An OECD report on transforming the Irish transport sector with a view to halving associated carbon emissions by 2030 and improving wellbeing for both urban and rural dwellers has shown up a wide gap between ambition and reality.
The sector is grossly imbalanced in favour of the private car, facilitated by failed national policy that has choked not just large urban areas but also towns with modest populations. Rural areas continue to have unreliable and sometimes deplorable public transport services.
The report assesses sustainable options proven elsewhere. It concludes Ireland “is car dependent by design, is high in greenhouse gas emissions and does not support improved wellbeing”. This is the consequence of a decades-long approach. The shortsightedness of planners and local authorities has become all too obvious.
Commissioned by the Climate Change Advisory Council, the report is equally critical of recent transport policy. The scale of infrastructural and service deficits means relying on electrification, particularly more electric vehicles, will not deliver the scale of transformation required.
Like many OECD countries, Ireland has seen car dependency and car culture as an unavoidable consequence of progress. Yet many other countries and cities have addressed this imbalance that gives rise to significant air pollution and high carbon emissions.
The report calls for a radical reallocation of road space to facilitate public transport and active travel in the form of cycling and walking. This needs to be complemented by “on-demand shared services”, such as bike and e-scooter rental systems, that do not run to a fixed timetable or a fixed route, and by use of “mobility hubs” where different modes of public transport are available in the one location. Systems redesign requires widespread use of technology such as booking apps. In reallocating road space, communicating the benefits and the attractiveness of the sustainable option is critical to a successful transition.
Many users of public transport would point to lack of reliability and comfort as a regular experience, which prompts a return to car usage. Addressing this issue is all too often hampered by slow delivery of enabling infrastructure but also failures in how cities are designed for convenience and liveability.
By deploying the right levers, backed by Government investment, the transformation is possible and there is willingness at all levels to pursue this course over the tight timeframe up to 2030, the report concludes. However, this must be underpinned by the strong input and leadership of local authorities and genuine local consultation.
Car dependency is not inevitable. And policymakers have more power than they think in addressing the problem.