‘Free public transport – could it work for Dublin?’
A chara, – I read with interest Lara Marlowe’s article on the almost exponential growth of free urban public transport systems throughout the world (“Free public transport – could it work for Dublin?”, Weekend, January 26th).
The Irish Times published a letter of mine proposing such a system for Dublin in 1980. In it I argued that such a system could massively reduce traffic congestion, reduce car imports, reduce fuel imports, and increase employment in the city.
In the meantime, we have seen a massive increase in traffic congestion, urban sprawl, commuting times, population density, and proposed and actual new public transportation systems such as the Luas and Metro causing massive disruption during the building phase and costing many billions of euro.
Tripling the size of Dublin’s bus fleet would probably be required to meet the latent demand for an efficient and free public transport service, but the capital cost would be minuscule compared to the cost of the aforementioned projects.
Instead of requiring exorbitant new infrastructure, existing and underused bus lanes would be more fully utilised, and journey times improved as car traffic diminished. Valuable space currently required for car parking could be repurposed for social housing or public amenities.
Such an expansion of the public bus system would massively improve the convenience of the existing bus services by increasing the frequency, range, and scope of current routes.
Instead of wasting time, burning fuel, polluting the atmosphere, and contributing to global warming, commuters could work on the bus, engage with social media and, horror of horrors, actually talk to one another, thereby recreating a more convivial and socially egalitarian city.
If the buses were primarily electric, they could further reduce our carbon footprint, and reduce the fines we will soon become liable to pay for failing to reach our carbon reduction targets.
As we have little oil and no car manufacturing industries, such a system would also improve our balance of trade and employment levels.
As a nation, we think nothing of spending billions on (partially) free education, healthcare, roads and public facilities. But an efficient public transport system is every bit as vital to the functioning of a modern economy. How much time is wasted driving cars on congested roads which could otherwise be devoted to more productive work or social activities? How many lives could be saved by less tired (and sometimes intoxicated) driving?
It is an idea whose time has come. – Yours, etc,