Thursday, 1 July 2010

Some Movement on Public Transport in Dublin

Nat O'Connor: Investment in infrastructure not only provides a useful stimulus to the economy, but it can also provide tangible assets that help boost economic activity. No better example than public transport.

It is reported that a Railway Order has been formally sought for Dart Underground. This underground line will connect up all of the city's different forms of transport, and Irish Rail claims it will treble rail passenger journeys in Dublin. They have a promotional leaflet (PDF) explaining the benefits.

Dublin Bus have announced their own Network Direct plans for revising their bus routes, which will involve more straight routes into the centre. However, a number of private bus operators are also serving Dublin and future integrated transport cannot ignore their existence.

Meanwhile, taxis are seeking to get cheaper access to the Port Tunnel. It has been claimed this would help reduce congestion.

The above are sectoral developments. And in some cases they miss the bigger picture. Dublin not only needs integrated ticketing, which the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) has been working on for some time, but also an integrated plan for better public transport across all modes.

It makes sense for the National Transport Authority (NTA) to take a lead role in developing a masterplan. The integrated transport strategy for Dublin, A Platform for Change, is meant to run from 2000 to 2016, yet the creation of the NTA as a statury body in 2009 (taking over from the Dublin Transport Office) suggests that it is still only getting going.

Transport 21 provides some vision of the future of transport for Greater Dublin with its joined up rail map. However, one of the unanswered questions is about Metro. Are the massive proposed costs and debateable benefits of the Metro system (Metro North and Metro West) worth it?

One could argume that Metro constuction would be a useful channel for economic stimulus, but how much of the cost would involve importing external expertise and relatively small numbers of specialised labour? Would the cost go beyond the amount that can reasonably be available for stimulus? And other infrastructure is also required, such as schools; so would Metro take up too much of the limited capital budget for years to come? (And public transport is not just for Dublin either! Public transport is needed across the country, where it ranges greatly in its quality and is non-existent for many people.)

In addition, while on the face of it all public transport is 'green', it can be argued that both Metro schemes were partially planned to break ground in Dublin's green belts, in order to raise property value there and boost the further construction of housing, as part of Dublin's unsustainable, un-green sprawl. And that's not really the way public transport should be planned! Yet, the extent of the housing crisis has meant that Metro alone cannot revive the fortunes of the land-owners of Dublin to encourage them to build, so there might not be many people living near those outer Metro stations after all, which could undermine the viability of the whole project. Emigration isn't helping demand either.

But if not Metro, how can we provide good quality public transport to those who regard the Metro idea as sacred because they are poorly served now and commuting through heavy traffic?

Independently, a design firm has created a visionary map for changed public transport in Dublin relying largely on existing rail plus a radically changed bus system. This is an example of starting from stratch to identify the major road and rail axes, and population centres, and then putting in transport to most efficiently meet their needs. In terms of long-term economic efficiency, this is not something to be dismissed out of hand. The more modest (but much cheaper) option of buses might be a more realistic target for Dublin's economic development in the near future.


Rory O'Farrell said...

I think its useful to compare Dublin with Brussels and Bucharest. All have similar populations (and begin with the letter B in their 1st official languages).

Brussels has about 3 full metro lines, a few semi-underground trams, and about 20 trams. In fairness though Brussels has a bigger hinterland than Dublin. Brussels also has a large number of underground road tunnels.

Bucharest probably has an even smaller hinterland than Dublin, they have 3 metro lines and numerous trams.

Dublin differs from these cities in having a sea port. Both have a greater density than Dublin. It could be argued though that better public transport would lead to greater density, and the commuter belt would evaporate over time. Of course this would have social consequences, but dense cities, and un-spoiled countryside is probably more environmentally sustainable.

Another advantage of Dublin is it is fairly flat. Accelerating the development of the bike network would be relatively cheap, easy to plan quickly (so provide jobs while there is high unemployment rather than in 5 years time), envirnomentally sustainable, and not require much in the form of imports. The Royal Canal would be an obvious choice for a bike route I think.

Anonymous said...

Buses are useless to get people out of their cars in realistic numbers. Dublin's streets don't allow rapid bus transit even with bus lanes.
Any plans depending on that are fantasy that will never see the light. Rail is the only realistic solution.

Nat O`Connor said...

Correction: The visionary map mentioned above was done as part of an MA by a student of design, not by a firm.

I should note that they are suggest Bus Rapid Transport, which are big buses that look more like Luas trams than familiar double-deckers.

Nat O`Connor said...

There are really three separate points in what you say:
1. It seems to me that there is a distain for bus travel among some people, whether it is due to having to wait (often in the rain), having to learn about routes you don’t use frequently, movement sickness, crowdedness, occasional litter or smoking upstairs, or just a vague perception of inefficiency. So there is real work needed to (a) improve existing faults, and (b) persuade people to see that buses have improved. And they have. For example, Dublin Bus is systematically replacing all of its old buses. Other operators often use comfortable coaches.

2. Some people prefer to be in their own car, and for a variety of reasons. Some of the appeal is because it is immediately available, a comfortable space with radio/CDs, no interaction with strangers, available for minor emergencies (like rushing to the crèche or to an elderly relative), handy for schools runs combined with commuting, etc. Of course, all these points are counterbalanced against sitting in congested traffic, not being able to read, tiredness from concentrating on the road every day, the availability of taxis for those emergences, etc.

Another reason for using the car is because it is there. People spend a lot of money on owning, insuring, taxing, serving, fuelling, washing, etc. their cars. Motorists seem to have an automatic thought that if they’ve got a car they’re going to use it.

There are many variables in the bus versus car argument, and I think it requires a holistic view of public transport to ensure that there is progress made on all fronts, to make public transport into a preferable option for more people.

For example, on average humans live for about 1,000 months. Commuting by car 1 hour each way to work, 220 days a year for 40 years adds up to 25 solid months (2.5 per cent of your life) spent in your car. You could read a lot in that time, or send a lot of texts, or do a something other than move between first and second gear while glaring ahead at the rows of cars.

3. Dublin’s streets are not any more narrow or torturous than many other cities. I took the bus quite often in Paris for a couple of years. They go through a lot of narrow streets but generally work extremely well.
Low housing density, poor planning, bad junctions, etc. all cause problems. But on the whole, buses in Dublin could be made to work well, but they may need more investment or subsidy.

“Rail is the only realistic solution.”
But we may not be able to afford it any time soon.

So do we opt for:
A. The Ostrich approach: do nothing about public transport until we can afford it,
B. The White Elephant approach: start digging rail tunnels anyway, add massively to national debt, and end up unable to pay for other infrastructure around the country for years to come,
C. The Herd Animal approach: give a single authority (or elected mayor) some real powers to put in place a system of public transport based on good design and whatever capital we can afford between now and 2020. This may well mean buses, so they have to be made to work well, so that we present Dublin as an attractive global city.

Rory O'Farrell said...

I suppose a disadvantage of buses (except for Trolley Buses) is that they require fossil fuels.

Also, I think most people find rail (whether trams or inter-city) to be more comfortable. Personally I feel sick if I read on a bus, but I can read in comfort with rail.

antoin O Lachtnain said...

To get a reasonable return from a new rail line, you will still have to make a major investment in buses to get people to the rail line. The reason is that so few people live within walking distance of an existing or proposed line.

It is unrealistic to expect that all or even most parts of the city can be served by rail, especially with the spread-out nature of development in Dublin. It is really worth looking at the Venetikidis/Leahy work that Nat has linked to.