Sunday 14 August 2011

Plan for city congestion charge stalls at first hurdle

MOTORISTS are to escape a congestion charge for at least the next five years.

Proposals by the National Transport Authority (NTA) to charge motorists for bringing their cars into cities to ease gridlock have been shot down by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar.

The Government has ruled out charging motorists to bring their cars into cities despite a warning by the NTA that a daily toll was needed to prevent gridlock from worsening over the coming years.

The NTA said that unless a 'road use charging scheme' -- or a congestion charge -- was introduced by 2020, cities would grind to a halt.

In a strategy document, the agency charged with delivering public transport services in the capital warned that traffic volumes would increase over the coming years, leading to longer delays for commuters.

Only by charging motorists a fee to drive into the city would they switch to bus and rail services, it said.

But the recommendations were immediately rejected by Mr Varadkar. Cities with a congestion charge in place -- including Oslo and London -- already had a high quality public transport system which offered commuters an alternative, he told the Irish Independent.

"Irish cities are not currently able to provide such an extensive public transport alternative," he said.

"Alternative travel options should be in place before any congestion charging scheme is introduced. Although the Government is committed to promoting sustainable transport and encouraging far greater use of public transport to ease congestion, congestion charging is not currently being promoted," he added.

The NTA was set up in 2009 and is responsible for transport planning in the greater Dublin area, which includes Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. It also licences bus services nationally and is in charge of taxi regulation.

Its transport strategy for the next 20 years, called '2030 Vision', warns that traffic volumes will increase, leading to longer delays, and that a congestion charge is needed to reduce car commuting levels to just 45pc of all journeys.

The strategy also sets out what transport services are needed up to 2030. Among its recommendations are:

?More parts of Dublin and large towns to be subjected to 30kmh speed limits. The controversial measure is already in place in some parts of the capital.

?Restrictions on parking in town and city centres.

?Delivery of the Metro and Luas extensions -- but it acknowledges that investment in these schemes will be "significantly curtailed" in the coming years.

?More dedicated bus lanes, with ticket machines to be installed at busy stops. Cheaper fares at off-peak times should be introduced.

?An expansion of the free Dublin bikes scheme, and more dedicated cycle lanes.

The NTA said that half of Dublin's residents of driving age did not own a car and that public transport services should take priority on the roads.

But it criticised the existing public transport system for being overly complex and difficult to use. It said that changes needed to be made to fare structures to make the system more attractive.

"Simplifying ticketing and fare structures across the entire public transport network is essential to make public transport more attractive to users," it said.

Paul Melia
Irish Independent

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