Changes to our roads, not tax will help change transport choices, says Minister Ryan

Increasing fuel tax by 600% would be needed to meet climate targets and would not be politically possible, transport and climate Minister Ryan said at an event today where he said that he prefers changing street design.

The comments were made on the first day of the two-day Society Research Group Annual Symposium 2023 which is being hosted for the first time in Ireland at Trinity College Dublin.

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He also said that a lack of safety is the main factor why people don’t cycle and that won’t be fixed by lower speeds alone, outlining that road design will need to change too.

He said that the revised Dublin City Centre Transport Plan, which is to be presented to the city council’s transport committee next week, is a Pathfinder project aimed to help accelerate the rate of change on climate action and meet emission reduction targets. IrishCycle.com yesterday reported that that plan will include bus gates on the quays at O’Connell Street.

Minister Ryan said: “We did the analysis that to meet our climate change targets we’d need a 25% reduction in the volume of traffic — if you were to do that by trying to price people off the road, it would require 600% increase in tax on fuels and, politically, I don’t think that’s possible.”

He said that “demand management by reallocating space” can do the same thing quicker while offering improvements in alternative modes of transport. He said that Dublin City Centre was “probably the most crucial first examples” where 60% of the traffic is through traffic.

“Not with a large cost or not taking a large time, by changing signage and other mechanisms we can change that quickly by taking out the through traffic,” he said and “still providing access”.

Minister Ryan said that any plans would have to keep people with disabilities in mind and that changing our streets to be less car-dominated is also that social justice issue with a large amount of households in Dublin without cars.

He said that “it has to come from the bottom up and not the top down”, and that it requires support from the council to “get it over the line”.

Minister Ryan also said that the finalised national network plan is to be launched in the coming weeks. He said that in the early days of cycling campaigning, cycle campaigners had been against cycle paths but that had changed — the battle over the issue had been won he said and now it’s generally accepted that cycle paths are “critical” to getting people cycling.

Speaking after him, Prof Malene Freudendal-Pederson, the keynote speaker who is a professor of urban planning at Aalborg University in Denmark, said she was envious as “We don’t have that kind of transport minister …and our transport ministry is focused on electrification for climate action.”

She said that storytelling has a huge impact on such discussions such as apparent truisms that “you become freeer and richer with a car” and that taxing car trips will make people poorer.

Freudendal-Pederson said that there are narratives around car use and progress and prosperity which can be difficult to challenge, but there are other stories which can be told such as how, in Europe, 30% of car trips are less than 3km and 50 less than 5km.

“There’s nothing new in that,” she said, but she said that even in Denmark when there’s a discussion of anything that impacts car use the argument will be brought up that you will be impacting people’s way of getting to work, but she said that only 30% of car trips are commuting trips and the rest of for shopping and leisure.

“Communications matter — we say in Copenhagen that we don’t have cyclists, we only have people on bikes,” she said.

She said that 15-minute cities are not new but only ideas repackaged as a new way of framing it that works so well that there are already “crazy conspiracy theories how it’s going to lock people into small neighbourhoods they cannot get out” when in reality the concept is neighbourhoods which are connected to each other.

Freudendal-Pederson said traffic modelling — which predicts the requirement for more car space and is used to plan roads and other projects — is the “most unfair thing” in terms of transport planning.

She said that the way models are structured, including putting more value on the time of car drivers over public transport users, “it can only come out with one thing and that’s more roads — that’s the way the system works”.

“It’s full of unjust ways of understanding transportation, so it doesn’t make it strange at all that we’re building that many roads and have that many cars”, said Freudendal-Pederson. She said that this was a technocratic way of looking at transport planning where the questions of “Why? and “For what?” are missing.

3 comments

  1. I live on the DART line and the bus routes near me have improved massively in recent times. Cycling was already okayish (except East Wall Road, the worst part of my journey) and continually improving. Where’s the improvement for people living in rural areas? Those are the people who will be forced to pay the bills for even better infrastructure in big cities, while nothing changes for them. I find that desperately unfair.

    I disagree with Eamon Ryan about a lot of things, but on this topic I think he’s right. We should be trying to give people good reasons to switch to cycling, walking and public transport, not trying to bully drivers off the roads by ramping up motor and fuel tax. That will only harm the poorer segments of society, and especially people living outside Dublin, Galway, Cork and a few other big cities, who often have zero public transport options and no footpaths, just a permanent rally circuit outside their front door.

    Reply
    • The expansion to local link, the connecting Ireland plan, is the biggest expansion in rural transport in the history of the state. They greens are, in fairness, getting a lot for rural Ireland.

      Reply
  2. the minsiter for transport should not be investigating out how to “price people off the road”. until the Govt grasps the nettle and funds an underground metro all forms of transport will suffer in the city centre

    Reply

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