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A Free Public Transport system for Dublin

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jan 30th, 2019 at 12:39:46 PM EST

The Irish Times has published two letters of mine on successive days, which is a record! I would be interested in your views on it.

Free public transport - could it work for Dublin? Published 30/1/2019.

A chara, - I read with interest Lara Marlowe's article on the almost exponential growth of free urban public transport systems throughout the world ("Free public transport - could it work for Dublin?", Weekend, January 26th).

The Irish Times published a letter of mine proposing such a system for Dublin in 1980. In it I argued that such a system could massively reduce traffic congestion, reduce car imports, reduce fuel imports, and increase employment in the city.

In the meantime, we have seen a massive increase in traffic congestion, urban sprawl, commuting times, population density, and proposed and actual new public transportation systems such as the Luas and Metro causing massive disruption during the building phase and costing many billions of euro.

Tripling the size of Dublin's bus fleet would probably be required to meet the latent demand for an efficient and free public transport service, but the capital cost would be minuscule compared to the cost of the aforementioned projects.

Instead of requiring exorbitant new infrastructure, existing and underused bus lanes would be more fully utilised, and journey times improved as car traffic diminished. Valuable space currently required for car parking could be repurposed for social housing or public amenities.

Such an expansion of the public bus system would massively improve the convenience of the existing bus services by increasing the frequency, range, and scope of current routes.

Instead of wasting time, burning fuel, polluting the atmosphere, and contributing to global warming, commuters could work on the bus, engage with social media and, horror of horrors, actually talk to one another, thereby recreating a more convivial and socially egalitarian city.

If the buses were primarily electric, they could further reduce our carbon footprint, and reduce the fines we will soon become liable to pay for failing to reach our carbon reduction targets.

As we have little oil and no car manufacturing industries, such a system would also improve our balance of trade and employment levels.

As a nation, we think nothing of spending billions on (partially) free education, healthcare, roads and public facilities. But an efficient public transport system is every bit as vital to the functioning of a modern economy. How much time is wasted driving cars on congested roads which could otherwise be devoted to more productive work or social activities? How many lives could be saved by less tired (and sometimes intoxicated) driving?

It is an idea whose time has come. - Yours, etc,

Co. Wicklow.

Any ideas on how to make sure it won't end like Hasselt?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Jan 30th, 2019 at 10:38:51 AM EST
Dublin bus carried 140 Million passengers in 2017 compared to 1.5 Million passengers in Hasselt in 1997 prior to the introduction of free public transport. So we are talking about a city with almost 100 times more passenger journeys per annum.

The population of the greater Dublin area is estimated to rise to 2.1 Million in 2020, about 30 times Hasselt's 70,000 population.

Add to that that Dublin is an ancient city not exactly designed or suited to mass car transportation and hemmed in my the sea, the Dublin/Wicklow mountains, the Phoenix park and Dublin airport. It is also a very rapidly growing city with a massive housing crisis.

Interestingly, the introduction of free public transport in Hasselt led to an increase in public transport passenger journeys to 4.6 Million P.A.in the 10 years to 2006 - exactly matching my "finger in the air" guesstimate that introducing free transport would triple numbers in Dublin.

However even in 2006, after a tripling of bus passengers, Hasselt only had 46 Buses, compared to Dublin Bus' current total of over 1,000 - which by my guesstimate would have to rise to over 3,000. So we are really not comparing like with like.

One lesson we could, perhaps, learn from the Hasselt experience is that the financing of a free public transport system would have to be put on a sound and durable footing, as else it could become the first victim of public sector spending cuts at a time of recession and austerity.

However the overwhelming global trend is in favour of more not less free public transport systems, as noted in the Lara Marlowe article I linked to in my letter:

The first fare-free public transport system was set up in a suburb of Los Angeles in 1962. Bologna experimented with free transport in the 1970s, when it was ruled by the Communist party.

By 2000, there were 27 free public systems in the world. That increased to 60 in 2010, 99 in 2017 and 114 today, the majority in Europe, says Wojciech Keblowski, an expert on free public transport at the Free University Brussels.

So does this mean free public transport is the wave of the future? The answer depends on the size and sociology of the city, and the existing network. Free transport has been a resounding success in, among others, Tallinn, Estonia, and Dunkirk, northern France.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 30th, 2019 at 11:29:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why did it stop in Hasselt?

There was criticism that thorough investigation was never conducted into the effects of the intervention on the transport behaviour of the residents and visitors of the city.

So, they never analysed the costs and benefits? And went back to a paying system because of budget constraints? And have they analysed the costs and benefits of that?

Need more info to see what happened there..
Ah, it seems the municipal majority changed, and that the region no longer wanted to finance the program...

The program was partly cross-financed with revenue from parking spaces for cars. As people stopped driving cars and parking spaces were drawn down, this revenue decreased - even as more cash was needed for the expanding bus and network.

... i.e. the finance model punished its success.

These problems can easily be avoided in Dublin.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Jan 30th, 2019 at 11:37:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You need to address Irish people's snobbiness towards public transport, especially buses, first.

When Sam worked in a proper middle class office the others couldn't understand her taking public transport to work. Didn't compute.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 30th, 2019 at 11:55:07 AM EST
When Hasselt introduced free public transport, it took 10 years for journey numbers to triple. Attitudes change slowly, but for many paying high rents in Dublin now, the cost of a car is rapidly becoming unsustainable and impractical.

I rarely take the Blessington Dublin bus because there are hours between buses if you miss one or it is cancelled, it can take up to two hours in rush hour traffic for the 30KM journey, and you still need to take at least one other bus to get to your destination. Snobbery doesn't come into it.

