Cork needs affordable rail fares for daily commuters

We need to massively enhance the public transport network and infrastructure in Cork, says Michelle O’Sullivan, Cork Chamber Public Affairs Executive
Cork needs affordable rail fares for daily commuters
Affordability and practicality of the Cork to Mallow service is needed, says Michelle O'Sullivan of Cork Chamber. Pic; Larry Cummins

NEVER has the demand for public transport been greater in Cork. The City is growing at pace with the development of office space significantly shifting up in gear even in the last year.

With cranes popping up across the skyline, there is no doubt that Cork is making serious headway in turning plans into reality. In the next three years alone, it is estimated that there will be an extra 5,000 jobs created in the City as current development projects reach completion, with this growing to 10,000 in the coming years as the docklands is developed.

As a Chamber, we’re highlighting to government the immediate need to increase the pace of investment in the public transport network across Cork. As a nation, we need to be enabling our regions to grow smarter. To do this, we need action now. We need to be developing our cities to meet the potential of this future growth, to have this growth happen in a way that learns from past missed opportunities and builds on future potential.

As part of Project Ireland 2040, Cork is to be the fastest growing city region in the country over the next 20 years, with the city population expected to grow by at least 125,000. To accommodate these numbers, we need a massively enhanced public transport network and infrastructure for the Cork Metropolitan Area. There has been much anticipation around the publication of the National Transport Authority’s Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy, now expected for public consultation in early 2019. It is crucial that we have this plan for the metropolitan area and that we develop our transport corridors and network to meet the needs of a growing population base connecting residential zones with employment zones and amenity areas. The Bus Connects funding of €200million announced as part of the Project Ireland 2040 plan is a starting point, and we need this released without delay.

The opportunity lies in being proactive, in facilitating this growth, and in driving a public transport programme that matches the needs of the City as it grows and evolves.

Rail travel is an essential pillar of any best-in-class sustainable public transport network, and we still have significant capacity in Cork to see commuter rail passenger numbers grow from strength to strength, and to meet the significant potential which rail travel offers in alleviating growing traffic congestion as well as ensuring a cleaner environment, quality of life and air quality for the commuters and residents alike.

Take for example, the Mallow to Cork service, which could facilitate more sustainable commuting patterns for North Cork commuters. This currently sits within the InterCity fare pricing structures. Mallow is a key residential zone in North Cork with Census 2016 reporting Mallow as a major commuter location for workers accessing Cork city and suburbs daily.

In recent years rail passenger numbers have increased on services between Cork to Mallow, Cobh and Midleton, up 9% to 1.2m in 2017 demonstrating already the growth potential for rail. As Cork grows, so does the daily commuting workforce, and here lies the opportunity.

To maximise the value of the railway network already servicing Cork City, the Cork to Mallow route should be reclassified as a commuter rail service. This could be pivotal in increasing the number of those commuting by train, improving the affordability and practicality of the service to those travelling daily. Mallow is located as close to Cork as Naas is to Dublin, which is included in the Short Hop Commuter Zone resulting in great fare reductions for passengers travelling in the Greater Dublin Area. Currently to travel from Mallow to Cork is €9.19 one way online (€11.35 one way at the ticket desk), equating to €18.38 as a daily return fare for commuters, whereas the fare between Naas to Dublin Heuston is €4.75 each way, €3.72 with a LEAP card. Right now, as Mallow isn’t included as a Commuter station, there’s no opportunity to avail of any LEAP card reductions for passengers. Unfortunately, the recent public transport fare changes announced by the NTA didn’t bring an improvement for North Cork rail commuters just yet but we would like to see this happen in the near future.

The opportunities far outweigh the negatives. With the reclassification to a commuter train station and a lower rail fare, there is scope for significantly growing passenger numbers.

There would be enormous benefits to our future environment in changing commuter travel modes, offering commuters viable alternatives to private car transport. There’s also the opportunity to develop the Kilbarry commuter station, also on this route, and which could again further grow the commuter passenger numbers, greatly increasing the accessibility and permeability of the northside, supporting the growing employment zone in Blackpool, and development of the Kilbarry Business and Technology Park.

Maximising the potential of our current public transport network is a necessity and would be 100% complementary to the ongoing work of the National Transport Authority, and the Local Authorities here in Cork in planning for growth.

We need to greatly expand and develop the public transport network and infrastructure across the Cork region to take in a range of transport modes such as rail, bus and cycling, adding mobility interchange hubs at key locations to provide additional park and ride, and park and cycle options.

In the future, and hopefully the not too distant future, a smart, integrated, accessible, affordable and cleaner technology, and where possible completely renewable fuel, public transport infrastructure and network is the goal.

With growth, there are opportunities. We need to take these opportunities and make them work for Cork.

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