Monday 21 October 2019

My Luas celebration with quango queens and mandarins whom I once lampooned

The begruders were out in force as the Luas Cross City began, but the service will prove its worth, writes Shane Ross

Birth of a new era: Luas Cross City opens for passengers, with Shane Ross, Leo Varadkar and Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Julien Behal Photography
Birth of a new era: Luas Cross City opens for passengers, with Shane Ross, Leo Varadkar and Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Julien Behal Photography

Shane Ross

Whose gig was it anyway? "Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan," according to an old English proverb.

Last Saturday, the Luas Cross City was no orphan. Many fathers turned up to prove their paternity.

A veritable queue of transport ministers landed at the GPO to claim parentage.

Father Leo, Father Paschal and I all cut the ribbon. The Luas Cross City was launched.

I should have foreseen the paternity issue. This was the biggest project of the year.

As current Minister for Transport, it would have been a travesty if I was to hijack its parentage from its two most consistent promoters, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Without Leo or Paschal, the Luas Cross City would have been stillborn. They were always true believers.

Nevertheless the initial sight of the invitations to guests at the Luas launch, announcing that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the current Minister for Transport and the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe were jointly launching the Luas, brought a smile to my face. It was a game of spot the father.

Everybody wanted to be associated with this uniquely successful venture. Here was a rare creature: a public project that had been completed on time and within budget. Former transport ministers Leo and Paschal had never lost the faith, even in the darkest days of the last Government. I arrived to the Transport portfolio in time to reap the reward for their work.

Looking towards the other guests at last Saturday's opening ceremony, I spotted big players in the venture. The Luas event was hosted by the NTA's boss Anne Graham; on the platform beside us - three eager politicians - stood Michael Nolan of Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) and various local government bigwigs. Lurking in the background were anonymous officials from my own department who had played an equally key role in the completion of Luas Cross City.

Two years ago, when in Opposition, I would have dismissed last Saturday's event as a mixture of mandarins and quango queens. The NTA, which I had lampooned in print, the TII, which I had dubbed a "constipated quango", had delivered in spades. Paschal and Leo, whom I had sometimes lambasted for their stewardship of the transport portfolio, were fulfilling a promise to the people of Dublin.

So I blushed a bit as I read out an eulogy to the semi-State bosses and to my two predecessors.

Last Saturday, their vision became a reality. The Luas was now running directly across the city of Dublin.

It was greeted as the forerunner of a revolution in the transport landscape, to be followed by the opening of Busconnects, Metro North, more cycle lanes and the Dart Expansion. It gives hope of a relief in traffic congestion as thousands plan to leave their cars at home.

As many as 10 million extra journeys a year beckon. It will create 60 permanent jobs. It will provide access to the DIT campus at Grangegorman. It was all go-go last Saturday as we reeled off these facts and figures with glee. Dublin's transport was coming of age.

Until last Monday - Monday traffic in Dublin hit a few bumps. Monday was a begrudgers' paradise as Saturday's prophets of doom came out of hiding.

The new Luas was blamed for a big jam at a pinch point at Dublin's College Green. Traffic lights failed, freezing weather hit the capital, buses backed up as the city centre was convulsed in congestion. Members of an elated Cabinet were caught in the gridlock. The first full day of new Luas commuter travel saw puzzled drivers, cyclists and pedestrians all vying for space. A signals breakdown made it worse. The Luas was on the back foot.

A new breed of begrudger was born: house owners along the new Luas line to Broombridge were bleating that the new line would lift the value of their properties.

They would now have to pay extra property tax! The knockers were salivating, hoping that the bright new baby would be reduced to orphan status.

It will not. Its competitive fathers will still vie for parental status. By last Tuesday, all the various Dublin vehicles were working far more comfortably alongside cyclists and pedestrians. The teething problems were well on the way to a solution by this weekend.

Aha, there is still a ray of hope for the debunkers. A fresh challenge has arisen. The new Luas is suddenly suffering from the problems of success. We can live with that. At the end of last week, the trams on the Green Line were becoming overcrowded. Commuters were flocking to them. They were rejoicing in the new route and travelling cross city.

They were living the vision - within days. The begrudgers were out again, this time complaining about too many commuters and too few trams.

What are they going to say in February and March when the bigger, longer trams are in situ?

Wait and see, they will bellyache about how they are scheduled far too frequently, half-empty at non-peak hours!

God help them next year when Busconnects kicks off, with its orbital routes, new corridors and bike lanes. God help them when Metro North and the Dart Expansion begin to sort the problems of Dublin's north side.

God help them when we make the final big step from private cars to public transport. Because that is what is happening. Luas Cross City is only the first of many projects that will attract many parents.

Shane Ross is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Independent Alliance TD for Dublin Rathdown

Sunday Independent

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