Ministers have privately discussed a strategy to ensure that plans to try to dramatically reduce car use do not alienate the public.
The strategy could culminate in people being asked to take one car journey fewer per week but, in order to ensure the public are not annoyed by it, the Cabinet has discussed taking a two-phase approach before such a request is made.
Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan brought a memo to Cabinet on Tuesday setting out his intention to develop a “demand management strategy” to reduce congestion and the use of private cars with a view to reducing carbon emissions.
According to the Cabinet memo, Ministers were told that “achieving a shift to transport modes with zero- or low-carbon emissions, such as active travel (walking and cycling) and public transport will require unprecedented levels of public buy-in and engagement”.
In terms of reducing car use, cities will be targeted first amid concern about the impact on those living in rural Ireland. The National Transport Authority has started work on a plan to halve transport emissions in the greater Dublin area by 2030.
In order to get the public on board with the plans to reduce private car use, a two-phase strategy is being planned.
“In order to mitigate any risk of alienating the public with a premature ‘call to action’ for behaviour change, phase one will seek to deliver the objective of ‘laying the groundwork’ by communicating the Government’s wider vision for the transformation of Ireland’s public transport up to 2030, and of the investment being made to make that vision a reality,” the memo states.
In the second phase, the Government will “begin to encourage car users to drive less, for example starting with taking one less car journey per week”.
The Government is planning national advertising and a community engagement campaigns.
Ministers also considered the impact of such moves on rural communities and were told that the strategy will “take into account the transport options currently available to people living in rural and remote locations, especially those with fewer or no alternatives to travelling by private car”.
“It is intended that viable sustainable alternatives to the private car will be well in place before, or developed in tandem with, any future demand management measures.”
The Government’s Climate Action Plan contains a commitment to develop a national demand management strategy for transport in order halve emissions from the sector by 2030. It also wants to reduce the total number of kilometres driven in private cars by 20 per cent and to halve fuel usage in the same period.
The memo also reminded Ministers of suggestions made by the Commission on Taxation and Welfare which “have the potential to be impactful”. This included congestion charges in key urban areas and the introduction of an additional duty on non-residential parking.
Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government had no plans to introduce congestion charges at this stage. He told Solidarity TD Mick Barry that there may be charges at “some point down the line” but they would not happen under the current Government or in “the foreseeable future”.