The planning of Dublin’s transport should be founded on a clear sense of priorities, based on (a) travel patterns and population, (b) the optimum use of resources available eg. street space, land use, finance, (c) investing in sustainability.

One would expect the National Transport Authority (NTA) to pay particular attention to the implications of the data in reports it has commissioned.  However, recent work by the NTA pays scant regard to the public transport needs of those living between the City Centre and Dublin Airport.   Despite NTA evidence, there is still an obsession with a City Centre-Airport rail link and journey times on this corridor.

An NTA report has shown travel demand is greatest inside the M50 during the morning peak ie. 1. between the canals and the M50 – the Inner Suburbs – with 27% of journeys in 2006 and 18% in 2030; 2. inside the canals – between the Inner suburbs and the City Centre – with 13% in 2006 and 15% in 2030. (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Travel Demand in Dublin Morning Peak 2006 and 2030

Figure1

 

Source: National Transport Authority Greater Dublin Area Draft Transport Strategy 2011‐2030 2030 vision April 2012. Chap 4 p.9 (link)

This travel demand reflects activity in Dublin’s Core Economic Area as shown in Figure 2 (prepared by Justin Gleeson, based in Maynooth University).  However, in its do-minimum planning for enhanced public transport, the NTA has not focused on Dublin’s Core Economic area.  The NTA’s current Do-Minimum assumes DART Underground (the Yellow line on the map) as well as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to link the City Centre with the Airport and Swords.  Neither will enhance public transport within the Core Economic Area, nor enhance access to the Airport from the central business district.

Figure 2: Dublin Core Economic Area, 2011

Map1_DublinEconomicCoreArea-01

DART Underground

This is a proposed 8.6km line from Docklands to Inchicore, mostly tunnelled, costing up to €4bn.  This will add another rail link between the Docklands and Heuston/Inchicore. These areas are already linked by LUAS (Red line in Figure 2). There will be another rail link between these areas when the Phoenix Park rail tunnel (Orange line in Figure 2) is opened for use by commuter trains in 2016.

It is not at all clear this €4bh investment will enhance development potential.  Much of the DART catchment (dotted line along the coast in map) area is coastal.  DART Underground itself will not improve public transport links between the Airport and the Central Business District.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) link City Centre –Drumcondra- Airport-Swords

The NTA also plans to link Dublin Airport/Swords to the City Centre with a BRT service through Drumcondra.  A public consultation on this concluded in November 2014. (see here)

This is puzzling, as a previous NTA report found that this route has forecast demand that greatly exceeds the capacity of BRT in the current 2030 infrastructure scenario and also exceed the 3600 ppdph in the 2030 scenario.  (see Figure 1)  This 2012 report concluded that a BRT solution does not cater for the public transport needs of the northern section of this corridor over the longer term….the Swords to City Centre section was not progressed further within this report. (my emphasis)

Table 1: Bus Rapid Transit Demand Analysis

Table1

Source:  National Transport Authority: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Core Dublin Network.  October 2012. Figure 41  p.53 (link)

An NTA 2014 Route Options Assessment on the Swords/Airport-City Centre BRT shows that, with one exception, passengers forecast exceed the proposed BRT capacity.   This report assumes that the present bus network will still be in place.  This means that regular bus services will still run on the same roads as the two separate BRT services on the Dublin Airport/Sword-Drumcondra-City Centre route.

( see Summary tables 10.5 and 10.6 for the result for the opening year 2018 and the forecast year 2033 for 2 route options. National Transport Authority Swords/Airport to City Centre. Route Options Assessment Volume 1 : Main Report (October 2014) p. 187 (link)

This report also states that It is anticipated that demand will increase following a reorganisation of Dublin Bus routes.

BRT may appear to be a cheap option.  It is nasty on two grounds

  1. it will be overflowing from the day it starts;
  2. being diesel powered, it contributes to air pollution and thus damages human health.

In a recent article (Irish Farmers Journal 30 May 2015), Colm McCarthy pointed out that “…recent studies have been showing that air pollution in European city streets has worsened and the shift to diesel (cars) is being blamed…Diesel engines produce lower levels of carbon dioxide but also emit two other nasties.  These are low-level pollutants in the form of particulate matter (think of soot) and nitrogen dioxide and these do not disappear into the upper atmosphere… He pointed out that “Policy makers have long been aware that high emissions in built-up areas of either particulates or nitrogen dioxide are damaging to human health, aggravating respiratory conditions including asthma

Airport

NTA commissioned yet another study to appraise longer term options for Fingal/North Dublin (NTA AECOM November 2014).  A key criterion in assessing options is the journey time between the Airport and the City Centre.

