4. Sustainable mobility and freight

Sustainable transport is essential for curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, air pollution and environmental damage. The benefits of sustainable transport extend beyond environmental considerations, delivering improvements in congestion, productivity, health and overall well-being. Advancing sustainable mobility implies a shift in approach from accommodating traffic growth to reversing car dependence and encouraging alternative, less damaging forms of movement. This means generating adequate and more equitable access to goods, jobs and opportunities through public transport, walking and cycling.

In Ireland, changing the trajectory of both urban development and transport will require a wide range of policies for ensuring the socio-economic benefits of transport and accessibility, while reducing environmental impacts. This means combining policies effectively to achieve two aims. First, trips should shift to less carbon- and space-intensive modes (e.g. rail, buses, walking and cycling). Second, unnecessary trips and excessively large distances should be avoided by closer matching of origins and destinations. Measures for improving vehicle technologies also remain an important lever. Such measures can reduce fuel consumption and related GHG emissions by improving vehicle fuel efficiency and expanding the feasibility of moving to electric-based fleets.

The transport sector tends to grow or reduce sharply in response to economic growth or contraction. This has been evident in Ireland over the past three decades. Following the 2008-13 economic downturn, the decline in car and public transport passenger journeys had halted as the economy began to stabilise. Since 2013, the use of passenger transport – both car and public transport – has been gradually growing across Ireland. Similarly, freight activity has been following the economic cycle, with substantial decline following the economic downturn in 2008, and slow recovery starting in 2013. Figure 4.1 illustrates these trends. Both passenger and freight transport activity declined in 2020 due to measures taken to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Private car is the dominant mode of transport in Ireland. In 2019, almost three-quarters of journeys (74%) were made by car, either as driver or passenger (Figure 4.2). The share of car trips is larger outside the Greater Dublin Area with 78.5% compared to 62% within Dublin (CSO, 2019). In 2018, car use in Ireland was in line with the average of other European Union (EU) member states. The modal share of rail in Ireland is less than half the EU average, but the share of passenger-kilometre travelled by bus is well above the EU average (Figure 4.2).

With about 430 cars for every 1 000 inhabitants, Ireland’s motorisation rate is well below the EU average (Figure 4.2). However, car ownership among households has been showing an upward trend (DTTAS, 2020). While the amount of new cars in the market has stabilised, used car imports have more than doubled since 2015. This suggests that Irish consumers are taking advantage of a weaker pound sterling and the larger used vehicle market in the United Kingdom (IEA, 2019). Over 50% of used cars are three-five years-old and another almost 30% are over six-years-old. Increasing the share of imported older cars has obvious environmental implications, as older cars tend to have poorer fuel economy and higher emissions.

In 2019, petrol passenger cars accounted for 40% of all registered cars, while diesel cars accounted for 57%. The number of passenger diesel cars in the fleet increased by 60% in 2014-19; the number of petrol cars decreased by 25% in the same period (Table 4.1). Since 2017, the new car market has started to shift away from diesel. In the imported used car market, however, the number of diesels continued to increase (by 4% in 2017-18), counteracting the trend. Preliminary indications suggest the addition of a nitrogen oxide (NOX) component to the vehicle registration tax (VRT) in 2020 reduced the share of diesel vehicles in new registrations (Chapter 3). Hybrid, electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars accounted for less than 3% of the fleet in 2019 (Table 4.1; see Section 4.7).

The growing share of diesel vehicles has been largely the result of historically lower tax rates on diesel than on petrol, as well as the shift from engine-based vehicle taxation to one based on carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2008 (Chapter 3). Overall, the increasing preference towards diesel cars has helped improve fuel efficiency and reduce average CO2 emissions from newly registered passenger cars to about 113 grammes (g) of CO2/kilometre (km) in 2018, one of the lowest levels among EU member states (the 2021 EU target is 95 g CO2/km) (Figure 4.3). However, as in many other European countries, this shift has raised concerns over increasing urban air pollution. Diesel vehicles also tend to be larger and heavier than petrol-equivalent. Hence this shift towards diesel vehicles also increased the land take and intensified the question of space consumption, which is particularly scarce in urban areas.

Car use across Ireland showed an upward trend, increasing by 27% between 2005-17. In 2018, the total number of kilometres driven by private cars did not increase from the previous year but was still 51% higher than in 2000 (DTTAS, 2019a). In particular, the number of vehicle-kilometres by diesel cars increased by 170% (SEAI, 2020). While car traffic declined abruptly with the COVID-19 containment measures in March-May 2020, it returned to nearly business-as-usual levels in the subsequent months. As of June 2020, Dublin traffic had returned to 75% of the pre-lockdown levels (Kelly, 2020).

Recent years have seen increases in the use of public transport, especially in urban areas. Passenger journeys facilitated by the four main public transport operators (Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, Irish Rail and the Luas) increased by 9% in 2019, the largest annual increase in public transport users (NTA, 2018a). While economic growth was a significant element in the gradual increase of passenger journeys in the second half of the 2010s, the ongoing redesign of the bus networks, particularly in the cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick, contributed as well. Although this has been a positive trend, prior to the COVID-19 crisis, public transport operated at full capacity, leading to peak-time crowding on some routes.

COVID-19 has had adverse effects on public transport use with passenger numbers falling from 1 million to under 100 000 between the end of March and into May 2020. Rail has been the worst affected of domestic transport: Intercity, Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) and Luas services were down by more than 60% between March and August. As of September 2020, the number of bus journeys outside of Dublin stood at 54.6% of pre-COVID-19 levels. The corresponding level for bus journeys within Dublin was at 50% (CSO, 2020a).

Since 2010, the use of active modes (cycling and walking) has been growing. The number of cyclists entering the Dublin City Centre1 more than doubled in eight years and the number of pedestrians increased by 39% (NTA, 2018b). However, the growth in cycling has been slow; in terms of mode split, Irish cities still have a low cycling base. The National Cycling Policy framework published in 2009 provided that 10% of all commuting journeys would be made by bike by 2020. Yet the percentage of commutes made by cycling, walking or taking the bus has decreased and is nowhere near the target. Around 3% of commuting trips were made by bike in 2018 (DTTAS, 2019a).

Road freight has long had the overwhelming share of inland freight movements within Ireland and abroad. In 2019, approximately 73% of all goods were moved by road, with 26.5% transported by water, 0.3% by rail and a mere 0.1% by air (CSO, 2020b).

The road haulage industry is highly competitive and fragmented, with no single company holding a market share greater than 5%. Total road freight tonne-kilometres grew by 27% with the recovery of the Irish economy between 2014 and 2019. Volumes of freight moved on the road network increased by 42%, although in 2019 it was less than half the pre-crisis peak of 2007 (CSO, 2020b). Road freight activity started to decline in the first quarter of 2020, with the inception of the COVID-19 containment measures in March (Table 4.2). Modelling indicates that the transport and logistic sector (including aviation) was the most negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis (de Bruin, Monaghan and Yakut, 2020).

Due to the composition of the rail network and its small market, Ireland has limited capacity and usage of rail for freight transport. Over 2005-08, rail freight (in tonne-kilometres) significantly declined and has remained at about the same level since (Figure 4.1), but it continues to play a role for specialised movements. The volume of freight (in tonnes) moved by heavy rail fell by 6.4% between 2016 and 2017. This was equivalent to just 0.9% of total tonne-kilometres of the land freight sector in Ireland (DTTAS, 2019a).

The volume of freight shipped through Irish ports rose 3% in 2018 to 55 million tonnes, with Dublin Port handling nearly half of that. Trade with the United Kingdom comprised 40% of the total (DTTAS, 2019a).

More car ownership and use, along with growing road freight activity, gives rise to obvious negative effects on the environment (GHG emissions, air pollution and noise), as well as congestion and safety externalities. In Ireland, emissions have risen since the 2008-13 economic recession and are projected to rise steeply until the end of this decade. More car use has inevitably exacerbated congestion in urban areas, undermining productivity and overall well-being. Ireland is not on a pathway consistent with the long-term decarbonisation envisaged in its 2019 Climate Action Plan.

Transport accounts for 20% of Ireland’s direct GHG emissions, making this sector the second largest emitter after agriculture (Figure 1.4). Road transport accounts for most CO2 emissions from the sector (DTTAS, 2019a). Within this, private car use accounted for 52% in 2017, while heavy and light goods vehicles accounted for 27%. Public transport (jointly buses, taxis and rail) accounted for approximately 4.5% of emissions. Fuel tourism is another substantial contributor to sectoral CO2 emissions. In 2015, it generated nearly 2% of Ireland’s total GHG emissions that year (Kennedy et al., 2018). Fuel tourism declined considerably between 2016 and 2017 as a result of converging fuel prices with the United Kingdom (EPA, 2018).

