How to Survive Public Transport in Dublin

How to survive public transport in Dublin

If you have never been to Dublin you might be wondering what's the point of such a blog post. After living in here for over a year, however, I have first-handedly experienced all of the shortcomings and difficulties of using the public transport in this quirky capital of Ireland. Are you planning on visiting sometime soon? If so, keep reading and save yourself from the confusion you'll surely start facing the moment you exit the terminal and try to find your way from the airport to the city centre.

Now, most European capitals have an easy-to-navigate public transportation system that you get a hang of after the first 30 minutes of staring at the tube map. Dublin is like playing that same game on hard-mode: the same rules don't apply, the obstacles are more frequent, and the boss-fight of attempting to cross the city with one single vehicle is nearly impossible. I have been stopped by countless of tourists while roaming around the city streets with my workplace lanyard swinging from one side to another - because yes, that gives you instant street cred and makes you look like you actually know where you're going in this lovable mess of a city. 90% of the time their questions are related to the public transport, such as "From which side of the road does the tram to place X leave?" (left-side traffic can be confusing the first time you try it out!) or "Where can I buy a bus ticket?" I collected questions that you might end up asking yourself (or the white collar worker with her lanyard around her neck running by, trying to catch her bus) while roaming around Dublin. Let's go!

How do I travel around Dublin? What kind of public transport is available?
Dublin's public transport is three-fold. First, you have Dublin Bus, the yellow double-decked buses that might just take you where you want to go if you're lucky. Then you have the LUAS, a two-line tram system that takes you around in the shape of a cross - vertically and horisontally around the city. Funny enough, these two lines have not crossed each other until now: the cross-city LUAS works that have been ongoing since 2013 are finally coming to an end, and in November 2017 we are finally promised to have the two tramlines meet. Thirdly, you have the DART, Dublin's suburban train, and the commuter trains to further locations.

What kind of ticket do I need? Where can I buy tickets?
This is where Dublin gets tricky. See, this holy trinity of Dublin's transportation system does not work together - they're all their own individual entities with their own ticket systems. Meaning, if you want to start your journey on the LUAS and then switch to a bus, the same ticket isn't working on both.

You can buy single tickets for all three: LUAS and the Dart have ticket machines on each station and the fare will depend on your destination (zone-style). For Dublin Bus you can buy a single ticket from the driver with a flat fare of 2,70€. You need to have that exact amount of money in cash, as you get no change.

You also have day-ticket options in Dublin. You can get yourself a Leap card, the Irish equivalent of an Oyster card if you've ever been to London. The Leap card has a deposit on it, and you can top it up with either money or time. You can get yourself one from any ticket machine on Luas or Dart stations, and mind you, this thing is valid in all three means of transport. Leap card fares are usually 20% cheaper compared to the flat fares, so if you're planning on travelling often, I recommend you get one. If you're only staying for a few days and are prepared to roam around a lot, get yourself the Leap Visitor Card.

How do I top up my Leap card?
You can do this on every ticket machine on Luas and Dart stations. If you're always late and/or a more frequent commuter like myself, you can also download the Leap Card App which allows you to top up your card on the go with your mobile. 

How do I use my ticket/Leap card? Do I have to validate it when boarding a bus/tram/train?
Yes. Once you have your single/day ticket or a Leap card, the validation process is pretty much the same on each type of transport:
  • When you want to enter a Luas, simply tap your Leap card on the ticket validation machine standing on each end of the stop. This deducts the maximum amount of money from your Leap card, and can go on minus. But worry not! Once you get off the Luas on your destination stop, simply tap off the same way and the deduction will be returned back on your card depending on the distance between your start and end points. This does not apply to single tickets, which you need to buy according to the zones. Simply hop on and remember to leave the tram before crossing the next zone!
  • The Dart works almost the same. However, both tickets and Leap cards need to be validated at the gates before entering the station. Leap cards are tapped and single/day tickets are swiped through a slot. When you exit at your destination, repeat, and the gates will open to let you out.
  • Now, Dublin Bus. Where do I even start... Take notes, love. If you want to travel under 13 stops by bus, you need to know the stop number or the name of your destination stop. When you enter a bus, place your card on the machine in front of the driver on the left and tell them where you're going. They will do the magic and the right amount of money depending on the distance to your destination is again deducted from your Leap card. If you travel over 13 stops, the Leap card validation machine will be on your right attached to a bar. Place your Leap card on the machine, and a flat fare of 2,60€ will be deducted. You don't have to tap off when you exit a bus in either case.

