9th November 2005
to get back on the bus
Some 16 billion euro
will be spent on rail in Ireland in the next 10 years. Thats according
to last weeks much-hyped Transport 21 plan which aims to end gridlock
by getting us out of our cars and onto public transport.
In Dublin, the plans
include things which should have been done 20 years ago. There will be
a north-south underground from Swords to Stephens Green running
under the Airport. And there will be an east-west tunnel from Heuston
to Connolly also calling at Stephens Green. The Dart will effectively
be extended to Swords, Maynooth, and Celbridge.
Funny enough, this is remarkably like the plan thought up in the 1970s
and of which only the present Dart lines were built. Since then we have
built on the success of the Dart by ignoring it as a template.
Anyway, lets not be mean. If these new heavy rail lines are built
they will make a huge difference.
Of course, we wont see any of this until the ten years are nearly
up. Thats the first bad point about this plan. The second is that
huge swathes of Dublin will be untouched because not enough emphasis is
being put on the bus system.
As it stands, about four times as many people use buses as use rail. And
because of the sprawl of this city, that is unlikely to change much. When
you consider that it cost e800 million to build just two Luas lines, the
debate about rubber wheels as against steel wheels needs another outing.
We simply cant build a rail track to every district and every industrial
estate in Dublin. Rail lines cant be moved as traffic changes occur.
Yet, if we are to replicate the car journeys that 50% of commuters make
that is precisely the type of services we have to provide.
In the last ten years there has been a revolution in new bus technology.
Low floor buses and new hybrid engines (electrical/ diesel) have blurred
the differences between trams and buses.
What is required is additional capacity in the city center and at other
centres around the city. The obvious solution is to go underground. So
far this has only been considered for Luas and rail. But it makes even
more sense to provide underground capacity for buses.
Shallow cut-and-cover tunnels immediately beneath the road surface and
running between the canals would transform the reliability of the bus
system in Dublin. There would be no need to provide stations - the buses
would simply surface in a number of streets along the way.
Although this might sound a little barmy at first, systems like these
are being brought in around the world. In Brisbane the South East Busway
includes 1.6km of tunnel and 2km of elevated roadway. In its first 12
months it carried one million extra passengers on core services. Two thirds
of Brisbanes buses use part or all of the system.
The thing is that we are going to spend big bucks. Dublin is not a typical
European city due to its sprawl. Dart can provide a spine for the public
transport system but the system also needs to be flexible and dispersed
at local level.
Bus Rapid Transit allows for progress up front. For more places and for