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DAA needs its wings clipped over plan to charge for airport drop-off

Everybody can see through authority’s spurious ‘sustainability’ rationale; it clearly will be a revenue raiser

Perhaps the most irritating part of the blatant cash grab that is the DAA’s plan to charge the public for dropping off and picking up at Dublin Airport is the lame attempt to dress it up as a sustainability initiative “to encourage people to take public transport”. Pull the other one.

The rationale is straight from the Outlaw Josey Wales school of public relations, as the airport authority, which operates 18,600 car-parking spaces at Dublin Airport, insists to people that it must be raining as it drenches their backs. There is no surfeit of half-empty trains or tram carriages plodding out to the airport every 10 minutes while the selfish public instead chooses to drive loved ones to the airport for departures.

There is little to be “encouraged” towards. There are just a small number of congested bus routes and even some of those have been cut back recently.

DAA, which this week at the second attempt got planning permission to build infrastructure to charge for terminal pick-up and drop-off, could hardly have picked a worse time. Inflation is high on the agenda at the moment, as high as it has been for 20 years. Hard-pressed consumers are alive to any price movements and their antennae are also finely attuned to self-serving nonsense, such as dubious excuses from airport monopolies.


On the face of it, an airport’s plan to charge for drop-off and pick-up is hardly outrageous. Airports in some major cities, such as Amsterdam and Frankfurt, do not charge at all for the privilege. But many others, including Heathrow in London and Manchester, do and it is broadly accepted.

Glaring difference

But the glaring difference between Dublin Airport and the airports that charge for pick-up and drop-off is that the others tend to have extensive public transport links, which act as a viable alternative to private car transport. Trains leave for Manchester Airport every few minutes from the city’s Piccadilly station, and vice versa. Heathrow has extensive rail links with every part of London.

The proposed MetroLink to Dublin Airport is the policymaking epitome of all talk and no action. The State has examined the idea for at least a quarter of a century. Those who first assessed the idea are probably retired by now. Seven years ago, the proposal was relaunched with a putative opening date of 2027. Last year, the State said that date was “never likely to be achievable” and there is now no date at all for the completion of a basic piece of public infrastructure, the absence of which is an invisible monument to the unique ability of Irish decision makers to faff about while achieving little.

None of this is DAA’s fault. It is an airport operator and it is not responsible for building rail links. But it is responsible for its own decisions and the rationale it proffers for them.

The authority proposes that private cars entering the drop-off and pick-up lanes at Dublin Airport will have their number plates automatically scanned on entry for payment at exit, depending upon the length of time it takes. It plans to build the system in the second half of the year. It will retain a free option for people who arrive by car to avoid the charges – there will be a free drop-off zone at the Red long-term car park, from where it can take up to 20 minutes to reach the terminals by shuttle bus.

The “public transport” rationale is a red herring for most people, especially those arriving via the west of the city, which includes almost everyone in Ireland who isn’t a southside Dub or from the north. It can be discounted.

Relegating private cars for free drop-off and pick-up to the Red car park won’t reduce the number of car journeys. It will only send them to a different, less suitable location. To avoid it, as many would try to do, the only option would be to get a lift anyway to the city centre to catch an infrequent bus, or pay the drop-off toll, which would roll like a tributary to the riverbed of DAA’s bottom line.

It is nothing but a cash grab and suggesting it isn’t because it will be “ring-fenced” for green measures, such as a solar farm and the electrification of the airport’s fleet, is bound only to rile people. Those things will happen anyway. If DAA was so concerned about sustainability, it wouldn’t have built a new runway. Also, people who drop off or pick up at the airport by private car usually do so only for a family member or friend. That is what makes it so annoying for some people; it is like a miniature travel tax on close relationships.

‘Money grab’

DAA’s miscalculation in making such a proposal at this particular time is evident in how it has united politicians of almost every hue in opposition.

The Social Democrats called it a "money grab". Fine Gael Senator Emer Currie, who raised it in the Seanad on Thursday, called it "tone deaf". Even a local Green Party councillor, Ian Carey, objects to the proposal due to the obvious lack of public transport options, for many people, and the Greens are no friend of the aviation sector.

As we (hopefully) emerge from the worst of the pandemic and many people look forward to flying again, DAA’s proposal has only soured the mood of potential travellers and caused people to roll their eyes at the airport monopoly. That it comes barely a week after scores of people missed flights due to the ridiculous queues at airport security because of DAA’s poor rostering only makes it worse.

Before it soaks people for the privilege of dropping their loved ones off at the airport, DAA would be well reminded that taxpayers bailed it out at every stage of the crisis over the past two years. In addition to millions of euro in wage subsidies and other payments, Dublin Airport is line to receive about €80 million from a Government pot to tempt airlines to open new routes.

Dublin Airport expects to get up to 70 per cent this year of its 33 million record for passenger numbers. And it chooses now to rattle its tin for drop-off and pick-up charges?

DAA’s best way out this publicity mess of its own making is to quickly announce there will be a free or grace period of at least 15 minutes to allow people to quickly drop off their family member or friend by private car before scooting off. If they are waiting more than 15 minutes to pick someone up, charge them. If it is a hired vehicle such as a paid-for corporate pick-up, charge them.

That would be fair.