With the Luas Cross City headed for completion this year, is Dublin going to get more park-and-rides to encourage commuters to leave their cars at the edge of the city and take the trams in? a reader asked us.
The answer is yes, there are plans for more park-and-rides. The Transport Strategy for Dublin outlines at least eight new park-and-ride spots near planned or existing rail and Luas links, near or outside the M50.
If they go ahead, there would be park-and-ride facilities at Swords, Finglas, Dunboyne, Liffey Valley, Naas Road, Carrickmines, Woodbrook, and Greystones.
The strategy also says there could be park-and-rides at other locations, yet to be identified, which would be linked to the city centre with buses.
But while building more park-and-rides might seem like an obvious solution to traffic congestion in the centre, some transport experts have serious doubts.
One downside to park-and-rides is that they lie empty a lot of the time, says Michael Duncan, an associate professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University.
People use them during the day to go to work, but they empty out from 5pm and at the weekends, he said.
In his view, they’re not the best use of land. “If many of the parking spaces are empty most of the time, then you would definitely be better off building something else there,” says Duncan, who’s researched park-and-rides in the US.
David O’Connor, a lecturer in transport planning at DIT, agrees.
The land near transport links is the most valuable, so it should be used for essential development like housing and office space, says O’Connor, who also writes a column for Dublin Inquirer. That’s the best way to get the most out of public transport networks, too, he says.
Giuliano Mingardo, a researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam, warns that park-and-rides could actually encourage more car drivers to use the roads, unless the city centre is made unattractive for drivers.
That’s because if you take drivers out of the city centre by encouraging them to use park-and-rides, others will simple take their place, he said. As long as there is attractive parking in the city centre, people will use it.
You can stop that with measures such as cutting the number of parking spaces in the city centre, says Mingardo, who has done research into park-and-rides in the Netherlands.
“If you build a park-and-ride facility of 500 spaces outside the city and, at the same time, you don’t eliminate 500 parking spaces in the city centre the result will most probably be simply 500 extra cars every day on the road network,” he says.
The effects of a park-and-ride also depend on how people would choose to travel if the park-and-ride facilities weren’t there.
Sometimes, people who earlier would have used public transport for their entire journey, opt to drive to the park-and-ride instead, his research found.
The planned park-and-ride facilities on the M50 could even make traffic there worse, says Duncan as it could encourage extra cars onto that road, he says.
There can be benefits, though. “If the city is growing in terms of jobs, companies, activities you will necessarily have more people coming to the city,” he says.
In that case, the park-and-ride might not reduce congestion, but could help more people to access the city, he says.
“Building transit has other goals, [such as] serving populations without cars and reducing the emissions generated by driving. If these are the goals, then park-and-ride may be a much less effective use of space,” says Duncan.
He advocates using the space to build housing and other developments. That way, more people can live within walking or biking distance of public transport links instead of driving to them.
O’Connor thinks that of the park-and-rides planned for Dublin, only those that are very far out, like Dunboyne, would be a good use of space.
Duncan’s research found that the furthest-out park-and-rides did reduce the overall mileage of users, but those that were more central didn’t.
A Better Use?
“The land close to public transport is the most valuable land and using it for parking cars is actually a really inefficient use,” says O’Connor.
That’s true of some of the sites earmarked for park-and-rides in the transport strategy. “Some of the locations, you would be better off putting compact urban development there,” he says.
That could mean accommodation, from which people could travel into the city for work – or office space, so that people could also travel out of town to work, and use public transport going the other way.
“We’ve got a housing shortage. We also have a lot of growth and we need office space and where are you going to put it?” he says.
The long tailbacks we see in Dublin are because there is no affordable housing close to where people work and want to live, says O’Connor.
“The traffic on the M50 is going out beyond Naas now, it’s going out beyond Maynooth. That’s crazy,” he says.
Finding the right location for park-and-ride is challenging but key to making it work, he says. Often people driving into a city will just keep going until they hit serious congestion, so it can be hard to predict where best to build one.
Park-and-rides here in Dublin “have always struggled and under-performed against their targets,” says O’Connor.
(The National Transport Authority didn’t respond to requests about the usage of the park-and-ride at the Red Cow Luas stop.)
Mark Gleeson, of the rail-commuters group Rail Users Ireland, says that commuters who drive tend to avoid park-and-rides because they don’t want to pay for parking and a train ticket, on top of the normal costs of running a car.
He thinks parking at park-and-rides should be free. “If you are a legitimate passenger, you should not have to pay to park,” he says.
As he sees it, a good bus service that takes people from near their home to their local train and tram services is an attractive alternative.
He points to the Rush and Lusk railway station which is located in between the two places and currently everyone drives to get to it. “If you had a shuttle bus going back and forward to both villages, it could be very good,” he says.
Ultimately, Gleeson also says that the land beside public transport should be used for development, not parking.
“Long-term, I’d rather see a 20-storey building beside a Luas stop or a rail line, rather than a car park,” he says.