When Mike McKillen is cycling about the city and spots a five-axle heavy-goods vehicle, he tries to quickly whip his phone out to take a photo of the registration plate.
“You do have to have your wits about you to be able to use it properly. There’s no point after the semi-trailer rig has gone past you,” he says.
When he gets home, he puts the numbers of any registration plates he managed to photograph into Dublin City Council’s HGV Permit Checker app.
The app will tell him whether that vehicle had a permit or not to be in the city centre and pass a note on to the council.
“Semi-trailers are scary to be around,” says McKillen, a cyclist for 50 years who has seen
injuries and deaths at the wheels of five-axle heavy-goods vehicles (HGVs), which is why he is so alert to whether they have permission to be where they are at all.
McKillen, and others who use the app, are much more likely to learn that the vehicle didn’t have the required permit than that it did, show figures from the council released under the Freedom of Information Act.
From July 2019 to January 2022, those who ran HGV registration plates through the app threw up 1,013 verified infringements and 277 cases of HGVs with five+ axle permits, the figures show.
A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána (AGS) said that violations of the HGV cordon are dealt with by summoning drivers to court to answer the charges.
But they didn’t respond to a query as to how many summonses had been issued for HGV permit infringements in the last year.
Dublin city councillors wonder whether there should be more straightforward ways to enforce the rules around permits and HGVs in the city that are less reliant on people whipping out their phones, or on gardaí summoning suspected permit-dodgers to court.
Notified, or Not?
After the Port Tunnel was built in 2006, linking the port to the motorway, HGVs with five+ axles were told they should use it, instead of driving through the city centre on surface streets.
But the council recognised that this would not be possible in every case. Some trucks wouldn’t fit through the tunnel, and others would need to go into the city to do pick-ups or drop-offs.
So the permit system was brought in. Trucks that meet one of those two criteria can get a permit and go through the city. Those that don’t, aren’t supposed to drive through the city centre between certain hours.
The zone the big trucks are restricted from driving through covers the area roughly bounded by the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal and is restricted from 7am to 7pm. As of March 2022, HGVs will need a permit to go to Sandymount at any time of day or night.
The HGV Permit Checker app, which launched in 2019, is the council’s main source of collecting information on HGV permits, said a council spokesperson.
Council staff regularly contact hauliers who do not have the required permits, they said, and An Garda Síochána is responsible for enforcement.
The council works closely with the Gardaí and each month shares information received via the app, they said.
They email over verified infringements – those where a previous permit exists – to the Dublin Metropolitan Region Roads Policing Division in Dublin Castle, they said.
However, a spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said: “It is not the practice of Dublin City Council to notify An Garda Siochána of received notifications.”
The spokesperson hasn’t yet responded to a request for clarification as to whether the Roads Policing Division receives these emails from the council. The query is under consideration, they said.
“It’s a scandal, because the Gardaí are not enforcing it,” says McKillen, the cyclist. “It needs to check permits. It needs to stop drivers, and ask to see their permit.”
Séamas McGrattan, a Sinn Féin councillor, says the council should arrange meetings with Gardaí and representatives from the haulage industry to review enforcement and come up with a solution to hauliers ignoring the permits system.
“There doesn’t seem to be any requirement for a company to get a permit because the penalties aren’t being enforced,” he says. It makes the permit system seem pointless, he says.
Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor, says her phone’s storage is full, so she doesn’t have the app.
“I’m pretty nerdy about safe streets and what people should or shouldn’t be doing,” she says, “but I’m not nerdy enough to go around analysing every vehicle.”
Horner doesn’t think the council should be crowdsourcing the information, she says. “I think this is something that needs to be done by the Gardaí.”
Declan Meenagh, a Labour councillor, says permit enforcement should be like parking enforcement, which is operated by Dublin Street Parking Services staff who drive – and may soon cycle – around the city issuing fixed penalty notices.
“A lad on a bike should be able to give you a fixed penalty notice bang, bang, bang, done,” he says.
Says Donna Cooney, a Green Party councillor: “I think they should actually have to put something physically on the vehicle that shows that they have a permit.”
Like an electronic tag or a tax disc, she says. “So in not displaying that, you assume they don’t have it, and they should be off the roads.”
Dublin City Council has not yet responded to a query sent Friday asking about the idea of permits to display or electronic tags.
HGVs in the city
In the last three years, Dublin City Council has issued an average of 24,500 permits a year, shows the council’s figures.
McGrattan, the Sinn Féin councillor, said that residents in Cabra, which sits within the restricted area, often ring him to complain of noise and space issues from HGVs on roads.
“If you’re living on a residential road beside a factory or beside an industrial estate, it’s definitely not safe,” he says.
McKillen says when he was chairperson of Cyclist.ie, an advocacy network, he visited people with injuries sustained in a collision with a turning heavy goods vehicle.
One had a crushed ankle, he says, and another was paraplegic. “She will never recover because her spinal cord was severed.”
Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor, says when she’s on Dorset Street, which is a one of the roads within the cordon that HGVs with permits are allowed on, she feels uncomfortable with how close cyclists and pedestrians are to such large vehicles.
”If I were a parent, I would be thinking this is not worth the risk of taking my kids on bikes or anything if these are the kinds of vehicles you’re going to be mixing with,” she says.
One HGV is enough to make the road feel unsafe, and even those with less than five axles feel too large although they are allowed, she says.
“People notice when these really, really big vehicles are in the city. They’re loud and annoying and horrible,” she says.
Even outside of the restricted area, people notice the presence of HGVs. Geraldine Monaghan, who lives on Parnell Road in Crumlin, says it feels strange to be walking in the same space as such large vehicles.
“Occasionally it comes into my mind, you know, if something goes wrong with that steering this truck will be on the path in a minute,” she says, glancing at her front door a few metres away from the road.
Loud vehicles wake her up early in the morning. Four o’clock on a regular basis, she says. “You can kind of hear the really big ones, because they rattle as they go, they make a lot of noise.”
Meenagh, the Labour councillor, says that overall fewer permits should be issued to minimise the number of HGVs on the road.
Someone should look at building sites and, for hotels or offices at least, haggle down how many permits are issued, he says.
“But at the same time, we’re in a housing crisis, and that isn’t going away. So we do need to build,” he said.
Horner says operators of HGVs should be making efforts to switch to last-mile delivery, which is when smaller vehicles, like electric vans and cargo bikes, collect goods and bring them into the city.
“Dublin definitely has a problem that oversized vehicles are being used to deliver very small packages,” she says.
Monaghan, who lives on Parnell Road, too says that HGV numbers should be restricted but she doesn’t know if it would work near her.
“Because it’s probably one of the quickest ways into town,” she says. “But it’s a frightful road.”
HGVs will likely be needed for construction sites, says McKillen, the cyclist who regularly uses the app.
But those deliveries should require a co-driver, like a co-pilot, in the truck, he says. “A second pair of eyes, who can look at the passenger side to see if any cyclists are coming up on the inside.”
This would make sure that cyclists are not in danger when HGVs are making left turns, he said “And that should be the price of deliveries into the city.”