Lack of public transport makes Ireland a disconnected island – The Irish Times

The central theme of a shared island has remained present throughout the current government programme. But with entire counties systematically cut off from all railway infrastructure and a woefully insufficient supply of cross-border transport, we remain a totally disconnected island.

For many residents of Fermanagh, Tyrone, Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan, there can be no starker reminder of what once was than seeing a map of the rail network in the 1920s. In the 50 years since the partition, entire counties broke away from any established or intact rail infrastructure, which was further compounded by decades of underinvestment in road infrastructure and bus provision.

Transit poverty is a deep-rooted parasitic problem that has long ravaged our rural towns and villages. How can it be considered acceptable that entire communities be served by one bus per week? Meanwhile, investment and concentration continue to be priorities for the central hubs of Belfast and Dublin, with the prospect of an hourly train route between the respective cities to be established as early as next year. There is no shortage of trains and buses already connecting the two capitals, while the majority of the island and its disconnected population continue to languish desperately.

As an island and as a society, we are grappling under the weight of worsening crises: the housing crisis, the climate emergency, fuel shortages, and more. The solutions for each remain complex, but improving public transport infrastructure and provision continues to be massively overlooked as an effective way to make a substantial dent in the majority of these problems.

The role of transport in achieving ambitious climate goals has been recognized by the government in both the Climate Action Plan and the National Development Plan. Outside major cities, the lack of public transport leaves families no choice but to rely on cars, which increases emissions and pushes families even further below the poverty line due to the costs of transport. vehicle maintenance and rising fuel prices.

Increased rail infrastructure, green buses, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure all contribute to the government’s plan to cut carbon emissions by 51% by 2030, but what we’ve had so far, these are words, not deeds.

Currently, two out of five villages in the Republic lack public transportation options connecting residents to the opportunities and benefits available to those in nearby larger cities. In the North, rural villages in counties such as Tyrone and Fermanagh are so underserved that the vast majority of residents struggle to access basic health services. A recent report commissioned by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council found that up to 69 per cent of people in the area took more than two hours to get to the nearest hospital by public transport on any given weekday. , this percentage rising to 82% of the population. hospitalized residents forced to endure more than two hours on public transport over the weekend.

There has long been a stubbornness and reluctance to invest in rural areas – cost and population size being among the most prohibitive factors cited. But connecting our island would boost tourism, increase economic corridors, reduce our emissions, and reduce congestion and housing pressures, in addition to revitalizing our rural communities.

To prevent more people from falling below the poverty line, the government needs to be more proactive in mitigating the impact of inflation and fuel costs. A plan to reduce public transport expenses for young people has already come into effect, but why not go further and abolish public transport costs altogether? At least 98 cities and towns around the world provide citizens with some form of free public transportation. This, together with increased services, would reduce reliance on cars and with it costs.

Railways, dual carriageways, greenways and increased buses are all needed to achieve our most important goal, as is a reassessment of the routes currently in place. The government has set ambitious targets, with €35 billion earmarked for transport projects to be delivered by 2030. Whether that will translate into anything other than lofty aspirations over the lifetime of this government remains to be seen.

There has been a change in the government’s approach. Last year saw the launch of a public consultation on an all-island rail review, while the National Transport Authority launched a public consultation on rural Ireland’s tandem connection. However, both progress at a glacial pace. There are pockets of progress: Sligo, Cavan and Leitrim are working with Fermanagh and Omagh District Council to develop the Collooney-Enniskillen Greenway; and, after a decade of stagnation, the tender for the Narrow Water Bridge is on the horizon; but in the meantime, more can and should be done.

As a cross-border worker who regularly commutes between rural Fermanagh and Dublin via public transport – a venture that can take up to four hours each way – I can confidently say that we don’t need no more reports or reviews: we need urgent action to get help to those who need it most and unlock the potential of our island.

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