You may not be aware of it but amongst other agencies Ireland has a National Transport Authority. In existence since 2009, that body regulates taxis and licenses bus routes. It also works in the broadest sense to promote public transport and sustainability. It is part regulator, part think tank and part research house.
This week the details have emerged of an analysis that they have carried out on traffic in Dublin. Their document has a lot of good in it but as is often the case there is devil in the detail.
Their vision, explicit for Dublin and coming soon to a city near you, is of a vibrant and pleasant city centre that is pedestrian and tourist friendly but which seeks to block and frustrate car use at every turn (every right turn at least).
Now this is not all wrong. The AA is a car lobby in one sense but in fact we have always cared more about the people in the cars than the machines themselves. Many of us are mixed transport users. We may drive one day, get the bus the next and cycle the day after that.
We are all pedestrians when we get there and I suggest that we would all share the broad vision for an ideal Irish city; the calmed and pleasant civic space. But importantly we want successful city economies as well.
There is a conspicuous problem with a lot of the analysis done by the NTA and by other bodies. There is an unmistakeable anti-car bias in their approach. In fact you could sum up the philosophy with the phrase ‘two wheels good, four wheels bad’.
It seems to be accepted as a truism that any measure that you take that frustrates, blocks, taxes or shames a car driver must be a positive in itself. Any measure that favours public transport must be a good measure irrespective of any collateral consequences.
It is a dangerously simplistic interpretation but it certainly seems to be in vogue. At least we are hearing less about carbon in the rhetoric. Not so long ago you simply had to invoke the word ‘Carbon’ to make any anti-car notion that you had a planet-saving necessity.
That has receded as the growth in car emissions technology has improved so rapidly. To be fair, car makers would never have made the effort to reduce emissions on their own were they not forced to do so by EU policies and public environmental concern. This has genuinely done a lot of good.
It has become inconvenient for the anti-car zealots though. New cars are now so clean that if you take a new Band A or Band B car doing 16,000 kms per year and serving the transport needs of a family of 5 people, that car will produce less CO2 from the tail-pipe in a year than the family will produce by breathing.
I have never bought into the idea that car users, bus users and cyclists are all sworn enemies in competition with each other. I really do not think that this is constructive or true. If you get transport right it should mean that everyone wins.
But you have to know what victory looks like. A city centre that has been so traffic calmed that you could have a picnic on the street would be a disaster if it meant that businesses could not operate and pulled out.
Irish cities are worse-off than most other countries because we have so little public transport available by European standards. Huge numbers of us need to travel to our urban work-places every day and public transport simply cannot serve the public well enough.
The NTA may have a role but it does not have a mandate. Its views must quite rightly be weighed with everyone else’s. Their report this week is a constructive contribution to the debate, not the final word.