GHG emissions from the transport sector have been only relatively decoupled from the economic cycle. Overall, GHGs from transport were 12% above their 2000 level in 2019, with emissions from road transport driving this growth (Figure 4.4). After strong growth between 2000-07, Ireland’s transport GHG emissions drop by 25% until 2012. This decrease was due largely to the economic downturn and the dieselisation of the car fleet (as discussed in Section 4.2). Starting in 2012, the strong economic recovery has resulted in increased freight transport, as well as growing private car ownership and use. As a result, GHG emissions from road transport increased by 12% between 2012-19, driving up emissions of the whole transport sector (Figure 4.4). In 2017, emissions decreased slightly, the first year of decline following four consecutive years of GHG growth in the sector. This decrease was driven primarily by less fuel tourism and was not the result of policies or deliberate action to promote lower-carbon transport (EPA, 2018).

Under the Effort Sharing Regulation (2018/842), Ireland is required to cut emissions outside the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) by 30% by 2030 relative to 2005 levels of emissions. As transport GHG emissions account for more than a quarter of Ireland’s non-ETS emissions, the sector plays a key role in meeting the target.

According to the 2020 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projections (which do not consider the COVID-19 crisis), transport GHG emissions are expected to stabilise between 2021 and 2024 and then start declining. By 2030, GHG emissions from transport are expected to be 14% below their 2005 level under the “existing measures”2 scenario and 42% below this level under the “additional measures” scenario (EPA, 2020). The latter assumes full implementation of the transport measures foreseen by the 2019 Climate Action Plan (Section 4.5). Timely and full implementation of the plan’s measures in all non-ETS sectors would decrease Ireland’s non-ETS emissions by 29% in 2030 compared to 2005 (Chapter 1).

The COVID-19 crisis is estimated to have reduced transport CO2 emissions by more than 20% in 2020 compared to a business-as-usual scenario. The medium- and long-term effect of the COVID-19 crisis on GHG emissions is uncertain. This is especially true for transport, given the potential impact of the pandemic on mobility patterns. Nonetheless, simulations indicate that low energy prices and economic recovery are expected to drive Ireland’s emissions up in the medium term. This trend would reduce 2030 emissions only slightly compared to a business-as-usual scenario (de Bruin, Monaghan and Yakut, 2020).

The transport sector is a major source of air pollutant emissions, especially in cities. It accounted for nearly half of NOX emissions and 18% of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in 2018 (Figure 1.11). On average, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM2.5 are within EU limits in many residential areas. However, in Dublin and other major urban areas, concentrations of PM2.5, partially caused by traffic, exceed World Health Organization guidelines, posing a risk to health. In urban areas, transport-related emissions of NO2 have increased. In 2019, Ireland exceeded the EU annual legal limit value for NO2 of 40 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m3) (Chapter 1).

The biggest sources of environmental noise pollution in Irish cities are from traffic (road, rail and air) and large industrial activities. Following the 2006 Environmental Noise Regulations, local authorities across Dublin have been obliged to produce maps of noise from major industry and transport. The 2017 Noise Map Report found local traffic, rather than motorways or rail services, was the main cause of noise pollution. Mainline rail, DART and Luas services contributed only minimally to noise pollution in the city.

In 2012, most of the Dublin population (53%) was exposed to sound levels from traffic below 55 decibel(A) (dB[A]), which is the sound level set by the Dublin Noise Action as “desirable”. In 2017, this dropped to 49%. In 2017, 5% of people were above the “undesirable” daytime level of 70 dB(A), the same as in 2012. In 2017, over 68% of the population were exposed to night-time levels below 50 dB(A). Meanwhile, about 22% were exposed to undesirable night-time sound levels of greater than 55 dB(A) (DCC, 2017).

Traffic congestion, already a major problem in urban areas, is likely to worsen, undermining both productivity and well-being. Congestion in Dublin has increased by 3% since 2018, resulting in a 48% congestion level in 2019 (TomTom, 2019). This means that on average a 30-minute trip will take 48% longer than during baseline uncongested conditions. In all counties in Greater Dublin, more than half of the population spends longer than 30 minutes commuting. The 2016 census indicates that over 20% of the population spent more than an hour commuting to work (CSO, 2016a).

Long commutes have real economic and social costs. Analysis for the Department of Transport (DoT) estimates the cost of time lost due to aggravated congestion was EUR 358 million in the base year (2012). In the absence of mitigating measures, this cost is forecast to rise to EUR 2.08 billion per year by 2033. These costs, however, are likely to be considerably underestimated. The estimates only consider value of time lost due to congestion (DTTAS, 2017). They do not account for impacts on journey quality or travelling via more crowded public transport, increased fuel consumption and other vehicle operating costs, increases in vehicle emissions or other intangible factors that arise from making an area generally less desirable. All things being equal, high levels of congestion will increase fuel consumption, GHG and air pollutant emissions, and noise, while reducing the attractiveness of locations to work and live in.

Traffic safety across Ireland has been improving. Ireland has seen a reduction of over 30% in road deaths since 2010, ranking as the second safest EU member state. The number of road fatalities fell to 142 in 2018, the lowest since records began. However, pedestrian deaths increased by 36% to 42 over 2017-18. Deaths among cyclists and motorcyclists due to traffic fell to 9 and 15, respectively, in 2018 (RSA, 2019).

Studies have shown a direct link between road safety and the environment (i.e. aggressive driving behaviour is linked to higher transport emissions). New vehicle safety features and reduced emissions have raised the overall standard of vehicles in circulation on Irish roads in the past decade, helping to provide a safer and cleaner environment.

The DoT – known as the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS) until September 2020 – manages national transport policy. The department has responsibility over aviation, road, rail, maritime, freight, passenger, walking and cycling categories. The myriad of transport modes complicates the institutional governance landscape. In so doing, it creates inertia when attempting to gain consensus to decarbonise the entire transport system. This may often result in limited funding and support for low-carbon transport options (e.g. walking and cycling) after other (often more carbon-intensive) transport modes receive priority.

Traditionally, one department led by a single minister has handled climate and environmental policy, while another has been in charge of transport policy. Since June 2020, one minister leads both policy areas, although the departments remain separate (DoT and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, or DECC). This signals the government’s priority of better aligning transport and climate objectives, recognising the key role of the transport sector in achieving national reduction targets for GHG emissions. This has been reflected in a new programme for government, including a massive shift in funding to walking, cycling and public transport (Section 4.6.5).

The DoT recognises the need for enhanced collaboration, both internally and externally, with other government departments, agencies and stakeholders. This is especially the case when it comes to locations of basic services, such as health and education facilities. Decisions of the Department of Health and Education often prioritised access to low-cost sites at the expense of any low-carbon concerns or consideration for environmental or transport impacts. This has led to a proliferation of new schools, for example, on the outskirts of town, increasing dependency on the private car, congestion and emissions for these journeys (Devaney and Torney, 2019).

The National Transport Authority (NTA) is a transport authority for the Greater Dublin Area and the public transport licensing agency for Ireland operating under the DoT.3 At national level, the NTA secures provision of public passenger transport services and regulates taxi and limousine services. It implements integrated ticketing, fares and information systems, regulates public transport fares and collects statistical transport data. Most recently, the authority has sought to develop and implement a single public transport brand for Ireland. This effort has culminated in the Transport for Ireland app and related services. For the Greater Dublin Area, the NTA is additionally responsible for an integrated 20-year transportation strategy, as well as a 6-year integrated implementation plan and strategic traffic management plan. The NTA ensures that implementing agencies, such as local authorities and Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), support the strategy, allocate finance to these agencies and undertake works when considered more effective or economical.

TII is a state agency responsible for development and operation of the national road network and light rail infrastructure (motorways, national roads and the Luas in Dublin). TII aims to provide an integrated approach to transport infrastructure across road and rail. In 2018, it developed an internal sustainability statement. It is embedding the sustainability objective into its projects, programmes and operations.

State funding for transport is channelled through the DoT and set out in the annual Estimates of Expenditure. This funding mainly flows to the NTA for infrastructure investment and organisation of public transport services, including procurement. The DTTAS also provides direct funding to Iarnród Éireann for the maintenance of the heavy rail network under the Infra Manager Multi-Annual Contract. Funding for roads, including investment in maintaining and upgrading the national road infrastructure, flows directly to TII and relevant local authorities. At the same time, TII’s public and private sector concession toll roads provide additional funding.

Successive governments have put forward several policy documents for sustainable mobility over the last ten years. The past decade in particular has seen an increase in the number of policies, laws and guidelines aimed at enhancing sustainable transport, reducing transport-related GHG emissions, encouraging active travel, and creating urban and rural places that are compact and well-connected.

