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Ireland's 'car-dependent' transport system needs to change, says OECD

Improvements in fuel efficiency and electric vehicle use won’t be enough to bridge the gap for 2030 emissions.

Image: Shutterstock

A REPORT BY the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has found that “current mobility patterns in Ireland are incompatible” with meeting our climate targets and that transformative change in our transport system is needed.

‘Redesigning Ireland’s Transport for Net Zero: Towards systems that work for people and the planet’, launched today, noted that the transport sector is set to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030, but this may not be achievable.

There is a 13% gap between the expected emission reductions from policies planned for the sector and the 2030 target, with the report stating that this gap is likely to be even larger than estimated.

In its key recommendations the report noted that many of the government’s policies were “insufficient to reduce emissions at the pace and scale needed” and deemed “low-impact”.

One specific area of criticism was electric vehicles.

“Car-dependent systems make rapid electrification slow and difficult, by locking-in large and growing vehicle fleets,” the report stated.

“Even with improved (and fully-electric) vehicles, they also fail to reduce life-cycle emissions, address accessibility gaps and other negative impacts such as air and noise pollution, congestion, road injuries and fatalities.”

It added that incentivising electric vehicle use may “also reinforce car-dependency, further locking the country into a system that fosters growing car use and emissions by design”.

Instead focus should be placed on public transport, and shared forms of transport.

The International Transport Forum calculates that, combined with current core public transport services, introducing shared taxis and minibuses could reduce transport emissions by 30% and congestion by 38% in Dublin.

This would remove the equivalent of the annual carbon footprint of over 40,000 people.

Speaking at the launch, Minister for Transport and the Environment Eamon Ryan outlined that he would be launching ‘Pathfinder Projects’ over the coming weeks to aid in implementing the report’s recommendations.

Over the past summer, the Minister called every local authority in the country and asked them to identify priority public transport and active travel projects which would have the greatest impact on the people in their areas. 

 Over the next few weeks, we will be announcing the final assessed Pathfinder Projects for towns, cities and townlands from Donegal to Kerry,” he said.

“These projects will be delivered in the next two to three years and will begin to demonstrate practically, by people using them, that we can use our road space differently, we can re-imagine our towns and cities, we can begin to shift our focus from the car to other more sustainable transport systems.”

Marie Donnelly, Chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council also welcomed the publication of the report today, saying:

“Recent fuel price volatility has shown us the risk of remaining tied to fossil fuel transport and high energy consumption. A new approach that understands the constraints on people’s behaviour is required to achieve the necessary transformation.”

“Reducing car dependence through a balanced suite of measures can reduce energy bills, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance wellbeing and help achieve the sector’s emissions’ targets,” she said.

The report recommended that a “systemic, electric and integrated” roll-out of
micro-mobility services – electric bikes and scooters- by 2030 in Europe, to the point that these would account for 50% of all trips under eight kilometres.

A shift away from private cars would mean that people travelling to work don’t need to leave their vehicle parked and unused for most of the day, the report continued.

This would massively reduce the amount of car parking spaces needed and would allow for more public spaces and compact cities.

“Modelling a systemic roll-out of micro-mobility across Europe showed that it could liberate 48,000 hectares of inner-city land (the equivalent of about 4 times the land area of Dublin).”

For rural areas, the report recommended a form of either scheduled on-demand public transport, in which passengers would have the option of pre-booking their journey to be collected by a minibus that may be carrying other passengers.

However it noted that due to the lower population density in rural areas, this system could be prone to “uncertainty about schedules, long waiting times, and disruptions in pre-booked journeys.”

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