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Public transport 'The feeling is that those with money to spend will only come to town by car'

We need to make public transport more desirable than an SUV, writes Andrea Horan.

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars.
It’s where the rich use public transportation.”
Gustavo Petro

“More people would take public transport if it was reliable. The only way to make it more reliable is to prioritise it on the roads over cars. The argument that we can’t make change until we improve public transport is an infinity loop argument.”

I WROTE THAT tweet the other day after getting a bus and a Dart in Dublin for the first time in a long time. I don’t have a car but am lucky enough (in my opinion) to have lived in town, or town adjacent for the last 20 years so can walk most places. It wasn’t always the way — I grew up in the wilds of Tallaght so spent 20% of my week on the 56A.

What struck me most after my recent foray back onto the bus was how it has moved from what was then such a democratic mode of transport to what now seems to be only used by those who don’t have a car. I couldn’t help but wonder, what had changed from when everyone was getting the bus because it was easier to now, where just hopping into the car to sit in traffic has become more attractive.

As a business owner in the city, I’m privy to the anger being felt by retailers about the new transport plan that finally prioritises public transport and getting into town over getting through it.

The feeling is that those with money to spend will only come to town by car.

We’ve moved into a space where public transport is seen as detrimental to the spending power coming into the city. But any moves to make public transport more attractive or aspirational are being shot down and campaigned against.

This brings us to the situation where any pushback against improvements to public and active transport infrastructure is being led by the argument that we need better public transport before we can go ahead with making any changes. Which is an impossible chicken-and-egg situation.

Obsession with the car

We’ve idolised the car. We’ve prioritised building more roads, car parks, motorways and how to make car journeys faster instead of making public transport better, more convenient, more comfortable and more aspirational.

The fact is, until we reprioritise the convenience of a car, we cannot make public transport more convenient. Apart from the pragmatic side of needing to build more and continuous bus and cycle lanes that mean getting the bus is faster than driving, we have to change the mindset of what it means to get the bus. We need to make getting the bus more of a status symbol than driving an SUV into streets and car parks that cannot facilitate their size.

an-suv-parked-on-a-pavement-on-the-koe-in-duesseldorf-city-centre Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

That instead of public transport being a nuisance, the real nuisance is the luxury SUV drivers clogging the streets, driving out of the car park down a semi-pedestrianised South William Street, ruining the pavements with their oversized entitlement.

To make it worth choosing the bus over the car, the service needs to be reliable. To encourage people who don’t need to get the bus or train to do so, there has to be an assurance that they’ll turn up! They need to be frequent. They need to be safe. They need to not be intimidating.

  • PHANTOM BUSES: The Noteworthy team wants to investigate why so many Dublin buses are being cancelled on a daily basis. Support this project here.

More of the same

“If nothing changes, nothing changes. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’re getting. You want change, make some.” Courtney C. Stevens
We can’t wait for things to be perfect before we start trying to make things more perfect. The best is the mortal enemy of the good and perfection is the enemy of progress.

In Hong Kong, their public transport offers such extensive, affordable and accessible service that the majority of residents do not own cars. Trains in Delhi run every 2–5 minutes, in Moscow every 90 seconds. Russia’s Moscow Metro stations are renowned for their ornate grandeur and opulent architecture, emulating the grandeur of which makes getting from A to B a much more enjoyable experience.

A mindset change isn’t just required of potential passengers though, the creators of the Irish public transport system need to start thinking beyond just the functionality of making the bus and train arrive, the experience and aesthetics of public transport need to be addressed.

These shouldn’t just be nice-to-do’s, they are fundamental to making the system work; how it is experienced by users; leading to better behaviour and a more respectful demeanour and most importantly, more people will want to use it.

Andrea Horan is the founder of nail bar Tropical Popical, The Hunreal Issues, co-founder of No More Hotels, and co-presenter of Don’t Stop Repealin’ and United Ireland with Una Mullally. Twitter @andreahoran. 

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