“Project Ireland 2040” is the government's long-term overarching strategy for future development of the country (Chapter 3). Project Ireland 2040 comprises the National Planning Framework (NPF) to 2040 and the National Development Plan (NDP) 2018-27. The NPF sets out the spatial strategy for Ireland to accommodate, in a sustainable and balanced way, the projected demographic change. The NDP sets out the infrastructure investment priorities that will underpin implementation of the NPF over the next ten years. The NDP is prioritising investment of EUR 8.6 billion to sustainable mobility nationally over 2018-27.

The NPF includes a range of objectives to improve the sustainability of transport and mobility, including the following:

  • Deliver the key public transport objectives of the NTA’s Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016-35 such as MetroLink (high capacity metro light rail), DART Expansion Programme (heavy rail electrification, rolling stock and an interconnector tunnel under central Dublin) and BusConnects (redesigned bus networks and infrastructure).

  • Provide public transport infrastructure and services to meet the need of smaller urban centres and rural areas.

  • Develop a comprehensive network of safe cycling routes in metropolitan areas to address travel needs and to provide similar facilities in towns and villages where appropriate.

  • Enable more effective traffic management within and around cities and reallocation of inner city road space in favour of bus-based public transport services and walking/cycling facilities.

  • Provide a quality nationwide community-based public transport system in rural Ireland, which responds to local needs under the Rural Transport Network and similar initiatives.

The Programme for Government released in June 2020 foresees a review of the NDP before 2022, including detailed plans up to 2031 that reflect new commitments. These include a continued investment programme in public transport to improve bus, light rail, commuter and inter-city rail network (including projects identified in the NPF). The programme will prioritise public transport projects that enhance regional and rural connectivity. For the first time, the government is proposing to adhere to a two-to-one ratio of expenditure between new public transport infrastructure and new roads.

The 2019 Climate Action Plan targets reducing GHG emissions from the transport sector by 35-40% by 2030 compared to 2017 levels. This amounts to between Mt 7 megatonnes (Mt) and 8 Mt carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq). This would contribute to Ireland achieving its 30% GHG emission reduction targets in the non-ETS sectors by 2030 (Section 4.3.1). The plan identifies policy actions for addressing emissions growth in the transport sector. These actions include increasing the share of electric vehicles (EVs) in the passenger and light commercial vehicle stock; expanding the use of alternative fuels and technologies; and encouraging modal shifting via targeting an additional 500 000 public transport and active travel journeys daily by 2035. The plan acknowledges that policy tools such as vehicle and fuel taxation measures, and a strong carbon tax trajectory, need to underpin these changes. Despite technological advances and notwithstanding the uncertainties on the impacts of COVID-19, the growing transport sector will likely continue to present challenges to the achievement of climate-related targets (Section 4.3.1). To meet both national and EU targets, Ireland will need to move at a faster pace with full implementation of all measures identified in the Climate Action Plan, plus consider additional policy measures in future plans.

Project Ireland 2040 and the 2019 Climate Action Plan have correctly identified the main priorities for advancing sustainable low-carbon transport. However, previous experience has shown a gap between elaboration of plans and frameworks and time-bound implementation of specific measures and continuous monitoring of progress. For example, the 2009 “Smarter Travel – A New Transport Policy for Ireland” set out that commuting journeys by car should drop from 65% to 45% by 2020. Meanwhile, commuter journeys by walking, cycling and public transport should increase to 55%. Central Statistics Office (CSO) data, however, have revealed that workplace travel figures have actually worsened over the last decade: the share of car journeys to work have surpassed the Smarter Travel baseline of 65% rather than declining to 45% as per the target.

Lack of effective implementation structure led to the failure to achieve the modal shift envisioned in Smarter Travel and a suite of other transport-related policy documents. Actions required to meet the targets were not put in place and there was no co-ordination with relevant government departments to implement Smarter Travel. Key departments include the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (DHPLG), TII and the state planning body An Bord Pleanála. As the body that should have led implementation of the Smarter Travel targets, the NTA had neither legal power nor sufficient financial resources to advance the plan (Devaney and Torney, 2019). TII and local authorities have been continuously advancing construction and planning of new motorways and dual carriageways, increasing car use and dependence across wider areas without clear mitigation strategies. This illustrates the importance to adopt a clear implementation plan, with intermediate and final targets, budget and responsibilities, as well as ensure that all governmental bodies apply the policy consistently to achieve the targets.

In the past decade, Ireland has taken many positive steps towards reducing environmental damage from mobility. To accelerate penetration of fuel-efficient vehicles, Ireland taxes fuels (diesel and petrol); it has also implemented a progressive CO2-based vehicle taxation policy (Chapter 3). Ireland introduced Biofuels Obligation Scheme in 2010 to increase the share of renewable energy in the transport sector. Since 2019, the Biofuels Obligation Scheme requires that 10% (by volume) of the motor fuels, typically diesel and petrol, placed on the Irish market had to be produced from renewable sources (e.g. ethanol and biodiesel). To increase the pace of EV uptake, Ireland has put in place some of the most generous supports in the world for EV purchase (Table 4.3). At the same time, it plans major investments in urban areas to support the progression of infrastructural projects, increased capacity on rail services and phased transition of the public transport fleet to lower emission fuel types (Section 4.6.5). Recent national, regional and urban transport strategies have committed to road and parking space reallocation, including proposals for bus, cycling and walking priority measures. Irish cities also have a progressive parking policy, with high rates for curbside parking, which has been an important measure to discourage car trips to specific destinations. In parallel, Ireland is increasingly moving towards co-ordinating land-use and transport planning more effectively to maximise efficiency of the urban transport systems and promote compact growth.

However, there have been many limitations to the implementation of sustainable transport policies. These include the coupling of car use with economic growth, allegiance to traditional political practices and a general failure to curtail car use. The following section discusses different policy options for advancing the sustainable mobility agenda in Ireland.

As discussed in Section 4.3.4, traffic congestion is a major problem in urban areas. Ireland has not introduced any form of road use charges to reduce congestion and address associated environmental impacts (such as local air pollution and noise). However, several relevant policies and strategies have put forward this option. The DoT is exploring the introduction of congestion charges along with other instruments, such as low-emission zones (LEZs), to provide incentives for reducing congestion on the roads in urban areas.4

Irish authorities have indicated the limited availability of public transport in the short to medium term as a constraint to the introduction of road use charges. Indeed, public transport in urban areas is insufficient, limited to buses with only a few dedicated lanes, light rail and a suburban rail network. In this context, the availability and quality of public transport is being increased to tackle the problem (see Sections 4.6.4 and 4.6.5). Near-term improvements in public transport, such as more frequent and better buses – the main public transport service – are important to provide congestion relief. However, it will take time to reap the full benefits of investing in public transport.

Public transport capacity constraints do not invalidate the case for managing traffic through different demand management instruments. LEZs or licence plate restrictions can play an important role in vehicle retrofit, emissions reduction and air quality improvement, but they do not affect the distances people travel and/or the number of trips undertaken on the long term. Congestion charging remains one of the most efficient demand-side instruments to curb peak-time congestion. It also has potential to reduce environmental externalities from private passenger transport (ITF, 2018). Congestion charges reflect the cost that drivers impose on other road users. Charges increase trip costs and therefore reduce traffic, eliminating trips that are less necessary or that can be made at less congested periods. Peak-hour car users can modify travel times, carpool, forgo car trips or pay the charge and enjoy improved travel conditions. Accompanying investments in improved public transport are, nevertheless, necessary to provide good alternatives to travel by car. As public transport becomes more attractive, some can switch to this means of transport. Ultimately, the road system functions more smoothly and efficiently for all modes, significantly reducing excess travel time and improving travel time reliability.

The National Travel Survey suggests that one-third of car traffic in Dublin is for purposes other than commuting (CSO, 2019). In Dublin, 22% of all car trips are made for shopping and 9% are for leisure; 29% of car trips are for a distance of less than 2 km. While non-commuting trips can also be subject to time constraints, many drivers may be able to adapt their schedules and reprogramme their trips.

COVID-19 had a disruptive impact on mobility patterns, and long-term implications of behavioural changes are not yet clear. Preliminary indications suggest that urban traffic in Ireland has returned to nearly business-as-usual level (Section 4.2.1). Thus, congestion is likely to continue being an acute problem. In this context, managing travel demand remains as important as policies that increase trust in the safety of sustainable transport options.

Cities with some form of road pricing, such as London, Stockholm, Milan and Singapore, have been successful in reducing congestion, GHG emissions and local air pollutants (ITF, 2018). Table 4.4 summarises the different options for road pricing.

