Saturday 23 September 2017

All parties should be focused on a solution - the benefits are there for everyone

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Paul Melia

Paul Melia

It's no great surprise that congestion has returned to boom-time levels, as practically nothing has been done over recent years to encourage or force motorists out of their cars.

There has been nowhere near the level of investment made in public transport to sustain a shift to bus, tram or rail and make them attractive options. In many cases, buses don't enjoy priority at traffic signals, despite carrying higher numbers of people than cars. Cycle paths are a luxury in many places. Politically, a congestion charge is a non-runner.

The situation is compounded by the fact that many believe fares are too high and do not represent value for money. But with public transport companies losing money, the only way around this is additional State funding.

But it's not just fares that are the problem. We appear to be reluctant or unwilling to grasp the fact that we do not have sufficient road space in our towns and cities to cater for growing numbers of private cars, coupled with those travelling on public transport, by foot or on bikes.

Building more roads isn't the answer. Once they're built, they just fill with even more traffic. But is growing congestion, and the associated problems including noise, time wasted away from family and friends and poorer air quality, a good thing?

On the face of it, clearly not. But the issues associated with gridlock should be impetus enough for the Government to make real efforts to tackle the problem.

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There are dividends to be paid - fewer delays to private motorists, bus and tram users as traffic moves more efficiently. Lower healthcare bills and fewer premature deaths through better air quality. Less noise, making our cities more attractive places to live and work.

For parties seeking the mantle of being fiscally responsible, there's benefits too. A recent Department of Transport study found that the cost of time lost due to gridlock is almost €360m a year in the Dublin area alone, which is forecast to rise to more than €2bn by 2033.

There are many possible solutions, and some can achieve quick wins. A big public transport investment programme could see a return in just two or three years as more buses, trams and trains provide more services for those hoping to leave the car at home.

More cycle lanes would encourage people to take the bike to work, and hopefully convince parents that their offspring can travel independently to school instead of being driven.

The solution to our congestion problem is more nuanced than merely banning cars. There are thousands who need their car on a daily basis, and they need to be accommodated. But we must realise that in our cities, public transport must take priority by virtue of the fact that it carries so many people and thereby represents a more efficient use of road space.

Longer-term action is needed, and all parties should be asked to set out their plans to tackle this problem, in particular addressing the fact that we refuse to build up in our cities. By continuing to sprawl out, we put further pressure on the scarce road space that's there.

Irish Independent

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