The minister said that the pandemic-driven changes in working and commuting patterns have cut back the need for work-related travel, and given the State the “opportunity to change the entire system and reimagine how our whole network works”.
Reallocation of road space
This will mean a reallocation of road space to make it easier and safer to walk and cycle, a fast and efficient bus service, and spending on new public-transport services.
The shift will see a reduction in car use from 70% to 50% of all journeys, with the remainder being taken by ‘active travel’ and public transport, he said.
Lower fares have seen 300,000 young people avail of travel cards, he continued, and the number of schoolchildren walking and cycling to school has doubled in six years.
Delivery of the Claremorris to Athenry and Rosslare Port to Waterford rail lines were the missing links in a Western Rail Corridor stretching from Wexford to northern Mayo, he said.
Such development would enable the State to bring back “rail freight, which we are starting to see being delivered in France, the UK, and elsewhere”, using Limerick Foynes, Rosslare, and Cork Marina ports to export internationally,” he said.
“We will build the metro, subject to it getting through An Bord Pleanála, which has to happen fast because we need it as a central spine in our capital city.
“It is not just metro – we also need DART+, the BusConnects project, as well as the active-travel network, which we are starting to roll out in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, and towns right across the country,” he added.
Newly-appointed assistant secretary at the Department of Transport, Caoimhín Ó Ciaruáin, told Eolas: “I am mainly tasked with delivering on the transport ambitions of the Climate Action Plan, which deals with the domestic-emissions inventory, but also edges across aviation and the maritime area,” he explains.
“The big priority at the moment is delivery,” he continued. “We have strong policies set out in terms of sustainability and electrification. It is about getting the supports right and looking at delivering the infrastructure for public transport and active travel, along with EV [electric-vehicle] infrastructure over the next five to ten years. Right now, we are doing quite well and are ahead of expectations in terms of EV sales. We will need to see continued exponential growth to bring us to our targets here.”
Mr Ó Ciaruáin said that the natural link between planning and transport had not always been where it needed to be, but that transport, planning, and local authorities would now work together on longer-term issues, encouraging transport-oriented development.
“For a just transition, we need to bring the entire public with us and so we look at the opportunities around that, and especially the evolution of practical concepts like the ‘ten- or 15-minute’ neighbourhood, which is gaining traction, both in Ireland and internationally,” he said.
A 15-minute city is an urban planning concept in which most daily necessities and services, such as work, shopping, education, healthcare, and leisure, can be easily reached by a 15-minute walk or bike ride.