The most efficient approaches charge according to distance driven (as opposed to charging only when a cordon is crossed) with rates that vary depending on levels of congestion at different times and in different places (i.e. distance and place-based charging). Such systems have been successfully applied in Singapore (Box 4.1). Differentiation according to vehicles’ emission profiles (including air pollution) can additionally strengthen incentives to use more fuel-efficient or alternative fuel vehicles.

Congestion charges have often been criticised for causing distortions and unwanted redistributive impacts. Distance-based charges are to some extent regressive, consuming a greater proportion of the disposable income of low-income car drivers than those with high income. Yet the impact is no more than the fuel tax and less significant than generalised consumption taxes such as VAT. This is because a large proportion of low-income people have no access to cars regardless of whether use is subject to road pricing.

In Ireland, concern over distributional effects is clearly legitimate. Given the nature of urban sprawl, many households lack access to quality public transport and depend on cars. Transport is a major component of consumer spending, costing the average Irish household EUR 2 500 in 2016. This is 25% higher than the EU average of EUR 2 000 annually (DTTAS, 2019b). Across Ireland, low-income or vulnerable groups (like people with disabilities, young adults, elderly, etc.), as well as car-dependent households, could be affected more than others by the charges. However, income support to vulnerable households – car-dependent or otherwise – is much more effective and efficient at addressing this problem than forgoing the overall benefits of charging reform.

A significant factor in how congestion charging affects equity overall is use of revenues (Jonas and Lars-Goran, 2006). Eliasson (2017) argues that congestion pricing is fair if it intends to correct prices and allocate scarce resources more efficiently. The slight regressivity of pricing systems only becomes a problem if the charging system simply aims to generate revenues. Earmarking revenues to improvements in public transport can reverse regressiveness if most vulnerable low-income households depend on public transport. This is the case in London, where revenues from congestion charging are invested in transport – in particular, buses, the metro system, walking and cycling infrastructure, as well as road maintenance.

A disaggregated spatial analysis can help design road pricing that will reduce the number of vulnerable households affected. It could also help indicate where investments in public transport can most effectively provide an alternative to car use. Such analysis should consider cost burden6 and accessibility of the alternative modes. This type of analysis is important to ensure that design is adequate and incorporates compensation for any vulnerable groups that bear a disproportionate burden.

Despite the success of road pricing to manage travel demand and its theoretical potential, new road user charges are always controversial. Reticence arises mostly because it is seen as a monetary penalty with potential distributional impacts, with a political cost for local authorities. This could be an important issue in Dublin as just under half of workers in Dublin City and suburbs travel to work by car (CSO, 2019).

Public scepticism can be overcome. The mayor’s effective communication strategy, for example, eased introduction of London’s congestion charge. For its part, Stockholm’s referendum approved reinstatement of the city’s charging trial, based on experience of its benefits and cost in practice. In Stockholm, the congestion charge was first implemented as a pilot project to gain the population’s confidence and showcase its benefits. The positive effects of the trial on traffic volumes (notably a reduction of 20-25% during the trial) led to general support in a referendum for making the charge permanent.

Investment in a comprehensive and sustained public communications strategy will be required to gain support and increase acceptability. Importantly, the strategy should communicate that the main objective is not raising revenues but rather solving the acute policy problems of relieving traffic congestion and reducing CO2 emissions and air pollution (ITF, 2017).

Exceptions of various kinds and discounts can also enhance acceptance of road pricing, but the implications need to be carefully assessed prior to implementation. The example of Gothenburg shows that exception of company cars drastically changed the distributional profile of congestion pricing. In Gothenburg, according to Swedish tax law, company car users either do not pay the charge or deduct it from their before-tax salary. Given that high-income groups have access to company cars to a much larger extent, this exemption significantly reduced average toll payment from the highest income groups. This, in turn, increased the regressiveness of congestion pricing (Jonas and Lars-Goran, 2006; ITF, 2018, 2017).

Tax revenue from diesel and gasoline use in private cars is likely to decline substantially in the coming decades as the decarbonisation of road transport progresses and vehicles become increasingly fuel-efficient or entirely electric. In this context, moving away from fuel and vehicle taxes as the core of road transport taxation will be essential in the long term to sustain a viable tax base (van Dender, 2019). For example, in Slovenia, fuel tax revenues from passenger cars are expected to decline by 56% by 2050 compared to 2017 levels (OECD/ITF 2019).

In Ireland, with more movement towards low-emitting cars with low rates of taxation, the state is already concerned about the stability of VRT and motor tax as a source of revenue. The projections of tax revenue by the Parliamentary Budget Office from 2008 to 2023 show a downward trajectory of income for the Exchequer from motor tax, highlighting the increased erosion in the motor tax base. Revenue from motor tax decreased from EUR 843 million in 2014 to EUR 714 million in 2018. It is expected to decrease further to EUR 687 million by 2023 (PBO, 2019). With the projected fall in revenues, Ireland should consider comprehensive transport tax reform to protect revenues. This means finding the right mix of taxing distances driven, vehicles and fuels (Chapter 3).

Currently, 11 roads are tolled for drivers of motorcycles, cars, buses and trucks. Charges apply to some sections of main motorways, tunnels and bridges. These are set to recover infrastructure costs rather than acting as a fiscal measure to encourage more sustainable travel. Dublin Tunnel is the exception, with variable charges applying to peak hours. For all other vehicles through the tunnel, the toll is EUR 10 at peak times and peak directions or EUR 3 at off-peak times and directions. The policy aims to manage demand through the tunnel and give priority to heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). To that end, there is no toll for commercial vehicles with a gross vehicle weight over 3 500 kg, for buses with at least 25 seats or for exemption card holders.

A country-wide electronic, or global positioning system of charging distances by the kilometre can be a promising long-term strategy to collect stable revenues. Differentiating distance-based charges along several dimensions may be desirable to promote the efficiency of road tax systems. First, a differentiation according to vehicles’ emission profiles (including air pollution) can strengthen incentives to use more fuel- efficient or alternative fuel vehicles. Second, tax levels may also reflect an area’s population density, thereby accounting for exposure to emission and noise (van Dender, 2019). The charge could be increased gradually to enhance its political acceptability. However, planning for the electronic charge solution and procurement of the operating system should start in the short term. The equity concerns of a charging system can be addressed by targeted subsidies and/or cross-subsidies within the system.

Parking management and pricing policies ideally complement congestion charges. Both are necessary to reduce in-vehicle time losses and ensure the efficient use of road and curbside space. In the absence of congestion charges, parking pricing remains a second-best policy option for managing travel demand. Parking pricing particularly can be used to discourage car trips to specific destinations. However, parking tariffs account for neither the distance driven nor for the route taken to reach a given destination.

Policies encouraging parking space oversupply often result in the environmental problems and welfare losses (Russo, Ommeren and Dimitropoulos, 2019). Determining how much parking space is useful starts with an inventory of on- and off-street parking. Cities in Ireland, however, lack comprehensive parking data. This means that local authorities have been prescribing parking as part of new construction for decades without first diagnosing the nearby parking supply. Without basic knowledge of parking availability, authorities have no reliable basis for decisions on future supply and parking regulations (Franco, 2020).

Excessive off-street parking spaces are largely an artefact of regulation and serve as a powerful subsidy to cars and car trips. Until recent years, cities in Ireland have been following minimum parking requirements (MPRs). This means mandating the number of parking spaces in a development, which has likely contributed to urban sprawl across Ireland. MPRs tend to prevent private developers from responding to market conditions and lessen their interest in developing sites that are accessible without driving, especially in central areas. In another problem, regulations that set minimum required provision of parking space bundle the cost of unnecessary new parking with new housing and commercial developments.7

Since 2017, however, Ireland has taken positive steps towards reducing excessive parking requirements for new developments. The Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments, Guidelines for Planning Authorities, published by the DHPLG in 2018, stipulate elimination of requirements for car parking in certain areas. The guidelines state that “the default policy is for car parking provision to be minimised, substantially reduced or wholly eliminated in certain circumstances”. They also state that this policy “would be particularly applicable in highly accessible areas such as in or adjoining city cores or at a confluence of public transport located in close proximity”. Enforcing the practice of granting planning permission by local authorities will be central for moving towards more sustainable and compact urban development.

Eliminating MPRs can reduce motorists’ convenience (i.e. fewer free spaces) and cause spill-over problems (motorists parking in undesirable locations), which requires more enforcement. Thus, elimination of MPRs needs to be accompanied by management strategies and enforcement programmes to address any potential spill-over problems.

