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'Not just for commuters, for everybody': Should Ireland start over with its public transport system?

From buses to bike lanes, is it time for an overhaul? We explore another big idea on Ireland 2029.

A Luas stop in Dublin city centre.
A Luas stop in Dublin city centre.
Image: Sam Boal

A LOT CAN happen in 10 years. Where is Ireland going, and what will life be like here in the year 2029? Welcome to Ireland 2029: Shaping Our Future, a podcast series from TheJournal.ie.

Over 10 episodes, we’re partnering with Volkswagen to bring you 10 big ideas that could change Ireland for the better. Each week, we talk to someone about an idea they truly believe could work, and find out whether it’s practical, or whether it’s a non-runner.

In the 10th (and final) episode of Ireland 2029, we ask: Should Ireland start over and build a world-class public transport system?

On average, 107,000 people travel into Dublin city centre on public transport every day, according to the National Transport Authority and Dublin City Council. 

That’s 18% of the Dublin population moving into the city daily on buses, trams and trains.

On a national level, the number of people using public transport rose by 16% between 2015 and 2018 – and – there were 269 million journeys on State-funded public transport last year alone.

Growth in passenger numbers has been steady – but developments in Ireland’s public transport infrastructure haven’t been quite so fast-paced.

Take Dublin’s tram system, for example, opened as two separate lines in 2004. Recommendations to join up the Luas Red and Green Line were included in Fianna Fáil’s Transport 21 plan back in 2005. But it took seven years for those plans to be officially put in motion, and a further five for construction to be completed.

With a 13-year wait for Luas Cross City – a project that had government support from its early days – is there really much hope for a total public transport overhaul within the next decade?

Change is coming

Speaking on the 10th episode of Ireland 2029, David O’Connor, Assistant Head of School in Environment and Planning at TU Dublin, said change could happen faster than many may think:

[T]o maintain an acceptable standard of living for everyone, there’s no doubt that we need to invest in well planned public transport networks … This can be achieved sustainably, and far sooner than people imagine, particularly if we invest in very well planned, high quality bus networks.

Last year, the NTA announced plans for BusConnects, a massive redesign of Dublin’s current bus network, with the creation of 230km of dedicated bus lanes along 16 bus corridors in and out of the city.

It’s a radical proposal, which has been met with some public controversy – most notably due to the fact that it will see some homeowners along the revised routes losing parts of their front gardens.

But O’Connor said it’s an important shift in the right direction – placing significance on developing better public transport systems:

“BusConnects is huge. What we’re putting into it per kilometre is a fraction of what we put into Luas and even a smaller fraction again of what we’re looking to put into MetroLink,” he told us. 

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Link up the city

Louise Williams of the Dublin Cycling Campaign said that any development of Ireland’s transport routes requires “joined up” thinking:

A dream scenario would be that we have done proper research into how people use the city. Not just imagining that we’re designing for everybody by designing for a few commuters who go from A to B to A again.

So could Ireland really hope to develop a world-class public transport system, with efficient links between busses, trains, cycle lanes and tram lines?

Tune into the 10th and final episode of Ireland 2029: Shaping Our Future, to hear more.

Full list of providers here 

Source: Ireland 2029/SoundCloud

Ireland 2029 is a podcast from TheJournal.ie, in partnership with Volkswagen. This episode was put together by presenter Aoife Barry, producer Cormac Fitzgerald, series producer Órla Ryan, and executive producer Christine Bohan. Editing by Andrew Roberts. With thanks to Paula Lyne and our contributors.

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