Poor Shane Ross. Offered the chance by Richard Boyd-Barrett to begin moving Ireland’s transport policy into the 21st century, he blew it with a short-sighted, idiotic answer to a parliamentary question. Boyd-Barrett asked if Ross would undertake a cost-benefit analysis of free public transport. Did Ross think long and hard about it? Apparently not. His answer was ‘no’ and for evidence he rolled out the notion that it’d cost the exchequer an extra €600m. Game over? It shouldn’t be.

Consider:

(1) Free public transport is a matter of inclusion, well-being, and happiness. It works for those using the Free Travel Scheme. It permits movement; grants access to the city, the country, to friends and family. Extended to everyone, free public transport would give a massive happiness boost to everyone who wants to get out and about. Inclusion and well-being should be the main argument for free public transport. It’s about ‘the right to the city’ (and the country).

(2) Free public transport – albeit with extra investment (in electric buses; trains fuelled by hydrogen; [gasp!] an underground metro) to deal with rising passenger numbers – would further reduce carbon emissions. We need climate action and Shane Ross, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, should be taking the lead, not obstructing things with daft arguments. He needs to get a grip and realise what we’re dealing with. The sooner we get people out of cars, onto bikes, onto buses and trains, the better. Let’s go.

(3) Free public transport makes the overall transport system more efficient and kinder. It could reduce the dwell time while buses wait for passengers to alight: no more hanging about as everyone taps their Leap card or pays the driver. Buses and trains could eradicate spending on the hardware and software used to collect fares. No more barriers. No more lines of tired people at the Dart station while they wait to tap off. And no more fines on the Luas for the unaware tourist who didn’t realise they needed to tag on. In short, the system would be more efficient and less authoritarian. Staff on the Luas or Irish Rail could spend more of their time helping people. What are we waiting for?

(4) Free public transport can make Ireland’s cities better places to live, or at least work. Congestion costs a fortune and is exhausting. It also stinks, pollutes the air, and causes asthma. For the thousands of workers who can’t afford to live in urban areas, moreover, free public transport to their job in the city puts more money in their pocket to be spent on what they care about (kids, eating out, holidays, whatever).

(5) Finally, Ireland’s tourists spent €4.9bn in 2017. 13% was spent on transport. That’s €637m, although of course some of this covers taxis. Free public transport permits tourists to spend (OK, some of) that money in restaurants or visitor attractions. Jobs. Happier tourists. A more balanced tourism market across the country. And if we made free public transport a cornerstone of Fáilte Ireland’s marketing campaign, surely more tourists would be tempted to visit. If nothing else, the country sends a message: come and move around; you’re welcome. Here is (at least a big chunk of) the €600m that blind-sided Shane Ross.

Can we just get on with making this country better now?

Alistair Fraser

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Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Éamon Ó Cuív and Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy MLA announced today that a joint consultation on a Framework for Collaboration on Spatial Strategies for the Island of Ireland will commence on Tuesday, 15 February for an 8-week period.

As the press release states: ‘The consultation document identifies key planning challenges faced by both jurisdictions and discusses the potential for collaboration in spatial planning. It sets out a non-statutory framework for collaboration at different levels within the public sector which should result in mutual benefits.’

It continues: ‘Welcoming the public consultation process, Minister Ó Cuív said: “The island of Ireland faces considerable challenges in building a sustained economic recovery in a future that will be increasingly dominated by globalisation. One of the ways the island will flourish will be through practical co-operation between north and south in meeting the planning, investment and environmental management needs of today in a way that will turn into the economic and job creation opportunities of tomorrow.

“I believe that the new Framework for Collaboration will deliver a real step-change in planning for this island, harnessing the complementary strengths of both rural and urban areas and delivering real mutual benefits at both a local border level and the larger island level. For example, more effective sharing of information between planning systems north and south on economic, housing, transport and environmental trends will enable a more joined-up approach to planning in border areas.

