2021: A commuting odyssey

Image Credit: Pau Casals

Shane Lynch profiles some of the students commuting long distances due to the increased cost of rent in Dublin.

The return to on-campus teaching was welcomed by the vast majority of students. It has provided the opportunity for students to move beyond the four walls of their bedroom, and go to university to attain a third level education in person and to make new friends properly.  However, it also requires students to live near or travel to their university every day, raising choices for many students across the country.

Students had to decide whether or not they would opt for rental accommodation for the semester, or instead choose to commute. Increasing rents and a shortage of student accommodation have created a situation where many students have chosen the latter. Many commutes can be considered long and arduous. Public transport in Ireland is less than sufficient to meet the needs of the thousands of student commuters that use it. Many counties don’t have rail services; bus links can be unreliable, and the expense of driving your own car to college can add up rapidly. However, in most cases, commuting may be cheaper than renting.  

The University Observer spoke to four students commuting to college every day to gain a further insight into their opinions on the commute, and their experience as student commuters.

Emma Morkeliunaite, 2nd year Politics and German student.

Emma travels from Skerries to UCD every day. She gets the commuter train into Dublin city, then she gets a bus from town onwards. She spends €30 a week on public transport, capping her student leap card. Emma believes without this it would be much more expensive, “if there wasn't a cap, I would be spending much more”. 

She highlights that while the buses such as the 39a from the city centre are reliable, the trains should be more frequent from Skerries. “Trains from my hometown come around once an hour.”

Emma told the University Observer that commuting home from nights out is particularly difficult. “I find commuting home from nights out incredibly difficult as there are no trains past 11:45pm”. It takes around 1 hour and 30-45 minutes each way, meaning that Emma is spending over 3 hours commuting each day. 

Emma believes the commute is negatively impacting her university experience. “The commute is definitely taking a toll on me at the minute. I find it incredibly hard to go to society events or nights out, as it means I get home incredibly late. It also means I find it hard to make friends because I don't go to many college events other than just lectures. The commute also impacts my college work as I am incredibly tired when I get home and I usually don't have any energy” 

Emma does not envisage that she will be able to rent accommodation any time soon however, mentioning that she did not even consider the option of accommodation because of financial worries. “Just from hearing about rent prices around Dublin, I did not consider looking for accommodation, personally because I knew my family wouldn't be able to afford it. I knew that I would have to commute to college from the start, but I didn't realise how much of a mental toll it would have on me. Unless rent prices drastically go down, I do not see myself renting accommodation”

Emma suggests more frequent trains from Irish Rail would help enhance her commuting experience. She also calls for more society events to take place earlier in the day. “More frequent trains from Irish Rail would definitely help. 

Sarah Kenny, 2nd year Politics with Geography, French and Spanish student. 

Sarah commutes from Edenderry in County Offaly. She gets to UCD via Bus and train. It costs approximately €95 every week for her to commute to Dublin. 

Sarah struggles with the unreliability of public transport. “The bus from Edenderry to Dublin (120 go ahead) has repeatedly not shown up and left me waiting for the next bus. This is the case in both Dublin and Edenderry”. It would take about an hour and a half to drive to UCD from Edenderry but on public transport it takes between 3 and 3.5 hours, depending on traffic.

Sarah laments that she doesn’t really have a university life. “I just worry about getting buses home and what time that’ll leave me in Edenderry at. I haven’t got to do any college societies or meet ups with friends or nights out. I end up leaving my lectures early to get buses and sometimes not coming into college because it takes too much time and I have assignments etc.”

Sarah says that she did consider renting and is looking for accommodation. “With transport costing so much a week it makes sense to actually find a place to live and save on transport. For a room in Dublin city centre (and not a nice one at that) it was €800 a month. In suburbs like Lucan or Clondalkin you could maybe get somewhere for €500 or €600 a month but it’s still two buses from UCD and a 1.5-hour commute.”

Sarah outlines that the SUSI grant is necessary for her to be able to rent in the coming year. “Renting was not an option for me until I got the SUSI grant this year. If I don’t get it next year, I won’t be able to move out” 

Sarah suggests that there should be a fare cap on the coach from Edenderry to UCD similar to the way that there’s a fare cap in Dublin with the student leap card. “A major thing would be the student leap card capping amount being included in the go-ahead buses. There is a student discount but this still costs €7 or €8 each way. As it’s the main mode of transport I use, it would help a lot.” She also suggests that a direct bus from UCD to Edenderry would be very useful. 

