| 3.3°C Dublin

NTA releases research cited by Minister Eamon Ryan after furore over his claims on free public transport





A Green Party politician has said the party is focused on reducing bus fares and increasing capacity as opposed to opting for free public transport nationally.

Senator Pauline O’Reilly said if funding is used elsewhere first, those without access to regular public transport will “lose out”.

This comes as the National Transport Authority (NTA) has released the research behind Minister Eamon Ryan’s much-criticised claim that making public transport free would increase unnecessary journeys.

The research, by consultants EY, found that a free fare policy would attract more use by people who would otherwise be prepared to walk or cycle.

It would not persuade motorists to leave their cars, however, as public transport was already cheaper than running a car so making it free provided little additional incentive.

EY said the money spent on making up for lost fare revenue would have a greater impact if spent improving services and their frequency.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Ms O’Reilly said: “We need more bus routes, we need more public transport in Ireland, we have decades where there’s been no advancement in public transport.”

“So, actually where a lot of the funding needs to go is in providing more people with accessible routes and that’s what we’re doing.”

Ms O’Reilly said the party will keep a “close eye” on the situation, but that research shows that people might “move from walking or cycling and going on a bus instead”.

“When what we really need to see is people moving from a car onto public transport,” she said.

“We have one new bus route every week over last year and this year across rural Ireland.

“We need to focus on capacity for people and at the moment we have seen a massive increase in people using public transport and as a responsible politician, you need to ensure that people have access to public transport.”

People Before Profit TD Mick Barry said he found the report “quite surprising”.

“Across Europe, more cities and more governments are opting in favor of free public transport under pressure from their populations and are reporting significant successes,” he said.

“We’ll have a read of this report, and we will study it, but I think the results of it are quite surprising given the international elements.

“I think there would be a lot of questions over the findings based on international experience.”

EY’s report said free fares “undermines the strategic merit of the policy as it would not substantially boost the sustainability of the Irish transport system”.

“Surveys of Irish car users suggest that price is not a major determinant in their decision not to use public transport,” it said.

“The lack of a reliable public transport service near to where they live is a much more salient factor in their travel decisions.

“This aligns with international evidence, which suggests that public transport demand is much more sensitive to the levels of public transport service provision than it is to pricing.”

Free public transport is proposed from time to time as a way of reducing private car usage and the associated carbon emissions.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith asked Mr Ryan this week if he had given it any consideration.

Mr Ryan caused a furore when he replied: “Research tells us that any increase in public transport demand due to free fares would largely be achieved by reductions in active travel and an increased level of unnecessary trips.”

EY’s report comes to that conclusion, however. It puts the cost of removing fares at €350m-€550m per year plus an additional €140m for extra buses to prevent overcrowding.

“This extra capacity could take years to implement, and considerable overcrowding would be unavoidable in the initial years of the policy,” the report said.

“The commercial bus sector could also be negatively impacted, competing with a free service, and additional public investment may be required to sustain commercial services.”

It says the money would be better invested in public transport services.

Its analysis draws on the experience of towns and cities in Estonia, France, Belgium, Czechia, Luxembourg and the United States, and from projects in Ireland that successfully boosted public transport passenger numbers by improving services.

Most Watched