Improving transport options in urban and rural areas

Posted on Monday, 24 April 2023
Main Image
bus stop and bus
Page Content

Government announced the development of a National Demand Management Strategy aims to reduce traffic congestion.  Social Justice Ireland welcomes the development of this strategy, which should aim to improve public transport options for urban and rural dwellers, improve active travel infrastructure, particularly outside of urban areas, and a significant investment in our public transport fleet to make it more accessible, and ensure it is compatible with our climate targets.  


Public transport

The Climate Action Plan sets out a required reduction of 42-50 percent in transport emissions to 2030. In 2021, transport made up 17.7 percent of Irish Green House Gas emissions and in 2020, passenger cars accounted for 54 percent of road transport emissions[1].

According to the National Travel Survey 2019, 73.7 per cent of all journeys taken in 2019 were by private car (as driver or passenger), whereas public transport accounted for just 4.8 per cent of all journeys[2]. Those in densely populated areas were less likely to use a car than those in thinly populated areas, with private cars accounting for 61.7 per cent of all journeys in urbanised areas, compared to 83.8 per cent in thinly populated areas. Public transport was used over four times as much in densely populated areas than thinly populated areas reflecting the greater availability of public transport in more densely populated areas.

Private car journeys continue to dominate transport in Ireland.  There is a need to consider congestion charges in urban centres, alongside increased investment in public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure.  Revenue from congestion charges could fund investment in public transport and infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists[3]

Bicycle sharing schemes have been operational in Cork, Dublin, Galway and Limerick since 2015.  This scheme is an excellent initiative and supports environmentally sustainable commuting in urban centres.  However, each scheme has seen a downward trend of reduced journeys since 2016.  Without hard infrastructure for cycle lanes, our continued reliance on private cars for urban commutes makes city-cycling hazardous. Government must expedite the introduction of hard infrastructure to support safe cycling in our cities.

Cycling and walking must also be promoted at a rural level.  Regional strategies to promote safe cycling and walking infrastructure should be developed and fully resourced.  Within these strategies a particular focus should be given to schools and the development of cycle paths to allow children and teenagers to cycle to school.  Government should build on the strong public support for reorganising our road space to make it safe for children to walk and cycle from school[4].  The OECD recommended that Ireland better enforce planning regulations to ensure that all developments promote settlements with easy access to transport links and include a network of safe walking.


Public transport in rural areas

The lack of reliable public transport in rural areas means that rural households are more reliant on their car to access basic services and commute to and from work and school. This reliance is contributing to our carbon footprint, with transport being one of the three main contributing industries. Whilst transport emissions were reduced in 2020 by 15.7 per cent, passenger cars were responsible for 59 per cent of that.[1] Government expenditure on public transport as a percentage of total land transport expenditure has fluctuated since 2002, reaching a low of 30 per cent in 2006. Notwithstanding commitments made to increase active travel and green transport, in 2020, less than half of Government expenditure on land transport was for public and sustainable transport (45 per cent).

A recent study found that access to public transport is a significant challenge in rural areas, with forty-seven percent of respondents not having access to public transport including local link (Irish Rural Link and Social Justice Ireland, forthcoming).

Infrastructure must be in place to support thinly populated areas to grow and thrive, while those living in Dublin and surrounding areas, with access to an extensive public transport network, should be encouraged and incentivised to use it. We must look at measures implemented due to Covid-19, particularly in relation to walking tracks and cycling lanes, and work towards making these a more permanent transport feature. 

Public transport was also included in the Government’s response to the increases in the cost of living, published in February 2022. An average reduction in public transport fares of 20 per cent came into effect in April, as well as a cap on the school transport scheme with a reduction to €500 per family at post primary level and €150 per family at primary level. While reduced public transport fees are welcome, they assume that people have access to public transport. Due to the lack of public transport in rural Ireland, and the subsequent need to have access to a private car, not everyone will see an immediate reduction in their transport costs.

The Climate Action Plan[2] sets a goal of 945,000 electric and low-emitting vehicles on Irish roads by 2030, along with the phasing out of selling petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 as part of the Climate Action Bill (2019). This will require substantial investment in the charging infrastructure and in our national grid.  Electric vehicles are expensive, despite current incentives and will be competing with the cost of retrofitting for many households.  While they will make a major contribution to reducing emissions from transport, investing to ensure our public transport fleet is compatible with our climate targets and is expanded should be the immediate investment priority as this is where some of the largest gains in terms of reduced emissions can be made.   While this transition is required to reduce Ireland’s GHG emissions, there are knock on quality of life and socio-economic justice benefits to a transition to green transport.

The shift to green modes of transport not only benefits emissions levels and eases long-term costs of transport, but also benefits public health and quality of life for all. In a 2011 report, the World Health Organisation found that one in three people in Europe are annoyed by traffic noise pollution during daytime hours. In 2017, road traffic noise was “by far the most influential contributor to noise-induced harmful effects on the Irish population”[3]. Transitioning to green transport must be supported by government for those in both rural and urban areas, and must reach all income brackets, not only those able to afford costly electric vehicles up front. This requires investment in public transport networks across the country (both inter and intra-city) and schemes which support the purchase of private vehicles which reduce emissions.


Policy Proposals:

  • Invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
  • Set out a roadmap for our freight sector to be run on renewable energy by 2050.
  • Invest in our public transport fleet, infrastructure and capacity with a focus on increasing local and regional capacity (intra and inter city) and ensuring our fleet is compatible with our climate targets.
  • Introduce congestion charges in urban centres.
  • Invest in significant expansion in active transport -  our walking and cycling infrastructure, with a roadmap for rural and urban areas to 2030.
  • Develop regional walking a cycling infrastructure plans.
  • Invest in walking and cycling infrastructure for travel to school.
  • Increase provision of subsidised school transport.
  • Examine the potential for the introduction of congestion charges in urban centres by 2025.
  • Enforce planning regulations to ensure that all developments promote settlements with easy access to transport links and include a network of safe walking and cycling routes.

] EPA, 2021