Car users account for only 24% of Dublin City Centre spending, but lobby group uses misleading claim seeking to halt traffic plan

— Sustainable transport users accounted for 75% of city centre spending in 2022 report referred to by lobby group.
— Group heavily linked to car parks lobbies councillors ahead of briefing on Monday.

A business lobby group — whose only public activity has included objecting to pedestrianisation, cycle routes and bus priority measures — has spread misinformation about the spending power of visitors to the city centre by mode of transport to try to halt the implementation of the Dublin City Centre Transport Plan.

The Dublin City Centre Transport Plan is part of the Pathfinder programme to speed up climate action by using measures that have been successful in many European cities, such as bus priority, using bus gates, and providing extra space for people walking and cycling.

In a letter to city councillors, the Dublin City Centre Traders Alliance, headed by solicitor and property developer Noel Smyth, lists eight members — five of which have direct links to car parks.

The members of the Dublin City Centre Traders Alliance are listed as Brown Thomas Arnotts, Jervis Shopping Centre, Retail Excellence Ireland, Restaurants Association of Ireland, Louis Copeland & Sons, Irish Parking Association, Best Car Parks, and Fitzwilliam Real Estate Capital.

In the letter to councillors sent on Thursday, Noel Smyth wrote: “Statistics show city centre retail is already vulnerable compared to out-of-town shopping destinations. The NTA’s Dublin City Centre Shopper Survey 2022 indicates that car users spend significantly more than those using public transport. Thus, these restrictions will harm our businesses.”

However, while the NTA’s Shopper Survey 2022 report showed that car users had a higher average spend per person, car users as a group were not recorded as spending more.

The 2022 report found that “Sustainable modes of transport account for 75% of daily spend in the city centre with car drivers accounting for 24% of spend.”

The NTA survey was published and is still available online, but RTE parroted the misleading claim from Smyth without any attempt to fact-check it. In an online report, RTE said Smyth’s letter “cites the National Transport Authority’s Dublin City Centre Shopper Survey 2022 which it said indicates that car users spend significantly more than those using public transport.”

The Irish Independent also reported on the letter but did not make reference to the misleading claim.

Public transport users represented 58% of spending in the survey. Bus users alone represented 33% of spending outlined in the report, while all rail modes combined—Luas, Dart, and other rail—at 25% also exceeded car users’ spending.

IMAGE: A graphic from the 2022 NTA survey.

The misleading claim on spending was prefaced by the claim that “Statistics show city centre retail is already vulnerable compared to out-of-town shopping destinations.” It’s unclear how the NTA’s Shopper Survey relates to this claim or if Smyth has other statistics that he didn’t include in the letter.

In debates around previous changes in city centre traffic arrangements, it was claimed that car parking in out-of-town shopping centres was far more attractive to car users. Recent and planned changes at shopping centres might have blunted this argument, with parking charges now in place at Liffey Valley Shopping Centre and the owners of the Blanchardstown Centre gaining planning permission to build housing on a large section of its surface car park.

The letter was also sent just the day before Decathlon was the second major retailer to open at the Clerys Quarter on O’Connell Street. The long-term argument by the French company to open at the high-profile location was made after monthly of public discussion on the hotly debated car restrictions and just around a month ahead of the start

Smyth also highlighted a claimed risk to tourism from the traffic plan — he wrote, “The restrictions could deter tourists, impacting the €2.6 billion they spend annually.” But he offered no reason for this. The reality is that some of the world’s cities associated with overtourism have some of the most car-restricted city centres, including Amsterdam.

Smyth also said: “These restrictions, which DCC has positioned as an effective way to curb motorists travelling through the City Centre, will, in fact, serve as a deterrent to all shoppers and visitors who choose to use their cars or indeed taxis as part of their experience. This threatens the Tier 1 Retail locations, as set out in Dublin City Development Plan 2022- 2028, of Henry Street and Grafton Street in particular.”

But it’s unclear what, if any, part of the plan will affect taxis.

Smyth said the group want the plan to “undergo a Part 8 application to An Bord Pleanála, requiring a full Environmental Impact Assessment.” Part 8 applications are councillor-approved applications; councillors already voted for the transport plan to go ahead. Applications are only made to An Bord Pleanála, where environmental assessments find that such projects are required to undergo full assessments.

He wrote that this “would allow public submissions,” but the Dublin City Transport Plan received a large number of public submissions after it was extensively reported on in the media.

Smyth inversely threatened: “We have written to the Chief Executive requesting a Part 8 application, committing not to seek Judicial Review if granted.”

Commenting on the letter, Cllr Feljin Jose (Green Party) said: “Record levels of people are now travelling into Dublin city centre by public transport while car users are at just 25% — the lowest ever. The City Centre Transport Plan will speed up public transport and create more space for people in the city centre.”

He added: “While lobby groups lead by car parking interests are entitled to their opinion, we must continue with improving our city for everyone.”

The Dublin Commuter Coalition, a sustainable transport users’ advocacy group, sarcastically said: “As we famously know… Henry St and Grafton St have been struggling for business since they were pedestrianised 50 years ago.”

The group added: “Yet another fearmongering tactic from a well-funded group of businesses that want to keep the City Centre a congested mess that delays everyone.” contacted Noel Smyth about the lobbying activity of the Dublin City Centre Traders Alliance in August 2022, September 2022, October 2022, and February 2024. None of the requests for comment were replied to.


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