The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is currently carrying out an evaluation of sustainable transport policy in Ireland as part of its regular environmental performance reviews of its member countries. An Taisce has submitted a report to the OECD on Ireland's transport policy performance over the past decade.

The failure to advance the sustainable transport targets adopted as Irish Government policy in "Smarter Travel - A New Transport Policy for Ireland" (2009) by any standard represents a major public policy failure.

The key targets and objectives in the Smarter Travel policy were:

  1. “Future population employment growth will predominantly take place in sustainable compact forms which reduce the need to travel for employment and services;
  2. 500,000 more people will take alternative means to commute to work to the extent that the total share of car commuting will drop from 65% to 45%;
  3. Alternatives such as walking, cycling and public transport will be supported and provided to the extent that these will rise to 55% of total commuter journeys to work;
  4. The total kilometres travelled by the car fleet in 2020 will not increase significantly from current levels;
  5. A reduction will be achieved on the 2005 figure for greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector."

Transport greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by only 7% since the EU 2005 reference year for national emissions. A cornerstone target of the Smarter Travel policy was that commuting journeys made by car should drop from 65% to 45% by 2020 while commuter journeys by walking, cycling and public transport should increase to account for 55%. As the 2016 census data from the Central Statistics Office demonstrate, Ireland has failed to achieve that - the share of car journeys to work has risen since 2005 and actually surpassed the Smarter Travel baseline.

"The effect of decades of failed transport policy action and investment will now bear cost in greenhouse gases, air and noise pollution, congestion, car-based sprawl, and inadequate safe walking, cycling and public transport investment. Walkers and cyclists will face increased injury risk," stated Ian Lumley, An Taisce Advocacy Officer.

The lessons of what has been a lost decade in sustainable transport policy and investment must be addressed in implementing the new Programme for Government.

Under the overarching objective of "Mission: A Better Quality of Life for All" the programme sets out measures for "Town Centres First, A National Clean Air Strategy, Better Work Life Balance, Cycling and Walking, and Greenways";

and states:

"in relation to new transport infrastructure, the Government is committed to a 2.1 ratio of expenditure between new public transport infrastructure and new roads over its lifetime" (p. 14).

The 2009 sustainable mobility targets were not advanced because an "All of Government" policy for an entire decade was not put in place. Instead, investment was wasted in over-scaled road projects, such as providing extra lanes on the M7 from Naas to Newbridge and entering into a contract for a dual carriageway from Castlebar to Westport, which will simply increase car traffic and congestion.

Achieving measurable annual progress in investment and a modal shift to walking, cycling and public transport for all journey types needs to be an overarching strategic priority for the incoming Government. There is a requirement for timetabled and target-based actions as well as careful measuring of results. Responsibility needs to be taken both politically and by senior public officials and relevant State agencies and boards.


Contact: Ian Lumley, An Taisce Advocacy Officer, 083 153 2384, [email protected]