Oireachtas Climate Committee should question NTA on how BusConnects plans aren’t compatible with climate action

Comment & Analysis: The Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action should question the National Transport Authority (NTA) on how the BusConnects infrastructure plans for Irish cities aren’t compatible with climate action.  

Looking at BusConnects plans I cannot see how (1) the timelines are compatible with the need for quick change, and (2) how the  designs for pedestrians and cycling need serious quality check interventions before that aspect of the plan are compatible with climate action.

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The latest plans follow the general thrust of BusConnects — a slow and low quality approach. It’s bad enough to be slow but also to be low quality. It’s a bit ridiculous.

It has to be questioned why the BusConnects team in the NTA are continuing with a plan that is not suitable to meet climate targets for 2030 as it will be implemented too late, and not suitable for 2040 targets because the measures are too little too late.

The original plan was for the infrastructure changes to be in places around 2027. That looks more like 2028/9 at this stage and maybe more likely 2030.

The walking and cycling infrastructure proposed isn’t fit for purpose — basics of the Design Manual For Urban Roads and Streets aren’t being complied with.

Mixing walking and cycling is rampant in the design and, then weirdly, in other locations making out you need traffic signals to govern the interaction between people walking and cycling.

There are clear signs that the BusConnects team have taken on too much in Dublin alone, never mind about Cork, Galway, and Limerick. The bus routing part of BusConnects has been severely delayed due to driver shortages.

This highlights a problematic element of BusConnects which is rarely talked about — that relying on buses to such a large extent in a high-wage economy is highly problematic. This is especially an acute problem due to the housing crisis but it doesn’t go away even with that sorted.

A tram for example can carry up to over 400 passengers per driver bus buses need nearly 4 drivers for that amount. That has huge cost implications when scaled up. New Dart trains will be designed to carry between 550-1,100 passengers per driver.

Rail projects however are being underfunded or not funded until some arbitrary year in the future. Underfunding projects like Dart+ means likely delivery time is being pushed out.

Meanwhile, as IrishCycle.com has covered in detail, BusConnects is too focused on road space expansion. Elements like bus gates which should and could be trialled this year in many places such as Stoneybatter, the Old Cabra Road and Rathimines, to name a few locations.

Something needs to happen to have BusConnects snap out of the current approach. A good start might be some solid questioning from the Oireachtas Climate Committee.

A starting point of questioning from the committee might be how the NTA has said that reaching decarbonation targets is “outside the remit of the NTA”.

The NTA has started to be more frank but somewhat misleading about this in transport studies for cities, such as the Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (LSMATS).

In its consultation report for the LSMATS, the NTA said: “In relation to emissions, a number of respondents raised the fact that the measures contained in LSMATS alone are not forecast to lead to a reduction in transport emissions of 50%, as required by legislation.”

Its response, the NTA said: “The NTA undertook comprehensive modelling assessments of the LSMATS throughout 2021 and 2022 as it related to emissions. This work demonstrated clearly that significant measures outside the remit of the NTA and the LSMATS would be required to be implemented in order to reach the 50% target.”

“An alternative to this would be to incorporate extremely punitive traffic management measures into the LSMATS which would apply only in the LSMA and which would not likely be acceptable from an accessibility and equality point of view,” the authority said.

The idea that a State body is talking like this about reaching climate targets just after washing its hands of aiding such, is ridiculous.

The fact is that regardless of some talk of leaving the old car-centric “predict and provide” behind, the BusConnects plans don’t really stack up.

Walking and cycling (including end-to-end and, for connecting to public transport), has huge potential but I have a feeling it’s dismissed at a high level in the NTA because they cannot model well for cycling in traffic models (few countries do traffic models for cycling well).

This in turn feeds into the poor quality of planned walking. The walking and cycling measures in the BusConnects plans definitely aren’t designed for large use by people walking (including bus passengers) or cycling. For pedestrians crossings are convoluted and often missing on different sides of junctions (ie against the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets).

Cycling especially clearly isn’t being designed for high numbers of people cycling or with the idea that people cycling might want to get anywhere in a timely manner.

Overall it’s kind of like much climate action happening at the moment, the scale vision and pace of action might be ok if it was the 1990s or early 2000s.

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