7 reasons claims against bus and tram priority in Dublin are wrong

Public transport priority measures to support the introduction of trams crossing the River Liffey at a rate of one every 3 minutes at peak times is, according to one TD, "purely anti-motorists" and many motorists are annoyed by the plan which aims to keep buses and trams moving… but do the angry arguments hold water?

1. "There's no new public transport"

This claim is central to most of the arguments against change — there's no choice, and public transport is already full. But the changes on the quays are planned to help support new and improved public transport and help keep current services moving.

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The claim of "no new public transport" does not stand up at all — the realty is that the new tram extension provided by Luas Cross City will on its own add to capacity and connectivity. But it does not stop there — new buses across the bus network are to be added to the Dublin Bus network over the next three months and a new more direct rail service with extra capacity and connectivity was opened not so long ago.

Or does millions of euro investment in Luas Cross City, the Phoenix Park tunnel service and new buses amount to nothing? The soon-to-be added or recently added provision for public transport includes:

  1. Luas Cross City is new capacity (including serving some of the areas where car users who use the quays start).
  2. Luas Cross City is also extra connectivity making trips, previously requiring a long walk, now only needing to switch trams. A key here is frequency — the switch between Luas red and green line trams around Abbey Street will be from one frequent service to another, making switching predictable and reliable.
  3. Dublin Bus is adding 30 new (non-replacement) over the next few months.
  4. Extra Kildare route trains taking the Phoenix Park Tunnel direct to the central business district is extra capacity and connectivity and also directly serves areas in west Dublin and beyond where many car commuters on the quays come from.
  5. New DublinBikes are on the way with new stations around Grangegorman. With up to 18,000 trips per day on only around 1,600 bicycles, it's time to start looking at bicycle share seriously as part of the public transport system.

Also planned in the next few years is BRT bus route between Blanchardstown and UCD, and more frequent Dart and rail services. On the cycling front, the Liffey Cycle Route will make cycling safer and more attractive to more people; and, in the next year, private stationless bicycle share will also likely add to the options people have.

There will also be a large shot of extra capacity when the private bus company takes over 10% of Dublin Bus routes, and the Dublin Bus buses are freed up to run on their other routes, although this may take a year or more.

2. "It's just an anti-motorist plan."

Fully running trams will be crossing the quays at a rate of one tram every 3 minutes at peak time by the end of the year, and two trams will likely carry more people in less than 10 minutes than all the cars on the north quays will carry in an hour.

It might be a matter of perspective (pro-public transport, anti-motorist), but giving priority to public transport is needed in the short-term as trams start to cross the quays. The realty is that things can't stand still when there will be trams every 3 minutes — buses which carry far more people (see below) need a higher priority than cars which generally only have one person inside them.

3. "It's going to kill city centre business."

Does this argument sound familiar? It should do…

  • 1970s — pedestrianisation of Grafton St is going to kill city centre business
  • 1980s and 1990s — bus lanes are going to kill city centre business
  • 1990s and 2000s — Luas construction is going to kill city centre business
  • Late 2000s — College Green bus gate is going to kill city centre business
  • 2010s — Luas Cross City is going to kill city centre business
  • Mid to late 2010s — Double bus lanes and cycle routes are going to kill city centre business

When retailers have cried wolf so many times, why should we expect them to be right this time?

4. "There's a massive amount of people in cars on the quays."

There isn't. There is only around 500 cars per hour on the quays near O'Connell Street and the city council say that they carry only around 600 people — ie most cars are only carrying a driver. According to the council the car carrying capacity of the quays near O'Connell Bridge is very low compered to the number of bus users and Luas users (carried on the red line running parallel to the quays).

What's more, there's less than 380 cars per hour on Ellis Quay, where there's already only one lane for general traffic (the extra cars recorded near O'Connell Street join the quays from other routes). Figures released by the council, show that bicycles are already outnumbering cars on Ellis Quay at rush hour:

5. "Cars are being banned."

Cars are not being banned. Access will be maintained to all car parks, homes and other locations. Outright banning cars or banning some types of cars (like some cities have promised or as some have done on a temporary basis) is a different proposition.

6. "Metro or Dart Underground are needed first."

The city can't put changes on hold for ever waiting for national government to agree on and fund those large project, which are years away even if construction started tomorrow. The city is growing and it needs to relocate space to modes of transport which can move more people using that space.

Another question here is: Even if the full 600 people per hour in cars on the quays all switch to public transport (which is unlikely as there still will be some space for cars), it would not require major new transport projects. 600 people is less than the 30 new buses coming on stream for Dublin Bus. And remember: Two trams will likely carry more people in less than 10 minutes than all the cars on the north quays will carry in an hour.

7. "Car users will have no options."

Motorists who currently or up to recently used the quays will have options, including:

  • Keep using the low-priority single traffic lane on the quays
  • Find an alternative route to drive (this may push other drivers on those routes to choose a different option).
  • Reexamine the public transport options from their areas vs the new realty on the quays.
  • Look at official / non-official park and ride options.
  • Look at cycling directly.
  • Look at park and cycle.
  • Look at car pooling.

To paraphrase Cash: I hear the tram a comin', it's rolling over the river, we know it's been coming a long time, some are stuck in car prison and time keeps draggin' on, but that tram keeps a rollin' on down to the quays…


  1. Spot On article Cian!
    Listening to RTE Radio Seán O Rourke program discussion this morning on the topic, one would might be led to believe that armageddon was about to descend on Dublin city centre as a result of the changes! All texts read out were anti the proposals. I know for a fact that myself and a number of friends texted in postively, but texts were not read out!….Instead we got the likes of the woman from Galway (!?….Yes Galway!) complaining that she would not be driving to Dublin any more to buy her bed linens! Lets hope she gives some business to Ballinasloe, or Tuam or Galway instead!?

  2. Well stated Cian.
    I would add that with EU and International obligations to decarbonise our transport system the time has come for citizens to understand and accept that we can’t keep doing car trips through the city. We have to curtail trips by car and start getting used to walking, cycling, and public transport as our main trip modes.
    The politicians are failing in their duty to explain why the game is up. We face massive fines from the public purse from the EU if we fail to reduce car-based trips.
    Brendan O’Brien (Traffic, Dublin City Council) was subjected to unfair treatment on ‘Today with SOR ‘this morning on RTE about the new traffic management plans for the centre of this City.
    RTE editorial policy on news seems to be ignoring the reality of excessive emissions from transport.

  3. It would be lovely if you’d write a User’s Guide to Option 7 (if I’m right in thinking that this is the option with just buses and bikes – I’m cross-eyed with the number of options that have crossed the table at this stage).

  4. I totally agree with willandrewsdesign, “Well done Cian; good summary of ‘retailers (now car-park owners)’ crying wolf!”.


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