Traffic management is Dublin’s new ideological battleground

LuasDublin's stylish Luas trams. There aren't enough of them. Not nearly enough, in fact.
There used to be a saying in Irish politics that the first item on the agenda of any new group was the split. According to the Irish Independent Dublin’s latest ideological battleground is the politics of traffic management – and things aren’t going well, as Dougal Paver discovers.

Anyone familiar with Dublin will know what a traffic-choked hell-hole it can be.  Okay, hell-hole is a tad strong, but the choked bit is spot-on – this is not an easy place to move around.  A city centre spread over the north and south banks of the river and narrow quaysides running east to west exacerbate the problem, with a mediaeval street plan administering the coup to grace as far as traffic flow is concerned.  The council have decided to do something about it and business leaders are not happy, but there are other headwinds they need to worry about, as we’ll see.

Anyway, when I was a young man queuing up to catch the 54A from College Green to Terenure it used to amaze me just how many people used the city’s bus network, though it quickly dawned on me that they had little choice if they wanted to get around the place.  The excellent DART metro network has one major flaw: half its potential customers on the city’s south side are fish on account of it hugging the coastline.  It makes for scenic journeys but inefficient exploitation of its potential catchment.

Latterly the authorities have invested in a rather nifty tram network, the Luas, but its expansion is painfully slow and it already suffers huge capacity constraints at peak times.

So whilst doing something about car usage may be fine (or “ideological” if you’re not on the same page as the city’s transport authority) there’s a compelling need to invest in capacity, too.  Dublin’s economy is roaring ahead again and capacity constraints in housing, office accommodation and transport are undermining the city’s competitiveness.  The pending reduction in Northern Ireland’s corporate tax rate to match the Republic’s will see Belfast pose a serious threat once corporations clock the huge gulf in costs between the two cities.

Prime office space in Dublin is around £39 a square foot.  In Belfast it’ll be around £20 once new stock comes on stream.  Factor in the cost differential in the workforce, too, plus the northern city’s new corporation tax rate and much lower housing costs and Dublin suddenly starts to look seriously over-cooked.  I’m working with a London investor taken by the arithmetic and some interesting things may happen.

If you’re one of the American corporations drawn to Dublin because, amongst other things, you want to be in Ireland because your great Uncle Mick came from Galway then locational loyalty probably isn’t in the mix.  You just want to show your domestic audiences (shareholders, politicians, customers) that you’ve invested in the auld sod.  In which case, my money’s on Belfast over the next five years.  You heard it here first.