Last week, a constituent wrote to Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe to try to work out something that had been bugging him: who is to blame for the recent traffic delays around College Green?
How many organisations and bodies have a say over Dublin’s traffic management? he asked, in his email. “Someone must stand up and accept personal responsibility for this mess.”
That seemed like a fair enough question.
Cuffe and Labour Party Councillor Dermot Lacey drew up a list of all the bodies and agencies they thought had a role in managing or regulating or financing or enforcing parts of Dublin’s transport system.
They came up with more than 30 agencies, a hotchpotch of local authorities, state agencies, task forces, and private companies. Some relate to roads, others to aviation or waterways.
In many instances, these bodies cross jurisdictions, but operate independently of each other. That’s a problem, says Lacey.
He points to a new bus lane running from Dún Laoghaire to Blanchardstown. The route runs through three local authorities – Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Dublin City Council, and South Dublin County Council.
Each council has a transport department, as well as councillor-led transport committee who oversee such developments. Dublin Bus is also a key player, of course, says Lacey.
Other services provided by the government-owned Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ), such as Bus Éireann, would most likely be consulted, too.
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has its part to play, says Lacey. It’s also likely that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform need a look in.
“It’s all interconnected, but it’s all separate,” says Lacey, who argues that there is a “self-evident need” for a single transport authority for Dublin, and a more joined-up approach that could better coordinate services.
Meanwhile, Dubliners are left wondering who to call.
The delays at College Green caused by running the Luas Green extension through are a good example of a lack of joined-up thinking, says the Green Party’s Cuffe, who heads up Dublin City Council’s transport committee.
Five bodies are responsible for tackling the recent delays: Dublin City Council, the National Transport Authority (NTA), Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), Dublin Bus, and Luas operator Transdev.
Each of these bodies has a different role. The council controls and manages traffic flow throughout the city, for instance.
The NTA manages is tasked with, among other things, developing an integrated, accessible public transport network and oversees the delivery of major transport projects like the Luas extension, according to spokesperson Dermot O’Gara.
Dublin Bus, a subsidiary of state-owned CIÉ, runs dozens of routes through the area, of which 27 have been redirected since January to help ease congestion.
TII contract to design and build the Luas extension, while Transdev is responsible for operating the trams that carry passengers through traffic on College Green.
The finger of blame points in all directions, therefore, says Cuffe.
Across the waters in London, city transport is the remit of Transport for London and the mayor’s office. This gives citizens a clear idea of where to go and who to consult, says Cuffe, and it’s time Dublin had something similar.
“But in reality we all chip away at our piece of the jigsaw,” he says. “I think there needs to be one organisation that has an overall mandate for the management of transport in Dublin.”
This could even take the form of a traffic czar for the city, says Cuffe.
Yet successive governments, he argues, have favoured the creation of organisations with national mandates, and not regional ones.
Getting Things Done
DIT transport planning lecturer David O’Connor, who also writes a column for Dublin Inquirer, agrees.
To an extent, the problems surrounding College Green stem from two pieces of legislation, says O’Connor.
The agency’s remit was expanded nationwide, “and ever since then the NTA has been stretched”, says O’Connor. “They have never been seen as the statutory transport authority for Dublin, which is what they are.”
There are too many bodies currently contending with the traffic delays around College Green, too, he says.
“There should be one agency,” says O’Connor. “As it stands it’s impossible to know who’s in charge.”
Says Graeme McQueen, media relations officer for Dublin Chamber of Commerce: “The crux of the problem in Dublin in transport terms is joined-up thinking.”
Take the proposed Metro North project. It’s due to run through three local authorities, says McQueen, and there will also have to be various state agencies involved. “That’s just a barrier to getting things done,” he says.
The current problems around College Green, McQueen says, are a result of poor forward planning. “We haven’t planned Dublin well from a transport point of view,” he says.
There are plenty of bodies currently trying to fix the College Green question. But once that’s solved, says McQueen, it might be time to look at one overarching transport body. “We do need someone to pull everything together,” he says.
At the moment, Cuffe says, dealing with College Green, is akin to “herding cats”.
Having so many different transport bodies in Dublin continues to be problematic, says Cuffe, not least of all for city-centre traffic.
The list he drew up with Labour’s Lacey helps to illustrate how many interconnected agencies play a part in that system.
“I’m not saying we abolish all these agencies,” says Cuffe. “I just think we need to pull them together in some shape or form.”
For instance, says Cuffe, take the Tom Clarke Bridge in Ringsend. Cuffe has been pushing for a lower toll for electric or low-emission vehicles there. The board of the toll bridge agrees, Cuffe says.
But three other parties also need to be brought on board: eFlow, which is responsible for the collection of electronic toll payments; and eToll, which provides for electronic toll payments under TII; and Ervia, previously Bord Gáis.
“So, suddenly you’re wading through treacle to try and get what seems like a progressive environmental measure implemented,” says Cuffe. “We’ve to deal with bodies that have a national remit.”