By John Corry
One of the features of the new, improved Irish economy is the chaotic nature of our traffic system. In a country of slightly less than 4 million people, it is now estimated that persistent traffic delays cost the Irish economy 1.52 billion euro (¥177 billion) annually. Ireland has become a car culture with over 200,000 new vehicles purchased in 2001. This has had the obvious effect of choking the already overstretched and poorly planned road network.
Most Irish people have their pet horror stories of nightmare journeys and enjoy trading them with an almost masochistic glee. It's cool to be able to outdo each other when it comes to who was delayed the longest in traffic. Lorna Williams, 31, beats most with her nightmare: "Last Christmas the traffic was so bad it took me three hours to get out of St. Stephen's Green car park and an hour and a half to get home." It took her 270 minutes to travel a total of 6 km.
Though not as extreme as during the holiday bottlenecks, the delays for daily commuters are omnipresent and worsening. People do not use public transport as a means to escape the daily grind of traffic jams and delays for one simple reason: It doesn't present a viable alternative.
The public transport system is inadequate and has been characterized by a lack of planning and investment by the government. Many people do their best to use trains and buses, but generally the cost is too high for all but the most ardent of environmentalists.
My journey from home to work in the city center is 20 km door to door. By public transport this would take a minimum of 2 hours each way, assuming the services were on time. Traveling by car, the journey is reduced to one hour in the morning and 75 minutes in the evening =cd=ba52 a time saving of 105 minutes per day. Which option to choose is very much a no-brainer.
In a recent report, Dublin Bus, the government-owned bus service for the city, stated that the average speed of Dublin city bus services in 2001 at peak time was 14 kph but often drops to as low as 8 kph due to traffic jams. This is significantly lower than cities of a similar size in Europe. Amsterdam, Brussels and Vienna can all put in place a service with an average peak-time speed of 22 kph.
Also, in a survey conducted recently, Dublin came second only to Calcutta in the length of time it takes to drive a certain distance in the city. A series of deliveries were carried out at various times and places over a four-month period to find out how long it would take for 5 kg of goods to travel a distance of 5 km. Compared to London, the journey in Dublin took over four times longer, and over three times longer than in Tokyo.
Patrick Kielty, 22, an economics student, feels that "It's a Catch-22 really. People tend to use cars because the bus service is so poor, and the more cars that are on the roads the poorer the bus service becomes." Patrick jokingly refers to the whole transport problem as "Carmageddon."
The personal costs to individuals remains high in terms of reduced personal time and lowering the quality of family life in general.
Gridlock has its toll on the personal lives of Irish people. Mary O'Brien, 59, was one of many Irish people who bought a car two years ago to speed her journey into the city to her job as secretary in a property developers firm. Her journey is 8 km into the city, but involves navigating crushing traffic flows and some 29 sets of traffic lights — roughly one set every 276 meters. "The car was great initially, but now it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 85 minutes to get into town. I find it very stressful not knowing from one day to the next if I'd be late for work."
Many employers in the city have taken into account the strains of commuting through heavy traffic and have implemented flex-time systems to ease the burden on their staff. Others have tried to organize in-company carpooling, whereas very large companies like Intel and Hewlett Packard have now started their own private buses, operating from central points to fill the gaps in a creaking public transport network.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel for our worn-out, disgruntled commuters. The government has begun large-scale investment into the transport infrastructure in Ireland. Improvements to the rail services and the bus services have been coming online regularly since 2001. Work began last year on an overground metro system for the city of Dublin, but it is not expected to be finished until 2008. The prediction by most would be that it is going to get worse before it gets better. My advice for the foreseeable future is to ditch the car and buy a bike — Dublin it's definitely faster!!!
Shukan ST: Sept. 6, 2002
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