However, another NTA study of Dublin Airport passengers found that:

  • Three quarters (75%) had a journey time of less than one hour to the Airport, with almost half (46%) having a journey time of less than 30 minutes;
  • Less than one seventh of trips (14%) were business related;
  • Three quarters of all trips were either for holiday/leisure (nearly half) or visiting friends/relatives (over one-quarter);
  • Less than one third of the trips originated in City Centre/South part of Dublin City.

Figure 3: Dublin Airport passengers – Purpose of travel

Figure3

Source:  National Transport Authority Survey at Dublin Airport 2011.Fig. 3.11 p. 22 (link)

This suggests that the vast majority of passengers using Dublin Airport may not be very time-constrained in how they access the Airport. Most passengers are not bound for our capital’s Central Business District. Those passengers who are time-constrained have the option of taxis (which can use bus lanes) and/or using the Dublin Port Tunnel to access Central Business District. Consequently, in assessing options for public transport in north Dublin, travel times between the City Centre and the Airport should not be the sole or even the major criterion.

 

North Dublin city not being provided with enhanced public transport

The NTA is pursuing a do-minimum strategy for that part of Dublin’s Core Economic area between the Royal Canal and the M50.  It seems to be forgotten that more people live in the north part of Dublin city (306,425 in Census 2011) than in either the south city (221,186), Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown (206,261), South Dublin (265,205) or Fingal (273,991).  This has been so over the past 20 years, as is clear from Figure 3.

Figure 4: Population Dublin 1991 – 2011

Figure4

The singular focus on BRT shows that the public authorities have learnt very little from the first LUAS line from Tallaght to Abbey Street.   The late Judge Sean O’Leary was the Inspector appointed by the government to consider for the first LUAS planning applications.  In 1998, he reported that “Having considered the evidence, the Inquiry is satisfied that in order to create similar condition of loading and unloading, ease of access and certainty…. that buses do not represent a viable alternative to the proposal”  (for on-street light rail).

The BRT Core Network Report supports this assessment. A comparison of the passenger carrying capacity of BRT with light rail and metro summarised is shown in Figure 5.  Note that this states that higher capacity BRT is not appropriate for Dublin.

Figure 5: Public Transport Mode Capacities

Figure5

Source:  National Transport Authority: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Core Dublin Network.  October 2012.  Fig.3 p.4 (link)

Comparative investment costs for different public transport modes are indicated in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Comparative Investment costs – buses, BRT, LRT/LUAS, Metro

Figure6

Source:  National Transport Authority: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Core Dublin Network.  October 2012.  Fig.2 p.3 (link)

Neither the proposed BRT nor the single LUAS line on the route now advocated by the Railway Procurement Agency (see Sunday Business Post 3 May 2015) can provide sustainable public transport for this part of Dublin.   This proposed LUAS line goes under Glasnevin Cemetery in a new tunnel.  This adds to the cost of a LUAS line that will not serve the centre of Dublin’s north city core economic area shown in the map.  Moreover, it is well away from important major trip attractors/generators eg.  Mater Hospital, Mountjoy Prison, Croke Park, St. Patrick’s College, Whitehall,  Santry, Beaumont Hospital.

This RPA proposal ignores the results of a 1996 Dept. of Transport report which compared three LUAS lines then being considered.   It is clear from Table 2 that a LUAS from the city centre through Drumcondra to Ballymun had much better potential for passengers than the two LUAS lines which were actually built.  This confirms the results of  recent NTA work which suggests that passenger demand can best be met by an on-street LUAS line for this central route in the north part of Dublin’s Core Economic Area.

Table 2: A Comparative Socio-Economic Evaluation of the Tallaght-Ballymun/Dundrum Light Rail Lines. Final Report 1996. Oscar Faber.

Table2

Source: Department of Transport, Energy & Communications. A Comparative Socio-Economic Evaluation of the Tallaght-Ballymun/Dundrum Light Rail Lines.  Final Report 1996. Oscar Faber.

