Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Dublin’s traffic czar just can’t give up his car

This article by the Sunday Times was pointed out to me by one of my Economics students the other day. I was lecturing on transport economics!

HIS job is to convince Dublin’s drivers to leave their cars at home and use public transport. But Michael Phillips, the city’s new director of traffic, has admitted he drives to work most days along one of the best public transport routes in the country.

Phillips’s journey from his house in Dun Laoghaire to Dublin city council’s offices on Wood Quay takes one hour in each direction. His route runs alongside the city’s most successful quality bus corridor (QBC), built at a cost of €500,000 a kilometre by the council and serviced by the 46a route, the jewel in Dublin Bus’s crown.

The successor to Owen Keegan says he also uses the Dart, but mainly chooses to drive as he carries up to three family members that he drops off along the route. The traffic director also insists he needs his car for work during the day.

“People might criticise me for this, but I would say it involves using road space economically,” Phillips said.

“If I was on my own, I would always use public transport. One of the problems [Dublin] has is the number of single-occupant cars.”

Despite his regular commute by car, Phillips is planning to introduce new measures aimed at coercing other motorists out of theirs.

The city council is to extend the number of QBCs in Dublin, leaving motorists to compete for greatly reduced road space. Up to 14 new routes are planned for the next three years.

“Up until now, drivers have been able to change their route to get on to roads that don’t have bus lanes, but that is going to change,” said Phillips.

“When the new ones come on line there will be lanes on the alternatives too. So people will realise that if they want to travel quickly, the bus is a better option.”

The city council also intends to increase parking fees “in line with inflation” next year, and is limiting the number of car spaces new commercial developments can have.

“We have calculated that about 25,000 car users in Dublin use their vehicles for business purposes,” said the director of traffic. “They need to be able to get around and to find parking easily. About 65,000 commuters, however, come into the city in their cars in the morning and park somewhere until they go home in the evening.”

In another apparent example, though, of “do as I say and not as I do”, Phillips’s employer has 300 city centre parking spaces that can be used by 900 of the council’s 3,000 employees. “Our staff use their cars to provide a service to the city and the number of car-parking spaces we have is constantly under review,” Phillips said.

He says he can understand why Dublin motorists are slow to abandon their cars. “Currently 51% of people use their cars to travel in and out of Dublin. This is because we still don’t have the public transport system we need. It’s coming, but it’s not there yet.”

Congestion charges are not an option for this reason, but he said car users, himself included, need to reconsider how they commute.

“The complaint that public transport is inadequate is not going to be relevant soon. People say that because it costs a lot to buy, tax and insure a car they should be entitled to use it every day, but that isn’t the case anymore.

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