With persistently high levels of car use, current passenger patterns across Ireland are incompatible with the transport sector’s ambitious targets to cut its carbon emissions, according to an OECD report published on Wednesday.
Responding to the report, Minister for Transport and Climate Eamon Ryan said transforming the sector would be achieved in the main by reallocating road space in favour of public transport and active travel — rather than the stick of congestion charges.
The Irish transport system “is car dependent by design, is high in greenhouse gas emissions and does not support improved wellbeing”, the OECD warns.
Its findings reveal, however, a reduction of car dependence is possible in line with halving transport emissions by 2030, but local input to decisions will be crucial to success.
This would include a radical reorganisation of road space especially in urban areas; scale up of “on-demand shared services” and enhanced use of “mobility hubs”.
On-demand shared services do not run to a fixed timetable or a fixed route. Vehicles can be shared by one user after another, such as rental cycling and micro-mobility such as e-bikes, cargo e-bikes and e-scooters.
Alternatively, they can carry multiple passengers at once even where those passengers are not travelling together such as high-occupancy vehicles like minibuses as well as car pooling and “dial a ride” shuttle bus — sometimes facilitated by technology like booking apps.
Mobility hubs are locations where a range of transport options are offered such as a train station that also serves as a bus stop for many routes and a location for bike rental. In rural and suburban areas, a mobility hub would probably offer “park & ride”, as a complement to bus and/or train services and rental bikes or scooters.
The report calls for better communication of required changes and their benefits, backed by increased commitment of financial resources by the Government. “Transformation is possible but will look different in urban and rural areas. Input from local communities on the reallocation of road space is required for success, while ensuring access and services are maintained,” it adds.
Enhanced provision of public transport and infrastructure for safe and convenient walking and cycling are essential, it says. “These must be combined with the transformative potential of road space reallocation and the widespread expansion of on-demand shared services.”
Plans to scale up electrification “should support, rather than hinder, the transition towards sustainable transport systems through allocation of appropriate charging infrastructure for mobility hubs and on-demand shared services”, it says.
The report was commissioned by the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC). The sector represents the country’s second largest source of carbon emissions — at 20 per cent.
Measures to reduce car dependence can greatly enhance wellbeing, improving access to services for both urban and isolated rural communities, improving health and road safety, while also benefiting the environment, it concludes.
“Congestion charges are an excellent step towards reducing cars’ dominance over city space, as experiences in London and Stockholm have shown,” the report says, “Besides careful design, both framing and communication are key to such schemes’ success. Complementary public transport improvements were implemented before the charges took effect.”
Speaking in Dublin at the report launch, however, Mr Ryan said the main thrust of policy would be reallocation of road space while maintaining a 2:1 investment ratio between new public transport infrastructure and new roads. Introducing congestion charges “would be difficult politically”, he said.
Over-reliance on EVs was no longer the main driver of change, he added. “Electricity and switching to low-carbon fuels is not going to work on its own.”
But decarbonising transport would be the most difficult climate target to achieve because car dependency was stitched in over many decades, he said. There was also a need to reduce traffic and reform planning so projects could come on stream more quickly. Shared mobility not only reduced fossil fuel dependency but would also prevent a big switch to using rare earth metals.
Director of the OECD Environment Directorate Jo Tyndall acknowledged the scale of the challenge in ensuring the transport system worked for both people and the planet.
“Policymakers can play a huge role, and the opportunity is there for them to design and implement meaningful and integrated policy packages that prioritise transformative actions and deliver the emissions reductions required,” she added.
In reallocating road space, it was critical to have easy access for users “to jobs, services they need and people they want to see”.
CCAC chair Marie Donnelly said recent fuel price volatility had highlighted the risk of remaining tied to fossil fuel transport and high energy consumption.
“A new approach that understands the constraints on people’s behaviour is required to achieve the necessary transformation. Reducing car dependence through a balanced suite of measures can reduce energy bills, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance wellbeing and help achieve the sector’s emissions’ targets,” she said.
Transformation was necessary and possible in both urban and rural Ireland, Ms Donnelly added — with local authorities and communities having a key role to play in developing and delivering locally appropriate solutions. “It is not just about moving to more sustainable modes of transport, but understanding the linkages between planning, transport, policy and economic interventions that can assist the climate challenge, improve our health and be of benefit to everyone in Ireland regardless of geographical location or economic means.”
Mr Ryan said he would be launching 35 chosen “pathfinder projects” over coming weeks. This follows his request that every local authority in the country identify priority public transport and active travel projects with the greatest potential impact on the people in their areas.
“These projects would bring to life the type of highly transformative measures identified in the OECD report,” he added.
In addition, the Department of Transport with the NTMA was going to conduct an experiment rolling out “a demand response bus service in a city, town and county”, he confirmed.
Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action Brian Leddin said: “The focus of current transport policy is on decarbonising the transport system via electrification. However, the report shows that this is unlikely to lead to the systems change that is needed to achieve our climate targets.”
The findings align with an important report by the committee on decarbonising transport published in June 2021, he added.
The OECD undertook “systems innovation for net zero” analysis, which aims to help policymakers identify policy packages with transformative potential to change behaviour patterns while decarbonising sectors in line with climate targets.
The report’s main objective was to provide insights on ways in which climate change mitigation action can lead to the transformational change needed in the surface passenger transport sector to reach the country’s ambitious climate targets, while improving wellbeing outcomes more broadly. The report’s insights will inform CCAC recommendations to the Government.
In compiling the report — Redesigning Ireland’s Transport for Net Zero: Towards systems that work for people and the planet — the OECD conducted interviews with a wide number of stakeholders and visited two cities and two counties (Dublin, Cork, Kildare and Sligo) considered as representative of “different types of territories in Ireland”.