THERE will be no reversing of the Patrick Street car ban despite mounting pressure from businesses who claim they are struggling as a result.
A report presented to Cork City Council last night showed a significant increase in bus passenger numbers and on-street movement since the introduction of the restrictions, which ban private cars from driving on the street from 3pm to 6.30pm daily.
A number of city businesses say the measures are causing a decline in trade in the city centre, though others have backed the long-term changes.
A report presented in response to a question by Fianna Fail councillor Tim Brosnan noted that bus journey times have improved for services using Patrick St. It also showed a 14% increase in passenger numbers on these services, equating to some 311,000 passengers in comparison to the same period last year.
The report also included a detailed breakdown of footfall on Patrick St. However, footfall counters were only installed on the street at the beginning of August so it is not possible to compare the data to the same period last year.
The report shows a gradual climb upwards in movement on the street. The highest point came over the week that included the October bank holiday weekend and the Jazz Festival, which saw 766,803 movements on the street.
Otherwise, the figures have been between 620,000 and 675,000 each week since August 9 when the measures were introduced.
The report also shows that footfall remains steady between the hours of the restrictions, with weekly figures remaining between 214,000 and 260,000 from 3pm to 7pm. There was a 23% jump from the week before the restrictions to the following week.
City Hall deputy chief executive Pat Ledwidge said that the changes are part of a long-term strategy to ease congestion in the city as the numbers living and working in the city grow.
He said: "We are undergoing profound changes, especially in retail. We need to drive demand to help businesses in the city."
Councillors debated the matter for more than an hour at City Hall last night.
Elected members were split on the future of the measures, which are part of a multi-year strategy to transform the traffic infrastructure of Cork city.
Fianna Fail councillor Tim Brosnan called for the removal of the bus priority measures until after the Christmas shopping season.
Mr Brosnan has been a vocal critic of the plan.
"A picture is being painted that everything is buzzing in the city and that is not the feedback I am getting," he said.
"I am not taking on anyone personally but we can't pretend that everything is rosy in the garden. It is not being enforced, there is confusion.
"I am asking that this whole ban be lifted until after the January sales - I am asking on behalf of the smaller businesses who are not doing well."
Independent councillor Paudie Dineen backed the call.
He said that the restrictions have caused the city quays to back up and damaged public confidence in the city.
"They can't get in, they can't get out; it is as simple as that," he said.
"We need to listen to traders, need to listen to people; they don't have confidence, I don't have confidence. We should open up Patrick St again and get things going."
However, Fine Gael's Des Cahill hit back at the suggestion that the new restrictions were responsible for the issues facing traders in Cork city.
"This isn't a situation that is unique to Cork city - city trading is being done differently all across Europe," he said.
Mr Cahill's suggestion was echoed by many other members in the council chamber.
Sinn Fein's Shane O'Shea said that city businesses need to react to a changing retail environment.
He said that the footfall and public transport figures paint a clear picture.
"If footfall is up and your till is down, your offer is off - that is a hard, cold fact," he said.
"The numbers defeat any argument for going back for me. The reasons that businesses are down cannot be linked directly to the car ban."
Fianna Fail's Terry Shannon agreed.
"The idea that businesses are on the verge of collapse because cars can't go from one end of the street to the other for three-and-a-half hours per day is a nonsense," he said.
Solidarity's Fiona Ryan said that City Hall cannot be 'beholden' to the calls of a small number of businesses.
"The city isn't just traders," she said.
"It is people, public transport, a living city: we need to do everything we can to promote these.
"I would like to see some clear evidence around the claims of negative effects. We can see the change in public transport, but some businesses are saying they are up and some are saying they are down."
Cllr Kieran McCarthy said that City Hall needs to think long term.
The Independent councillor said: "Half the country is shopping online. What is our response? Nothing.
"Millenials, generation Z - they are shopping online.
"We don't engage with social media, we are behind the whole time - we are constantly reacting, we are never thinking ahead. We need a strong PR campaign and we have think long term. Not month by month, not season by season but that would know what we are doing next year "