Irish Rail has been accused of “dividing the country in two” by charging commuters travelling to Dublin from outside the “short-hop zone” thousands of euro more than their near neighbours.
Fiona O’Loughlin, a Fianna Fáil TD for Kildare South, claimed the fare structure “discriminates against and disenfranchises” thousands of families left with much higher transport costs than others because they live just outside the zone.
She also said hundreds of people were travelling by car to neighbouring villages to avail of significantly cheaper fares within the “short-hop zone”, causing “pure chaos” on the roads at rush hour as well as parking shortages.
Ms O’Loughlin cited the case of a single-income family living close to the train station in Newbridge, who are paying over €350 more every month for two children travelling to university in Dublin than if they were taking the train from nearby Sallins or Naas. Because they are outside the short-hop zone and have no access to a car they have to pay full mainline rail fares before purchasing a monthly Leap Card each to get to college in the capital.
“It is shocking that families who are to the pin of their collar for everything, have to pay that much more. These are families that cannot afford to accommodate their children in Dublin.”
A Leap Card can be used for all commuter services within the “short-hop zone” as well as Dublin Bus and the Luas. Sallins and Naas, Hazelhatch and Celbridge, Kilcock, Maynooth and Leixlip were all brought within the “short-hop zone” in recent years.
Newbridge, which is also the closest rail station for outlying south Kildare villages like Milltown, Rathangan, Athgarvan and Suncroft, remains outside the designated zone.
“The differential between the rail fares is huge – about €176 a month more for a student living outside the short-hop zone,” said Ms O’Loughlin. “A lot of people who have cars, and who could walk to the train station in Newbridge, are actually travelling up the road to Sallins, because it is a lot cheaper. That is causing huge problems with parking and congestion.”
She said up to 400 extra cars were coming into Sallins from Newbridge and its surrounding villages every day, while Irish Rail is preparing to build another 200 car parking spaces at Sallins.
“The reason they need the extra car parking in Sallins is because they are refusing to address the pricing in Newbridge,” said Ms O’Loughlin.
A spokesman for the National Transport Authority (NTA), which has responsibility for public transport fares, said it has “recognised this disparity offered by intercity and short-hop zone fares for some time”.
“For this reason the NTA has not approved any increases, or has approved much lower increases, in respect of intercity fares compared with short-hop zone fares over recent years.”
The spokesman said: “It is currently cheaper to take the train from Newbridge to Heuston than it was six years ago. Over the past six years most other fares on the Irish Rail network have increased.”
Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny said there had been “pressure on Sallins car park capacity for some time, pre-dating Sallins being included in the short-hop zone by the NTA, and the addition of Phoenix Park tunnel services”.
“Regardless of fare structures, there’s a clear need for more spaces there, and we are planning to expand the car park by 200 spaces next year. and will be applying for planning permission shortly.”