May 2009



cork ireland map – Google Maps_1241763066441

Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

We bank at AIB, and there is a branch office about 100 yards from here. Getting there, however, is a challenge. At least, getting there legally.

Driving should work, except while the bank has a parking lot, it’s not possible to get into the parking lot legally. You see, the one car-sized curb cut allowing cars into the lot is actually several feet down the street from the lot (and leads nowhere), so drivers have to (and do) drive on the wide sidewalk before getting to the lot itself. When leaving, many drivers opt to drive out using the bike and wheelchair-sized curb cut (about 4 feet wide).

Walking should be easy, except to walk there using sidewalks and crosswalks involves about a half mile hike, heading north up the road until it reaches a T-intersection, then crossing over to the other side of Curragh Road, coming back along Curragh Road, and finally crossing three more streets to get to the bank. Opting for a more direct route involves attempting to cross the road at a wide expanse of tarmac where five roads meet, and two more enter less than fifty feet away. There is no crosswalk from where we are, and it’s difficult to look every direction and judge the traffic correctly to know it’s safe to cross, so usually I get halfway out and have to wait in the painted triangular no-drive zone while traffic passes by. The no-drive zone is more of a theoretical concept than a reality, so it’s not always terribly safe.

There’s a joke I heard years ago that said which nation would be in charge of different things in heaven and hell.  The joke used stereotypes to imagine the best and worst role for each country, so the Italians were the lovers in heaven but ran the trains in hell, for example.  I got to pondering, where would the Irish fit into that joke?  In heaven they could be the storytellers, or maybe the musicians and singers, or maybe just be in charge of craic (fun).  I have no doubt what they would do in hell, though: they would run the buses.

Everyone (except the employees of Bus Eireann, of course) thinks Bus Eireann does a terrible job.  An article in a paper a few months ago referred to the company as “infamous,” people regularly complain about the service on discussion boards, and whenever I told people I didn’t have a car and had to use Bus Eireann, they would give me a sympathetic look and agree that the service was awful.

What makes them so bad?

  1. They don’t provide customers a map of their routes.  I’ve seen two locations in the city with a very basic map that doesn’t really show enough detail to be useful, but customers can’t have a copy even of that.
  2. The same basic route may be called different things depending on when the bus runs.  For example, the bus that passed by our apartment in Rochestown was the 223, but it ended at different points at different times of day, so the bus might show a destination of Passage West or Monkstown or something else entirely.
  3. The different destinations for the same route might not be so confusing if the route numbers were correctly displayed, but I would estimate that about 15% of the time the 223 bus would show some other number on it because the driver hadn’t bothered to change it.
  4. The buses sometimes run early.  The worst example being the time the bus driver left the station 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time.  When he had this pointed out by a customer who almost missed the bus but managed to flag it down, he simply ignored her complaint and kept going.
  5. The buses more often run late, so a person has to arrive 8 to 10 minutes early but will often have to wait 10 to 15 minutes after the scheduled time for the bus to arrive.
  6. Twice in one week the bus simply drove right past me when I was at a bus stop.
  7. With no map to rely on, a person has to know that a bus runs on a certain street and then wait at a bus stop, but that isn’t enough.  Amy discovered that on some routes, the buses don’t actually stop at every stop along their route, but there is nothing at most of the stops to indicate which of the buses that roll by stop there and which don’t.  There are also no schedules posted at most stops, so it’s all a guessing game.
  8. I once had to ride the bus but I wasn’t sure of exactly where to get off.  I asked the bus driver for help and he promised to let me know when we got to the stop I needed.  When the bus reached the end of its route, the driver looked in his rearview mirror, saw me, and only then realized he hadn’t told me when to leave the bus despite the fact that I had been visible in his mirror the whole time.  I had to pay to get on another bus that was going back in the direction I needed.
  9. Another time, the driver of a bus I was on parked the bus, got out, went into a convenience store, and emerged a bit later with a Coke.

10.  Months ago, a driver took his nearly full bus back to the bus barn to switch drivers.  We sat in the parking lot for several minutes while what looked to be a supervisor chatted with the new driver.  This happened again just yesterday.  This gives an idea of the mindset of Bus Eireann, that the company will delay and inconvenience dozens of paying customers rather than come up with a plan that doesn’t involve buses going off-route, or require a driver to walk 5 minutes to a spot where he could meet his bus. (I say “he” because of the dozens of drivers on the routes in Cork, we’ve only ever seen one woman driver).

11.  There are posted rules against standing in front of a painted line at the front of the bus or talking to the driver.  Everyone respects the rule except the employees of Bus Eireann (identifiable by their jackets) who regularly stand next to the driver and chat away.

12.  In September of 2007 there was a day when people could ride the bus for free.  I know this because, even though I didn’t arrive in Ireland until December of 2007, the posters advertising this one-day event were securely glued onto the bus windows.  On the other hand, posters with what seem to be permanent rules on them appear to be held in place by nothing more than a little saliva.

I’ve seen a couple of columns in the newspapers saying many Irish are “world-class complainers” but another columnist noted that the Irish are moaners, not complainers.  She explained that people here moan to their friends and co-workers about things, but they don’t actually complain to anyone who can do anything.  This columnist thought that was why Ireland had such bad service in many fields, especially health care.

I have to agree, and I would add crappy bus service as one more result of not complaining.  For the record, I did complain about most of these problems, more than once, but nothing changed and eventually they stopped sending out their canned response.  I gave up, too, and began walking into City Centre from Rochestown (about an hour’s walk away) rather than ride the bus.  I still avoid riding the bus whenever possible.

I was out and about today around lunch so I decided to stop in at O’Briens for a sandwich.  O’Briens is a chain restaurant and coffee shop here in Ireland and elsewhere, and we’ve been in to them before a couple of times.  I saw the “Special of the Day” was a chicken tikka baguette, which sounded good, so I ordered it.

The cashier asked what I was having and when I told her it was the special she had to ask a co-worker what the special was.  I thought that was odd, because it seemed to me the special should be a set price from day-to-day.  So, I paid attention to her ringing me up and it was €2.25 for the Coke and €5.50 for the sandwich.  Again, I was confused, since that was the same price shown on the regular menu.  When I asked why the special was at the regular price, she explained, “It’s not a special offer, it’s the ‘Special of the Day.’”

I had to laugh.  I’ve seen specials that were no less expensive than other meals, but were items not found on the normal menu, and I’ve seen specials that were on the regular menu but at a reduced price.  I think this is the first time I’ve ever ordered a special that was always on the menu, and always at the same price.

To add insult to injury, the sandwich was as bland as could be.  In all seriousness, I decided about halfway through the sandwich that I would really pay attention to the next bite to see if I could detect any flavour, and in all fairness, there was the slightest hint of chicken.  This was, without question, the least special “Special” I have ever ordered.