— “I would love to be a climate justice champion” says Minister Ross
Despite a small percentage of funding going towards cycling, the Minister of Transport Shane Ross has claimed in the Dail that “the overarching goals contained in Smarter Travel remain the cornerstone of our transport policy”.
Campaigners stated recently that cycling continues to be funded at a level of only 1% of the national transport budget, but Ross blamed the the financial crisis for the lack of progress for the targets on the Government’s transport policy, Smarter Travel: a New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009-2020.
It is feared that not only is the Smarter Travel section of the Department of Transport underfunded historically, but that, under Ross’s short time as minister so-far, it is also weakened.
Referring in the Dail to a question on Smarter Travel last Wednesday, Minister Ross said: “The targets set out in that policy were broad and ambitious. As it turns out, they were over-ambitious. The goal of the policy was to reduce private car use by increasing the number of people who walk, cycle or use public transport. Implementation of the policy was to result in reduced congestion and contribute to Ireland’s international obligations to reduce carbon and other emissions and contribute to improving public health and quality of life.”
Minister Ross used the Luas Cross City — a project which was originally supposed to be in place in 2004 with the opening of Luas — as an example of the Government’s commitment to public transport investment.
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According to parliamentary records at kildarestreet.com, Ross said: “The timetable has gone askew. That is obviously a product of the financial crisis, but that does not mean that we do not still have ambitions. We still have those ambitions and commitments.”
Brendan Ryan, a Labour TD for Dublin Fingal, said “The Minister talks about over-ambitious targets, but we are now at a critical point at which we have to set ambitious and achievable targets. Recognising the time lost, we need a three-year plan for the period to 2020 and it needs to be launched immediately. I recommend that the Minister task the sustainable transport division in his Department to spearhead this plan in the next three years. Most importantly, it should report every six months on progress.”
He added: “It should set out a project plan with deliverables and timelines and a report on our progress in meeting the targets set should be presented in the House. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, might include such a proposal in his draft climate action plan when he addresses the Dáil tomorrow.”
Ross replied: “I love the rhetoric. I would love to be a climate justice champion. It would be a great ambition. Ultimately, the exigencies of the Exchequer make it very difficult to do everything we would like to do in such a short period. I acknowledge that the Deputy has mentioned cycling and other modes of transport. Significant funds are awarded to the NTA and the GDA annually for the delivery of cycling and walking infrastructure in co-operation with the relevant local authorities.”
While Ross his Department of Transport keeps claiming significant funds are being diverted to cycling and walking, the councils do not have the funding to even implement currently planned cycling projects. For example, Dublin City Council said that it needs €25 million for the next four years for cycling projects already planned.
Minister Ross is also standing over the approval by his predecessor of the NTA Dublin Transport Strategy, which an environment group said ignores Irish legislation on climate change.
Deputy Ryan asked: “If the targets are not to be achieved by 2020, what is Minister’s current assessment of when they might be achieved?”
Minister Ross said: “I am glad that the Deputy mentioned that matter. I am meeting the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, tomorrow morning and my officials very shortly to consider what the targets will be. This time we want to make them absolutely realistic. We want them to be within the financial constraints and do not want to overshoot the mark like we did the last time.”
The five “key targets” in the Smarter Travel transport policy are:
- Future population and employment growth will predominantly take place in sustainable compact forms, which reduce the need to travel for employment and services
- 500,000 more people will take alternative means to commute to work to the extent that the total share of car commuting will drop from 65% to 45%
- Alternatives such as walking, cycling and public transport will be supported and provided to the extent that these will rise to 55% of total commuter journeys to work
- The total kilometres travelled by the car fleet in 2020 will not increase significantly from current levels
- A reduction will be achieved on the 2005 figure for greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector.