Climate action on transport needs to be as fair as possible, but we also need to be honest that change is hard

Comment & Analysis: Richard ­Shakespeare is Dublin City Council’s new CEO, and he has shown little signs of being anything beyond a mild-mannered public servant. But he has drawn attention for saying he’d make it “a little more difficult for motorists” if that meant a better future.

In a recent interview with The Irish Times, Shakespeare said: “Everyone is all for climate change except where it affects them. Any time we try to lever people and force them to make those choices, they give out murder…”

Shakespeare said: “If you really want a future for your children and your grandchildren, you need to start taking action sooner rather than later. If I can facilitate that by making it a little more difficult for motorists, along with the vast sums of money being invested in active travel and walking, well then that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

That line made it into the article’s headline as follows: “Dublin City Council’s new chief: ‘If I can help climate efforts by making it a little more difficult for motorists, well then that’s what I’ll do’”.

The article also covered the Dublin City Centre Transport Plan, which, depending on who you ask, is either unfair to motorists or the key to ramping up priority for public space, walking, cycling, and public transport.

Some people who are against the plan are focusing squarely on the cycling elements, but the project is key to getting buses moving.

The importance of the O’Connell Bridge area alone justifies the planned bus gates — the CEO of Dublin Bus said so. It’s also plain to see with the volume of city, regional, and national buses passing by the area.

It might help that Shakespeare is a bus user. Unlike the former Dublin City Council CEO, who was apparently a cyclist who was often pictured with high-visibility clothing and a helmet, it was hard to get away from it.

​Today, Eoin O’Malley, a columnist for the Sunday Independent and public policy lecturer at Dublin City University, argued in his column today that “Because so much of climate action is framed negatively, it ignores the benefits that those actions can deliver” and that “Shakespeare might have said it better if he told people who are currently driving to work that he is working on a plan that will save them the time spent sitting in traffic and the cost of having to own a car.”

Of course, only a part of an in-depth interview will get published, so Shakespeare could have also said what he said in a milder way.

We have to be clear that giving priority to sustainable transport is firm climate action. And clear that there are so many benefits besides.

As O’Malley points to the famous cartoon by Joel W Pett. It shows a member of an audience of a climate summit asking, “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”. The screen behind the presenter lists the benefits — energy independence, preserving rainforests, sustainability, green jobs, livable cities, renewables, clean water and air, healthy children, etc. etc.

In fairness, this is already a focus of the city council. They aren’t focused on just carbon reduction, but looking at a more liveable city, safer streets (both in terms of road safety and streets that are vibrant), cleaner air, less noise, and healthy residents, including children.

O’Malley also argues that “Government policy should focus exclusively on those measures that can make people’s lives better in the short to medium term. They will have long-term positive impacts that our children and grandchildren will thank us for, but not impose unbearable costs on current generations.”

That’s hard to disagree with. Climate action on transport needs to be as fair as possible.

But we also need to be honest: change is hard. Change is difficult to accept, and some people won’t accept the change even with a range of benefits.

We can see that on weekly, where people who are focused on driving see basic road safety measures such as narrowing traffic lanes as an infringement of their human rights. Even when the policy was democratically agreed upon by councillors, councillors deny it and blame it on everybody else.

The focus should be on making it as painless as possible but being honest that it won’t be totally pain-free. No city or country has the perfect public transport system before it starts to push cars out, and there’s no pain-free way of getting to a more sustainable, more liveable city.

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