Thursday 29 September 2016

Time for Ross to set out his views on transport

Published 09/08/2016 | 02:30

'The normally voluble and vociferous Transport Minister Shane Ross has been remarkably silent about his vision for the future of the system.' Pic:Mark Condren
'The normally voluble and vociferous Transport Minister Shane Ross has been remarkably silent about his vision for the future of the system.' Pic:Mark Condren

There was always an inevitability about strike threats from the National Bus and Railworkers' Union. Once union members saw that the Luas stoppages resulted in a pay rise - albeit smaller than sought - they were set on a similar course of action. A ballot of members in Dublin Bus has now been held and another is under way in Irish Rail. The resulting mandate for industrial strife was entirely predictable.

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The workers may indeed have justifiable grievances on pay and pensions which need to be addressed, but it will be the public that will suffer the most in the event of stoppages. And other unions will come under pressure from their members to follow suit, all of which threatens to lead to a winter of industrial discontent. There is never a good time for strikes which result in bigger public-sector pay bills but now is the worst possible, given the economic storm clouds gathering following the unexpected Brexit vote.

The threatened action on the buses and trains raises fundamental questions about Government policy towards public transport, which got little enough attention in the Programme for a Partnership Government. The normally voluble and vociferous Transport Minister Shane Ross has been remarkably silent about his vision for the future of the system. He spent years castigating quangos and particularly CIE but we have no idea how he intends to address some of the legacy issues he has inherited.

It's easy for Mr Ross to claim he is committed to getting people out of their cars and onto public transport. But what is he really doing to end the love affair between Irish people and their cars? A higher proportion of Irish people use their cars to get to work than in most EU cities. It's not surprising one of the most popular radio slots is AA Roadwatch.

Public transport is a key part of our infrastructural development and needs ministerial attention, decisions and actions. However, the only noticeable transport 'initiative' taken by this Government to date has been to kick down the road the plan by the Department of Education to reduce the size of school buses. And it wasn't even Mr Ross who did that, but his Independent Alliance colleague John Halligan.

An imaginative plan to cut home energy costs

The Bike to Work Scheme has proved to be a remarkable success story. It was the kind of initiative that captured the imagination of the public, many of whom bought bikes to get to work in a more environmentally-friendly and cost-effective way.

Another example of thinking outside the box which offers a win-win solution for the climate, for people’s comfort and for household budgets, is now on the table. It involves employers offering interest-free loans to workers to retrofit their homes and save energy.

Under the scheme, employees could fund the cost of replacing boilers and complete other works to reduce energy consumption and cut household bills. The plan is being developed by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). A number of pilot projects have already been undertaken. One Cork-based company has funded works totalling €180,000 for 32 employees, where the cost is repaid over 12 months through their salary. The SEAI is exploring how to extend the idea elsewhere and looking at different ways to finance it.

A quarter of all energy consumed in Ireland is used to heat and power homes and the Government is trying to reduce that figure. Too often we believe we cannot individually do much to address the problems caused by climate change and over reliance on fossil fuels.

This is one imaginative way of doing so while cutting our energy costs and saving us money.

Irish Independent

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