he entire transport sector accounts for about 25% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the European Union, second only to the energy sector.   In the EU, GHG emissions from other sectors have generally fallen, decreasing 15% between 1990 and 2007, but those from transport have increased by 36% in the same period. This increase has happened despite improved vehicle efficiency because the amount of personal and freight transport has increased.

In Ireland, transportation accounts for 21% of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Ireland, third to the agriculture sector (29%) and close to the energy sector (22%).  The emissions from transport more than doubled between 1990 and 2009 in Ireland, and are expected to increase by 3.5% by 2020.  The increase to 2020 is lower than expected because of the economic crisis leading to lower freight transport and lower growth in car ownership, in part due to emigration of the car-owning age group.

Because transport implicates most of us, and our car dependence, it remains one of the most intractable problems in lowering GHG emissions, and reducing the threats from global climate change.  This report summarizes two efforts to better define the problem and to offer policies and practices to address the problem.

First, the Future of transport (Flash Eurobarometer No 312) report was conducted at the request of the European Union’s (EU) Directorate General Mobility and Transport in the 27 Member States.  Flash Eurobarometers are telephone interviews conducted at the request of any service of the European Commission to enable the Commission to obtain results relatively quickly and to focus on specific target groups.  The survey examined the current means of transport that EU citizens used to get around on a daily basis, from a car or motorbike, to public transport, cycling and walking, and it examined various transport policy issues and asked EU citizens for their views. These topics included: the level of support for “pay-as-you-drive” policies; people’s readiness to buy a “cleaner” vehicle as opposed to a traditional one; car users’ reasons for not using public transport; ideas for making public transport easier to use; ideas that could encourage car users to consider reducing the amount they use their car.  The survey contacted 25,570 citizens throughout the EU 27 Member States, typically 1,000 for each country, with fewer in Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta.

Second, PlanBetter is a joint initiative of An Taisce, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Irish Environment and FEASTA (Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability) the aim of which is to achieve sustainable transport by working with other stakeholders in Irish transport and planning related matters.  In March 2011 it submitted a Briefing for the incoming Government 2011 urging the new coalition government to wean the public off motorways and onto public transportation including buses and trains, as well as private sustainable travel modes such as cycling and walking.

Eurobarometer’s Future of transport

The chief finding of the survey addressed what modes of transport people mainly use.  On the EU-wide basis, a slight majority — 53% — of people use a car as their main mode of transport, 22% use public transport, 13% walk, and 7% cycle.  The differences between use of cars and public transport widens when you compare those who live in rural communities versus those who live in metropolitan areas, with 64% of rural dwellers using a car and 43% of city dwellers (37% in the cities used public transport).   Given the availability of public transport in urban areas, and lack thereof in the countryside, the differences would be expected.  Men, higher educated and self-employed people all use the car much more than public transport, perhaps suggesting a socio-economic dimension to the difference between car-users and others.  See, discussion in Interview with James Nix, PlanBetter, in the Podcast section of irish environment.

Using data for individual countries, we see that in the Republic of Ireland (RoI) 68% use the car as their main mode, 14% use public transport, and 15% walk or cycle; in the United Kingdom (UK), 57% use the car, 22% use public transport, and 16% walk or cycle; in the Netherlands (NL), 49% use a car, 11% use public transport, and 34% walk or cycle (the highest in the EU).  Other sources indicate that about 84% of people in NI, including 59% in Belfast, commute to work by private transport.  See the NIEL Sustainable Transport Report.

The RoI is the 3rd largest user of cars as a main mode of transport, and NL is the largest user of walking and cycling.  Ireland is also the 6th lowest for using public transport, and the 5th lowest nation for walking and cycling.  The data certainly reinforces the impression that Ireland is a car-dependent nation.  The huge sums of Euros invested in major roadways over the past decade in Ireland, and disproportionately lesser sums spent on public transport, serve to contribute to this dependence or reflect it, or both.

This main finding reflects what people do now.  In a series of further questions, the study examined to what extent, and for what reasons, people would be willing to change their main mode of transport.

