Some thoughts on the privatisation of Dublin bus routes

On the 10th of August the National Transport Authority announced that Dublin Bus had lost a tenth of its bus routes to a private operator. Go-Ahead, a British company, has secured the tender to take over twenty-four bus routes.

The routes in question are suburban orbital, running north and south of the city, none of them running into the city centre.

During the announcement the chief executive of the NTA, Anne Graham, made an extraordinary statement. The deal did “not represent a privatisation of the service. Nothing was being sold and the services are being deregulated.”

This statement beggars belief. Do they think the public are idiots? When a tenth of the routes are being transferred from a publicly owned company to a privately owned one, clearly a certain level of privatisation is taking place.

All parties were keen to stress that 90 per cent of the routes remained in public ownership, that no further privatisation was planned for the future, that this was not a race to the bottom. These statements are complete and utter falsehoods.

Be under no illusion: this is the start of what will be a sustained government plan to privatise all areas of public transport—another naked manifestation of the neo-liberal polices that successive governments have sought to implement.

They will attempt, no doubt, to implement the salami-slicer method that other countries have so successfully employed. The method is as simple as it is devilishly effective. More and more of the profitable routes are sold off to private operators, while the public transport company is left with the less profitable routes. The government meanwhile continues to reduce the subvention paid to the public company (already one of the lowest in Europe), until it can no longer afford to run the routes effectively, and hey presto! the remaining routes are tendered to private companies. And public transport is no longer publicly owned.

In the coming months and years we can expect a continued and assiduous attack on public transport. The government and vested interests will parrot the usual neo-liberal claptrap about greater efficiency, more frequent routes, cheaper fares, and so on—all of which is the most complete and total lies.

The truth about privatising public transport is that services get worse. These are private companies; the primary motive is profit. This leads them to cut corners and to siphon profits away instead of reinvesting them.

The truth is that privatisation creates a divided and disconnected society. Typically, fares increase after privatisation. Private operators will cherry-pick the most profitable routes. This means that it’s the most vulnerable and marginalised who bear the brunt of these changes. They often find that either they can’t afford to use public transport or, even if they can, that the route has been closed down, as it is not profitable enough.

The horizons of the world diminish, and opportunity, already in the distance, retreats a little further.

The truth is that private operators cannot be held accountable by the public. There is little transparency, public accountability, or scrutiny. Contracts are agreed by the companies and the government behind closed doors. If the company continually fails to provide a service, the public have no recourse. They are virtually powerless to effect change.

The truth is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Not only can the privatisation of public transport be stopped, it can be rolled back.

The success of the Right to Water campaign has shown what can be done. By employing a similar strategy of mass demonstrations, public disobedience and positive pressure on elected representatives we can demand and obtain a referendum that would guarantee that all public services, not only transport, remain in public ownership and can never be changed without the consent of the people.

The stakes are high. We must take action now, or future generations will be left counting the cost of our failure.