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From Trams to Chaos

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In the beginning, trams ran on rails across Dublin city.
And buses started travelling on roads throughout the city.
And a DART appeared and ran north-south along existing rail lines.
And then Luas began running to the south and west on different tracks.
And next came (quality) bus corridors but few new buses or park-and-ride.
And, as road traffic continued to grow, congestion increased and commute times lengthened.
And then came plans for more Luas, a Metro, an underground rail link and more bus corridors.
And chaos reigned supreme as no one took charge and the buses, Luas, Metro and rail all went their merry ways.

M50 takes its Toll

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By any standard, NTR has already been well-remunerated for its investments in the M50 West-Link toll bridges. The southbound bridge which opened in 2003 at a cost of �23 million places the proposed payment of �600 million to NTR in context.

Assuming that this bridge handles half the West- Link traffic, NTR's return would be about 13 times the initial investment even before past revenues and future inflation are taken into account.  How can this be justified?

It is noteworthy that negotiations on tolls for the second bridge took place after the huge surge in traffic during 1996-7 so it wasn't as if traffic and profit projections were being made in a vacuum as was the case for the first bridge.

Furthermore, the buyback appears to have been negotiated around toll revenues rather than NTR's projected net profits which would be substantially lower.

This deal - and all prior agreements with NTR - should be thoroughly investigated by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts before one brass cent is paid over.

As part of these investigations, the barriers must be lifted on a trial basis to establish the level of disruption caused by tolling delays and to check whether NTR is providing tolling facilities that are adequate for the current levels of traffic as per its operating agreements.

Letter published in the Sunday Business Post on 4th March 2007.

M50 Tolls

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By any standard, NTR has already been well-remunerated for its investments in the M50 West-Link toll bridges. Instead of paying hundreds of millions to compensate for prematurely ending its tolling role on the M50, the Government should announce plans to build another bridge as part of the M50 widening. A new bridge and associated road works would cost less than �100 million and this should be used to benchmark the maximum compensation payable to NTR.

In practice, a new bridge should not be needed to break NTL's monopoly as the threat should enable the Government negotiate a fair deal for the taxpayer. However, if needs be, a new bridge could be built within three years. Bear in mind that the southbound bridge which opened in 2003 cost, according to NTR's website, only �23 million and took just two years to build.

Transport Authority for Dublin

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The establishment of a single transport authority for Greater Dublin is long overdue. If it had been established at the right time, we might not have spent €2 billion on Luas and the Port Tunnel.

The proposed body must operate as an authority in both name and deed. In the long run, it is unlikely to be effective unless it controls (or, at least, supervises) Dublin Bus, Luas and DART and has real clout with the four local authorities and other vested interests which collectively and separately are making such an utter mess of Dublin's traffic. However, no amount of legislation will ensure this.  The only way forward is brute political force and, where this doesn't work, to unhesitantly "name and shame" over the heads of obstructing bureaucrats. When Minister Cullen ditched Minister Dempsey's plans for directly-elected mayors, he also jettisoned the opportunity to put in place a publicly accountable transport supremo for Dublin, namely, a directly-elected Lord Mayor.

It is far from clear whether the authority is being set up to manage future developments  or whether it will also have an overriding role in sorting out the existing traffic and public transport chaos. If only the former, then we could be throwing more good money after bad. I hope Professor Margaret O'Mahony will take this broader need into account when planning the authority and locating its chief executive.

This letter was published in the Irish Times on 8th November 2005.

Elected Mayor to Head Dublin Traffic

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Minister Cullen has proposed that a new transport authority for Dublin should be modelled on Transport for London. In suggesting this, I hope that he has seen that TFL's role is "to implement the Mayor's Transport Strategy for London and manage the transport services across the capital for which the Mayor has responsibility". Notwithstanding the Minister's decision in 2004 to abandon Minister Dempsey's plans for directly elected mayors, he should ensure that Dublin's authority is headed by a directly elected Lord Mayor with a five-year term. Anything less would be a complete misreading of Transport for London.

