Over reliance on electric vehicles (EVs) to achieve a 51 per cent cut in carbon emissions associated with Irish transport by 2030 could cost the State of €10 billion, the Oireachtas Climate Action Committee has been warned.
Separate to that issue, the target was daunting, given the Dublin region is set for massive growth and 2.3 million private cars are predicted to be on Irish roads by 2030, said Dr Brian Caulfield of TCD Centre for Transport Research.
EVs would play a part in reducing emissions, but he urged caution given risks with this policy – the 2019 climate action plan set out EVs as the main way to reduce transport emissions.
He warned: “There is a lot of uncertainty as to when price parity will be achieved between EVs and internal combustion engine vehicles. To reach our 2030 targets, assuming price parity doesn’t happen in the next nine years, it could require up to €10 billion in state subvention” – based on the current rate of €13,000 per EV.
Those buying EVs tended to be in affluent, urban areas where there were many alternative public transport modes, while “equity and a just transition need to be considered in this space,” he believed.
The committee has recommended a 51 per cent target be set in the Climate Action Bill and is staging hearings on how it can be achieved in a sector accounting for 20 per cent of Ireland’s carbon emissions.
Working from home
With lockdowns and mass working from home last year, the EPA estimated transport emissions dropped by just 17 per cent, which “gives a clear indication of the scale of the challenge,” he added.
This had to be seen in the context of population and employment growth predictions for the greater Dublin area (GDA) which could result in a 30 per cent increase in trips by 2035, he said, while the private car population was expected to surpass 2.3 million by 2030.
Decades of poor integration between transportation and land use planning had resulted in low densities communities which are difficult to serve by public transport, Dr Caulfield said. “This difficulty relates to providing a service that is frequent and reliable enough for users to forgo car use for this mode. This is coupled with extensive motorway and road development that have, to an extent, locked us into car usage.”
Projects such as Metro and light rail expansion in Dublin would reduce the emissions profile but not before 2030. “These projects will be longer term in curbing our emissions, but their planning and construction needs to happen now for us to stand a reasonable chance of meeting 2050 targets.”
When evaluating projects, planners should look at “the opportunity cost of not doing the project”. Metro had envisaged delivery in 2007; “the emissions that have been forgone from this example should be considered when making decisions on future projects,” he suggested.
National Transport Authority chief executive Anne Graham said the NTA was supporting efforts to enable people live closer to where they work, moving away from unsustainable levels of commuting and securing more compact urban development.
“Consolidation of development and the reduction of unsustainable car-based commuting are critical if a reduction in transport related emissions are to be achieved,” she added.
The NTA will have a draft update of the GDA transport strategy later this year, while it had completed a transport strategy for Galway and Cork. It was also working with the cities of Limerick and Waterford to produce integrated strategies "to encourage modal shift".
Metrolink and DART+ have been progressed to the extent that, subject to Government approval, the railway order planning process would commence later this year, she confirmed – likewise with BusConnects Dublin.
Prof Diarmuid Torney of DCU, a specialist in climate change governance, said Ireland's transport system "is inherently complex, characterised by tensions between public and private, rural and urban, and the role of special interests".
Transport decision-making “is deeply fragmented, with authority spread widely among multiple institutions”, he added, while decarbonisation must be made a central goal in relevant State bodies. Resistance within government to transformational change should be countered by strong political and civil service leadership, he said.
Committee chairman Brian Leddin (Green Party) raised concern about implementing transport strategies developed before new carbon reduction policies were adopted. It was critical that strategies and institutions such as the NTA be aligned with the new ambition. If modelling of journeys and transport modes did not factor this in, the target would not be reached, he added.
Dr Caulfield said a modal shift would require consideration of road pricing and examination of parking levels in cities, “but we need to line up carrots before taking out the stick”.
Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell underlined the risk of simply replacing petrol and diesel cars with EVs but not solving Ireland systemic transport problems, given confirmation Dubliners spend almost nine days a year stuck in traffic.
Asked if the public transport fleet could achieve the 51 per cent target, NTA director of public transport services Hugh Creegan said with electrification and battery technology it was achievable in heavy rail and urban bus usage. There was a question mark over long distance routes between cities and towns because it was unclear what role electrification and hydrogen fuel might play.