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Number ditching the car rises but more investment in public transport is needed


Car stock image

Car stock image

Car stock image

Fewer than 30pc of trips made into the capital during the morning peak are by car, a record low. Although the number of passenger journeys made into Dublin now exceeds Celtic Tiger levels, the vast bulk are made by public transport, bike or walking.

The National Transport Authority (NTA) and Dublin City Council says that just over 107,000 trips were made into the city centre using bus, train or tram last year, which is the largest number recorded since the Canal Cordon Count got under way in 1980.

This means that more than half of all journeys into the city in the morning are made on public transport, and when cycling and walking are included, it swells to some 70pc of all trips.

This is a good news story, but it's too early to say whether it's the beginning of a long-term trend. Only increased investment in public transport is likely to make the car an unattractive proposition for the daily commuter.

The count analyses how people travel into the part of the city centre between the Royal and Grand Canals, whether by public transport, car, taxi, goods vehicle, bike or on foot.

It shows the number of cyclists is at record levels, with 12,447 trips made, or 5.9pc of the total, while 25,000 people walk, accounting for almost 12pc of all journeys.

But for transport planners, a crucial measure of success is the number using the car.

Back in 2006, when the Celtic Tiger was at full tilt, some 76,850 trips were made by private motor. That fell by more than 9,000 by 2008 as the recession took hold, and has more or less declined every year since, falling to its lowest number on record in 2017, down to 61,694.

A couple of things are worth noting. There are actually fewer buses crossing the canals today than back in 2006. However, more people are using them.

The number of trips on Luas has slightly fallen, while the big winner is rail, where trips rose by 10pc.

The Canal Cordon Count suggests that commuters are changing their behaviour, and are more likely to walk or cycle than before. So what has driven that change?

Without doubt, the roll-out of the Leap card and Taxsaver travel tickets are making a difference, but congestion no doubt plays a big part too.

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Transport Infrastructure Ireland says traffic volumes on the main routes into the city are above boom-time levels, resulting in knock-on delays across the city. That makes public transport more attractive, particularly rail, but also Luas which doesn't seem to have to grapple with gridlock in the same way that the bus does.

The figures clearly show that if people are offered quality public transport, they will use it. The problem is that the capital's transport system falls far short of where it needs to be.

The lack of capacity is an enormous problem, with people packed in like sardines during the peak hours. New fleet cannot come quick enough, nor too can more frequent Darts and commuter trains, coupled with longer Luas trams planned for the Green Line.

Buses need priority at traffic signals, and more frequent services provided. While the revamping of the capital's bus system, called Bus Connects, will help, more fleet is needed in the interim so momentum isn't lost.

But perhaps the biggest challenge is growing cycling numbers. More people travel into the city on bike than on the Luas, but cyclists don't get a fraction of the priority or spend that the light-rail system enjoys.

Cyclists routinely complain that the city is a dangerous place to cycle, with few bike lanes of enduring quality. Last year, 15 cyclists were killed on Irish roads. Many suggest that only sheer luck has prevented a higher number of deaths.

While the numbers cycling are rising, they rose by just 358 people between 2016 and 2017, hardly an enormous number in the context of more than 211,000 trips being made.

In all, an additional 7,553 people travelled into the city in the morning peak of 2017 compared with a year previously.

The fact they didn't come in by car is to be applauded. The trick now is to seize the opportunity and develop a viable and sustainable alternative.

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