Pay-As-You-Drive Schemes

The survey asked people to what extent they would be willing to replace current means of charging for use of cars, e.g., through registration taxes, with a pay-as-you-drive scheme that charges for actual use of the car, e.g., by kilometers driven or use in peak hours.  Across the EU, 50% agreed with such a change (agreed strongly or agreed), 31% said No (disagreed or disagreed strongly), and 20% were uncertain (did not know or found it not applicable).  In Ireland, 47% agreed with such a change, 40% said No, and 13% were uncertain.  The British response was similar with 42% agreeing, 40% disagreeing and 18% uncertain.  In contrast to the Irish and British who were close to being evenly split on the change, the Dutch were clearly in favor of such a change with 64% agreeing, 21% disagreeing and 15% uncertain.  In effect those populations (Ireland) who rely on their cars are less willing to agree to being charged for actual use of their car than those populations (Netherlands) that favor public transport, cycling and walking as much as using cars.

Such a reading of the data is confirmed by the analysis of differences on switching to a pay-as-you-drive scheme between car users and public transport users.  Across the EU, 37% of car-users disagreed with such a change while only 24% of public transport users disagreed; in Ireland 41% of car users disagreed with the change, in the UK 45% of car users disagreed, and in the Netherlands only 26% disagreed.

Compromises for Buying Cleaner Car

When asked if they would be willing to compromise on speed, size, range (distance before having to refuel/recharge), and costs, in order to reduce emissions, 68% in the EU said they would be willing to compromise on speed, 62% on size, 56% on range, and 53% on cost.  Those in Ireland seem more willing to make compromises with 74% willing to compromise on speed, 65% on size, 59% on range, and 61% on cost.  So while heavily dependent on use of a car, the Irish seem willing to sacrifice a number of advantages of cars in order to buy a cleaner car.  The significant number willing to compromise on range and cost would seem to offer encouragement for converting to electric cars.

In the UK 70% would compromise on speed, 57% on size, 55% on range, and 56% on cost.  Less willing to compromise are the Dutch with 52% willing to compromise on speed, 46% on size, 44% on range, and 47% on cost.  When the comparison is made, EU-wide, between car users and public transport users, a higher percentage of car users is willing to compromise on the various factors than public transport users, but there is a significant percentage of public transport users who indicate different levels of “don’t know” responses.  The number of Dutch people less willing to compromise is high, so too is the number of Dutch who are uncertain about making such compromises: 18% on speed, 21% on size, 24% on range, and 24% on cost.  Other data suggests that it is those who use public transport as the main mode who are uncertain about such compromises.  Perhaps this large proportion of undecideds among public transport users reflects the fact that they do not rely on cars and so do not care as much about any compromises.  On the other hand, since they do not use cars, why wouldn’t they support significant compromises for those who do use cars, in order to get lower emissions.

Reasons for Not Using Public Transport

The survey asked respondents who used a car as their main mode of transport to identify on a list given to them the reasons for not choosing public transport.  On a EU-wide basis, the four most important reasons were: lack of connections (72%), not as convenient (71%), low frequency (64%), and lack of reliability (54%).  The remaining reasons — too expensive, lack of information on schedules, and security concerns — ranged from 50% to a low importance for security at 40%.   For the four most important, the Irish found not as convenient the top reason (at 78%, 7% more than EU average), lack of connections at 71%, low frequency at 67%, and lack of reliability at 62%.  In the UK, 85% found not as convenient the top reason, followed by low frequency at 73%, lack of connections at 71%, and lack of reliability at 70%.

The survey examined the differences on these various reasons between EU-wide rural and city dwellers that used a car as the main mode of transport.  It found that city dwellers more than rural dwellers found that inconvenience (74% vs. 67%) and lack of reliability (57% vs. 50%) were important reasons for not using public transport.  In Ireland at least there are few choices of public transport for many rural dwellers and so cars remain the only practical choice, irrespective of convenience and reliability.

In a separate question, applied to all respondents and not just those who used a car as main mode, respondents were asked if they would consider using public transport more frequently if they could buy a single ticket covering all possible transport modes, including bus, train tram.   For the EU-wide group, 71% said Yes, 25% said No, and 5% were uncertain.  In Ireland, 74% said Yes, 21% said No, and 5% were uncertain.  In the UK, 65% said Yes, 30% said NO, and 5% were uncertain.  In the Netherlands, only 54% said Yes, 40% said No, and 5% were uncertain.  When the results for this question were broken down for those used cars versus those who used public transport, 85% of public transport users said Yes and 65% of car users said Yes.  In Ireland 70% of car users said Yes to this question, and in the UK 59% said Yes.

