‘Life is About the Journey, Not the Destination?’ No Chance!!!
Last month marked the return to students to the UCD campus. It also coincided with the return of full capacity public transport and the carnage that is commuting to UCD. Anxiety struck me last week as I approached the N11 bus stop heading towards town at 4 pm. Vast swathes of my fellow wiery travellers swarmed the arriving bus desperate to get a seat on the infamous (and very late) 39a.
The dread of seeing a packed bus stop was something I had not missed over the last 18 months. Flashbacks came of January 2020 with condensation blurring the bus windows and my fellow passenger manspreading far beyond his acceptable personal space. For many students, the commute of the last college year involved rolling from bed to a nearby desk, if even that far.
So what does the post-pandemic commute look like for this years college students? Unfortunately, not much had changed. The pandemic has not been the gamechanger in terms of more comfortable, sustainable transportation that some predicted it would be. Cars still rule the roost in the battle for space in Dublin streets. Cyclists still find themselves on the cusp of death as gargantuan vehicles whisk by at a touching distance. And as for an affordable price? Well, you can just forget about it.
Last issue, the College Tribune reported that a UCD bus route held the embarrassing title of Ireland most complained about bus route. The 41X beat off some stiff competition to rack up a depressingly impressive 28 complaints for every 100,000 passengers per quarter last year. This is despite the massive fall in bus usage during the pandemic. Comically, the 41X replaced another UCD bus route, the 67X, which held the crown in 2019.
The quality of the bus services to UCD have a massive impact on the commuting experience of UCD students. The most recent UCD commuting survey which was published for the year 2018 found that 41% of students commuting to UCD used the bus as their primary mode of transport. The survey also found that a whopping 70% of those bus users had a commute of 45 minutes or longer. Clearly, there is a huge reliance on the bus network for commuting to UCD.
So what do UCD students think of this bus network? The student union President Ruairí Power had some strong words saying ‘if there’s a shower worse than the Black and Tans it’s the shower running Go Ahead Ireland.’
Clearly, the privatisation of certain bus routes has not helped commuters on those routes like Power who added that ‘when the State allows vital public services to be privatised, they tend to tank in quality fairly quickly. If we’re serious about tackling climate change, we need serious investment in our bus services, they’re really not up to the mark.’
Of course, when it comes to transport, sustainability is a key issue, particularly for students who are often keenly aware of the environmental impact. The 2018 survey found an impressive 32% of students said that either walking or cycling was their main mode of transport. This is despite the huge lack of adequate cycling infrastructure in Dublin and the areas surrounding the Belfield campus.
The unfortunate reality here is that cycling and walking infrastructure has never been a priority for transport planning in Ireland. In 2019, just 2% of the total transport budget was allocated to cycling. Only a tiny fraction of this spending was directed to safe cycling infrastructure in south Dublin. While the pandemic has spurred on more cycling infrastructure projects there has not been enough around UCD to make a substantial difference to encourage more students to switch to this sustainable and effective mode of transport.
Given the lack of quality public transport options, you would expect it not to burn a hole in your wallet right? Wrong. Dublin constantly ranks as one of the most expensive cities in the world to travel around. Recent research conducted by the College Tribune found that Dublin students, on average, pay a whopping 69% more on monthly travel than other European cities in a survey of 12 major European countries.
The last few decades have seen a steady increase in average prices on public transport in Ireland. This comes at a time when many countries and cities are moving towards a free public transport model like Luxembourg, or a partially free model like Berlin which offers it to students.
When it comes to the cost of a commute, the monetary toll is not the only factor. Numerous studies and research has shown the psychological and emotional toll the commute takes on an individual. Throughout the pandemic, we heard a lot about the mental health crisis created by a full year of online learning. It is important to pay attention to the issues which are only exasperated by the return to college. The most important of which is the effects of the commute.
A 2014 report from the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics found that people who had a commute of longer than 30 minutes by train, bus or on foot had far higher anxiety levels compared to people who made shorter trips. This is critical for UCD students who, according to the 2018 commuting survey, over 60% of them have a journey time of more than 30 minutes. Nearly half of those even have a commute of over an hour, not to mention the return journey.
So is it all doom and gloom? Not quite. Your commute does not have to be some wasted space in a day. Many of us are still adjusting to the social demands of a full campus. The journey to and from UCD can be a great chance to recharge the batteries and get some vital quiet time to yourself. It also can also be a time to catch up on those podcasts you’ve promised yourself you’d listen to or hear the latest album everyone is raving about.
This time last year I told my friends (over zoom of course!) how I even missed my two and a half-hour daily round trip to UCD. Looking back on it now, perhaps I got a bit carried away. The phrase ‘life is about the journey, not the destination,’ is not much comfort to the poor Dublin commuter. However, it will be my parting words for this article as I have a bus to catch!
Conor Paterson – Co-Editor