— Strategy to cover measures such as congestion charging, low-emission zones and reallocation of space.
The Government is to miss the Climate Action target to publish a transport demand management plan in 2023, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar today in the Dail ruled out congestion charging until after MetroLink and Dart expansion are operational, and when “all vehicles are electric”.
The delay and the strength of the opposition to even having an overall strategy for measures which will take years to implement is another blow to the hope that the Government will be able to achieve its target of a 50% reduction in transport-related carbon emission by 2030.
The Climate Action Plan 2023, released only months ago in December 2022, lists “Publish National Demand Management Strategy” under “2023 Actions”.
But transport and climate Minister Eamon Ryan said today that the strategy will not be published until a year from now, in 2024. The strategy is described by his Department as “a key action in Climate Action Plan 2023”.
Implementation of congestion charges and similar measures in other cities has taken years and work on this is unlikely to be funded until after the national strategy is in place.
Minister Ryan had already delayed bringing up the issue of the National Demand Management Strategy to his Government colleagues due to reported objections from both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
The Department of Transport 2021 report called Five Cities Demand Management Study found that congestion charging for Dublin and Cork was possible by 2025, but this timeframe is now unlikely.
In the Dail today, Solidarity-PBP TD Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach for his “position on the question of congestion chargers” and did he “appreciate the scale of public opposition which will emerge should your government decide to go down this road.”
Varadkar said: “I think Minister Ryan has been very clear on this on a number of occasions and I’m going to be clear on this too: There is no proposal from this Government to introduce congestion charges.”
“Perhaps at some point down the line, when the metro is picking up people in Dublin Airport, when the Dart to Dublin 15 and Kildare is up and running, when Cork Metropolitan Transport is running, perhaps at that point in time, when all vehicles are electric and there’s no taxes coming in from petrol and diesel, perhaps at that time there’s a case for congestion charges,” the Taoiseach said.
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He said: “But certainly not under this Government and not in the foreseeable future, and I’m very happy to be very clear on that. And I say that as somebody who represents a commuter constituency.”
Varadkar added to reduce car journeys in order to reduce emissions by 50% by the end of the decade, all options have to be looked at and “the main one is going to be road space reallocation and making public transport cheaper.”
While the cities were always going to be the main focus of the strategy, the Department of Transport’s press release on this issue today includes a number of nods to concerns from rural TDs and Ministers who oppose the strategy’s development.
This includes spelling it out that cities are the primary focus and that “In addition, there will be a number of sub-groups of the Steering Group including one that will consider any potential impacts on rural communities, mindful that people in rural areas may be more dependent on cars and have less access to public transport.”
And the press release said: “Government fully recognises that any demand management measures being considered, such as road space reallocation, car-free zones and user charging will only be effective and equitable when alternative, public transport options are readily available, both in urban and rural areas.”
Minister Ryan said: “Traffic congestion continues to clog our roads in our towns and cities. It causes stress. It slows us down and makes us late. It makes it more difficult for buses to run on time. It’s polluting, it’s noisy and it’s often dangerous for walkers and cyclists. In other words, the system we have now isn’t working for people. Less traffic congestion, on the other hand, means less stress and more time. It also means improved air quality, more people-friendly urban centres and the potential for greater fitness and health through improved active travel.”
He added: “Our transport system at the moment is overly dependent on cars which is leading to daily traffic chaos and lower quality of life, particularly in our cities. As our population grows, these pressures are only going to increase unless we intervene now to reduce our reliance on cars and put in place the systems and road space needed for people to choose quality public transport or active travel.”