In Ireland car users are more willing to switch to public transport if it were more convenient, which in turn is arguably made possible by more frequent and more reliable service with better connections and a single ticket covering these trips.

Further Ideas to Encourage Different Modes of Transport

Car users were asked whether certain improvements in public transport would encourage them to combine different modes of transport instead of using their car.  The most popular improvement proved to be an easy transfer from one transport mode to another with 65% of the EU respondents picking it.  In Ireland 78% of the respondents said the easy transfer would encourage them to use different modes, and in the UK 65% said it would.  EU-wide support for other improvements included better online information of schedules (52%), attractive terminals (47%), and the possibility to buy tickets online (38%).   Attractive terminals would encourage 57% of car users in Ireland and 48% in the UK; better online schedule information would encourage 69% of car users in Ireland and 58% in the UK; and, being able to buy tickets online would encourage 54% in Ireland (the highest in the EU) and 38% in the UK.

The report argues that these answers collectively support the establishment of integrated transport hubs for cars/trains/buses/bicycles.

PlanBetter’s Briefing on Transport Policy

The main thrust of the PlanBetter Briefing is that Ireland has EU obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the country is in a deep economic crisis, and higher oil prices are here to stay and likely will continue to rise.  As a result, we need to break the dependence on private car travel and move to more sustainable modes of transport, especially public transport.  The Flash Eurobarometer Future of transport points to a number of changes in transport practices and policies that can help that move, and Plan Better offers some specific actions that the government can undertake in Ireland.

Building more motorways is clearly not one of those actions.  What roads have been built need to be maintained, not joined by more roads, and investment needs to concentrate on developing public transport, including making it more accessible and better connected.  We have seen in the Eurobarometer that such improvements would likely lead to greater ridership in public transport.

As a start, PlanBetter argues that whenever a major transportation project is being considered it is important that certain systemic practices be changed.  Assessment of the need for and scope of such projects, and the design thereof, requires a review by an organization similar to the Productivity Commission in Australia that gives advice to the government on various projects independent of the agencies promoting the projects.  Any assessment should also take into account, as in the UK and US, the “optimism bias” where those promoting a project, such as agency staff and private interests that benefit from these projects, underestimate costs and overestimate benefits.

An unfortunate example of the bias and unsustainable development is found in the building of motorways and the tolling system for such roads.  As PlanBetter points out, between 2001 and 2009 the motorway system grew by 430% in Ireland and there are now 2.5 times more kilometers of motorway per person in Ireland than in Britain.  Part of the explanation is that Ireland relies on extremely generous estimates of what volume of road traffic will justify a motorway.  For instance, in most of Europe, including Northern Ireland and the UK, for a road with one lane in each direction, it can be justified if it will need to accommodate 21,500 vehicles.  Ireland will build such a road if it thinks only 11,600 vehicles will use it, almost half of what is required elsewhere.

At the same time, Ireland relied on a traffic model from 2002 to project that there would be traffic growth of 2-3% per year, which data was used to justify road building.  Yet traffic fell by over 7% in 2009-10.  Part of the problem is that others, including the UK, run their traffic models annually to give greater accuracy, including the effect of volatile gas prices on road traffic projections.

Accounting for the accurate cost of additional carbon dioxide emissions attributed to any proposed project would also serve to better assess the need for, true costs of, and detriments to such projects.  Building more motorways promotes more journeys by car, increasing CO2 emissions.  Those costs need to be fully factored into any project with accurate, timely carbon costs.

PlanBetter proposes a revision to the tolling system used on the motorways which it claims is not working.  Drivers avoid the tolls and that creates more traffic and more accidents on back roads.  While some have suggested replacing tolls with a hike in fuel prices, to pay for the motorways, Plan Better argues that this solution would unfairly punish all those who drive most of their time on local roads and who do not use the motorways very much.  PlanBetter suggests instead a multi-point tolling system where small charges (e.g., between 10 and 40 cents) are assessed electronically as vehicles pass under bridges of motorways, dual carriageways and other national roads.  As an example, if 20 cents was charged as a vehicle passed under each of the 80 bridges between Cork and Dublin the trip would cost €16, making a train fare for the same journey comparable and encourage more to take the train. The multi-point tolling system is arguably a form of the pay-as-you-drive schemes surveyed under the Eurobarometer.

