Here’s how a survey from Dublin car park owners comes to flawed conclusions on planned traffic changes

Guest writer, Sam Boles, gives his analysis of the Irish Parking Association survey which wrongly claims that Dublin city centre would lose 24% of retail and entertainment spend if motor traffic restrictions proceed as planned.

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: The starting point for the poll, conducted by Red C for the Irish Parking Association, is to look only at Irish residents who are “planned shoppers” to Dublin city centre shopping areas. The criteria given for this category in the report, which has been circulated to some members of the public, are as follows:

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  • “People who have made a specific trip into town for either a shopping or entertainment trip EXCLUDING those who travelled in for work or college.
  • This isolates those who make a decision to travel into town for shopping or entertainment, and who wouldn’t otherwise already be there for work or college.
  • Planned shoppers = those that will be affected by any change to parking and access to the city centre.”

Looking at so-called “planned shoppers” gives a distorted picture. It pretends the city is nothing more than a suburban shopping centre. In a shopping centre, all shoppers will be planned shoppers while in the city centre, planned shoppers will be a significant but much smaller subset. The pollsters give some rationale in their report, but I don’t think it bears scrutiny.

The category basically excludes people who combine trips, for example going shopping after a day’s work. It stands to reason that combined trips would be higher among active travellers (non-drivers).

Shopping centres typically don’t have large employment centres on-site as is the case in the city centre. Shopping centres also generally lack hotels, colleges, theatres, tourists and other elements that make the city a “working, thriving, authentic city space” (to quote Deirdre Conroy of the Indo). Conversely, shopping centres do have safe and relatively quiet environments that are free of motor traffic – once you’ve walked across the car park.

One of the widely reported findings of the survey was: “If all drivers who claim they would not visit the city centre follow through this could decrease overall spend in the city centre by at least 24%, before we take into account the fact that drivers on average bring more than one person per car.”

As reported on Monday, this is based on a flawed question — “How likely, if at all, would you have been to visit the city centre today if you had not been able to drive into or park in town?” — which presumes none of the drivers could drive in. The reality is that the city’s plans include maintaining access to on-street and multi-story car parks.

The headline figure of a 24% reduction in shopping spending only takes into account these so-called “planned-shoppers”.  Without knowing what proportion “planned shoppers” make up of overall shoppers, this is a meaningless statistic.

The fact that the survey was done in the mid-summer months is also significant. Even amongst the planned-shopper category, there may have been an overrepresentation of car-users, lured in by the lighter summer traffic. The fact that schools were off during the survey period also means that the reported load-factor (2.3 occupants per car) might also be atypical. The findings of the survey are at odds with similar surveys conducted in Dublin during other seasons. None of the Red C findings are likely to give an accurate picture of the peak retail period — the build up to Christmas.

The idea that the poll, funded by the Irish Parking Association, gives “robust reliable and independent evidence of consumer opinion on the topic” is highly dubious. The poll appears to be designed to produce suitable findings for the parking lobby group.

The language used is revealing. The “planned shopper” category was designed to exclude workers and students as it was “felt that including workers who happen to be in town during lunch over represents public transport usage“. Tourists are also excluded.

One of the questions finds, not surprisingly, that most people think “Transport links would need to be improved before cars are banned”. The report never mentions that improving bus and Luas services are key goals of the NTA/DCC proposal.

Other questions from the “attitudes” section are equally ridiculous and contain emotive language, especially: “I would be worried about Dublin becoming a ghost town if no cars were allowed.” The poll found that 61% of drivers were concerned about the ghosts of cars roaming the streets.

Finally, in the report Red C state that “arguably those most effected, the car users” have a low level of awareness at 32%. Throughout the survey, the changes are viewed only as having negative impacts. The rationale behind excluding tourists was that they wouldn’t be “impacted” by proposals to improve the safety and attractiveness of our capital city. The truth is that everyone who doesn’t drive through the city’s core will be positively affected. Non-car users might be more aware of the changes because they enthusiastically welcome this progressive, common-sense proposal that has been crying out to be done for years.

Sam is a member of Dublin Cycling Campaign. aims to publish a wide-range of opinion. If you have an idea for a comment article relating to cycling, please write to

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  1. Less cars means I’m significantly more likely to go to the city center as the sound, bustle and restricted space of traffic puts me off. Everytime I go to a European City with heavily restricted inner city traffic I wish for it at home.


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