The establishment of a single authority to assume total responsibility for all aspects of traffic and public transport in Greater Dublin is long overdue. The proposed body must have real powers and operate as an authority in both name and deed. In the long run, it is unlikely to be effective unless it controls (or, at least, supervises) Dublin Bus, LUAS and DART and has real clout with the four local authorities and other vested interests which collectively and separately are making such an utter mess of Dublin's traffic. A directly elected chairperson would help ensure real accountability and responsibly as demonstrated in London.

Dublin Traffic Plan

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I have a simple solution to many of Dublin's traffic problems.

Fill in the Liffey from the Point  to Heuston and toll it; extend D'Olier Street straight through TCD with tolls; convert St Stephen's Green into a multi-storey car park to be financed by a Private-Public Partnership; and create major park-and-ride facilities in Dun Laoghaire Harbour and at the Phoenix Park in conjunction with the local authorities and private developers.

I'm sure that these long overdue, obvious developments would be welcomed by hard-pressed commuters and that the Government, aided by subservient agencies, will be able to push these measures through the democratic processes.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 18th May 2005.

Luas

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Yesterday's headline to the article about Luas - Studies show that Luas makes economic sense - made me see red (ink) as it made no reference to the expectation that the capital cost of Luas could exceed €750m - equivalent to about twelve times Dublin Bus's annual subsidy.

A few basic assumptions can be used to illustrate the economic nonsense of Luas. Let us assume that it carries about 30,000 passengers a day (versus 500,000 for Dublin Bus and 90,000 for the DART); that interest and depreciation rates each run at 4% a year; that the invested capital is repaid over 25 years; and that a fare of about €1.50 per trip covers all operating and related costs etc. On this basis, the real cost of a Luas ticket is about €8.60, over five times the proposed fare! How does this make economic sense (except to the tiny minority that will use the service)? On this basis, it would be cheaper to give free taxi and bus vouchers to all prospective LUAS users for decades to come.

Once again, our policy makers have lost the plot. No amount of spinning, huffing and puffing will ever justify Luas. As a massive "white elephant", Luas should have been scrapped. The funds could have been used to provide more buses and a larger subsidy to Dublin Bus to benefit of ALL commuters in Dublin instead of just a tiny minority.

Red Cow Roundabout

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So the Mad Cow Roundabout, formerly known as the Red Cow Roundabout, looks set to become the Dead Cow Roundabout while it is being rebuilt. If tolls are introduced, it could then become the Cash Cow Roundabout  to complement its very profitable sister at the West Link. Might this become another case of motorists paying through the nose and being milked at the same time.

This is all a roundabout way of asking why private funding is being considered for the rebuild at a time when the Exchequer is awash with funds for such "essentials" as benchmarking and the National Pension Reserve Fund.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 20th November 2003.

Dublin's Traffic Mess

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Congratulations to the Director of Traffic at Dublin Corporation for bolting the stable door by telling the Kenmare Economics Conference last weekend that buses are still the solution to Dublin's traffic problems.

Why wasn't this view fully considered before the "powers that be" decided to invest €650 million (and counting) in LUAS? If we add the current debacle over the DART's weekend closures (investment of €170 million plus), the height of the Port Tunnel (€450 million) and the on/off debate about a Metro (several billion), one must wonder whether anybody has a clue as to what should be done about Dublin's traffic.

Surely the time is long, long past for the establishment of a single authority to assume total responsibility for all aspects of traffic and public transport in Greater Dublin.  This body might be set up on an ad hoc basis but progressively it should acquire real powers. In the long run, it is unlikely to be effective unless it controls (or, at least, supervises) Dublin Bus, LUAS and DART and has a significant say about traffic and related matters with the four local authorities and other interests which together and separately are making such an utter mess of Dublin's traffic .

Metro for Dublin?

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I think that the suggestion by your correspondent, Mr X, that the Spike should be called the Metropole is excellent. It is as near as Dublin will ever get to a metro.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 17th January 2003.