Ensuring that regulations and building codes also require to provide an electrical charging point can help facilitate the uptake of EVs. Provision of EV charging points is already a requirement of the 2018 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.8 Similarly in London, the spatial development strategy for Greater London stipulates that all developments must ensure that one in five spaces provide an electrical charging point.

Irish cities have a progressive parking policy, with high rates for curbside parking, which has been important to discourage car trips to specific destinations. Parking pricing has also become an important revenue stream for investments in urban realm improvements in Ireland. Parking fees vary in Ireland and can be set and adjusted by local authority. The discrepancies between parking fees in cities and smaller towns are attributed to the increased costs of providing and maintaining the service in cities.

Efficient parking pricing can provide numerous benefits. These include increased turnover and therefore improved user convenience, parking facility cost savings, reduced traffic problems and increased revenues. Given fluctuations in demand, Ireland could consider a dynamic parking pricing system, where tariffs vary over space and time using information on occupancy in surrounding areas. Experts recommend setting prices to maintain 85-90% occupancy rates, or leaving at least one or two open parking spots per block, to avoid cruising (Shoup, 1997). So-called dynamic parking pricing can help achieve such optimal occupancy rates and prevent both parking capacity saturation and cruising. Several cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC, have initiated pilot projects that adjust curbside parking prices to occupation in real time and by location. SFpark in San Francisco is a pioneering example of such a pricing system that helped reduce distance travelled by car (Box 4.2).

To encourage the uptake of EVs, Ireland can also consider differentiating parking charges based on the environmental impact of vehicles. The city of London, for instance, introduced differentiated parking fees for on-street parking in the Square Mile in 2018. Several other cities, including Amsterdam, Barcelona and Oslo, use free or exclusive parking zones to incentivise the adoption of electric vehicles. However, such measures should be temporary. The potential loss of revenue due to increased electrification of the fleet needs to be taken under control.

The ways in which parking is charged also affects the effectiveness of parking pricing policy. It is important to avoid discounts for long-term parking leases (i.e. cheap monthly rates). TDM Encyclopaedia (2019) recommends setting daily rates at a minimum of 6 times the hourly rates, and monthly rates at a minimum of 20 times the daily rates. A better option would be to eliminate unlimited-use yearly passes altogether. Instead, buying books of daily tickets would enable commuters to save money every day they avoid driving.

Free or cheap parking at a workplace needs to be addressed because parking provided free by employers is an implicit incentive for commuting by car. Russo, van Ommeren and Dimitropoulos (2019) estimate the supply of free parking to employees implies a subsidy equal to around 30% of the private costs of a car trip. In Dublin, only 3.6% of drivers pay for parking when at work. When employers provide free or cheap parking at work, employees do not treat it as an in-kind benefit for income tax.

There are numerous ways to address workplace parking and thereby reduce incentives to drive to work. A city could apply or increase parking charges. It could reduce the number of parking spaces or reserve some for car sharers. It could apply a benefit in-kind tax to the provision of spaces. Local authorities could apply a workplace parking levy. Employers could also offer employees a cash-value in lieu of a parking space, known as a “parking cash-out” (Shoup, 1997; Franco, 2020). Parking cash-outs are common in California, where law requires many employers to offer commuters cash in lieu of any parking subsidy. They have proven effective in reducing the number of solo drivers to work and increasing the number of car poolers and of those who walk or bike to work. In this way, they contribute to reducing vehicle-miles travelled for commuting and related CO2 emissions (Shoup, 1997).

To minimise adverse tax impacts, employers can offer tax-exempt public transport passes or vanpool benefits. Governments should also make emerging transport services with potential to reduce environmental impacts and congestion – such as bike sharing – eligible for commuter benefits. Further, they should consider allowing employers to make tax-free payments to employees who walk or bike to work. Ireland already has Travel Pass (Taxsaver) and Cycle to Work. Under Taxsaver, employees can purchase seasonal public transport tickets from their gross salary. Cycle to Work allows employers to pay for bicycles and bicycle equipment for their employees (up to a certain amount); the employee pays back through a gross salary sacrifice arrangement of up to 12 months. Both systems provide income tax and social contributions savings. The COVID-19 recovery package temporarily increased the allowable expenditure under Cycle to Work. The potential expansion of these measures, along with reducing the availability of workplace parking in urban centres, will help discourage car commuting.

Road design and management practices in urban areas in Ireland delay public transport and ride-share passengers by traffic congestion. However, these practices require less road space per passenger-kilometre and impose less congestion on other road users. Recent national, regional and metropolitan transport strategies have committed to road space reallocation. These include proposals for bus, cycling and walking priority schemes and car traffic restrictions in urban streets. In particular, the planned BusConnects programmes for Irish cities aim to provide significantly enhanced quality bus corridors and improved segregated cycle lanes.

Micromobility (e-scooters, electric bikes and pedal bikes, whether docked or dockless) presents an additional opportunity. It could help address congestion, emissions and air quality, while better connecting people to public transport. Irish cities prohibit e-scooters, but government is moving towards legalising these services. For that to happen, Ireland will need to identify regulatory frameworks that contain external costs (i.e. cluttering of sidewalks), while allowing service providers to maximise benefits for users. In this context, the demand for redistribution of space will grow considerably. Expanding dedicated cycling lanes for these modes will be essential for increasing safety perceptions, thereby making it more attractive to cycle as well as to use electric micromobility.

Redistributing road space to non-car modes can represent a technically challenging and politically sensitive planning option. This is especially the case for the Greater Dublin Area, where road conditions are already congested, particularly during peak times. Public concerns often tend to focus on predictions of traffic chaos and adverse economic impacts associated with reducing road capacity. Yet a growing body of evidence suggests that well-planned measures aiming at reducing road space for private cars do not necessarily result in additional traffic. On the contrary, there is increasing understanding of “disappearing traffic” from road space reallocation and reductions in road capacity. Given appropriate local circumstances, significant reductions in overall traffic levels can occur from road-space reallocation; people have a far wider range of behavioural responses than has been assumed (Cairns, Atkins and Goodwin, 2002).

Examples from European cities confirm the theoretical findings. For instance, a reduction in capacity on three main roadways in Oslo since 2016 did not result in severe delays or congestion. Car use on commutes fell from 21% to 16%, but the quality of commuters’ experience (for all modes) remained high (Tennøy and Hagen, 2020). In Paris, continuous effort to reallocate road space backed by concrete investment programmes resulted in significant mode shift and overall improved liveability (Box 4.3).

Cities that implemented road space reallocation measures had the declared aim of improving liveability, focusing on benefits for citizens. Communication strategies should avoid any impression that authorities are simply hostile to cars. As an example, Copenhagen’s successful transformation into a cycle city was based on a positive communication strategy that did not mention motorised vehicles or environmental challenges (Gössling, 2013). Instead, it focused on bicycle benefits, such as greater average speeds and better health. Significant investments in bicycle infrastructure (EUR 40 per person per year) were justified based on cost-benefit analyses showing a net benefit for society for each kilometre cycled.

While reallocation of road space has been high on the policy agenda, implementation across Irish cities has been poorly aligned with previous ambitions. Re-prioritisation of road space requires significant investment, timetabled targets and a strong monitoring regime. It also needs a robust institutional structure to support it and oversee implementation. In a positive step, the new government committed in August 2020 to allocations from the total transport capital budget of 20% for both cycling projects and pedestrian infrastructure. Following this, the NTA announced an allocation of EUR 55 million to 547 projects in 11 counties to support pedestrian and cyclist movement. The NTA will need to monitor advancement of the projects and their success. In this context, all projects should have specific annual targets attached to detailed monitoring and enforcement programmes to ensure their achievement.

The COVID-19 crisis and associated physical distancing requirements imposed additional constraints on the use of space. This has led to temporary solutions, such as pop-up bike lanes and closure of streets for pedestrian use in cities such as Dublin and Cork. Public transport use may decrease in the short term, meaning that trips previously made by public transport will need to be accommodated by other modes. To ensure these trips are made by sustainable modes, cities will need to strengthen measures to manage excess post-confinement car traffic. This means reallocating space to allow for physically spaced walking and cycling. In line with this goal, the government issued the “Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets (DMURS) – Interim Advice Note” in June 2020. The Interim Advice Note provides guidance to NTA and local authorities on how to address social distancing in transport, and how to facilitate walking and cycling. The guidance note aims to align temporary solutions to address immediate public health concerns with longer-term sustainable mobility goals and government policies, with a view to creating a more liveable environment. In line with the guidance, a joint NTA and Dublin City Council COVID-19 Interim Mobility Intervention Programme seeks to turn the heart of Dublin City into a priority zone for walking, cycling and public transport in the long run.