“Furthermore, the framework provides a mandate for practical co-operation on planning and infrastructure co-ordination within border areas and beyond.”

I should be clear to declare an interest in this.  NIRSA is a partner institution in the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) – along with University of Ulster, Centre for Cross Border Studies, and the International Institute of Urban Development (based in Boston) – which undertook the research and wrote the original framework report, which was commissioned in 2006 by InterTrade Ireland.  The research argued for a collaborative approach to spatial planning on the island of Ireland, and the advantages of joined up thinking on all-island basis in relation to planning and development, particularly in the context of globalisation and the need to enhance collective competitiveness.   As the press release says: ‘On the island of Ireland, creating a competitive and high quality environment for economic development through collaboration on strategic planning and infrastructure investment are key areas where Northern Ireland and Ireland share opportunities and challenges.’

The consultation document is available to view and download here. For those interested the original, longer report – Spatial Strategies on the Island of Ireland: Development of a Collaborative Action – published in 2007 it can be downloaded here (note: submissions are in relation to the consultation document which has come through several stages since, not the original report).

Submissions or comments on the consultative document should be sent to the contact address below by 11 April 2011.

Mr Eoin Bennis,
Planning System and Spatial Policy,
Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government,
Custom House,
Dublin 1.
Email: eoin.bennis@environ.ie

Rob Kitchin

Terminal 2 at night (Taken from Dublin Airport Authority website)

Dublin Airport’s Terminal 2 will open tomorrow, Friday, November 19th.  Its unveiling will act as the last major infrastructural project established during the boom years.  Undoubtedly, the Dublin Airport Authority, as well as the political advocates of the project never envisaged that the terminal would eventually open amidst decreasing passenger numbers at Dublin Airport brought about by a deep economic recession.  However, this is where the irony of Terminal 2 only begins.

The TV advertising campaign beginning the week prior to the terminal’s opening features actor David Murray making his way through the new terminal, musing on Ireland’s contribution to the world. This “small island in a big ocean” is responsible for the Beaufort scale, literary greats such as Yeats and Swift, and in the world of sport we have sent “champion horses” to all corners of the globe.  The inference in this being that when people come to Ireland full of expectations about this influential little country, Terminal 2 will be their first indication that yes, indeed, it is great.  A second inference is that when we send the best of what we have out to the world in the future, this ultra-modern facility will make that endeavour a more pleasant one.  It is the latter inference that hints at the second irony of Terminal 2.

Announcing the latest round of budgetary cuts and savings to be included in Budget 2011, the Irish government indicated that their expectation that 40,000 people will emigrate in that year was factored into their calculation.  In effect, for the government’s budgetary strategy for 2011 to be successful, they now need at least 40,000 to leave the country.  Previous posts to this blog by Rob Kitchin and Cian O’Callaghan point out that it is the young, highly educated cohort that are most likely to leave first.  So, heralded as a necessity brought about by a passenger boom which reflected the growing personal wealth of the Irish, and Ireland’s increasing popularity as a tourist destination, the reality of terminal 2’s early years at least, will be the manner in which it becomes the physical site where we export those highly educated, high skilled people who were produced by, and helped fuel the economic boom that brought that very site into existence.  How ironic.

Today, the day prior to the terminal’s official opening, representatives of the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission are in Dublin to discuss a financial ‘bail-out’ in the guise of a ‘substantial loan’ to the State.  Of course, it was the pursuance of imprudent policies within the banking sector and within the Department of Finance – partially manifested through the construction of many costly ‘monuments to prosperity’ such as the Dublin Port Tunnel, the IFSC, the Convention Centre Dublin, and of course Terminal 2 – that has ultimately resulted in that visit.  Wouldn’t it be ironic if these ‘bail-out chiefs’ were the first to pass through the airport terminal that owes much of its origins to the fiscal flippancy and short-sighted government expenditure programmes that made their visit necessary in the first place?

John Watters