Monday 11 December 2017

It's not rocket science: provide decent alternative and people will be willing to ditch cars

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

One of the more surprising findings from the European Mobilities Observatory survey is about how people feel when they're making their daily journeys. Some 40pc of Irish people said they were in a "good mood", while another 37pc said they experienced "comfort".

Conversely, others reported feeling "tired" and "stressed" - hardly surprising, given that we spend the longest time behind the wheel of the car of any of the 10 European countries surveyed.

This is a useful exercise in determining what we think about the transport network, and it appears to suggest that people are willing to change their habits, if the State provides a decent alternative.

What's needed isn't high-speed trains or driverless cars. It's more funding for basic public transport services. It's car pooling lanes to reward those who share. Provision of park and ride sites to allow people to continue their trips into the city on bus or rail. Key to this are transport hubs where commuters can easily switch from one mode to another, from bus to Luas or train.

It's not rocket science, and if these changes were implemented, 70pc of 1,000 Irish respondents said they'd be willing to use the car less.

There's no doubt that we are wedded to the car. This is largely due to our dispersed settlement patterns. It's a legacy of poor planning, where houses were allowed to be built in isolated areas and towns were expanded without decent public transport services being put in place, that we now have such a dependency on the private car, with all of the congestion, air quality and climate change problems which ensue.

It's impossible to fund a proper public transport service without centres of population. Loss-making Bus Éireann shows that when the State is forced to fund services in isolated areas, financial trouble ensues. But that doesn't mean that we should shrug shoulders and continue with business as usual.

The first is to encourage the switch to public transport by providing the services people need. Just over one in five believe that buses, trams and trains are unreliable, or frequently jammed, yet not enough use it. Why? Accessibility. Stops aren't located close to homes, and the areas where people work are poorly served, the survey suggests. The State needs to find where services are needed, and plan accordingly.

Given that so many suggest they are willing to see a congestion charge imposed to reduce car volumes in cities, it's clear there is appetite for change. No longer can politicians claim such a move is out of bounds.

It's over to the Government now to implement the "critically important" investments, to convince more to use the car less often.

Irish Independent

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