Another issue involving tolls is the financial arrangements between the government agencies and operators of the tolled roads.  Such arrangements often carry a guarantee by the government of a minimum payment to the operators if the actual usage of the tolled road falls below the estimated usage.  Since the estimated usages were overblown, the taxpayers will be paying for the non-usage of the roads while some drivers will also pay for their actual use of the roads.  We suppose this is a form of pay-twice-as-you-drive scheme.

PlanBetter also provides some specific practical approaches to addressing transport problems.

Much of the transport investment went to motorways, when enhanced existing roads would have been sufficient for actual volume of usage.  This  has led to “Rolls Royce schemes, serving very few counties” rather than a coherent national transport policy.  Instead of building more motorways, it would be sensible to remove the many accident blackspots around the country.  A European Road Assessment Programme rated 50% of non-motorway Irish roads at their lowest 1 Star safety measure, compared to Northern Ireland where only 5% of such roads are rated that low.   The answer is not to turn a few national roads into motorways, at significant costs, but to improve and maintain the stock of existing roads and remove blackspots from roads across the country.

Getting students to schools, people to work, and rural dwellers anywhere remain critical challenges.  PlanBetter offers some programs to meet these challenges and to reduce dependence on private cars.

PlanBetter rightfully touts the Green Schools Travel Programme, run by An Taisce, as a “runaway success.”  Working with local stakeholders — students, teachers, administrators, parents, local communities — the Green Schools programme staff address perceptions about and practical obstacles to safety, a major concern, they provide toolkits with educational resources on walking, cycling, bus use, car sharing, Park n’ Stride schemes, and they provide funding for safe alternative travel.  The programme applies in about 80% of primary schools and 20% of secondary schools, and between 2008 and 2010 it resulted in a 27% reduction in private car use with a corresponding increase in walking, cycling and public transport.  This is an impressive accomplishment.  PlanBetter calls for long-term funding for this important programme.

For work-related travel, rather than supplying more overbuilt roads, we could reduce demand for single-occupant private cars.  Besides using public transport, walking and cycling, demand can be managed by spreading transport over time through staggered or flexible work schedules, thereby reducing congestion, and over space by charging for using town centres, to encourage use of alternative transport modes, or car pooling.  Providing for work from home or satellite offices with telecommunications also can lower demand for peak time private car transport.

Instead of overbuilding motorways such as the A5 dual-carriageway in Northern Ireland, or large scale transport infrastructure schemes like MetroNorth, developing Advanced Quality Bus Corridors (a/k/a Bus Rapid Transit) would provide sustainable transport at a fraction of the cost.  A kilometer of advanced bus corridors can cost 1/50 of the cost of a grand scheme like MetroNorth.  Bus corridors can also be implemented nationwide with job creation for local companies and consultants.

Bus corridors exist where road space is dedicated to buses or the buses receive priority for lane usage or at junctions.  In addition the advanced versions provide more frequent service (at 3 to 5 minutes during the work day), off-board ticketing to speed up operations, protective bus shelters, real time passenger information available at the bus stops, as well as on computers and mobile phones, and better signage of routes and giving advanced notice of upcoming stops.

The bus corridors help to make public transport more convenient, reliable and frequent – all characteristics of public transport that make people who rely on cars more likely to switch to buses, as identified in the Eurobarometer.  Adding real time, easily accessible information (at bus stops, on mobile phone apps) about schedules will add even more of an inducement to switch.

Providing practical, sustainable transport for rural communities is perhaps the larger challenge as over 11% of rural households have no car and public transport can be scarce.  Without access to some public means of transport, jobs, education, training, and services remain elusive and social exclusion deepens.  Some practical advances are offered.  Just using smaller buses cuts fuel costs, and can reduce GHG emissions, and real time information on schedules would make the journey more efficient.  Dial-a-lift services, relying on volunteers, is an option as is a bus-share initiative in West Cork where a mini-coach is available to approved licensed volunteers for use outside office hours for transporting rural dwellers.  The latter is a version of the traditional practice in many rural communities where one local person with a car would pick up others, often elderly, in the countryside and drive them to town to get their messages (food and other staples) once a week.