Personally I can't understand why well-to-do people in South Dublin buy expensive high performance cars or Jeeps/cross-overs when they can barely get out their front gate and then sit in almost gridlocked traffic for an hour to get a few miles down the road but that seems to be their choice. Tax the hell out of them, I say!

But most of the time people need cars because their commutes aren't well covered by bus routes, they need them for business or family, and because that is what they have always done. Habits can change over time.

When I became a senior executive in Guinness I became entitled to a company car and most at that grade felt pressure to buy a high end saloon befitting their status. Some may have looked down on my choice of a Skoda, but no one said anything. However it met my growing family needs perfectly and reduced my benefit-in-kind tax bill.

Don't get me wrong. I love driving and I love my car, and living in a semi-rural area gives me little option. But if I were living/commuting in Dublin I would very much want to use public transport especially if it became more convenient.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 30th, 2019 at 12:22:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Securing financing is a major problem. Would probably be some kind of (regional?) income tax. That's how the Paris region does it, I think.

But the biggest battle will be getting the requisite space on the streets. Bus-only lanes with proper separation/enforcement induce major rage in car drivers. All rationality goes out the window when people try to repurpose some car lanes or parking spaces. Expect all kinds of attempts to kill the efficiency of such bus lanes by a thousand cuts.

There is also a scalability issue. The most successful bus lines would have to be converted to rail pretty quickly, within a decade or two. Then why not build it as separated rail lines in the first place?

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Wed Jan 30th, 2019 at 07:00:39 PM EST
I think trains for the countryside powered by networked solar energy farms and panels next to the tracks. Electric jitneys for the last mile callable by app.
For cities trams are best, we probably have the tech to bury the cabling, (which looked a bit dodgy back in the day.)
Electric single and double seater runabouts rentable by the day with stacked underground parking lots, no more need for private vehicles at all, leaving streets flowing and easily navigable by pedestrians. They could drive themselves back to the recharge base after use.  
All engines governed by speed limit sensors, and all external surfaces coated in multilayer foam rubber to minimise damage if someone walks in front of (or drives into) your car.
While we're at it, let's do international droneports for sky travel, no need for lengthy runways that way.
All buildings should be clad in solar panels to juice all this to-ing and fro-ing.
A lot more of us will be working at home by then, shovelling and crunching Big Data, maybe coding robo-software on UBI, hoping to get lucky and win a new disruptor jackpot prize.
Travel as we knew it may go out of style as virtuality comes to you, the world looks more the same all over, and tourism is now more located around the Van Allen belt.
Ah, better now, back to Brexit.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Jan 30th, 2019 at 07:45:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dublin Bus is a semi-state company which gets a state subvention to supplement fare income. It would need capital subventions to cover cost of additional new buses and to cover operating expenses. This would probably be central government funded as their isn't much local/regional devolution of power in Ireland.

For ideological/competition reasons new routes/additional frequencies would probably have to be put out to tender to Dublin Bus and independent commercial bus companies who would be paid by passenger mile or some such formula or a set price per bus per route.

There are quite a few bus lanes in Dublin already although some streets are simply too narrow to accommodate them. Car drivers moan some are barely used, so an increase in utilisation would be welcomed especially if it resulted in a reduction in car traffic congestion.

There are some tram routes (Luas) and light rail routes (Dart) in Dublin and some extensions are planned. However the capital costs of extensions are horrendous and only cover a relatively small proportion of the city.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 30th, 2019 at 11:58:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting how many airports have free transportation between gates. And there are few complaints by even First Class passengers about riding on those busses or trains. No funding shortages, either.
by asdf on Wed Jan 30th, 2019 at 07:19:24 PM EST
Here is another US example which has operated well and expanded for many years:
Chapel Hill Transit (CHT) is the second largest transit system in North Carolina, providing over seven million rides per year. CHT serves the communities of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). The two towns and the university share annual operating and capital costs associated with CHT on a contractual basis.

CHT is a fare-free system with fixed-route bus service on 31 weekday and weekend routes and EZ Rider demand response (ADA) service. CHT has a fleet of 121 vehicles (98 fixed-route and 22 demand response) - covering over 2.5 million miles per year in a service area of 62 square miles.

by MK on Wed Jan 30th, 2019 at 07:42:23 PM EST
Japanese trains are massively successful despite being moderately pricy. This is in large part because a rather substantial number of employers offer transportation expenses as a salary add-on - perhaps by law. These are matched to the actual cost of transit.

The Japanese also have an interesting set of regulations surrounding motor vehicles, the K-Car system. Many years ago they realized the obvious trend of people to prefer larger and more powerful cars for no clear reason, and set up a tax system to push back against it. K-Cars have a regulated tiny footprint and tiny engine, and a correspondingly tiny cost of registration and operation. Regular-sized cars pay many, many times more in yearly taxes and fees to own and operate. Left to their own devices, few regular consumers would actually choose to buy a K-Car when they could get a vastly more competent subcompact in a similar price range, but the tax and ownership penalties have encouraged widewpread acceptance of very tiny and underpowered cars.

by Zwackus on Thu Jan 31st, 2019 at 01:11:59 AM EST
I am as much of a train enthusiast ("foamer") as anybody, but honestly I think self-driving electric cars are going to be the future of transportation. Rail infrastructure is expensive for low density situations, and trains are not as flexible in routing and scheduling as smaller vehicles. Cars can be owned or leased or rented by trip (taxi), and can deal with a wide range of operating conditions.

Congestion can be reduced by a control system that mandates multiple passengers per vehicle. Streetcars or busses make sense downtown, but not even in suburbs, let along rural areas.

by asdf on Thu Jan 31st, 2019 at 01:51:06 AM EST
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 31st, 2019 at 01:52:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course. There are already plenty of examples of self-driving rail transit systems.
by asdf on Thu Jan 31st, 2019 at 02:02:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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