22 March 2001 Edition
Transport policy should tackle inequality, says Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin, in their recent submission on transport strategy to the Six-County Department for Regional Development (DRD), radically challenges the DRD's transport strategy proposals, which are still firmly rooted in British transport policy, with its almost exclusive reliance on cars.
The Sinn Féin proposals are a breath of fresh air, in several senses, especially if they get you out of the daily dose of carbon monoxide fumes from a couple of hours in the traffic gridlock. They pay serious regard to the Kyoto Protocol, which calls on the nations of the world to cut back their CO2 emissions.
``Transport planning,'' the submission says, ``has to break free of British policy which is geared to the motor car to the neglect of affordable and efficient public transport through community based taxis, buses and trains. The Good Friday Agreement calls for transport strategy to be 32-county. But the DRD takes no account of this framework. The absence of a rail link from Dublin to Derry, or Belfast to Galway, or Cork, is inexplicable when set against the needs of economic development and freedom of movement. We can no longer ignore freight, or the link between ports, for instance Larne or Roslare to airports like Shannon or Derry. How else can we begin to redress the unequal development and disadvantage between East and West in Ireland?''
Sinn Féin argues that the problems of rural transport, the fact that current motorways do not enter Derry, Fermanagh or Tyrone, have to be considered in the context of economic development but also of targeting social need. At present, the most disadvantaged sector, the non-car user, gets the least in terms of public spending. This is just reinforcing inequality and marginalisation.
``The equality agenda requires that the transport needs of all people, including the disabled, who are often isolated with no available transport at all, must be respected,'' says Sinn Féin.
The party advocates drawing up transport strategy through consultation with user groups, like those in schools, in workplaces, people in housing developments. Government and planning has to stop being top down. It needs to come from the people, whose quality of life is destroyed by bad transport policy, and whose freedom of movement is severely curtailed, by an uncaring attitude to those whose needs are greatest
Above all, profitability doesn't reflect social need. Transport should not be left to the private sector, but provided by government as a service for all if we are to combat social inequality in the new dispensation for Ireland.
Sinn Féin's Waterford transport plan
Anyone who has visited Waterford City in recent years knows about traffic jams. The congestion to get in or out of the town at rush hour is legendary. The local Sinn Féin cumann last week submitted detailed and radical proposals for the Corporation, which is drawing up a five-year development plan in the coming months.
Waterford is a beautiful old city dating back to a settlement in the time of the Vikings. It has become a metropolis upon which an estimated 100,000 people from surrounding counties depend. At least 14,000 people commute daily to Waterford from South Kilkenny, Wexford and Waterford County, and most do so in cars. Every morning and evening the one bridge into the town, and the esplanade along the quays, become gridlocked.
Sinn Féin proposes radical new solutions, including a Park and Ride facility for commuters into town across the Bridge, the closing of car park facilities along the quays, to be replaced by multi-story underground or overground car parks at strategic locations.
``Consultation with people concerned is the central requirement to any good city planning,'' says Sinn Féin's Davie Lane, a branch official for SIPTU in Waterford. The proposal says that all proposed multi-story car parks should be joint ventures between Waterford Corporation and Bus Éireann, so that they are retained in public ownership. ``We are strongly opposed to the idea that private developers should be allowed to extort profit through the provision of a necessary service to the people, a service which people cannot manage without, such as car parking facilities,'' he says.
The provision of car parks should be retained in public ownership also, to provide a general service to the people, according to the party. It should not become a source of profit to developers that penalises those who are living on lower incomes.
Present plans include a second bridge over the river Suir, a toll bridge. Funding from EU Structural Funds has already been secured as part of the National Development Plan. ``Why is it planned to make this a toll bridge? Toll charges would be no more than blatant double taxation of the people of Waterford and neighbouring counties,'' asks Sinn Féin spokesperson John Kiely, a community worker and community representative on the Waterford Partnership Board.
``Through the failure of government to provide adequate, convenient and cheap public transport, the car has become the central means of transport for a whole population. Motorists already contribute huge taxation through Vehicle Registration, VAT charges on new car purchases, road tax, tax on Motor Insurance, and they pay the astronomic level of tax on petrol and diesel. Why then should people have to pay again to use a bridge which should have been provided years ago by the Dublin Government?''
The submission highlights the failures of Waterford Corporation in siting car parks for the city. It points out the car park for the Johnstown area is a very poor location, and the multi-story car park for New Street is a complete disaster.
The Corporation plans to date have been drawn up without proper consultation with people whose very quality of life is threatened by gridlocked traffic, says Sinn Féin. The party highlights the serious need to improve public transport. The number of routes, the low frequency of buses and the cost of this travel have meant that at present public transport is used by only 4% of workers coming into town. The submission condemns the absence of cycle lanes, which means that no one feels safe to use a bicycle.
Sinn Féin wants speed ramps in all housing estates and on roads which pass by schools and housing estates. It also advocates the extension of concessionary and free fare schemes on public transport as a way to combat social exclusion.
``These are changing times, and Corporation planning has to catch up. The council has to take consultation with the people seriously and have regard to social exclusion and equality proofing in drawing up their development plan for the next five years,'' says John Kiely.