The Climate Action Plan commits to considering the potential roles of congestion pricing, low-emission zones and other demand management measures, which could result in restrictions to certain vehicles from entering built-up urban areas. My Department has lead responsibility for the implementation of this action. A study is being commissioned to understand what measures are available and suitable to address the impacts of growing transport levels in our major cities (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford).
The study is to consider a range of factors in each of the cities, including congestion levels and air quality issues, and ultimately should recommend options on how we might better manage travel demand in each area. A tender process for this study is currently underway within my Department, with a view to awarding a contract before the end of 2019. I expect the findings of the study to be published by September 2020 in line with our Climate Action Plan commitment.
Traffic congestion is a growing issue in Ireland’s cities and some towns imposing economic and social costs on residents, commuters and businesses, as well as worsening emissions that impact on air quality and the environment. In 2017, my Department estimated that congestion could have a cost of over €2 billion per annum by 2033 in the absence of appropriate intervention. Such a cost would have a substantial impact on our competitiveness along with a social cost to our citizens.
It is, furthermore, estimated that, without intervention, by 2040 commuting trips nationally could rise by as much as 35% over current levels. As well as associated economic costs, I am aware that road transport is a source of air pollution emissions, particularly nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). It is clear that we need to encourage a movement towards fewer and cleaner vehicles entering Irish cities. We are addressing some of these issues by:
- Encouraging a shift out of cars to public transport and active travel;
- Promoting zero-emission electric cars;
- Transitioning the urban bus fleet towards lower emitting alternatives; and
- Examining ways to green the freight sector.
As the Deputy will know, a significant investment of €8.6 billion has been earmarked under the National Development Plan to increase the capacity and attractiveness of sustainable mobility. This notwithstanding, transport is a derived demand and as both our population and economic performance are projected to grow, I expect that Ireland will see many more journeys on our transport networks. Over time, this rising travel demand coupled with a scarcity of space to expand road supply will exacerbate the issues that we see in our cities today and require that demand management measures be considered, including the potential role of urban congestion charging. The findings of the study we are undertaking will ultimately support the implementation of any measures necessary.