Following the economic downturn in 2009, investment in transport infrastructure plummeted along with the slowdown in economic activity. The DoT’s capital expenditure budget, which is a proxy for capital investment in transport infrastructure, increased to EUR 1.59 billion in 2019. However, capital investment of the DoT has averaged 0.45% of gross domestic product (GDP) since 2013, well below the levels of 2003-08 (above 1% of GDP) prior to the economic crisis. Given that capital investment in recent years has also funded new infrastructure, budget allocations may be insufficient to maintain infrastructure (DTTAS, 2019a).9

The largest expenditure item within the DoT is land transport, which is made up of road improvement and maintenance, public transport, public service obligations (PSOs) and sustainable transport. Between 2006-12, roads received an average of over 70% of land transport funding. Meanwhile, public transport averaged less than 30% over the same period. In recent years, this gap has narrowed. In 2014-19, expenditure averaged 60% on roads and 35% on public transport and PSOs (Figure 4.5) (DTTAS, 2019b).

The NPF and NDP provide for significant investment in and improvement of public transport and the interurban rail network. NDP 2018-27 allocated more than EUR 10 billion for public transport in 2020 to support the progression of major infrastructural projects, increased capacity on rail services and phased transition of the public transport fleet to lower emission fuel types. While planned investment in public transport has increased compared to previous years, the National Roads Programme 2018-27 under the NDP still identifies interurban, national and regional road construction plans to relieve congestion and increase regional connectivity. Given the fiscal reality within Ireland and the stated objectives to promote sustainable mobility, investment in the over-scaled road building is counterproductive. Evidence suggests that accommodating traffic growth via increases in road capacity results in induced demand (where greater road capacity leads to more traffic) (ITF, 2016;10 WSP, 2018). Inter-regional connectivity can be achieved through high quality rail links. Given that passenger levels on public transport have been increasing (Section 4.2.1), the rail and bus network should be viewed as valuable national assets. Ensuring regional links via public transport and not through adding road capacity can help free up bottlenecks on existing roads and overall promote a move towards more sustainable travel. As opposed to expanding the road network, Ireland should consider limiting road investment to necessary maintenance and construction of small-scale town bypasses to relieve urban congestion. At the same time, it needs to prioritise expansion of public transport spending over new road infrastructure.

The June 2020 Programme for Government stipulates important revisions to the NDP and investment priorities. The document commits to a two-to-one spend on public transport over roads, in line with the recommendation of the 2017 Citizens’ Assembly. It also commits to an allocation of 20% of the 2020 transport capital budget (EUR 360 million) per year for cycling and pedestrian projects, split in equal shares, for the lifetime of the government. The government plans to deliver a five-year, multi-annual funding programme linked with a specific target of new separated cycling and walking infrastructure. This will be delivered or under construction by end 2024. This aims to enable an increase in the number of people taking daily journeys by foot and bicycle, which would help improve quality of life and air quality.

The government also plans to develop and implement a sustainable rural mobility plan, which responds to the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations for broader availability and uptake of sustainable transport options in rural areas. Ireland has made positive steps over the past number of years with improving rural connectivity by increasing frequency of some bus and rail services and enhancing connectivity between rail and bus services. “Local Link”, the Rural Transport Programme, provides nationwide community-based public transport system in rural Ireland. Local Link services comprise conventional fixed services with regular routes, stopping places and timetables and Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) services. DRT, which responds to local demands, constitute the vast majority of Local Link services. Given that cars remain the most convenient mode in rural areas, rural public transport programmes, especially bus links, need significant investment to reduce car dependence for local journeys.

Finally, the 2020 Programme for Government prioritises investment in heavy rail. To that end, it will expand the fleet, promote electrification and commission economic evaluations of higher speed services between major cities. Rail infrastructure needs upgrading. Most lines are single track and less than 3% of the network is electrified. This compares to 35% in the United Kingdom and 60% on average in the EU-28.

Ireland faces urban sprawl and low-density development, which has “locked in” unsustainable travel patterns. This type of land-use development has created places that lack adequate public facilities. It has also diminished liveability. Crucially, it has also created living spaces that depend on private cars for long commutes, particularly into Dublin and other cities. Numerous transport policies have been adopted in recent years. However, land-use and transport planning has largely failed to successfully advance sustainable mobility objectives and compact development patterns.

In most European countries, apartments represent 30-40% of housing stock compared to 10% in Ireland. In 2016, 37% of the population lived in settlements (i.e. towns or villages) defined by the CSO as rural (fewer than 1 500 people). This compares to 15% in Finland, 14% in New Zealand and 12% in Denmark (CSO, 2016b). In part, this reflects the historic land ownership pattern, which is characterised by small multiple landholdings in areas outside cities. This ownership system, combined with weak planning laws in rural areas from the 1970s, created a dispersed housing pattern spatially, largely based on urban-generated demand.

Potential implications of COVID-19 associated with the expansion of teleworking could contribute to increasing sprawl by affecting housing and transport demand, while exacerbating disparities between regions and income groups. Working from home is likely to continue to a greater extent than before. According to a recent survey of Ireland’s workers, more than 80% of those that started working from home during the lockdown reported interest in continuing to work remotely (Moore, 2020). At the same time, 30% of workers across the OECD region can fully adjust to remote work (Espinoza and Reznikova, 2020). It may be unrealistic to expect everyone to work from home indefinitely. Nevertheless, working partly from home could well become the norm in many occupations.

Recent policy documents and guidelines underline the prominence of reversing urban sprawl. Adoption of the NPF in 2018 strongly promoted compact growth and the regeneration and densification of urban settlements. The NPF targets delivery of least 40% of all new housing within existing built-up areas of cities, towns and villages on infill and/or brownfield sites. The local development plans, many of which are in preparation, will further detail the ways in which the targets will be met at a local level. The Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) oversees this process. This hierarchy of plans and associated regulatory processes is at early stages, the effectiveness of which will be assessed in coming years.

Along with the adoption of the NPF, significant reforms have been made to the planning system to facilitate more compact forms development, including the publication and review of different ministerial guidelines.11 The Urban and Rural Regeneration and Development Funds (EUR 2 billion and EUR 1 billion of funding to 2027, respectively) aim at enabling delivery of a greater proportion of residential and mixed-use development within existing built-up footprints of Irish cities and towns. This would ensure that more parts of urban areas can become attractive and vibrant places.

Statutory planning guidelines issued by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government strongly support apartment development; increasing the number of units per floor in any development; and greater flexibility in terms of apartment type mix and new provisions for studio-type accommodation. Moreover, owners of commercial properties will also be able to convert unused space for residential use without securing planning permission. This could provide up to 4 000 homes in Dublin City alone (DHPLG, 2018).

In 2019, approvals of apartment developments – key to sustainable urban development – exceeded housing for the first time. However, 55% of all houses in the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly area were permitted in the four commuter counties outside of Dublin (Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wicklow) (OPR, 2019). This poses a challenge to the government’s planning objectives in tackling the sprawl of major urban areas.

In spite of policies identified in the NPF and local development plans, many development proposals remain car-centric. Proposals often include strong walking and cycling permeability within the boundary of the site itself. However, they are frequently on the fringes of cities and towns at a significant remove from existing transport links or services (grocery stores, health facilities, etc.). They are also often sited in areas with limited pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. Many areas suffer from a legacy of poorly connected street networks and inadequate pedestrian/cyclist facilities. This, in turn, discourages residents from using active travel modes outside of the development itself. Overall, various initiatives are underway to better ensure the spatial alignment of population and the supporting services, employment and infrastructural development. Selection and assessment of appropriate locations for future development will be completed through the county/city development plan processes underway.

To ensure that the planning system and unsustainable dispersed sprawl is ameliorated, planning regulations must be further tightened. Regulations must ensure that sustainability mobility policies are actually applied and enforced. All new development should promote compact settlement and have easy access to transport links, as well as safe walking and cycling routes. This means having strictly enforced threshold standards for development to proceed. Land zoned for residential development must be close to, and/or be well connected by, public transport corridors (rail or bus) to existing and/or proposed services (e.g. schools, retail, community/health centres, sports/amenity facilities, etc.) and employment sites. Decisions for new housing must be conditional on integration with existing communities, affordability and mix of housing types, walking and cycling access to local services and schools, public transport access to employment locations and availability of recreation facilities.

The uptake of EVs is a pillar of Ireland’s strategy to curbing GHG emissions from transport and helping to meet the 2030 emissions reduction target in the non-ETS sectors. The 2019 Climate Action Plan sets a target of nearly 1 million EVs in the passenger and light commercial vehicle stock by 2030. Of these, 840 000 are passenger EVs, or approximately one-third of all cars.12 Achieving this target would make transport GHG emissions decline to 7.5 Mt CO2-eq. Project Ireland has allocated EUR 200 million to support achievement of this target.

