Nat O'Connor: Investment in infrastructure not only provides a useful stimulus to the economy, but it can also provide tangible assets that help boost economic activity. No better example than public transport.
It is reported that a Railway Order has been formally sought for Dart Underground. This underground line will connect up all of the city's different forms of transport, and Irish Rail claims it will treble rail passenger journeys in Dublin. They have a promotional leaflet (PDF) explaining the benefits.
Dublin Bus have announced their own Network Direct plans for revising their bus routes, which will involve more straight routes into the centre. However, a number of private bus operators are also serving Dublin and future integrated transport cannot ignore their existence.
Meanwhile, taxis are seeking to get cheaper access to the Port Tunnel. It has been claimed this would help reduce congestion.
The above are sectoral developments. And in some cases they miss the bigger picture. Dublin not only needs integrated ticketing, which the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) has been working on for some time, but also an integrated plan for better public transport across all modes.
It makes sense for the National Transport Authority (NTA) to take a lead role in developing a masterplan. The integrated transport strategy for Dublin, A Platform for Change, is meant to run from 2000 to 2016, yet the creation of the NTA as a statury body in 2009 (taking over from the Dublin Transport Office) suggests that it is still only getting going.
Transport 21 provides some vision of the future of transport for Greater Dublin with its joined up rail map. However, one of the unanswered questions is about Metro. Are the massive proposed costs and debateable benefits of the Metro system (Metro North and Metro West) worth it?
One could argume that Metro constuction would be a useful channel for economic stimulus, but how much of the cost would involve importing external expertise and relatively small numbers of specialised labour? Would the cost go beyond the amount that can reasonably be available for stimulus? And other infrastructure is also required, such as schools; so would Metro take up too much of the limited capital budget for years to come? (And public transport is not just for Dublin either! Public transport is needed across the country, where it ranges greatly in its quality and is non-existent for many people.)
In addition, while on the face of it all public transport is 'green', it can be argued that both Metro schemes were partially planned to break ground in Dublin's green belts, in order to raise property value there and boost the further construction of housing, as part of Dublin's unsustainable, un-green sprawl. And that's not really the way public transport should be planned! Yet, the extent of the housing crisis has meant that Metro alone cannot revive the fortunes of the land-owners of Dublin to encourage them to build, so there might not be many people living near those outer Metro stations after all, which could undermine the viability of the whole project. Emigration isn't helping demand either.
But if not Metro, how can we provide good quality public transport to those who regard the Metro idea as sacred because they are poorly served now and commuting through heavy traffic?
Independently, a design firm has created a visionary map for changed public transport in Dublin relying largely on existing rail plus a radically changed bus system. This is an example of starting from stratch to identify the major road and rail axes, and population centres, and then putting in transport to most efficiently meet their needs. In terms of long-term economic efficiency, this is not something to be dismissed out of hand. The more modest (but much cheaper) option of buses might be a more realistic target for Dublin's economic development in the near future.
Nat O’Connor is a member of the Institute for Research in Social Sciences (IRiSS) and a Lecturer of Public Policy and Public Management in the School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy at Ulster University.
Previously Director of TASC, Nat also led the research team in Dublin’s Homeless Agency.
Nat holds a PhD in Political Science from Trinity College Dublin (2008) and an MA in Political Science and Social Policy form the University of Dundee (1998). Nat’s primary research interest is in how research-informed public policy can achieve social justice and human wellbeing. Nat’s work has focused on economic inequality, housing and homelessness, democratic accountability and public policy analysis. His PhD focused on public access to information as part of democratic policy making.