It’s 2am on Saturday night, and a double decker bus trundles down Washington Street in Cork City, carrying a few bleary eyed stragglers. I’m one of them.
A student with an apparent vendetta against Bus Eireann launches an impressive karate kick against my window, toppling himself to the ground.
The 220 weaves among swarms of people spilling out of pubs and clubs, and in these small hours of the morning, it feels safer to be on Cork’s only 24-hour bus service than off it.
Over 3.2 million journeys are made on public transport every week in Ireland. Currently just 600,000 of those journeys are on buses outside Dublin, but all that is set to change. If Transport for Ireland’s ambitious plans come to fruition, we’ll all be taking the bus.
In January 2019, Cork’s 220 route made history as the first to begin operating 24 hours a day. Linking two major satellite towns with the city centre, Ballincollig and Carrigaline, buses come every 15 minutes during the day, and at least every hour through the night.
A year after moving to 24-hour service, passenger numbers surged by 70%, and a record 1.3 million trips were taken on the route. The 220 set a trend that was quickly followed by several 24-hour bus lines now running in Dublin.
Although the non-stop service is hugely popular, at a tenth of the cost of an equivalent late-night taxi journey, reports of anti-social behaviour are frequent enough that my companion and I are warned to keep our wits about us on our mission to see what a Saturday night is really like on Cork’s late night line.
I was reminded more than once of an incident in June 2020, when a 17-year-old was stabbed in Carrigaline, and gardaí pursued the 220 after the attack to arrest a number of youths on board.
We buy our tickets from a female bus driver, remembering another notable incident on Halloween night in 2019, when a female driver on the same route was threatened with rape and racially abused by a large group of teenage passengers.
Moving off from the city centre at 11.30pm, both floors of the bus