NTA notes that the higher investment costs of light rail(LUAS) are offset by lower operation costs. (see Figure 7).   Light rail (LUAS) vehicles carry more passengers than buses.  Thus less drivers are needed than for bus-based systems carrying the same number of passengers.  Buses have a shorter life than LUAS vehicles, even if the maintenance costs are higher.  Buses are also less energy efficient and pollute more at point of use.

Figure 7: Public Transport – Investment v Operating Costs

Figure7

Source:  National Transport Authority: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Core Dublin Network.  October 2012.  Fig.21  p.27 (link)

The capital expenditure envisaged for DART Underground and BRT would be much more cost-effective if invested in

  • extending LUAS CrossCity (now under construction) to create a north city LUAS loop (taking in Finglas, Charlestown, Poppintree, Ballymun, Santry, Beaumont, Drumcondra) with spurs to the Airport and to DART at Howth Junction (see Figure 8);
  • A Docklands loop to link the existing Green and Red on-street LUAS lines as put forward by the Dublin Transportation Office in 2002.

Figure 8: Dublin Core Economic Area with proposed north city/Airport-Swords proposed LUAS  lines superimposed (orange line)

Figure8
Our public authorities are still using arbitrary criteria for planning public transport.  The feuding public sector baronies are still stuck in the property development whimsies of the early 2000s.   This is not the evidence-based transport planning which Robert Watt (Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform) claimed as an example of civil service reform.  (Commentary on public service reform is mired in the past Sunday Business Post 22 February 2015).

We deserve better.  To promote competitiveness and social cohesion, Dublin needs integrated and sustainable public transport. Achieving this needs quiet, consistent competence to bring working and living conditions to the levels of well-run European cities.  It would be a start if our public authorities drew the appropriate conclusions from their own reports and invested accordingly.

Ireland After Nama Guest blog post by Donal O’Brolchain

Donal O’Brolchain lives in Drumcondra, Dublin 9.  He has been active in residents’ association for the past 25 years. As Secretary of Drumcondra 2005, he led residents’ support for the Dublin Port Tunnel during the 1990s, as part of a set of mutually reinforcing measures to improve transport in Dublin. This included a core light rail/LUAS system in Dublin. This support was to implement a local area plan for Drumcondra district which seven residents’ association commissioned and funded from their own resources. This was launched in 1994.

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The assessment last week by the European Environment Agency that Ireland is set to fail to achieve its binding 2020 greenhouse gas emission reduction target comes as no surprise. At 20% below 2005 emission levels, the Irish target is the highest possible in the EU. This in itself is another fateful legacy of ‘Celtic Tiger’, as national targets were assigned based on relative wealth (GDP per capita). As we now know, Ireland’s wealth in the mid-2000s was largely illusory. The consequences now put the government in an unenviable bind of having to make the deepest cuts in emissions while also grappling with the aftermath of one of the deepest European recessions. The line coming from Minister Alan Kelly is that the 2020 target is simply unrealistic and unachievable”. Of course, in the continuous absence of any meaningful strategic efforts to reduce emissions, epitomised by the complete failure to enact a climate change law, it will continue to remain so. Despite the progressive rhetoric on climate change, to date there has been but paltry implementation of actual measures, with the bulk of any emission reductions largely coming as an unintended consequence of the recession.

Inaction on climate policy has been driven by the classic Irish persuasion of brushing inconvenient issues under the carpet, particularly when there are no immediate consequences for doing nothing. Unfortunately, this short-sightedness has only served to dig a deeper hole from which we must now get out of. For under EU law, further procrastination is no longer an option. From now, and each year to 2020, Ireland is under a direct and binding legal obligation to reduce its emissions in a linear fashion. This will not be achieved, and is likely to force the government to avail of flexibility mechanisms and to purchase compliance, such as buying expensive carbon credits. Furthermore, in accordance with the new EU Semester budgetary surveillance process, Ireland is required to achieve its national Europe 2020 targets, which also includes the 20% reduction in greenhouse emissions. The European Commission can issue annual Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs) and these could compel Ireland to introduce specific policy measures and, if necessary, impose financial sanctions. This may include, for example, environmental tax reforms, such as a significant increase in carbon taxes or other user charges (as was included in the 2014 CSRs for Luxembourg, for example). Similar to the current furore over water charges, such fiscal measures would obviously be extremely unpopular.