Forms of shared rides in urban communities are also advanced by PlanBetter’s submission.  An electric car sharing scheme would encourage expanded use of electric cars and overcome the uncertainties about costs and life cycle of batteries and concerns about the range of travel for electric vehicles.  Such a scheme would also introduce electric cars to a wider, less affluent population as opposed to subsidies for buying electric cars that most often are taken up only by the well-to-do.  The Eurobarometer survey indicates that 59% of Irish would be willing to compromise on range to buy a cleaner car.

The proposed car-sharing scheme is modeled on the successful Dublin bike-sharing scheme that has far exceed expected usage. Dublin bikes has over 55,000 subscribers to date and is one of the most successful bike share rental schemes in the world.   There are 44 stations and 550 bikes in the network and each bike has an average rotation of 8.8 journeys/day.   A record 6, 043 journeys were taken on Friday, 15th April; the busiest day so far in the history of the scheme.  As of May 2011, two million journeys have been taken on the bikes.  PlanBetter advocates taking the scheme national to the sixteen largest towns in Ireland.

In promoting cycling, PlanBetter points out that in Ireland and the UK cyclists and motorists share traffic space, in contrast to Denmark and the Netherlands where the two forms of travel have been functionally separated, to varying extents.  That difference makes comparisons with at least parts of Europe inapplicable.  It also accounts, in part, why in the Eurobarometer the Dutch are more likely to use cycing and walking rather than cars as their main mode of transport.

The explosive growth in motorways has also hurt rail traffic where, for example, rail patronage on the Dublin-Belfast line has fallen 20% since completion of the motorway between the two cities.  At the same time, rail gets approximately €170 million annually, compared to €82 million for Dublin Bus and €45 million for Bus Eireann.  But Irish Rail uses about €100 each year largely to just maintain the existing network without any opportunity to upgrade infrastructure or service.

For a comparison, for 2008-2011 the devolved government in Northern Ireland allocated £612 million for roads and only £ 181m for buses and rail; for 2011-2018, it has allocated £2.5 billion for roads and only £450 million for buses and rail. See the NIEL Sustainable Transport Report.

PlanBetter recommends that Irish Rail continue to make improvements in accommodating bikes on trains, automatic ticket validation, internet booking system, and enhance interchange with other routes.  All of these actions are supported by the Eurobarometer survey that found that lack of connections, inconvenience, low frequency of service, and lack of reliability discouraged use of public transport, including trains, and easy transfer between modes, better online information of schedules, attractive terminals, and the possibility to buy tickets online would encourage more use of public transport.

Finally, PlanBetter offers several other initiatives, based on experiences in California, that would serve more sustainable transport policies, including fuel-efficient driving, by paying attention to tyre quality and pressure; adopting a pay-as-you-drive insurance scheme, where you pay less for driving less; electrification of ships berthed or idling at ports; and retrofitting delivery trucks.


We may see a turning away from expensive motorways like the A5 and mega-projects like Metro North because of the budgetary crisis.  We all hope the crisis passes sooner rather than later, but we had better not hope that when that happens everything will return to the good old days.  Those old days were not so good and we cannot afford more property speculation and ghost estates, reckless planning that ignores national planning policies, explosive growth in ownership and use of cars, and more and more GHG emissions.

The Eurobarometer points us to the current use of different modes of transport at the moment and what people might be willing to live with in the future.  The Plan Better Briefing points to ways of avoiding those bad old days and how even during the current crisis reasonable policies and practices and investments can build a sustainable transport system. 


Miles Deas and James Nix for PlanBetter, Briefing for the incoming Government 2011 (March 3, 2011).

Future of transport, Conducted by The Gallup Organisation, Hungary, upon the request of Directorate General Mobility and Transport, European Commission (Flash Eurobarometer – 312).

Irish EPA, Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Projections, 2010-2020 (April 14th 2011).,30810,en.html

EU Transport GHG: Routes to 2050

See the Interview with James Nix of PlanBetter in the Podcast section of irish environment (April 2011).

See the Sustainable Transport Report (by Seamus óg Gallagher for Northern Ireland Environment Link – NIEL) in the Reports section of irish environment (September 2009).

Dublin Bikes

RoI, Smarter Travel – A Transport Policy for Ireland, National Sustainable Transport Office

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