Wait... What? How am I supposed to know the bus stop name or number?
Just breathe, it's going to be alright. The stop number is mentioned on each stop. If you have never been to the stop before, you can use cheats like the Dublin Bus App which gives you real-time information, bus routes and stop locations. If you're unsure, you can also just mention the vague location, say, "Annesley Bridge" even if the official stop name is Waterloo Avenue. You can also just mention the number of stops you'll be taking, like "5 stops". I have heard people use all these strategies to go about the Dublin Bus.

If you have a day ticket, you don't need to worry about any of this. Simply tap on on the machine on the right and enjoy the ride.

Can I transfer from one bus to another with the same validation?
Unfortunately, no. There is no transfer system in place in Dublin. Once you board a bus, you board that bus, and that bus only, and if you need to make a transfer to another bus, you need to pay again. This is why it's important for you to know where you're going, so you don't end up always paying the flat fare. There is a price cap, though. After you've travelled around with fares worth of 10€, the rest of your day will be free of charge. I've succeeded in this only once when I spent my Saturday travelling around Dublin to interview my research participants for my Master's thesis.

Can I transfer from one Luas to another without tapping off in-between?
Oh, my sweet summer child... Let me share an instructional poster about the Luas system:

Fucking walk it yerself

See, technically I believe you could. But there's a solid 15 to 20-minute walk between the two lines as of now, so there isn't much point. Everything will change when the cross-city works are done - or so they keep telling us...

Are there ticket inspections in public transport in Dublin?
Yes. Some people keep telling me they have never seen one, but as someone who takes both the Luas and the bus every single day, I live through them at least four times a week. They're very common in the Luas, but I have also experienced them in the Dart and even in the bus, so buy your tickets or pay the penalty fare of 100€.

How do I get to/from the airport in Dublin?
You have multiple options. If you want to save money and are in no hurry (emphasis on no hurry at all), you can take Dublin Bus number 16. It will take you through the lovely suburbs of Dublin, avoiding the M50 highway, and takes about an hour if you're lucky. I tried this once - it's almost like the bus is pulled by a very stubborn and old mule, but hey, it's only 2,60€!

What I usually take, however, are buses 747 and 730 between Dublin Airport and Heuston Station. These buses are called the Dublin Airlink: they're dark green, and have slightly separate fees compared to the normal Dublin Bus. A single fare is 7€ and a return 10€. This bus is supposed to be an express bus and takes the M50 highway through the tunnel, but spends quite some time in the city centre driving by all possible hostels and collecting travellers. The journey time is between half an hour and 50 minutes, depending on the time of the day.

You can also take the Aircoach, which is a separate bus company with fancy, comfy blue buses. 7€ for a single ticket and 12€ for return. I have never tried this bus, but you can buy their tickets either online on their website or by cash in the bus.

Seems manageable, why does it feel like you're not too keen on the public transport in Dublin?
Let me demonstrate with a screenshot from Google Maps what happens when I try to go to work. I live in the north, and work in the north. For some reason, however, this happens:

Why is Dublin public transport so diffiult

The bus map is very inconvenient. It's almost impossible to cross the city without transfer, and the journey times are really long. I live 2 kilometres away from my workplace. I would cycle there in 20 minutes, but by public transport, this jolly little journey takes an hour. Speaking of bikes...

Are there city bikes in Dublin?
Yes! And they're the best thing if you happen to be conveniently located close to the bike stations. They accept Leap cards, 3-day tickets and annual cards. Read more about the bikes from their website.

I wish you courage and luck, traveller. When you grow old and weary, remember that Dublin is also a very walkable city. If you don't intend to stray away from the city centre during your stay in Dublin, you might be able to avoid all this and just blissfully stroll back and forth the banks of the Liffey river. 

Have you ever struggled with public transport during your travels? Which city has the best one in your opinion? Share your stories in the comments below!

Love, Melissa

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