September 25, 2022

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The policing model where the Garda works closely with transport operators and regulators is the best one, the National Transport Authority (NTA) has said.

The authority said levels of antisocial behaviour were “generally stable” on public transport but were “a constant operational concern” for it and transport companies.

The NTA was responding to questions on its attitude to calls for a special transport police in the wake of an apparent homophobic attack on a young man on a bus in South Dublin last weekend.

A spokesman said it was “worth pointing out that customers take approximately 240,000,000 bus, tram and train journeys in Ireland annually, and the vast majority of those journeys take place without any problem whatsoever”.

The NTA said most incidents on buses were “primarily due to stone throwing and malicious damage” while also noting “those causing antisocial behaviour issues are typically also fare evaders”.

Politicians from Opposition and Government parties called for a special public transport police service following the attack on Mark Sheehan (26) early on Sunday and other attacks in recent times.

According to a report on antisocial behaviour prepared by the NTA, such attacks and other forms of antisocial behaviour such as theft and criminal damage are decreasing on Irish Rail services. But the report showed Irish Rail spends more on security than other transport operators and has more formalised policing “hubs” operated in co-operation with the Garda.

The authority singled out these falling levels of antisocial behaviour on Irish Rail services in recent years, while the report showed Irish Rail has increased spending to €5 million a year on security services. On the rail network, incidents are often alcohol or drug related, but joint operations and strong local connections with gardaí have been effective for Irish Rail and are planned to continue, the transport authority said.

On mainline rail the Garda has established response hubs at nine locations — Mallow, Limerick Junction, Thurles, Portlaoise, Athlone, Kildare, Longford, Castlerea and Mullingar — and potentially Kilkenny. Irish Rail has also set up a public transport safety team and created a security centre at Howth Junction to facilitate a security response in the Greater Dublin Area.

Luas has 52 security staff and its spending on security annually is €2 million to €3 million. Antisocial behaviour increased slightly on trams so far in 2022 the National Transport Authority said.

Significant challenges are posed by the open network, as with Irish Rail, where offenders can run on and off trams easily, and malicious-damage incidents or assaults can happen quickly.

A trial of remote viewing of on-tram CCTV in real time proved successful and is being rolled out across the fleet.

The NTA said all bus operators reported incidents of stone throwing on a regular basis but that these intensified over winter months and school holidays. Damage is mostly caused by primary-aged children, the authority said.

Liaison officers have recently re-engaged with schools to highlight the dangers of stone throwing.

Dublin Bus reported there are some 40 incidents per four-week period. Bus Éireann reported no significant change in antisocial incidents overall; however, there have been some recent reports of malicious damage.

Go-Ahead Ireland reported a similar level of antisocial incidents as Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann — stone throwing is again the main issue faced.

The NTA said it meets every two months with security management from all public transport operators to share experience and to consider what support, financial or otherwise, is required.

The authority also said it “regularly” engages with senior gardaí to discuss support for the transport operators and to discuss plans for joint operations for 2022.

It said investment in CCTV and other technology will continue. The NTA also said it is working to address the lack of lighting at bus stops with shelters.

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