Eamon Ryan’s largest flaw as Minister for Transport is he didn’t act fast enough, but who would have? And does he have time to correct it?

— Science doesn’t support slowing down on climate action, and loud but minority voices shouldn’t slow down progress even towards the end of the Government’s life in office.

Comment & Analysis: Minister for Transport and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said yesterday that he wouldn’t be contesting the next election.

Following the announcement, some of his critics berated him, while others and his supporters praised him for his life in politics and his impact on environmental issues both nationally and internationally.

Some of the comments online and in the media from a small number of opponents yesterday were uncalled for, and others had no basis in reality, such as him thinking a whole village would share just a few cars between them. I’ve seen people who are usually reasonable lap up this distortion of what he said, but as someone covering transport for too many years, please trust me when I say this is a regular distortion when making alternative transport options available.

If a town or village has access to shared cars means nobody has their own cars, why has car sharing not replaced all cars where it operates? It’s just nonsense repeated so many times it sounds plausible.

Another classic one is people thinking someone is saying they personally should cycle journeys that are unrealistic to cycle and that nobody expects them to cycle. And, of course, an extension of that is that pub bores and trolls repeatedly asked, “Did he cycle there?” regardless of where he went. Some people really seem to struggle with the idea of using the right tool for the job at hand.

Minister Ryan also suffers from a perception of him as being arrogant when he can be firm, but almost nobody who has spoken to him for any length of time can relate to a fictional persona dreamt up by some talking heads and trolls. People should be able to have different views without making up nonsense about others.

The progress on sustainable transport under his tenure as Minister for Transport is clearly there — a shift to spending more on both active travel and public transport, a reduction in fares on public service obligation routes, the rollout of bus services to towns with a population of over 10k, a huge increase in rural bus routes and an increase in frequency and operating times on existing routes, and the results are shown in an increase in bus passengers at least across some urban centre and clearly on rural routes as well as intercity rail.

There’s also more progress on the way, including intercity carriages currently being brought into service, new Dart trains to allow for an expanded system using hybrid trains to arrive next year with electrification following, progress on a rail network for Cork, and improvements in Limerick and Galway.

On a system-level, those achievements are still progress even if progress isn’t linear, evenly spread, or too slow. The spread includes both service provision and cost.

Not everything can be done at once, but it’s not in line with climate justice, for example, not having a clear plan to fix the difference between travelling in Dublin with the 90-minute fare vs the cost when you live just outside the Leap zone, or when travelling from village and a town down the country, or the difference between having a discount on Irish Rail services, but not on commercial bus services which some people have no choice to rely on.

There are solid reasons why free fares are not a good idea, mainly that funding is not unlimited and would be better spent on extra services and that the capacity isn’t there to support them on most routes. But not quickly addressing the inequalities and nonsensical pricing structures, as well as the ability to pay by other methods such as tapping your phone, the demand for free public transport will only grow faster.

That can be seen as progress even if, as the headline of this article outlines, Ryan’s largest flaw as Minister for Transport is he didn’t act fast enough to provide for a shift to sustainable transport.

The truth is there’s no political party at the national level that looks more credible than the Greens.

There are some individual politicians, especially at the local level, who are as supportive (or even in a few cases more supportive than the average Green politician). But this doesn’t translate at the party level.

There are political parties on both the left and right of the Greens that say they support climate action but continuously delay action or have to be convinced of the merits of relatively simple fundamental measures again and again because some residents or businesses are resistant to change.

This brings me to one of my favourite quotes on sustainable transport projects on streets and roads. Simon Munk, the London Cycling Campaign’s campaigns manager, said, within a wider Twitter discussion: “It is IMO stark and revealing that politicians, officers, and campaigners who have successfully delivered and kept in schemes talk about weathering the storm, while folks who have little direct experience talk about rebranding or more engagement, etc. More engagement is valuable but not the main issue.”

The above is set in more context of some of what’s happening in Ireland in an article published last year. That article also includes quotes from Brian Deegan, a design engineer at consultancy Urban Movement who was at Transport for London when the city really started to transform for cycling.

He joked at a conference held in Dublin that: “I never really feel like I’m doing my job properly unless I end up in court — that’s when I know I’m changing things and getting something done that’s worth it.”

He highlighted how “The opposition is increasing and getting more and more sophisticated as well” and said that talking to the community was “key”, but that it was needed sometimes to tell people “it’s happening” and ask “what’s the best way to make the least worse situation for everybody.”

Why am I mentioning these again in an article about Minister Ryan? Because the above mentioned factors are hard lessons to accept, but it’s the counter views to some of those who are key to holding progress back.

The idea that more consultation will fix much when the issue is that some of the loudest voices just don’t want any change doesn’t hold any water. And it’s worth saying that the loud voices are apparent usually when the majority of people are supportive of making streets not just more environmentally friendly but also more people-focused, safer and more accessible. That can be hard to figure out when a councillor is getting barrage of emails from a committed group of individuals.

Too many politicians — including some in the Greens — just don’t seem to be getting this. Too many councillors and TDs who seem to want progress are continuing to be oblivious to the above and are taking all feedback as if it is in good faith when bad fate actions as said above are “getting more and more sophisticated”.

So, when a large chunk of Ryan’s critics — again, both on the left and right — sound like Tories or at least the UK media, parroting nearly every transport fallacy going and another chunk of them are afraid to upset the loud voices, the slow progress is not just Ryan’s fault.

While the above concerns street-level changes, some of the lessons can also be applied to large-scale projects such as MetroLink, where bad-faith actors make claims about a lack of consultation or say things that just don’t make sense.

As Minister, he has tried with different levels of success to streamline some processes and push on key projects such as the Pathfinder ones.

But maybe one of Ryan’s largest failures was continuing the infrastructure element of BusConnects without seriously reviewing it, as it is currently not compatible with climate action targets.

In Dublin, the plans for BusConnects are still far too much centred on expanding road space, and the quality of provision for walking, cycling and bus priority is just not up to scratch, while in Cork, much of the same can be said with routes also being watered down far more. It seems like a

This is an example of where Ryan still has an opportunity to change things faster. Now that the planning process has accepted the modal filters and bus gates won’t have an undue impact, these measures should be trialled alongside the rollout of increased bus frequency.

The same approach can still be made on cycling without starting from scratch — there’s plenty of quicker-build projects that progressed enough that they could be fast-tracked further rather

Coupled with keeping the Dublin City Centre Transport Plan on track, these measures could have a significant impact and spur on further changes around the country by showing progress can be made faster.

The policy is there to do this, as are the legal mechanisms and the overriding reasoning, including a planet that is baking, with record average temperatures being broken monthly, increased road deaths, and an inactivity crisis.

The question is, would there be support from councillors and TDs who seem to be supportive of climate action?

ALSO READ: Where pedestrianisation, cycle routes, and bus priority were election battlegrounds in Dublin, supporters won out


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