Dublin's Traffic

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Congratulations to Dublin City Council on their tactic of creating the controversial new road signs. This has been an excellent smoke screen and distraction from the underlying issue, namely, that traffic in Dublin is atrocious and can only deteriorate further as time passes. Like jam tomorrow, it will never get better as we are playing catch up for too many years of neglect. Forcing extra traffic onto the canal roads or into Gardner Street is like re-arranging deck chairs on the proverbial Titanic.

Where is the grand plan for Dublin's traffic?  The two major projects underway at the moment, the Port Tunnel and Luas, have a combined capital cost of about €1,000,000,000 (yes, nine noughts) before taking account of their ongoing operating costs. At best, they will be useful localised solutions notwithstanding that some observers suggest that  the Tunnel may be too low and Luas may be only as effective as a few  additional Quality Bus Corridors. One way or another, this massive expenditure fails to address the wider traffic problems in Dublin.

Where are the real solutions that have been talked about for years - park and ride, integrated ticketing, liberalised bus system, decentralisation, interchanges, flexible rolling stock and so on?  Above all, where is the central and accountable authority to take on all the vested interests and to plan and manage ALL aspects of Greater Dublin's traffic on an integrated basis?

Lead letter in the Irish Independent on 29th August 2002.

Luas

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Maybe the colour of the Luas trams should be white and the Sandyford Luas line should finish at Stadium Ireland where a zoo could be established for white elephants, pet projects and wild ventures.

I think that  the proposed investment in these inflexible trams and their highly specialised (and temporary) and unsightly infrastructure should have been spent on additional buses, better bus services and subsidised bus fares pending the development of a metro-based solution.

The €430 million allocated in the National Development Plan for just three Luas lines contrasts sharply with the €220 million to be invested in the bus network for all of Dublin.  In 1999, the cost of running Dublin Bus was €113 million and its subsidy was only €13 million. For the money being invested in Luas, the proposed investment in buses could have been doubled and the balance of €210 million used to provide bigger subsidies and better services for many, many years to come. Is it too late for reason to prevail?

Dublin's Traffic

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I work from an office at home and don't suffer the traffic in Dublin on a regular basis. For that reason, I can perhaps see the scale of the problem more clearly than daily commuters.

I am simply staggered to see the extent to which Dubliners put up with the loss of time and costs associated with the traffic and I fail to understand why this factors is not a huge political issue - day in and day out. If, in almost any other aspect of their life, hundreds of thousands of people were asked to hang around for one hour a day, five days a week and forty-eight weeks a year, think of the outcry. That time equates to 240 hours a year - over six working weeks per person. Its obvious that the problem is going to get much worse as even more vehicles come on the streets and as the bottle necks start locking up.

I've worked extensively in Eastern European cities where trams are widely used in conjunction with buses and articulated trolley buses. It is striking that the streets there are usually very wide to accommodate the tracks and stops. The decision to send LUAS underground is commendable. But, let's be honest, LUAS is only a partial answer and is, in many ways, a big distraction. What's required in Dublin is real leadership and flexibility - not hiding behind reports and organizational walls. It also needs a fair response from Dublin commuters who have to make the changes work, or at very least give them a good try.

First thing I'd do is open up all car parks used by Dublin Corporation, Dail, CIE (Dublin Bus), Dublin Transportation Authority and Government Departments to the public on a 'first-come first-in' basis. Remember that Operation Freeflow started because John Bruton got stuck in a traffic jam!

Secondly, I'd completely libralise taxis and allow anyone who is suitably competent with a safe vehicle to operate a taxi.

Thirdly, I'd introduce quality bus corridors, throughout all key routes with effect from next week. To achieve this, I'd bring in private operators to supplement Dublin Bus's resources. I'd make travel on Dublin buses free for all for a trial period and, long term, I'd pledge to half all bus fares and acquire as many more buses (in a range of sizes) as needed. At the same time, I'd enlist the services of resident associations and community organisations to help assess route demand, design timetables and monitor actual performance.

Fourthly, I would allow private bus operators to operate on secondary routes where local residents feel that they are not adequately served by existing services.

Fifth, I'd make the Lord Mayor of Dublin the de facto supremo of transport in Dublin. The importance of this proposal will become very apparent when(ever) we introduce public elections for this Office - "The Traffic Jam Supremo".

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