In the last post Paddy Morris noted that we need a vision and implementation strategy along the lines of the Marshall Plan to shield us from the worst of the energy and climate crises.
He’s right. Avoiding oil consumption and carbon dioxide emissions would then guide our investments. Paddy’s post, and John’s before it, sent me looking through my notes on the biggest single transport investment proposal ever put forward in Ireland – Metro North.
Does energy or climate get a look in?
An Bord Pleanala is due to give its decision towards the end of the July. The planning appeals board held almost 40 days of hearings into Metro North earlier this year and in late 2009.
I looked up submissions made by members of my own organisation, the Irish Environmental Network. James Leahy, a chartered engineer with a masters in sustainable development, and Matthew Harley, an engineer with a master in economic analysis, made joint submissions on behalf of An Taisce and the Dublin City Business Association.
No cost benefit analysis was done on the proposed 18 km Metro from St Stephen’s Green to Belinstown, north of Swords. Some analysis was done of a much shorter 10km route from Dublin City Centre to Dublin Airport, and Harley relies on this as a proxy, even though the downturn has resulted in a sharp drop in the outlook for patronage.
Harley notes that endorsing projects on the basis of a ‘jobs, jobs, jobs mantra’ would lead to “justifying digging holes and filling them in again”, which “is not good public policy”. Harley draws attention to the finding by Dr Edgar Morgenrath of the ESRI that the cost of creating construction jobs in Ireland is four times larger than the cost of IDA-created jobs.
Leahy examined the Luas experience, and citing the 2006 Millward Brown study, notes that “no overall modal shift has been achieved from cars”. Some 47 per cent of people on the Luas corridor travelled by car in 2004, a figure that remained the same two years after Luas services began. While the tram line did obtain a 12 per cent share of journeys, two thirds of passengers (8 per cent of the 12 per cent) came from a decrease in bus use, while the balance took the tram and stopped walking. Overall, bus patronage in the corridor fell from 21 per cent to 13 per cent and walking fell from 22 per cent to 18 per cent.
Dissatisfaction in areas not served by the tram highlights the inequity of concentrating investment in one area, according to Leahy. But he said the construction of Luas did have some value: “it has undoubtedly achieved the change in public perception of what public transport can offer, which was one of its original objectives”. With the bar duly raised by Luas, Leahy now sees it as a question of how an integrated, high-quality public transport network can be delivered across our cities.
Constructing Metro North means “bus services would be re-arranged” according to the RPA. But, as Leahy points out, the question of who pays to re-arrange bus services isn’t answered. Such re-organised bus services might do more harm than good for the customer. “Will somebody who has a direct bus service from near his or her house that enters the city on a QBC … want to transfer into the Metro?” Leahy asks. Will buses in the area be re-configured to run east-west to feed into the metro, with direct buses to the city centre withdrawn?
It’s a similar situation regarding the tens of thousands of passengers who board buses along Dublin’s O’Connell St or along the Quays. “The majority of bus routes go over O’Connell Bridge or along the Quays” and, according to Leahy, no plan has published to show how bus passengers will be served if Metro North goes ahead, causing wide-scale disruption to the city centre due to excavation.
Leahy draws attention to the fact that as many bus passengers (10,000) were dropped by the axing of 100 buses from the Dublin Bus fleet in February 2009 as are expected to be served by Metro North upon its opening.
This presages Harley and Leahy’s work on the most glaring flaw in the Metro north proposals – the failure to properly analyse alternatives.
As Leahy observes “no bus option was considered … on the inaccurate and unjustified claim that a bus route has only a capacity of 2,000 passengers per direction per hour”. Indeed the RPA doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of Bus Rapid Transit, a modern bus system with dedicated reservations for buses, using tram-style stations where the time of the next bus is displayed.
BRT has a capacity ten to twenty times the RPA estimate, notes Harley, and he maps out an option that hasn’t been considered or assessed by the RPA – an omission which is attributable to the fact that the rail agency grossly underestimates the capacity of bus in the first place.
The rail tunnel proposed in Metro North is to link Swords and, to a lesser extent, Dublin Airport (which accounts 20% of demand) to Dublin City Centre. But, as Harley observes, “we have a tunnel already: the Dublin Port Tunnel, which already serves Dublin Airport and Swords via the M1 and is underused”. And there is “good reason to believe that [the port tunnel’s capacity] will continue to be significantly underused”. Harley argues that it makes sense now to maximise this investment given its cost of just over three-quarters of a billion (€751m).
The construction cost of Bus Rapid Transit between Swords and the city centre using Dublin port tunnel is less than €200m, according to Harley’s calculations, or about one twenty-fifth of the €4.9bn estimate for Metro North.
With three-quarters of travel demand along the entire corridor stemming from the city centre, Swords and Dublin Airport, BRT may even be a more attractive option for the travelling public: “from O’Connell Bridge to the mouth of the Port Tunnel, along the North Quays, is 3km. From the tunnel month to the Malahide Roundabout at Swords is 13km. Therefore, O’Connell Bridge to Swords, via the Port Tunnel is 16km”. This compares to a 14km metro between the same points. With no stops between the Port Tunnel entrance and Dublin Airport, and with a journey time of 5 minutes within the tunnel, “the BRT option might even better the Metro” in terms of travel time.
What about the intermediate stops which would be served by the proposed metro but not by the BRT? “The massive extra investment needed to build a metro” – running to €4bn to 6bn – could not be justified by these stops, Harley contends.
Instead, both Harley and Leahy recommend a radical enhancement of the bus system to serve the Drumcondra – Ballymum corridor, and indeed the wider city. And this is the central point really: for the money involved the entire city could be equipped with a European style BRT system, similar to that in the French cities of Nantes and Rouen.
It is this city-wide approach, and not the construction of one rail line, which will gain a higher share for public transport across cities as a whole.
Even if the planning appeals board finds in favour of the project the Department of Finance, along with other government departments, still have a decision to make. Leahy draws attention to the 2007 guidelines published by the Department of Transport, which state:
“There is a need to define options in such a way that decision-makers are faced with realistic decisions. For example, in appraising strategies to combat urban congestion, it is necessary to include some options that broadly achieve the same impact on congestion. This is to avoid the situation where a simple choice between a low level option that does not really address the problem, and a grandiose or gold-plated option.”
As Harley points out, once disruption costs are added in – which come to €230m a year – even the Railway Procurement Agency’s own analysis (for a 10km proposal) shows that the project does not make economic sense. For the benefits of a project to outweigh its costs, the cost-to-benefit ratio needs to remain above 1: however, with disruption costs added into the equation, this all-important ratio drops to 0.93.
In short, therefore, the project does not even make sense under conventional cost-benefit analysis. Factor in oil peak and emissions, with the failure of the project to help enough people move away from cars for the money involved, and the light must turn red.
There are solutions – city-wide BRT networks being a case in point; a €6bn metro isn’t among them.