Sunday 18 August 2019

Gabija Gataveckaite: 'The car may be the ugly villain - but sadly we still need it'

'Motorists are being targeted by the green agenda' (stock photo)
'Motorists are being targeted by the green agenda' (stock photo)

Gabija Gataveckaite

It seems that Ireland has a new villain, one no-one saw coming.

As temperatures soar and our planet slowly sizzles, the Green Wave brought in by the local and European elections is long overdue. The Greens are right - we should recycle more, invest in solar panels and avoid single use plastics.

But now, motorists are being targeted by the green agenda - last week, Dublin City Council raised its parking charges in certain parts of the city in an effort to encourage people to walk, cycle or use public transport.

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However, it is no secret that cycling is incredibly dangerous in Dublin - it doesn't even come close to the star-studded Dutch system - and our public transport is barely functioning, at best. 

Now, I am not one to defend motorists, firstly because I am not one (my pink driving licence card didn't succeed in shattering my irrational fear of roundabouts), and secondly because it is very clear that getting rid of vehicles (both petrol and diesel-fuelled) would only benefit our already crumbling environment. 

But we cannot seriously expect our commuters, many of whom are motorists, to suddenly leave the car at home and, as they grab their heads in a moment of realisation, suddenly hop on the Dart.

Nationwide, our public transport system is a very sad, badly told joke.

I live in Dublin 9. By car, it takes approximately 15 minutes, 20 on a busy morning, to get to work in the city centre. If I'm getting the bus, to avoid the risk of being late and to allow time to walk both to and from the bus stop, I have to allow an hour for my commute. 

In the west of Ireland, where I spent my summers as a student, I had a waitressing job in a town that was a 30-minute drive away from home.

Due to a failed driving test, I had to rely on public transport.

The bus served my town four times a day, the train five, with times ambiguously scattered throughout the day, with hour-long gaps. 

Not only was the ticket ridiculously expensive, but the Bus Éireann service went past being fashionably late - sometimes delays lasted up to 40 minutes.

A middle-aged woman would often get the bus with me in the mornings.

We would stand at the stop, huffing and puffing anxiously, and checking our watches. 

"It's late again," she would roll her eyes. We both questioned why we bothered getting up earlier in the morning so we wouldn't miss the bus.

With envy, we eyed the motorists who zoomed past us, rested, warm and sheltered, as we stood in the rain and wind, exposed to the elements, waiting.

Not having a car is not an option in rural Ireland.

While trains may provide handy journeys for students to nip home at weekends from college, they simply aren't nearly consistent enough for the locals. 

So the summer after that, when I had finally passed the dreaded driving test, I hopped in my mother's car and didn't look back. 

In Dublin, Luas and Dart services are crammed in the mornings. Commuters complain of services being late or delayed. Dublin Bus tries its best, but the infrastructure sees routes being cut, slow, unreliable.

I agree, the car is the true ugly villain - it is dirty, with its grey exhaust fumes for horns, breathing pollution into the environment.

But it does the job.

I can only dream of the MetroLink as we wait, exposed to the elements, for the bus, which is late again, if it bothers to show up at all.

Irish Independent

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