Commuters shun public transport in favor of their cars


Plans to get commuters out of their cars are hampered by Covid as tens of thousands of people avoid public transport for their daily commute.

Road traffic has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels while the number of passengers on buses, trains and trams is at half of their previous volume on some services.

It’s the reverse of the trend needed to reduce transport emissions and meet climate action targets.

Transport operators reassure the public that they are pursuing improved cleaning and implementing mask-wearing policies.

But they think a lot of people remain nervous about sharing confined spaces and where they have access to a car, choose to use it instead.

Dr Brian Caulfield, lecturer in sustainable transport at Trinity College Dublin, said the global trend was for car traffic to recover first but, if the trend continued, incentives such as free travel days should be used to encourage people to return to public transport.

“If we see the same trend after Christmas, when we are all back to normal or as close to normal as expected, that’s something we will have to consider,” he said.

“There is an argument that maybe in January a few free days on public transport to attract people would be a good idea.”

Rail services have seen some of the biggest drops in passenger numbers, despite college campuses reopening last month and lifting almost all remaining pandemic restrictions last week.

Irish Rail said the overall figures had returned to 60% of pre-Covid levels, but on Dart and commuter services the figure is only 50%.

Long distance services are doing better with numbers going as high as 70-75pc.

“It’s growing steadily,” spokesman Barry Kenny said. “There wasn’t a big bang after the restrictions were eased and all of a sudden everyone was back, but the trend is for a gradual comeback.”

Luas spokesperson Dervla Brophy said morning rush hour passenger numbers were around 70% of pre-Covid levels.

“Off-peak hours are stable, so the numbers are healthy,” she said.

Dublin Bus said it carried 73.5% of pre-Covid numbers, but that rose to 84% on weekends.

Bus Eireann’s urban and urban services account for around 70% of their previous passenger count, while intercity services were about the same collectively with greater variation depending on the route.

Meanwhile, road traffic has almost returned to its pre-Covid level. Diesel sales have only fallen by 1pc to 3pc in recent months compared to the same period in 2019 and were higher in June of this year than in the same month in 2019.

Daily traffic counts at 15 set points on motorways and national roads last week showed an average drop of 9% from the same period in 2019, but observations on short-haul traffic indicate volumes are falling. very high.

Dublin City Council’s traffic center will be carrying out its annual cordon-of-canals count in the coming weeks, which should clarify trends.

Traffic officer Damien Cooney said that at times there was no doubt that traffic had returned to normal, but added that there was also a marked increase in the number of cyclists and that He predicted an increase in the number of people using electric scooters after bills were released last week regulating their use. have been finalized.

Dr Caulfield said the increase in the number of pedestrians and cyclists was noticeable, but if car traffic was close to normal they had likely traded public transport.

“The question is, if we have a bad winter, are they going to go back to public transport or start using cars and how do we make sure they choose first?”

The National Transport Authority did not comment, but is banking on improving services through BusConnects projects to increase passenger numbers in the medium and long term.

The Ministry of Transport also did not comment, but it recently briefed TDs and Senators on the development of a new sustainable mobility policy that will aim to get people to switch from cars to public transport. common, walking and cycling.

He also announced a new scheme in the Bbudget that will allow people under 24 to travel at half price on all public transport, from a date to be confirmed next year.

The idea was hailed as encouraging young people to adopt the habit of public transport, but criticized for focusing on those who do not currently use cars in significant numbers.

The Oireachtas Transport Committee released a report over the summer with nearly 50 recommendations to get people out of their cars after foreign experts testified that Ireland’s dependence on cars far exceeded the majority of our EU neighbors.


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