EMISSIONS

So what is the scope for reducing emissions in the Ireland? Agriculture and transport together make up approximately 70% of all emissions for the purposes of the 2020 target. As part of its economic recovery plans, the government has been categorical in its position that emissions from agriculture will rise under the massive Food Harvest 2020 expansion plans. In fact, Ireland has been very active in arguing for special greenhouse gas accounting rules for agriculture. However, such rules, if they prove their worth, could not be introduced until at least 2022. As a result, in the short-term a disproportionate burden will have to be placed on the transport sector. A further unfortunate legacy of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ is that from 1990 to 2012 transport was the fastest growing source of emissions, increasing by 113%, mostly due to a threefold increase in the use of private cars. In 2009, the ‘Smarter Travel‘ policy was introduced and proposed that by 2020 car commuting to work should drop from 65% to 45%; alternatives such as walking, cycling and public transport should rise to 55% of total commuter journeys; and that future population and employment growth would predominantly take place in sustainable compact forms, which reduce the need to travel. This policy was a key component of the measures proposed to reduce Ireland’s transport emissions for the purposes of the 2020 target.

However, in the most recent draft ‘Investing in Our Transport Future’ policy document published by the Department of Transport in August, reality has bitten and these ambitious targets have now been abandoned. The report concedes that despite successive national policies which have had the consistent stated objective of promoting modal shift away from private cars and better integrating land-use and transportation, it must now be recognised that these policies have failed. As a result, given the diverse range and dispersed pattern of journey origins and destinations, there is now extremely limited potential for reducing emissions in the transport sector and “current spatial patterns remain very unfavourable to efficient and sustainable transport provision”. According to the report, even achieving widespread modal shift in our cities would yield little emission savings due to the short nature of such trips and the sheer scale of spatial sprawl and bloated commuter belts which have embedded car dependency. The report goes on to conclude that “reducing emissions from transport would require a transformation in the sector, relying on technological innovation and security of alternative fuels supply supported by enabling policies and widespread behavioural change”. What this in effect means is the extensive roll-out of electric vehicles. The government has a target of achieving 10%, or approximately 250,000 electric vehicles by 2020. There are currently around 250 in use. Worldwide there are only around 400,000.

The stored up costs of past planning failures just keep on giving and latest draft transport policy document reads as a pretty damning indictment of the spatial chaos that was allowed to take hold during  the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and the complete failure of the national policy to curb sprawl. Aside from the climate policy implications, as a consequence of the new budgetary realities, major questions are posed in the report as to whether Ireland can now afford to respond to these spatial patterns in terms of investment requirements and service provision costs. We are already seeing the implications of this with the recent decision by the National Transport Authority to approve a further increase in public transport fares.  Options being actively considered include reducing the size and/or level of performance of the funded road and rail network to a more appropriate scale (particularly rail due to its high fixed costs vis-à-vis passenger numbers) together with demand management through fiscal measures, such as road user charging based on distance and time. Clearly, the scope for such additional charges, infrastructure downgrades or service withdrawals is limited by realpolitikthe existing burden of taxation, the hardship being experienced by many families and high levels of household expenditure on transport, where people have no or inadequate access to more sustainable transport modes.

Until now the debate on Ireland’s greenhouse gas reduction targets has largely taken place in the abstract. However, the latest IPCC report this week has further firmed up the scientific evidence and the scale of mitigation required, and this issue is not going to go away. Likewise, the EU has recently agreed a post-2020 framework to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030, with national efforts again distributed on the basis of GDP per capita. Despite the recession, Ireland still has the fifth highest GDP per capita in Europe, guaranteeing a relatively high emission reduction target. In the coming years the unreality will have to end and the choices necessary to reduce emissions will come into sharp relief. None of them will be easy, inexpensive or without controversy. According to a briefing this year by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, in the absence of national mitigation, potential costs of purchasing compliance for the Irish Exchequer for the 2020 to 2030 period could have a cumulative total in the billions and there is cause for concern. Unfortunately, the fixed spatial legacy handed down by past planning failures has locked-in high fossil fuel use and entrenched car dependency which severely limits the choices now available and significantly increases the costs of mitigation options. In climate change policy jargon the ‘least cost principle’ would dictate that spatial planning practice and transport investment should be better and more firmly aligned. However, this lesson continues not to be learned – currently almost 50% of all new houses granted permission are for dispersed car dependent ‘one-off’ dwellings. It will be these same households that will bear the brunt of future transport cost inflation, downgrading of infrastructure and service withdrawals.

Gavin Daly