Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Plan Better Working for sustainable Transport and Planning in Ireland


The new government can save billions in transport better equipping Ireland for the years to come, according to PlanBetter, a joint initiative of environmental organisations An Taisce, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Irish Environment and Feasta.

On March 3, 2011 PlanBetter published a policy briefing for the incoming government at http://planbetter.ie/2011/03/03/briefing-for-the-incoming-government-2011/.

Highlights include:

Full independent cost/benefit analysis
Up to now assessing the costs and benefits of transport projects has been left to State agencies promoting a particular transport project. Fine Gael and Labour’s manifestos contain commitments to reform this, and so proposed motorways, Metro North, Dart Underground, and the 2009 sustainable transport programme are to be re-assessed by a party other than their promoters.

Based on Australian practice, PlanBetter is recommending that an assessment panel be formed drawing together expertise already in the pay of the State but independent of individual projects, which can be supplemented as required. Organisations such as the Chartered Institute for Logistics and Transport, the Economic and Social Research Institute and the National Treasury Management agency would second personnel to the assessment panel, which could call on additional expertise as required.

Ongoing expenditure on projects such as Metro North, further motorways – and consultation exercises which assume various projects will proceed, such as National Transport Authority’s “Vision 2030” – are premature pending independent cost/benefit assessment of projects as proposed by the new government.

Plans for an additional 800km of new motorway (e.g. 28km from Oilgate to Rosslare, 45km from Abbeyfeale to Adare, etc) are a misplaced legacy of Celtic Tiger thinking. Far more lives will be saved by removing accident blackspots on two-lane roads right across Ireland, as is clearly indicated by cost-benefit studies, and also clear from Ireland’s own Low Cost Safety Improvement programme, which is now cash-starved.

At a wider level, it is vital to accept international best practice and count health impacts when assessing transport investment in order to reverse the national trend towards obesity.

Walking and Cycling – low cost, high benefit investment
Investment in walking and cycling have health benefits which are not yet valued and included in cost/benefit assessment. Moreover, the active modes of travel are critical to youth development.

Investment in cycling and walking deliver nineteen (19) times as many benefits compared to costs which contrasts very favourably to motorways, and indeed large-scale public transport schemes.

PlanBetter outlines plans to extend the bike sharing scheme within Dublin and to all major population centres as well as recommending simple real-world practical steps to boost cycling – such as changes to the Rules of the Road showing motorists how to overtake cyclists at slower speeds and allowing sufficient passing distances.

Urban public transport – further savings
Advanced Quality Bus Corridor must be considered, according to PlanBetter. Advanced Quality Bus Corridor involves six key improvements on traditional QBC:

- buses running at frequencies of 3 to 5 minutes during the working day,
- priority at junctions,
- off-board ticketing to reduce waiting times,
- flush-floor boarding at stations,
- comprehensive shelters, and
- ‘real time’ passenger information displayed inside vehicles as well as at shelters/stations.

Depending on the outcome of cost/benefit assessment, Advanced QBC could replace proposals for Metro and Luas with significant capital investment savings for the economy, while providing a fast, efficient, and reliable public transport network.

Advanced QBC costs €7.5 million per kilometre, one quarter the cost of Luas and around one 50th of the cost of Metro North. As noted above, the government needs to save money by suspending work on Metro North and Metro West until such time as these projects are subject to independent cost assessment, and by a panel that is also cognisant of the wider fiscal picture facing Ireland, and with knowledge of the impact high interest rates have on projects entailing multi-billion euro borrowing.

Rural public transport by rural communities
Rather than slashing rural bus services, PlanBetter has called for the use of smaller buses, which it says would consume less fuel and thereby cut operational costs. (To take one example, the Castletownbere to Kenmare service is operated with a 58-seater bus which is inappropriate given the patronage on the route and the condition of the road.)

More widely, the government needs to look at empowering local volunteers to deliver rural transport. West Cork Rural Transport makes a mini-coach available to approved licenced volunteers for use outside of office hours, with the vehicle is fuelled, taxed and insured at no charge to volunteer organisations (see http://ruraltransport.ie/vi/WebsitePages.pdf).

With fuel costs set to continue rising, Government has to find a formula for rural transport than can be adopted across the country.

Further options, such as part-purchasing buses operated by volunteers, as well as the integration of postal deliveries and HSE bus services with rural transport, must be scrutinised.

Roads / toll evasion
Adopting European standards for road design would make motorway unnecessary on roads where inexplicably low Irish traffic flow standards currently deem four-lane roads a necessity.

A prime example here is Oilgate to Rosslare, where 28km of motorway is proposed even though traffic does not exceed 7,000 vehicles a day. Across the EU traffic volumes must be more than double this level before four-lane road is even considered.

Critically, this would allow scarce funding to be diverted to where it’s most needed – to remove accident blackspots. Removing accident blackspots saves the most lives per euro spent.

PlanBetter is calling for all tolls currently in place on Irish roads to be scrapped, replacing them with multi-point tolling with 10 to 40 cents charged for travelling given sections of newly-improved main routes. Electronic tolling, which is already in operation at selected toll locations, would be used throughout Ireland (perhaps with the technology mounted at overbridges).

Multi-point tolling involves charging a smaller tariff at a greater number of locations and would dramatically reduce toll evasion across the network. Today, toll evasion is particularly acute at Drogheda, Fermoy, Limerick, Urlingford, Waterford, as well as along the M7, and is compromising the very purpose new roads were built in the first place. To take an example, if an average of 20 cents was electronically collected at 80 motorway bridges between Cork and Dublin the total fare by road would be €16.

This reform in road charging will also help level preserve road capacity for strategic use.

Rail – simple steps to reform
The options are to close rail lines, increase subsidies or make the network more efficient. While there are proposals for more than 800km of additional motorway, there is no national rail investment programme, and in some instances journey times on Irish railways are worse than they were in the 1960s, not long after steam trains were replaced by diesel engines.

Irish Rail needs to be asked how it would invest under three different scenarios, namely enhancement options involving €100m, €125m and €150m. The published plans under each scenario can then be subject to appraisal.

There are many small simple steps that can be undertaken to boost patronage and total revenue on a day-to-day basis. These include making it possible to view a daily list of trains in order of price as well as by departure time on Irish Rail’s website.

Savings for motorists
PlanBetter outlines important measures to save fuel. Fuel savings of up to 10% are available for motorists who phase out rapid acceleration and sudden braking. The results are even more dramatic for commercial vehicles with Collins Coaches achieving fuel savings of 27% by targeting practices on fuel usage, vehicle idling and driving practices. Correcting a small shortfall in tyre pressure (0.5 bar) can yield a 2 – 3% fuel saving.
Ending private electric car subsidies

Electric cars carry a heavy environmental burden. They are not a cure-all and do not warrant subsidies outside of a context where they are made available for use by all citizens – i.e. as public transport.

PlanBetter sees the current scheme to subsidise electric cars to the tune of €5,000 per buyer as an unwarranted wealth transfer, where poorer homes are reducing the travel costs of those much richer.

It advocates replacement with a car-share scheme using electric vehicles operated along the lines of Dublin Bikes.

Planbetter http://planbetter.ie
March 3, 2011

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