Public transport can change the shape of someone’s day entirely. For health care workers, it can add hours onto their already lengthy days, as they battle long wait times and social distancing issues.
Sarah Reid is a student nurse at St. James’s Hospital in Dublin, currently living in Swords, north county Dublin. In order to get to work, Reid has to take two buses or a bus and a Luas regularly.
“Transport, as stupid as it might sound to most people, makes such a difference if you can get home quicker because you are so tired,” Reid says.
Her journey usually starts around 5:00am and ends at 6:30am, when she arrives into work an hour early for her shift. She could get a later bus, but according to Reid, it doesn’t leave her with enough time to get ready for her shift.
“Because of the pandemic, when we get to hospital, we have to change, and we have to PPE up before, because I’m on a Covid ward,” Reid explains.
Getting home presents its own problems. After her 13 hour shift, she could often be waiting up to 35 minutes for a bus home.
Dublin Bus services are currently running at a reduced capacity and regularity, operating on a Saturday schedule, leaving fewer buses with less room for passengers.
In an email statement to The City, Dublin Bus said that the Saturday schedules are “augmented by additional services, especially in the early morning peak” and “the schedules reflect the current demand for services”.
The reduction in both the frequency and the capacity of the buses can lead to issues with social distancing.
“Especially in the level five situation, I know the service is reduced to a Saturday service, and that just doesn’t make sense to me.
“It would make more sense if the services still ran as normal – people would be given the opportunity to keep their distance more,” says a social care worker based in Fingal, who has chosen to remain anonymous to protect her privacy.
The accessibility of transport is also an issue, this social care worker notes that recently, real time displays in train stations have often been broken: “If you’re an older person that doesn’t have a phone, or people with disabilities like the ones I work with, it makes it difficult.”
However, the health and safety of bus drivers can’t be ignored either.
Dublin Bus said that these reductions are in place to protect the health and safety of passengers and staff, which is their “first priority”.
“We’re just like everybody else, we don’t want to bring it home,” says Dublin Bus driver Joe O’Dwyer.
O’Dwyer feels lucky to still be working during the pandemic and notes that “the company is supplying PPE stuff” including masks and hand sanitiser.
The services are trying their best to cope with the pandemic restrictions. “One of the things we’re trying to do with the Saturday timetable, it’s called an enhanced [timetable], so there’s an extra couple of buses that go out on certain routes that are busy – they’re trying to do their best with it,” O’Dwyer says.
“It’s all about health and safety, isn’t it? Keeping the staff safe and the public safe,” O’Dwyer adds.
Public transport has been an issue in Fingal before the pandemic, and the reduced services have worsened the situation.
“With ongoing and increasing development in Lusk, Skerries, and Rush, it’s obviously putting more strain on the public transport system,” says Councillor Robert O’Donoghue, the Labour Party local area representative for Rush and Lusk in Fingal, who is working with a local action group to increase public transport in the area.
The action group has asked Fingal County Council to assess public transport services in the area in relation to population and housing development.
“Any assessment that goes on, I can’t see the possibility of services being pulled back,” O’Donoghue says. “There’s just too much housing development going on in the north county.”
“Fingal, I think, is being used almost as a relief valve for the housing crisis to some degree.
“That can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your way of looking at it. They’ll serve where the people are, and with more and more people moving out our way, I do believe the services will come,” he adds.