As Ireland continues on the roadmap to ease the restrictions introduced to slow the spread of Covid-19, the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) has called for the introduction of a number of measures to help protect passengers and staff using transport networks in Cork, and has suggested the time could be right to develop a bus rapid transit (BRT) programme here.
General secretary of the NBRU, Dermot O’Leary, has written to political party leaders and highlighted how the public transport system will require significant changes, especially at peak times, to accommodate even a reduced number of morning and evening commuters compared with the levels seen prior to Covid-19.
He flagged a series of measures which could be put in place as the restrictions are eased, including the introduction of staggered start times at workplaces, schools, and colleges in Cork and around the country to reduce the demand for public transport at traditionally busy times.
The NBRU is also seeking the introduction of park and ride facilities in proximity to major urban centres in order to reduce congestion.
Mr O’Leary said the pandemic had clearly demonstrated what a future can look like when it comes to climate change and meeting emissions targets.
“Our children and grandchildren will not thank us if we fail to grasp the opportunity that this crisis has presented when it comes to planning a future around sustainable public transport,” he said.
The union has asked party leaders to give consideration to how public transport could change in the future, and said consideration should be given to the development of BRT programmes in Cork as well as in Limerick and Galway.
It said that governments have given significant focus to light rail projects and the Dublin metro, but that there was a range of other projects that could be delivered relatively quickly.
“Bus Rapid Transit, with Park and Ride, offers the opportunity to solve severe congestion issues in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway at the fraction of the price of one unintegrated Metro line,” said the union letter.
Mr O’Leary said that a BRT programme could be delivered in Cork in one government term.
“If the willingness and money is there, politicians could deliver this in one term. There are a lot of heavy hitters in Cork and they have a once in a generation opportunity to grasp this,” he said.
In a response to the NBRU letter, Fianna Fáil party leader and Cork South Central TD Micheál Martin said consideration should be given to BRT proposals.
Mr Martin said that in addition to new projects, more must also be done to increase the efficiency of the existing transport system and that the electrification of the existing rail network must be prioritised within the available financial resources.
Meanwhile, with less than a week to go until Ireland enters phase two of the roadmap to ease the Covid-19 restrictions, the NBRU is also calling for face coverings to be made mandatory on public transport.
In recent weeks, the Government recommended that people should wear a cloth face covering in situations where it is difficult to practise social distancing such as on busy public transport.
However, Mr O’Leary said the Government advice on the wearing of face coverings on public transport was “vague”.
“Phase two will see more people get on public transport,” he told The Echo.
“We simply cannot move through the stages to phase five without ‘laying an egg’ on this fundamental issue.
“What is needed is a clear statement on this,” he said.