Urban sprawl and the lack of genuinely extensive public transport have led to a massive dependence on private cars and private goods vehicles.
Figures compiled by the Department of Transport show that the number of licenced vehicles in the state has trebled over the last 30 years due to population increases and a neoliberal model of economic growth.

Instead of this neoliberal approach with its attendant transport emissions, People Before Profit favour a major increase in public transport spending to make the service free for users immediately.

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Making public transport free

Luxembourg is the first European country to announce free public transport, but there are also 50 European cities and towns offering free public transport at least part of the time. Instead of putting its faith in regressive taxes and expensive electric cars, free public transport would be a major signal that the government was serious about climate change and was willing to subsidise it for its citizens.

In our latest Alternative Budget, People Before Profit showed how it is possible to triple investment in public transport and subsidise journeys to make the service free for all end users immediately. The benefits from this will be felt in four key areas.

1- Lowering greenhouse gas emissions

Bus journeys currently account for 5.5% of all journeys in the state, but they account for 16% of all passenger km despite being only 0.3% of all vehicle km. This makes public transport potentially 45 times more efficient than private motor transport when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions.

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2- Lowering the cost to working people

The Department of Transport estimate that it costs €1,656 a year to run a private car and €644 for other forms of transport. This equates to 13% of all household income. With a major improvement in public transport, this cost would fall, and as it does, the marginal benefit to lower and middle-income earners would be higher as they spend proportionately more on fuel and public transport.

3- Reducing the cost of congestion

Research by the Economic and Financial Evaluation Unit of the Department of Transport found that congestion costs in the Greater Dublin area were €308 million in 2012 and are forecast to rise to €2.08 billion by 2033. This is a direct cost that can be mitigated through a major increase in public transport. There are also indirect costs in terms of human well being as people spend less time in traffic.

4- Improving air quality

The Environmental Protection Agency states that, each year, 1,510 deaths are caused by poor air quality. This is more than 10 times the amount killed on Irish roads through traffic accidents. Levels of nitrogen dioxide are possibly exceeding EU limits in parts of Dublin according to a recent report by the EPA. Reducing traffic congestion will improve air quality and give a dividend to people who choose to walk and cycle to work.

Poor air quality kills 10 times as many Irish people as road deaths annually. Free public transport would help to improve air quality in built-up areas and save lives in the process.

Here Are Our Key Transport Proposals

People Before Profit would add 500 new electric buses to the fleet annually until 2030. This would cost an estimated €350 million annually, but when lower running costs are factored in, these buses are cheaper than their diesel rivals.

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Rail is an extremely efficient mode of transport in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, but historic investment in the road network has meant a shift away from rail to road. People Before Profit would look to reverse this tendency through a carrot-and-stick approach on the freight industry. On the one hand, we would invest in and subside the use of the rail network, including finishing the Western Rail Corridor and electrifying the network. On the other hand, we would begin to impose environmental surcharges on companies that continue to use the road network. Our aim would be to move quickly to the European average in terms of freight carried on the rail network and then move to triple this over time so that 15% of all freight was carried on the rail network. This will need capital investment to improve connectivity, as outlined in our Alternative Budget.

Ryanair made profits of €1.45 billion in 2018, whilst for Aer Lingus it was €305 million. Meanwhile, the massive quantities of commercial fuel they use is exempted from taxes despite the damage being done to the environment. To internalise costs currently being imposed on the rest of society, People Before Profit would impose a tax of 33 cent per litre on airline fuel and pass legislation to ban companies from passing this on in higher flight costs. We would also increase the cost of business air travel by imposing a charge of 20% on flight tickets for anyone flying more than four times a year.

Around 16% of all journeys in the state are either cycling or walking, but this has fallen considerably since the 1980s as car use has increased. We propose spending a one-off payment of €165 million to create major cycling lanes right across the country.

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A carbon tax on aviation

Ryanair is now Europe’s 10th biggest corporate polluter and the worst airline on the continent when measured by emissions. Ryanair created 9.9 million tonnes of Co2 in 2018, the same amount as all road transport in the Republic of Ireland. One of the reasons for this is that Ryanair does not face a tax on commercial air fuels, such as exist in the US, Canada, Japan and Australia.

The European Commission funded a study on aviation taxation, which was completed in mid-2018 but never published. This showed that Europe is chronically under-taxing the sector and that a tax on commercial air-fuel would reduce emissions by around 11% (24 million tonnes) without having much impact on jobs. At present, the cost of the pollution via the European Trading System is about €800 million annually. But this is a fraction of the €27 billion which the EU estimate would be collected if levied on all kerosene lifted in the European Union at a rate of €0.33/litre.

Irish airports account for roughly 3.5% of all passenger journeys and flights in the EU. If we levied the tax in Irish airspace, this would take in in the region of €900 million per annum. This should be accompanied by legal action to prevent companies passing on the increase to their customers.