Cycling, walking key to sustainable transport strategy

 

MORE THAN half a million motorists are to be persuaded to switch to more sustainable forms of transport, including walking and cycling, under the Government’s long-awaited sustainable transport strategy launched yesterday.

The strategy – “Smarter Travel, a Sustainable Transport Future” targets mainly commuters but extends to all car-users including shoppers and parents who drive children to school.

The 12-year timeframe to 2020 aims to cut CO2 emissions by four million tonnes.

In Dublin , a “bus only gate” is to be installed in July and a congestion charge is now likely within three years, according to Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey.

Where questions arise over the capacity of the public transport system, deficiencies are to be made up by improvements due under Transport 21, and increasing the effectiveness of the two State bus companies.

In the regions, an as yet unconfirmed city – probably Galway – is to be chosen to pilot a range of measures which include co-ordinated delivery of park-and-ride facilities and quality bus lanes, walking and cycling routes and car-free zones.

Improvements to the Bus Éireann network are to be developed to drive demand and services. However, there was bad news for regional airports, which will find it increasingly hard to get public service subventions from Government as the motorway and rail network to regional cities improves. The only exception is likely to be those serving the northwest, particularly Donegal.

By 2020 some 10 per cent of the State’s vehicles are to be electrically powered, the plan said.

Mr Dempsey cited a number of problems with the bus companies in terms of readable timetables, “real time information” for passengers, reliability of service and certainty of journey times, and web-based ticketing. He said these would be addressed to improve efficiency and ultimately to expand services.

A key target, according to Mr Dempsey. was “to get kids out of mum’s car and walking, cycling or taking public transport to school”. Last year 75,000 pupils in the “Green Schools” scheme used sustainable transport: “By 2020 I want it to reach 265,000 schoolchildren right around the country,” he said.

The Government is to set up regional “e-working centres” to cut commuting times, Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan said.

Efficiencies would improve attractiveness and could overcome problems of declining bus passenger numbers, he said. For example, where a cross-city bus journey currently takes 40 minutes, if this could be cut to half or less, then two similar journeys could be made in the same time, delivering an equivalent efficiency of two buses.

Integrated land use and transport planning are central to Government strategy, according to both Ministers, who stressed the need for local authorities to “buy into the plan”. But Mr Dempsey warned that while he preferred “buy in”, he would not be reluctant to enforce regulations or new legislation if this did not happen.

He instanced cases where bus lanes came to the outskirts of towns and stopped before the centre “because councillors did not have the courage” of their convictions in designing the routes.

Mr Dempsey said total investment would be in excess of €4 billion over the period of implementation, but that this included some crossover from Transport 21.

Mr Ryan said he believed Mr Dempsey would enforce the strategy with rigour: “He will not only talk the talk, but walk the walk,” he said. Mr Ryan described the strategy as “the beginning of a major change. It represents a fundamental reform of our transport systems. It is the first step in changing how we move and how we live.” A cyclist, he commended the bicycle as a social mode of travel.