Want to start an unholy row in any workplace in the country? Tell the staff, from the top floor to the bottom, that you’re going to substantially cut the car parking spaces available outside the office. Fuse lit, just step back and watch the explosion.
The issue isn’t quite as big at the moment with so many people working from home due to Covid-19. But just wait for the full return of the office. Remote working was supposed to reduce the number of cars on the road to a degree, yet car traffic has nearly caught up to levels before the pandemic.
The public sector is as guilty as anyone else, especially in Dublin City. Driving to work means having somewhere to park. Historic buildings, from Custom House to Leinster House, are aesthetically blighted by car parking. The city centre within the canals, Dublin 1 and Dublin 2, has the best public transport in the country, with Dart, Luas, Dublin Bus, commuter and inter-city trains, bus lanes and bike rentals all available.
Take the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications on Adelaide Road, which is just a seven-minute stroll to the Luas at Charlemont, a three-minute amble to one of the best bus corridors in the city and a two-minute walk to a Dublin Bike rental station.
Surely, nobody working there would need to drive. Yet there are 80 car parking spaces in the building – making it the third biggest civil service car park in Dublin, after the Departments of Agriculture and Education.
Fortunately, a prominent TD did champion this cause over the past five years, railing that the number of public sector car parking spots had to be tackled as it was contributing to traffic congestion when public transport options are readily available.
Step forward Eamon Ryan. When he was in opposition, the Green Party TD often bemoaned the number of car parking slots the State was providing. Thanks to him, there is accurate data on car parking spaces operated by the Government in Dublin’s inner city.
The official data provided by parliamentary question reply to Mr Ryan revealed 1,977 car parking spaces in the city centre: 697 in buildings owned by the State, 906 in leased buildings and 374 spaces specifically rented out at a cost €721,743. No doubt there’s been a few changes since Ryan asked his questions but it hasn’t changed all that dramatically. Keep in mind, this is just in the city centre, not including car parking spaces used by the public sector beyond Dublin 1 and Dublin 2.
Ryan’s auld segotia, Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe, demanded a senior minister step in to stop a situation where up to one in four staff in some departments had car parking slots and even wanted to see the perk taxed.
“Those charged with changing it are benefiting from it. I would say to Climate Action Minister Richard Bruton: if you want to see change, start in your own backyard. This is the low hanging fruit of climate change. It could be changed in six months if the will was there,” he told The Times at the time. How relieved Cuffe must have been to see his party leader put in as top banana to harvest the fruit.
The warning shots were clearly audible to petrol-guzzling, diesel-burning, road-hogging civil servants: time to hit the road – on foot. The Climate Action Plan presented the prime opportunity for Ryan as Climate Minister to target the culling of the capital’s herd of car parking spaces for the civil service.
After all, the new plan proclaimed: “The public sector will lead by example.”
Ahead of the Climate Action Plan, there was a buzz about the plan including initiatives to change commuting habits. The plan aimed to cut car travel by at least 500,000 journeys a day by 2030. People will take the bus, train, tram, bike, scooter or just walk, instead of driving. The motorist is to be pushed out of the car. “Reducing internal combustion engine (ICE) car trips is essential if we are to achieve our transport emission targets,” the plan says.
Dr John Caulfield, associate professor at the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering in Trinity College Dublin, was sceptical about the idea of reducing the number of car journeys by 3.5m a week. “One of the things I’d like to see in the Climate Action Plan today is something around parking, because parking is the great enabler to driving,” he told Pat Kenny on Newstalk.
Delving through the Climate Action Plan, there is surprisingly little about car parking, considering the document declares war on the car. Not wishing to dismiss the 500,000 trips proposal as a top-of-the-head aspiration that just looks good on paper, but the plan says more work is needed “to fully define the pathways to achieve the necessary ICE kilometres reduction”. But measures will be considered, like giving more road space to walking, cycling and public transport, and “reducing parking provision and/or increasing parking fees”.
Maybe there’s an opening for Eamon Ryan to fulfil his ambition. And the Climate Action Plan does say the public sector will move to 20pc remote working and introduce a sustainable mobility policy. A sustainable mobility policy for each department could be interpreted as including a plan to cut the parking spots. Maybe. Perhaps. Don’t hold your carbon-clogged breaths. The chances of Eamon Ryan telling the civil service mandarins to take the bus are not so much blah, blah, blah – more ha, ha, ha.
The elimination of half a million car journeys proposal sums up why the vague wishes make the Climate Action Plan a misnomer. The Climate Conversation Plan would be accurate. Blah, blah, blah.