Road pricing discriminates against the poor

15th August 2001

ALL the elements of a good plan are in place to tackle the traffic crisis in Dublin. We’ll have buses, Luas, Metro and a ring road. What more could you want?

The problem is that even if the DART came by the front gate a large proportion of motorists would want to drive anyway (and park in the office if they could get the car in).

Some people see this as pure laziness. Some see it as indulgence by the spoiled brat generation. Some see it as a form of environmental vandalism.

While all of the above are true, I think it is because the car offers far better personal space. At rush hour public transport offers no personal space at all.

I think this factor is the great overlooked issue in the transport debate. Not only do people want to get to work – they would like to retain their human dignity while they do so.

I remember the sniggers at the pictures on the Tokyo underground of special attendants pushing people onto trains. Who’s laughing now? Some commuters have taken to calling the DART the ‘Auschwitz Express’ because of the crowding on-board.

The Luas will offer very poor personal space as well, since it is designed to cater for numbers relevant to the early and mid nineties.

So people will continue to choose to travel in cars no matter how miserable the delays might be.

In this scenario we will have streets choked with traffic for ever. Whenever a space becomes available someone will put a car in it.

It is such a dismal prospect that many planners and engineers are looking around for alternatives. The main one they are pursuing is road pricing.

In Dublin this would mean putting a cordon around, say, the canals and charging cars for crossing it. There wouldn’t be actual barriers. Rather cars would be fitted with electronic devices.

Let me say from the outset that I am completely, totally and absolutely opposed to road pricing on the basis of equity.

Unless people themselves are fitted with electronic devices there is no way of knowing who has the ability to pay.

Therefore someone on the minimum wage will have to pay the the same charge as Tony O’Reilly. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out who will be dissuaded from using the car.

What we’re heading for here is a form of feudalism where the poor are crammed into underfunded public transport while the wealthy have the streets to themselves. It is completely unacceptable.

If barriers have to be raised, then they have to be raised for everybody. If we don’t want cars on O’Connell Street then block it off to cars completely.

Remember, we live in a bourgeois democracy. The lesson from the health services is that if you provide an alternative for the middle classes then the general system will decline.

As well as that…

A seat to yourself

HAVE you ever got on a bus that is half full? Every seat will be occupied by one passenger.

This is because people don’t actually want to lie up against other people unless they are having, eh, a close relationship.

The people who design buses and trains never take this into account. They only think of the numbers.

Therefore we are condemned to the double seat.

The proper design should be single seats with two aisles.

Capacity would be reduced, but not by much. It would be manageable. Look at the numbers of single deckers. Are they not a waste of road space?