I accidentally hired Liveline the other day. As summer draws to a close, regular listeners would have known what to expect: about the price of school uniforms and the hassles that face any parent trying to get their children back on track. Instead, things took a rather dark turn.
An unfortunate lady went on the airwaves to speak out about the violence she and her young family witnessed on the Luas Red Line when they were subjected to a tirade of abuse from a gang of thugs who boarded the tram – at first verbally, then physically. It was all pretty awful stuff. Her statement painted a picture of what many of us experience when we venture on public transport these days: rampant crime, rampant aggression, and a feeling that most ordinary people just aren’t safe when taking certain trains or using certain Luas or getting on the bus at the wrong time in the evening.
What was interesting and quite depressing about the lady’s eloquent description was that this was not an isolated case. Far from it. In fact, this conversation triggered a flood of other callers who had had similar or worse encounters on public transport. In all honesty, anyone who listened to the show would have been convinced that we’d become an obnoxious, anti-social, and thoroughly wild society.
Of course we’re not that bad. I hope. But there are times when it’s hard to dispute the growing notion that using public transport has become an increasingly risky activity. The litany of attacks on buses, trains and the Luas this summer seems longer than ever.
Public attention was drawn in particular to the recent case of 26-year-old Mark Sheehan, who was brutally assaulted in a homophobic attack on a late-night bus ride home and hospitalized for injuries sustained. Will any of the thugs who committed this horrible, cowardly attack ever be brought to justice? Well what do you think?
Likewise, earlier this month, a young man was brutally attacked by a gang of 10 at the Luas line in George’s Dock. Will any of the thugs who committed this horrible, cowardly attack ever be brought to justice? Well what do you think?
Dermot O’Leary, chairman of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), spoke for many of us when he called for stronger government action in the wake of the Sheehan attack, saying: “He wanted to go home peacefully and he was is no longer possible… It’s a shame that a person in Dublin or anywhere else in the country can’t get on a bus – and it happens all over the country – and not have to put up with a fight.”
O’Leary wants a dedicated Transport Police unit to be introduced to keep order on particularly troublesome routes – and it’s hard to argue against his proposal. However, the government has repeatedly blocked the idea, insisting there is “no need” for such a force to be set up.
Serious? Any regular commuter now knows which routes to avoid whenever possible. But avoidance isn’t always an option, and many people I know feel utterly let down by an administration ironically quick to scold motorists and encourage everyone to use public transit.
Can’t the powerful see reality right before their eyes? It’s all very easy to tell people to leave their private car and use public transport instead – but why expose themselves to potential danger when they know that the only protection they have when the going gets tough is is a hotline he can write?
Basically, it’s a question of visibility, of optics. The thugs who attacked Mark Sheehan, along with so many others, know they can act with complete impunity because there is no one around to stop them. Even the much-maligned private security teams on the Luas have their hands tied – they have no authority and are viewed as a joke by the thugs. Dublin has always been a rough city and those who spend the night in the city center know that they need to keep a cool head – that’s part of living in a big city. But this price has become extortionate.
Councilor Nial Ring opposes transport policing because he wants to see more cops on the streets rather than acting ‘as bouncers’ on Dart, Luas or bus services. That’s a good point, and perhaps the only reasonable objection to O’Leary’s claims.
The government can no longer put the idea of its own transport police on the back burner.
We’re slowly losing the fight against brawling. It’s time this government cracked down on anti-social behavior. It worked in New York in the 1990s as part of the “broken window” theory – which suggests that policing methods that target petty crimes help create an environment of order and lawfulness. There’s no reason why it wouldn’t work here.
But do our politicians have the courage to really tackle the problem?
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/weve-lost-many-of-our-streets-to-thuggery-is-public-transport-going-the-same-way-41948611.html We’ve lost a lot of our roads to fights. Is public transport the same?