Sarah does not see the commute as a sustainable option in the long term, financially or academically. “Even if it was only one or two times a day. I don’t see the commute as being viable long term. As it’s quite expensive, unreliable, and exhausting. It’s impacting on my quality of life in both my personal and academic lives. I am considering renting but as I said, the only reason I can think of this as an option is because I have SUSIi. I work two days a week as well and that would help with rent but that also is impacting on the amount of time I have to focus on college”

David Dinca, 2nd year Economics and Politics student.

David gets the bus from Clontarf to UCD. This costs him €20 per week. He says the service is reliable. “On a scale from 1 to 5, I would give the bus a reliability rating of 4/5” 

David moved to Clontarf from Mullingar because he was spending too much money on petrol for his car and that rent in the suburbs actually worked out to be more sustainable, financially and academically. “I was spending more on petrol per month than my current rent, and also being so tired didn't help as I couldn't study anything when I got home.”

“It would have taken me 1 hour and 10 minutes to get to UCD from Westmeath by car. It takes me 1 hour 15 minute to get from my rental accommodation in Clontarf to UCD on the bus. I always try to leave as early as possible to avoid traffic and also leave campus as late as possible in the interest of time. At the start of the year, I was 100% sure I would never rent due to prices and living costs. Now I rent because I managed to find rent for only €400 per month and because after seeing the campus, I realized that I wanted to live in the city. My conclusion? Moving to Dublin was the best choice for me.” 

David says that his commute could be improved by the expansion of the 32X service. “It's pretty annoying if I miss the 8:20 one because the commute becomes much longer and I have to change 2 buses. The only solution I see for my particular case, if I were to commute, would be a better car with a more efficient engine and higher speed limits on the motorway, then I would switch to commuting again.”

Bobbi Lynch, 2nd year Social Justice & Politics student.

Bobbi gets the Sillan Bus from Navan to UCD. It costs €53 a week, provided that she buys a ten-trip ticket. There are a lot of people commuting from Navan to UCD, with Bobbi herself saying “the coach is reliable but very packed”. It takes 2 hours for Bobbi to get from Navan to UCD, meaning that she spends 4 hours a day commuting. 

Bobbi has to wake up very early in the morning to catch the bus from Navan. “To get to classes on time for 10am I have to get the 7:30am bus, so that means getting up at 6:30am each morning.”

Bobbi also expresses frustration at the fact that the latest bus back to Navan is at 6pm “which leaves out any opportunity to attend society events and big nights out with our course or Student Union events, it also makes it more difficult to socialize with any friends made on campus that also live there”. 

Bobbi acknowledges that while rent would be expensive, commuting is also taking its toll academically. “Getting up at that time leaves very little room for evening study at home and panicking to get assignments finished on top of study. An early morning leaves me exhausted during the day and less attentive to my later lectures”

Bobbi would never consider renting on campus as the prices are “extortionate”. However she would “consider sharing an apartment with multiple people in the city if it was affordable with both my SUSI and a part time job, but a part time job would again eat into my study time and affect my classes and grades. The lowest rent on campus is a good bit over €700 a month, closer to my family’s mortgage for a 4-bedroom house at home. I would consider renting for one semester only if I got a job over the summer and saved up a lot, but never a whole year.”

Bobbi suggests that there should be a separate fund made available by third level institutions or an addition to the SUSI grant to subsidise the cost of commuting.

“The cost of the journey leaves me without any left-over money as my entire monthly SUSI payment goes towards travel. I believe if there was a separate fund made available by UCD to support transport/commuting costs, or if this was taken into account by SUSI themselves, that would make life a lot easier, affordable and less embarrassing for us.”

Although commuting may be a cheaper option than renting, it can take its toll on students academically and financially. The journeys can be long and arduous, made difficult by Ireland's inadequate public transport system. They can also be tiring, extremely expensive, and prevent a social life. Students interviewed by the University Observer have many suggestions to improve commuting, and make it a more feasible option if rent is to remain so expensive.