis on the Isle of Wight.

Go-Ahead Ireland commenced operation on Sunday 9 September with new service 175, which runs from Citywest to University College Dublin. It is a 24km route that requires a maximum of nine buses and 19 drivers.

The 175 is being followed progressively by 24 services transferred to Go-Ahead Ireland by the National Transport Authority (NTA), all of which will be operational by mid-January 2019.

The new route was introduced by necessity; passenger numbers on public transport in the greater Dublin area are rising. As an example, bus, tram and train use grew by 10m journeys in 2016, a 4% increase on the previous year. In 2018, the NTA expects that figure to be even higher.

A steady start so far

Launch day of route 175 went well, says Ed. “As it was a Sunday, we only had three buses operating. A full allocation was required the following day. By midway through the second week, loadings were far in excess of our expectations - an encouraging sign.”

Route 175 was totally new; yellow was added to the livery after feedback

The next roll-out came on 7 October with commencement of the first four of the former Dublin Bus-operated routes that have been transferred to Go-Ahead Ireland.

“Back in November 2017, six of us were based in a rented office in the centre of Dublin. We had no depot and no buses,” he continues.

“We didn’t know whether we could find a suitable base, let alone whether we could recruit all of the drivers that we would need. Fast forward just ten months and we now have a depot, drivers and vehicles.”

Recruitment was on track in good time. By 19 September, Go-Ahead Ireland had 146 drivers. 24 of them had commenced employment that week, and the same number would follow them seven days later.

“Our plan is to have 344 drivers by the end of 2018. A small number have left either Dublin Bus or Bus Eireann to join us, but the rest have come from other walks of life.

“Around 70% are completely new to the industry. To help with the training requirement, Go-Ahead dispatched personnel to Dublin from its operations in London, the north-east, Plymouth and the south coast.”

New broom

Although Go-Ahead Ireland operates them, all of the buses that it uses are the property of the NTA. 64 new vehicles have arrived: 24 Volvo B5TLs with double-deck Wrightbus Gemini 3 bodywork, and 40 StreetLite single-deckers.

Transferred from Dublin Bus have been 61 existing Gemini-bodied Volvo double-deckers, all of which are being repainted into the Go-Ahead Ireland livery. Additionally, 17 buses were shipped from the UK for use as training vehicles.

All buses remain the property of Ireland’s National Transport Authority

A blue-based livery was chosen via a public consultation exercise and it was approved by the NTA. It was carried by the majority of the 64 new buses when they were delivered.

However, it received a negative reaction from the National Disabilities Council (NDC). The NDC claimed that the yellow front applied to all Dublin Bus vehicles made them easily recognisable to passengers with restricted vision.

As a result, all of the new buses for Go-Ahead Ireland are in the process of receiving a substantial yellow ‘swoop’ from below the headlights.

None of the 24 routes that were awarded to Go-Ahead Ireland serve Dublin city centre, but it has also won a contract with the NTA for six commuter services currently operated by Bus Eireann. They are due to begin in Q1 2019 and they will take Go-Ahead’s vehicles into the central area.

Currently all buses are based at Ballymount, but Go-Ahead is looking for two outstations elsewhere in the city. One will be close to Dublin airport, the other in Dun Laoghaire, close to the ferry terminal there.

Cash fares remain the same as previously, and the Leap prepayment card will be accepted on all services along with Dublin Bus monthly, yearly and Taxsaver tickets and free travel passes.

Finding Ballymount

Although Go-Ahead is currently looking for other operating centres, how difficult was finding Ballymount? It was challenging, says Ed. “In November 2017, we identified that where we are now based would be an ideal location. However, we hadn’t signed a lease with the landowner or been granted planning permission.” Adding to the problem was the state of the building, which was formerly a DHL distribution centre; it has been vandalised and a number of burned-out cars were inside it.

40 new Wrightbus StreetLites have joined, alongside 24 double-deckers

“But we saw the potential,” he continues. “In less than nine months, we have completely transformed the site into what it is today. It was gutted, with all fittings replaced with new items.

“It also has offices, a drivers’ rest area, a mini gymnasium, a workshop, and facilities to fuel and wash the buses.”

All of that work was completed in a short timescale. When combined with other outlay, it takes Go-Ahead’s investment in Dublin to date to €8.5m.

The future

Ed is enthusiastic about the future of Go-Ahead Ireland. “The bus market here is very fragmented, and there are lots of opportunities, depending on how well we perform on the contract for the initial 24 routes in Dublin,” he says.

“The NTA is looking at increasing the network mileage of bus services in Dublin by up to 30% by 2020 as part of its BusConnects programme, and so we are open minded about what is in store for the Irish market.” Also part of BusConnects is a desire to see on-board cash payment become history.

As it stands, Go-Ahead Ireland has a five-year contract with the NTA, with provision for an additional two years. “We are hopeful of a bright and prosperous future in the Emerald Isle,” concludes Ed.

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