What do London, Singapore and Stockholm have in common? They're just three of many cities around the world who have introduced car congestion charges. Prof Brian Caulfield from the School Of Engineering in TCD and transport commentator Conor Faughnan joined the Today With Claire Byrne show on RTÉ Radio 1 to discuss if such charges are a way of unblocking our cities. (This piece includes excerpts from the conversation which have been lightly edited for length and clarity - full discussion below).

"I think after 2027, when the Metro will have been delivered, as well as BusConnects, that's when we need to start to consider congestion charges", says Caulfield. "I think people need an alternative and it's not just BusConnects. It's not just the Metrolink. There are other projects that can deliver mobility for the city, but without these in place, I do think it would be unfair and inequitable to expect motorists to be charged. But with those projects in place and the amount of money that the state is spending on them, I think a congestion charge is inevitable.

"Another way to look at it will be to look at parking within the city centre, within the canals. How much of it do we offer to motorists, can we reduce that? And then that would then also result in a decrease in congestion. When you look at the counts over the canal in 2019, only 27% of the traffic over the canals was by a private car, so that the numbers of those driving to the city centre are dwindling. If you look at the data from 2019, people spent about nine days in that year, in peak morning congestion in their cars. We're not sure what remote working will do in terms of the demand for transport."

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From RTÉ Archives, George Devlin reports for RTÉ News on a 1975 report recommending cycle lanes in Irish towns and cities to increase cycling and decrease traffic congestion

Faughnan believes that the way around congestion is to provide alternatives. "You don't need to force people out of their cars when you've got alternatives. If you look at the Luas, for example, the lines that do run, or the DART system in Dublin, they provide an excellent service and nobody has to be persuaded to leave the car at home. The public transport options are packed. We're 30 years talking about the need for Metro in Dublin. We still haven't delivered it. And once you do have a quality public transport system to offer people, you suddenly find you don't need a congestion charge.

"It's a point that I've made over the years, but it remains a simple analysis. If you provide public transport and it's good, the citizens take to it in droves. They don't need to be forced. If you don't provide us, then no amount of forcing is going to help.

"The best time to start doing this was probably in the 1960s. If you provide serious mass transit in that form, then if you have residual car use, you can look at it as taxable. But between now and then, it is a fantasy to pretend that our congestion problems, let alone our emissions problems, are caused by motorists who won't do the right thing. It's a fundamentally flawed diagnosis."

From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Fergal Keane reports from the launch of the National Transport Authority's Metrolink plan for Dublin in March 2019

Caulfield says the main aim of a congestion charge is to get people out of their cars. "A lot of people that use the Luas basically transferred from bus to Luas when it was built so there wasn't as much decrease in car usage as we would have expected. If the shift is just from a less efficient mode of public transport to the Metro or the Luas, then we're losing. We do need to get the people out of their car. That's the key target.

"We need to start to think big and imaginative. There's a huge amount of space given up to parking in the city centre and I would suggest you start to talk to architects and other engineers about what we could do with that space. Be as residential or recreational, there's lots of different uses for it. I think I worked it out that there will be about a thousand 90 square metre apartments if the private car parks were transferred over to other uses.

"We talk about London a lot, but Stockholm is pretty similar to Dublin. What they did iitially was rolled out extra bus services and increased the capacity on their rail networks. They did that over six months prior to introducing the congestion charge, and it was brought in there as a trial and people wanted to keep it and it is quite successful."

You can hear the discussion in full below

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