A RECENT report in the Irish Examiner showing traffic levels in Cork have reached pre-pandemic levels shows we need to up our game on public transport reliability, but more crucially, see a structural change that allows changes to be made locally and stop relying on Dublin.
The report should not be met with a shrug of the shoulders or a shake of the head. It should be met with action and a resolve to solve this heightened carbon and societal problem. To date, that solution has been held by Dublin based agencies. It’s not working. We need to reassess how we approach decision-making.
A Cork Climate Ticket Ignored
The Labour Party, in Budget 2023, proposed the introduction of a €9 monthly Climate ticket for public transport for six months, costed out at €300 million. It is modelled on a German scheme which, in three months, saved 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions - equivalent to the annual output from 388,000 vehicles. In Ireland, that would be the equivalent of taking 23,000 cars off the road.
If introduced, our Climate ticket would help people make the move to public transport in Cork, save costs on fuel, and help Ireland meet our emission targets.
Some rubbished the German model, without fully exploring its outcome. A new study by the Institute for Transport and Space at the Erfurt University of Applied Sciences showed the €9 ticket significantly improved access to the transport system and opportunities for people on low incomes to participate in society. It enabled those surveyed to have more social contacts, more activities outside of the home, and improved accessibility to services of general interest, and thus led to an overall better quality of life for people on low incomes.
The central results from Erfurt found:
For many respondents, the ticket enables access to mobility offers that they were previously unable to use or only to a very limited extent. The survey confirmed that the majority of those surveyed travelled more frequently while they were in possession of the ticket. This effect is particularly visible in lower income groups (less than €1,250 net per month) and decreases significantly with the increasing income of those surveyed with a €9 ticket.
At the same time, the use of public transport among those surveyed has increased significantly, regardless of income. Respondents travelled less by car, but also walked or cycled less frequently.
The vast majority of respondents would like a follow-up offer to the €9 ticket. The average willingness to pay of the respondents is €25 per month.
Nobody is saying a Climate Ticket would solve all our transport ills. The biggest issue out of the recent Bus Connects public consultation was that of reliability. People do not trust the service because of the experiences people have had with real time information board and the matter of ‘Phantom buses’.
That is what I hope Bus Connects will address with the new routes rolled out in 2023. That will be crucial to phase two consultation of the contentious bus corridors and public representatives will have to make decisions on whether they want to shout loudly against any plan or work constructively on improving public transport for the city.
Bus Connects is not perfect and the public consultation had errors, but the reaction from some quarters of sheer anger totally outstripped the rationale for initial plans. The next phase must be cognisant of that, but we cannot ignore rising traffic issues and the fact all road users are impacted by that, especially buses.
The Light Rail project for Cork is to be unveiled in early 2023, after questions from my colleague Seán Sherlock TD showed €1.3 million has been spent to date on designing the preferred route. The final business case for the Cork Luas has yet to be agreed, so the project remains exposed to high inflation and building costs and the whim of a fragile economic and political outlook.
Remote working a fantasy?
The traffic figures show remote working in Cork must be under pressure. Flexibility in terms of hours of work and place of work is a key demand of workers in Cork city. Flexible work should not just be something granted for those with caring responsibilities and, as many parents point out, the need for flexibility does not stop when a child turns 12, as government plans suggest.
This is particularly an issue for women. Whether we agree with it or not, it is still the case that women take on the lion’s share of caring responsibilities.
It is also the case that while many have fought for years for improvements, we still have a massively expensive and often not readily available childcare services in Ireland. A right to flexible work is a right to make our every growing complained juggling of responsibilities that little bit easier for women.
At this point, you probably wonder where Constitutional Reform comes into the picture. In the current political climate, we must prepare for a border poll in the years ahead, and the possibility that it passes.
The introduction of an All-Island State must take into the entire island, not just the North, and we should not accept the status quo, that all things flow in and out of Dublin.
An All-Island State should seek to repair the dearth of self-determination at local government level in terms of certain powers. Currently, the powers of local government, as elected by the people, are embarrassingly small. Rather, it is the executive at local authority level that calls the shots, or national bodies ‘dictating’ to councils on what will happen in their area, but even at that the crucial powers off policing, transport and revenue raising are held in Dublin.
If local authorities can determine the powers of public transport, community policing, local housing (without the red tape of central Government), it can usher in a new chapter of local government by the people.
It can reduce traffic, reduce emissions, and place power back in the hands of the people.