In Defence of Public
Transport - Dr John Lynch, Chairman CIE
Sunday Independent Letters
- Aug 3rd 2008
PUBLIC transport is not the simple business that Shane
Ross seems to believe it is.
In an unbalanced report on the CIE accounts in last
week's Sunday Independent, he betrays nothing more useful
than a prejudice. Unfortunately it is a dangerous prejudice
because it exactly reflects the thinking that has held back
the transport sector for years. It is the very same
discredited view that was responsible for the chronic
underfunding of the sector in the quarter century after the
Happily, policymakers have now fully awoken to the urgent
need for significant investment in public transport. More
importantly still, the Irish travelling public have
applauded the change.
Unfortunately, the Sunday Independent Business Section
struggles to grapple with this bigger picture.
Our customers - 300 million travellers journey every year
on the public transport system - don't resent the
subsidisation of the sector. Their concerns are that we
constantly improve the system and that we enhance its
It is the job of CIE management to meet these challenges
in the most efficient and expeditious way. But while carping
about subsidies in public transport, without looking at the
wider benefits of such funding, may have an appeal for some
rightist ideologues, they are concerns not shared in any
fashion by the travelling public.
The lessons of the past as far as public transport
systems are concerned, prove only one thing. The best
systems are put in place where they are backed by strong
public funding. If they are evaluated on a simple profit and
loss basis, they would not happen at all.
The payback on such systems is felt by communities
through the economic and social benefits they produce. These
benefits include enhanced mobility for everyone, reduced
congestion, lower pollution, fewer accidents and many other
factors that Shane Ross chooses not to rate in his P & L
We have independent and outside endorsement of this view.
CIE's subvention produces benefits which are a multiple of
the funding involved.
In the case of the rail network alone, consultants Booz
Allen Hamilton, produced a strategic review in 2003 which
showed that the net benefit to our economy of rail services
exceeded euro1bn annually. And that applies even before the
expansion of services in recent years.
Further analysis by the same consultants published in
2007 found that the subvention across the CIE group offered
"value for money". This is an analysis based on recognised
economic measures and doesn't make the mistake of
amalgamating as a subsidy the CIE subvention and the capital
funding of development which the Sunday Independent
unfortunately did. To describe the CIE group's operations
across Iarnrod Eireann, Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus as
"ailing", ignores some important salient facts:
- Iarnrod Eireann is currently delivering the fastest
growing rail service in Europe, with fares and
subventions below European average;
- Bus Eireann is also one of the lowest subvented
operations in Europe, while its network has delivered
record growth in recent years, despite the cost of
gridlock (euro23m annually); and
- Dublin Bus has a low subvention rate by European
standards. Customer demand is growing apace in spite of
gridlock (euro60m annually).
All these three operating subsidiaries are currently
expanding their services and the range of choices for
commuters. Meanwhile, capital investment is set to
accelerate under the Government's Transport 21 Programme.
There is nothing "ailing" about CIE.
John J Lynch, Chairman CIE