Metro A Smokescreen for Government’s Road Plans

Metro A Smokescreen for Government’s Road Plans. Irish Independent, 15th August 2000

A sense of Déja-vu permeated yesterday’s press conference as Minister O’Rourke unveiled another grand plan to solve Dublin’s traffic problems. Just over two years ago she had announced a hastily cobbled together plan to spend ‘400 million pounds plus’ on an expanded Dublin Light Rail system. Yesterday’s announcement of a £4.3 billion plan bears all the hallmarks of the same ‘make it up as you go along’ type of thinking. Coming hot on the heels of the weekend’s proposal to proceed with the Eastern Bypass motorway, the Metro plans appear to be little more than a smokescreen to cover up more controversial road proposals. Nine years ago prior to the 1991 local elections Fianna Fáil promised a light rail system for Dublin. Clearly, the Government’s promises must be taken with a large pinch of salt. One of the easiest ways of killing off a project is to announce a more grandiose plan that supersedes all previous versions. Yesterday’s press conference comes in the wake of a long line of broken promises to Dublin’s commuters. Ironically, even as the Metro plans were being announced in Government Buildings, there was gridlock in the city centre due to traffic diversions caused by building works on Dawson Street.

The Dublin Transportation Initiative had provided Minister O’Rourke with a strong menu of options for dealing with Dublin’s traffic. It offered a three-line light rail system, improvements in suburban rail and park and ride sites to offer commuters an option to taking the car. It also promised cycle lanes, and pedestrian improvements. However, Minister O’Rourke failed to grasp the nettle and implement effective transport policies. Over 90% of transport investment over the last decade has been spent on road building schemes, with little progress on public transport. Traffic in Dublin has got steadily worse with journey times increasing citywide. Meanwhile levels of car emissions have increased on city centre streets, with air pollution exceeding European standards on the Quays and in the City Centre. Car sales have increased exponentially in recent years, and car parking has spread over children’s playgrounds in parts of the inner city. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions have increased. This makes it impossible for Ireland to reach the targets set under the Kyoto agreements to limit global warming.

A change of emphasis is now required in transportation planning. Instead of spending billions on new projects and infrastructure, we should make better use of what we already have. The Quality Bus corridors should be introduced city wide over a twelve-month period. This would allow for cross-city routes that would run on time. An extra five hundred buses should be provided, together with an increase in the annual subsidy to Dublin Bus so that we can be assured of a proper bus service. New information systems should allow passengers waiting at the bus stop to know exactly when the next bus will arrive. If Dublin Bus doesn’t rise to the challenge, and if the centre doors still don’t open, then we should introduce deregulation on certain routes. There also needs to be more car-free zones provided, so that Dubliners can hold a conversation on city centre streets without having to shout into each other’s ears. Wider footpaths, and extended ‘green man’ times would help to civilise the city centre. Traffic calming must be introduced on all residential streets so that children can play in safety in their neighbourhood.

Some investment in roads and light rail is required. However, metro systems are extremely expensive, and are more suited to cities with a population of over five million. The money would be better spent on on-street systems, where one tenth of the money gives the same length of track. Giving space over to a light rail system that runs on city centre streets would be a cheap and effective way of delivering results. Instead of waiting ten or fifteen years for a metro, we could have a five line LRT system up and running in just a few years. Looking outwards at the commuter land that the Greater Dublin Area has become, we also require investment in regional rail. Reinstating the Navan Rail line should happen without delay, as most of the trackbed is still there. The Rosslare Line should be improved so that the ‘Are you right there Michael are you right?’ approach is replaced by twenty-first century signalling and carriages. This would attract passengers who would otherwise use cars to get to and from work. A Luas line running down Ballymun’s main street and linking the Airport with the city centre and Swords would be a potent image of the town’s renaissance, and would liberate air travellers from the tyranny of Aer Rianta’s costly car parks.

Effective short and long term policies are required to address Dublin’s traffic problems. Ad-hoc announcements by Government Ministers during the silly season do little to inspire confidence that the will is there to deliver a reliable transport system for the Nation’s Capital.