To increase the pace of EV uptake, Ireland has some of the most generous supports in the world to buy these vehicles. These include a purchase grant, VRT relief, a toll incentive, a home charger installation grant and reduced motor tax rates (Table 4.5). Expenditure on all of these schemes is rapidly accelerating. Ireland also plans to ban the sale and registration of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 under the Climate Action Bill. The aim is to ensure that one-third of vehicles on the road are electric in ten years.

Despite generous level of supports in Ireland to buy and operate an EV, the pace of EV adoption has generally been behind the level of ambition in government targets. The car stock shows a low usage of EVs; in 2019, electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars accounted for less than 3% of total stock of passenger cars in Ireland (Table 4.1).

Sales in electric and hybrid cars have increased progressively in recent years.13 Electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars accounted for 1.6% of all car sales in 2018 compared to the EU average of 2% (DTTAS, 2019b; EEA, 2019). However, electric cars accounted for 10% of new private cars licensed in August 2020, compared with 3.5% in the same period in 2019 (CSO, 2020c).

Availability of vehicles and charging infrastructure, limited choice of models, range anxiety and low levels of consumer awareness have all considerably slowed down uptake of EVs. These trends, however, have been changing. For instance, the choice of models has grown significantly.14 This has likely played a role in the recent growth in uptake levels in Ireland and in Europe in general (IEA, 2020). Market analysis during development of the Climate Action Plan makes a connection between total price and ownership. It suggests that rapid falls in the purchase price of EVs will make them an increasingly attractive option for motorists when examined based on total cost of ownership (purchase price, maintenance and fuel consumption).

Another reason for lower uptake, compared to other countries, has been attributed to the taxation regime. VRT and motor tax rates in Ireland are based on CO2 emissions. However, overall taxation levels on the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) are below that applied in leading countries in terms of EV penetration. Evidence suggests that EV take-up is higher in countries such as the Netherlands and Norway where taxation for high-emission cars is significantly higher than for low-emission cars. At the same time, tax differences are not as substantial in countries with lower EV take-ups such as Germany and the United Kingdom. Norway has been successful at increasing the stock of EVs largely due to its policy at equalising the difference in purchase price (or lifecycle cost) between battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and ICEVs (IEA, 2020; see Box 4.4).

The government has set out strategies on how to scale up ongoing support measures to overcome identified barriers. These measures are expected to result in 400 000 EVs on the road by 2030. Investment in public charging points has been a cornerstone of the strategy given their relatively small number. Ireland has about 1 100 charging points compared to 33 000 in the Netherlands and more than 14 000 in the United Kingdom (in 2017). The Electricity Supply Board (ESB), the state-owned electricity company, is responsible for nationwide installation of EV charging points. It is investing EUR 20 million in a network of high-powered EV charging points across the country. This will allow more than 50 high-power ESB network charging hubs to be installed on motorways and national roads.

On balance, evidence suggests that financial incentives and availability of charging points do affect EV adoption rates. Furthermore, it suggests that increasing exposure to EVs has a corresponding effect on consumer interest in these vehicles. However, the cost to the state of maintaining the level of EV support has grown significantly (Figure 4.6). In total, the average EV purchaser receives a direct subsidy from the state of between EUR 10 141 and EUR 13 616 (Kevany, 2019). Generous grants for the purchase of EVs also have opportunity cost in terms of forgone investment in non-motorised modes.

At the same time, reduced fuel excise receipts drain the state’s finances, as excise is not levied on domestic electricity usage. This suggests that if the supports are continued, every 100 000 new EVs will cost the Exchequer between EUR 1.14 billion and EUR 1.36 billion. These EVs are a combination of BEVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). The growth in EVs will also reduce Exchequer revenues. By 2030, the Exchequer will receive EUR 1.5 billion less revenue from motor tax, VAT and fuel oil tax. If Ireland reaches its Climate Plan targets, it will lose EUR 500 million in annual revenue by 2030 (Kevany, 2019). Higher tax for polluting vehicles and lower tax for clean vehicles (i.e. bonus-malus system) can help reduce the need to subsidise EVs. It is also important to consider that promotion of electric vehicles goes in the direction of fostering car ownership and use, with associated impacts in terms of congestion. Additionally, non-exhaust particulate emissions from tyre wear, brake wear, road surface wear and resuspension of road dust EVs are also high.

The most successful countries at EV take-up, such as Norway or the Netherlands, have used congestion charging and low-emission zones to complement subsidies, in tandem with efficient taxation regime for ICEVs. In Ireland, there is substantial potential to manage travel demand via fiscal and non-fiscal instruments as a way to curb excessive car use, while encouraging a shift towards low-carbon modes.

Social costs reflected in potential distributional impacts are also quite high. The benefits of EV financial support are regressive in nature as they tend to benefit the wealthier in society. Higher income households simply tend to have more capital to invest in low-carbon assets. These effects are particularly pronounced in the new car market. Only purchasers of new cars with a value above EUR 14 000 can take advantage of the EV grant offered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Most EVs in the new car market are significantly more expensive than the average car. The grant is thus limited to those most able to bridge the affordability gap. Those with lower disposable incomes are more likely to purchase previously owned vehicles. Yet a lack of enough cheap second-hand EVs is likely to remain an issue for at least a decade. This means lower-income groups, especially those that are car-dependent, risk being left out. The government’s upcoming transport decarbonisation strategy should take much more action to expand the second-hand EV market sooner and ensure an equitable transition to EVs. Special rebates for low-income people and incentives for used vehicle purchases should be considered as part of the strategy.

The logistics sector plays a vital role in achieving the targets set out in the Climate Action Plan. Trucks and vans accounted for 27% of all transport GHG emissions and about 5% of Ireland’s total CO2 emissions in 2017 (Section 4.3.1). Given that, under a business-as-usual scenario, emissions from freight are set to increase up to 2030, carbon contributions from this transport sub-sector are too large to ignore. However, the Climate Action Plan fails to propose an integrated strategy to mitigate the impact of road freight, shipping and land transport of goods, particularly heavy goods transport. The plan highlights only the strategy to expand the compressed natural gas (CNG) network.

While the sector itself is committed to reducing its environmental impact, the government should provide a clear vision for a transition to a low-carbon future for freight transport. It should further develop a comprehensive and dynamic policy agenda to promote low- or zero-emission vehicles, especially for HGVs. The Programme for Government of June 2020 committed the government to publish and implement a ten-year strategy for the haulage sector. This focused on improving efficiencies and standards, as well as helping the sector move to a low-carbon future. The strategy should include plans to support the move to alternatively fuelled vehicles. This is especially the case in the context of potential impacts of plans and references to fuel tax equalisation and the banning of the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 (Section 4.7).

Developing low-carbon solutions is particularly challenging in the freight sector. There are persistent fears over technology lock-in and technological difficulties and costs of electrifying fleets due to the weight and size of vehicles. The government is therefore exploring alternative fuel types such as biogas, biofuels, hydrogen, CNG and liquefied natural gas (LNG). The 2019 budget introduced a new accelerated capital allowance programme for gas-fired commercial vehicles and refuelling equipment to encourage their uptake as an economically and environmentally friendly alternative to diesel (IEA, 2019). CNG can generate savings of up to 35% for fleet owners compared to diesel (GNI, 2019). Meanwhile, CNG HGVs and buses offer comparable refuelling times to diesel. Gas Networks Ireland is studying the impact of installing 14 CNG refuelling stations and setting up a large-scale renewable gas injection point on the gas network in Ireland.

While CNG is promoted for its lower carbon content, it is fundamentally still a fossil fuel, with potential for significant methane leakage. T&E (2018) reports the GHG effects of CNG as only comparable to best-in-class diesel. ICCT (2020) also reports that GHG emissions of LNG trucks are systematically underestimated in the European CO2 regulations for trucks, as a large portion of tank-to-wheel emissions are not considered. Specifically, current certification procedure neglects methane and nitrous oxide emissions. ICCT (2020) suggests that the technology can lock countries on a pathway that is not compatible with its climate-neutrality goals. Therefore, there is a need to revisit the rationale behind the regulatory and fiscal incentives for LNG trucks. In the long run, the potential of freight electrification, if realised, could make significantly higher contributions to the low-carbon transition.

Ireland has limited capacity and usage of rail for freight transport as the small scale of the Irish market is insufficient to justify large-scale capital expenditure. However, it should consider the potential for switching some activity to rail freight. Potential measures include carbon or tax credits for shippers to incentivise rail rather than road use, reduction of track access charges to make rail more competitive with road freight and promotion of rail freight to shippers and to freight forwarders.

