Before Christmas, the eagle-eyed UCD students amongst us may have copped changes to the bus scene around Belfield. The new S4 and S6 bus routes are now a common sight on the campus and these buses now go through the Belfield campus, stopping at the Sports Centre, the main bus terminus, and the newly installed bus stops at the Newman Building and UCD Village.

The new bus routes are part of Phase 5b of the BusConnects Project, which commenced on November 26. The BusConnects project aims to transform bus services in Ireland’s five largest cities, namely Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford.

In Dublin, BusConnects entails the development of 12 new “bus corridors”, as well as new cycling infrastructure, bus stops, and ticketing systems in what aims to be a major overhaul of Dublin’s public transport network.

The complete network redesign will result in an overall increase in bus services of 23% during peak hours, increased evening and weekend services and an increase in the number of residents located a short walk from a frequent bus service. BusConnects is a key part of the Government’s policies to improve public transport and address climate change in Ireland’s major urban centres and the programme is developed and managed by the National Transport Authority (NTA), and funded by Project Ireland 2040.

The project represents a significant overhaul of the bus networks in Dublin and commuters can expect to have to become familiar with a whole new set of bus route names as many familiar routes are changing. Even the beloved 39A, a staple of life in Belfield for years, will eventually be no more. The route is on the proposed new B-Spine and is set to eventually be renamed the B1.

The new S4 bus route commences at Liffey Valley Shopping Centre and terminates at UCD. The S6 bus route commences at The Square in Tallaght and stops at UCD before terminating at Blackrock DART Station.

For many communities on these new routes, this will be the first time that they will have the benefit of a direct bus connection to UCD and the new bus routes will likely make a huge come difference to UCD students commuting from areas such as Ballyfermot, Crumlin, and Templeogue.

The S4 is expected to run buses every 10 minutes at peak times, with the last bus leaving UCD at 11:20 pm. The S6 is expected to run buses every 15 minutes at peak times, with the last bus leaving UCD at 23:38. While the new services undoubtedly represent a boon for those communities connected directly with UCD for the first time, not everyone is overjoyed with the changes.

As part of the rollout of Phase 5b a number of bus routes were discontinued, including the 17 and 175 bus routes which served UCD. The 175, which launched 5 years ago, connected Tallaght to UCD via Dundrum Luas. The 17 connected Rialto to Blackrock Station, serving UCD, Rathfarnham, and the Dundrum Luas stop on the route.

Lucy, a second-year business student at UCD, spoke to The College Tribune, saying that the changes to the bus routes “have definitely had a negative impact on my journeys to UCD and to the Dundrum Town Centre where I work part-time”.

Lucy was quick to acknowledge that the changes have had some positive impact, pointing out that “buses are now more frequent and I also can get a bus to Sandyford”, which previously they could not. Increasing the frequency of services is a key aim of BusConnects.

“However, the introduction of these new bus routes took away other routes that were very popular and that I used almost every day. Before the revamp of the bus routes, I only had to get one bus (the 175), to UCD and to work in Dundrum, however now I have to get two buses to the same places”.

The changeover from one route to another poses practical challenges. “If I only have a short window to swap over buses and either bus is a little bit late or early, I can miss my second bus which can leave me late to work or college”.

Another point she raised was the significant increase in the length of their regular journeys after the changes. Commenting on the commute to college, the student we spoke to pointed out that it can now take over an hour to get to either UCD or Dundrum Town Centre from their home, compared to only a 25-minute journey on the old bus routes.

It is worth pointing out that one of the central aims of the BusConnects project is to enhance the reliability of Dublin Bus services. No doubt, any frequent user of Dublin Bus has fallen victim to the infamous ghost buses – buses which fail to appear and vanish from the timetable.

The old 175 route was infamous for its unreliability. However, while Lucy readily admitted that the old 175 was far from reliable, the route was still an excellent option for many commuters in their area commuting to Dundrum or UCD. It is, unsurprisingly, a source of frustration for commuters in the affected areas that initiatives touted as progress on public transport (and BusConnects undoubtedly represents progress in many ways) result in the opposite.

It is undoubtedly a positive step forward that the new bus routes connected many communities directly to UCD for the first time, but this is unlikely to be of much consolation to those facing significantly longer commutes as a result. The business student finished by commenting that, while it is positive that the many issues with Dublin Bus services are being addressed, these could have been fixed “by just making the bus more frequent, especially during peak times, and making sure all of the buses ran when they were meant to”.

Instead, some communities are left feeling that the progress of BusConnects is a case of one step forward, two steps back, at least for now.