Further institutional support to make low-cost elements mandatory in freight may also quickly reduce emissions in the sector. This could combine with developing industry standards such as making eco-driving training mandatory and supporting companies to invest in such training. Industry standards can also help address competing priorities while working towards decarbonisation. However, this can only occur if all freight categories adopt the standards and if they are supported by the wider institutional architecture.

The Irish road freight sector is fragmented with small enterprises operating on a tight margin. Additional measures, such as standardisation and sharing of logistics data, could accelerate collaboration between organisations. This, in turn, could thereby improve logistics efficiency and contribute to reducing CO2 emissions. With issues of competitiveness at stake, there is also a need to enhance the level of inspections, implementation and follow-up by relevant authorities in the institutional framework (including the Road Safety Authority) to bring consistency and oversight to the freight sector.

Providing governmental support in preparing for Brexit is vital. Irish transport will be adversely affected by the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, which is expected to affect the industry profoundly over the next five years. The volumes of cargo going to and from the United Kingdom through Irish ports are considerable: 21 million tonnes in 2019 (CSO, 2020b). The government should work with the freight distribution and logistics sector to protect the competitiveness of the domestic industry.

The COVID-19 crisis has put additional strain on freight operators. Social distancing measures have caused significant disruption in downstream construction and manufacturing markets. This is expected to weigh on freight volumes in the current year. ITF estimates that worldwide freight transport, measured in tonne-kilometres, will be 36% below the level foreseen without COVID-19 in 2020. Non-urban freight activity, i.e. national and international goods transport outside of cities, could be 37% lower overall in 2020 compared to business-as-usual estimates. Freight transport within cities can expect to be hit significantly less hard than national and international goods transport as increased online shopping adds deliveries (ITF, 2020). In urban areas, demand for transport services is expected to rise notably as economies re-open. Potential negative effects of increased freight activity, particularly in relation to congestion in urban areas, will need to be addressed.

The 2018 National Climate Change Adaptation Framework (Chapter 1) requires the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to publish a statutory sectoral adaptation plan. The Strategy for Adapting to Climate Change on Ireland’s Light Rail and National Road Network focuses on the effects of more intense rainfall and increased levels of groundwater. It also details how TII can develop action plans to minimise incidence of road closures due to flooding.

Given infrastructure lasts a long time, early action is needed to integrate adaptation into decision making. TII already has standards to promote quality and consistency of approach in relation to planning, design, construction and maintenance of roads and bridges, as well as light rail projects. It regularly updates these standards to reflect new developments and technologies. Climatic factors, such as increases in rainfall intensities, have been factored into design standards of national road schemes for several years. Similarly, Irish Rail has developed initiatives to counteract the issues posed by climate change. First, it developed internal standards and processes for infrastructure management. Second, it developed environmental sustainability policy and processes that considered requirements for resilient infrastructure. Finally, it developed remote infrastructure monitoring to protect the railway from asset failure. Yet climate and socio-economic changes remain uncertain. Thus, one of the major challenges is to make informed decisions on future-proofing and prioritising assets across the whole network.

Many countries, including Ireland, consider critical infrastructure a major concern. To date, Ireland is lacking criteria to identify and subsequently prioritise investment in adaptive capacity. Such criteria should consider the social, economic and environmental functions performed by each asset and how each asset helps the system function overall. Most importantly, quantitative data are needed to justify immediate stakeholder costs. Without these data, a full priority impact assessment, and identification of operational and systemic thresholds, is not possible.

How can Ireland identify critical locations in an infrastructure network? Methods and decision-support tools will be needed that help planners and policy makers act on several issues. First, they need to make rational assessments of threats to facilities and infrastructure. Second, they must assess the consequences of network degradation and failure at various locations and under different circumstances. Finally, they must analyse what to do about these consequences. To that end, Ireland should develop a common risk assessment approach to inform adaptation planning for transport infrastructure owners and operators, as well as local authorities. These would help determine adaptation planning and justify associated costs.

Experience with risk assessment and methodologies in other countries could be useful for Ireland. National standard organisations in Australia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have released risk management guidelines that focus on resilience for buildings and infrastructure. The roads authority in Western Australia has developed guidelines to identify climate change risks relevant to construction of roads and bridges (OECD, 2018). The US Federal Highways Administration developed a conceptual model for assessing vulnerability and risk of climate change. This model could be a useful example of inclusion of climate change and extreme weather impacts into planning for transport systems (Box 4.5).

Information and quantitative data on climate hazards, exposure and network vulnerabilities will be required to inform regional risk assessments and development of climate-resilient infrastructure. Traditionally, historical data have been used to inform analysis of the potential likelihood and severity of impacts. Historical experience may provide information on the significance of the impact to the transport system if a certain asset is damaged or destroyed. It could also help justify appropriate funding for future adaptation measures. The historical performance of assets during specific weather events could consider:

  • the repair costs or retrofits caused by past weather events

  • budgets and spending for services that respond to weather events

  • effects of past weather events on services provided by an asset (e.g. changes in vehicle miles or kilometres travelled, the value of the goods transported)

  • the role of the asset in emergency response and evacuations required in past weather events (ITF, 2016).

In addressing climate change, these historical records need to be complemented with projections of how trends might change. Historic climate data and climate change projections can be integrated with other data sources to assess climate risk. Other sources included hydrological modelling and information on the location and characteristics of infrastructure assets.

Considering climate impacts for individual assets, such as a bridge or a railway line, is necessary but insufficient to ensure the system functions reliably despite a changing climate. For this reason, efforts to ensure resilience at the project level should be embedded within a strategic approach to infrastructure network planning. Such an approach should account for the direct and indirect effects of climate change and climate variability (OECD, 2018). For instance, the UK Highways Agency has identified 25 asset components divided into 7 asset sub-classes that are critical for the “highway asset” to function properly and meet users’ service needs and expectations (Highways England, 2016).

In addition, improved understanding of cascading impacts between sectors would allow for the identification of specific sectoral assets that are critical to the functioning of other sectors. This would require co-ordination between different ministries, research institutions and stakeholders involved in planning. The Netherlands is a good example of such horizontal co-ordination as an interdepartmental working group has begun to implement the adaptation strategy. Several ministries and the regional and local authorities are part of this group, as well as the main research institutions (EC, 2018a).

Another important issue is related to difficulties in obtaining funding or justifying investment in improved resilience. Some countries establish specific funds for different actions related to climate change adaptation. For instance, the Swedish government proposed SEK 461 million (about EUR 44.8 million) of public funding for 2018-20 for climate change adaptation activities. This would be allocated to adaptation to climate change and climate services, capacity building, the Swedish National Knowledge Centre for Climate Change Adaptation and the climate adaptation portal. Through this allocation, resources are also provided to a number of public agencies to develop adaptation knowledge. Finally, it provides funds to prevent or mitigate the negative consequences of natural hazards (EC, 2018b).


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← 1. Dublin City Centre refers to the area for which Dublin City Council (DCC) has been conducting traffic counts at 33 locations around the cordon formed by the Royal and Grand Canals.

← 2. The main policy instruments impacting transport emissions in this scenario are the Biofuels Obligations Scheme11 and uptake of electric vehicles.

← 3. The NTA most closely reflects the model of a public agency with subcontracted services.

← 4. The DoT has commissioned a large-scale study to consider the potential roles of congestion pricing, low-emission zones and other demand management measures restricting certain vehicles from entering built-up urban areas. The work is considering key demand management drivers in each Irish city (e.g. congestion, air quality, climate considerations). It will also review international best practice on measures such as urban congestion charging, low-emission zones and parking pricing policies. Finally, it will recommend the most appropriate responses for Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, considering overall transport strategies in each case.

← 5.

← 6. e hourto

← 7. Franco (2020) estimates that complying with the default parking minimum increases the cost of an office building in Los Angeles by an average of 48%. These parking costs often make it financially unviable for developers to build affordable housing units in new residential developments.

← 8. The Directive requires that all new and thoroughly renovated residential buildings with more than ten parking spaces must be equipped with the appropriate pre-wiring for a charging point to be installed in each space.

← 9. The DoT estimates at least EUR 1.3 billion annually is needed from the department to maintain infrastructure (DTTAS, 2019a).

← 10. nited ngdomTF 

← 11. This includes the Design Standards for New Apartments (2018), Urban Development and Building Heights (2018), the introduction of the Strategic Housing Development process, the Vacant Site Levy, the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund and creation of the Land Development Agency.

← 12. This target would be achieved through a combination of battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

← 13. Sales of electric cars in 2019 were 182% higher than in the previous year, while sales of plug-in hybrid cars rose by 84% (DTTAS, 2020, 2019b).

← 14. There were 7 new EVs on the European market in 2018, a number that will rise to 45 in 2021.

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