Electric vehicles

The Guardian reports that electric cars are not selling well in the UK.

The CSO does not report sales of electric cars, but it does report “other fuel types” which, by elimination, must mean electric. In 2008, 6 such cars were registered, or 0.004% of all new cars. This rose to 9 (0.017%) in 2009, 23 (0.027%) in 2010 and 45 (0.054%) in the first nine months of 2011.

Hybrids are doing better: 2,600 were sold in 2008-2011, or 0.7%.

The government still aims for one in ten all-electric by 2020 (on the road, not new sales; see Hennessy and Tol (2011, Fig 10) for an estimate of the impact on carbon dioxide emissions). That is roughly 230,000 cars. We’ve bought the first 83. Only 229,917 to go. (The target for 2012 is a more modest 6,000.) .

The ESB has put up a good few charging points. Initially, power was given away for free, but I can’t find evidence that that is still the case. There is a purchase subsidy of 5,000 euro per car, and a zero VRT. The motor tax is 146 euro per year.

Car buyers are apparently not impressed by the subsidies and tax breaks on offer, and the exchequer is not losing any money on this scheme. However, the investment by the ESB is pointless. Instead, they could have paid the money as a dividend to the government.

Dublin in the Cycle Top 10

Good news is always welcome. Dublin is the 2nd most Intelligent Community. Who cares it’s Dublin, Ohio? There is a chuckle in the capital, an opportunity to bitch, and as not too many people know about the other Dublin, its reputation adds to ours.

Dublin (Ireland) is ranked 9th (out of 80) on the list of most Bicycle-Friendly Cities in the world. The Lord Mayor rightly called this astonishing. I agree. Any town (that I’ve visited) in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands is more friendly to cyclists, including Hamburg (ranked 13th).

The list was put together by Copenhagenize. They do not reveal their methods. Dublin got 12 bonus points for trying, without which it would not have been in the top 20. Dublin’s high ranking is explained by “a wildly successful bike share programme” (true), “visionary politicians” (since booted out of office) “who implemented bike lanes and 30 km/h zones” (although the 30 km/h zone is fiendishly hard to navigate by bike), and “a citizenry who have merely shrugged and gotten on with it” (although the few available statistics suggest that people cycle less and less).

Copenhagenize claims that “[t]he new cycle track along the [Grand] [C]anal is brilliant”. It sure looks shiny and new. It has a small ridge between the road and the cycle line, the sort that was abandoned elsewhere because if you’d hit it accidentally, you’d go head first into traffic. Right of way is confusing. I use one crossing of the new cycle lane on my way back from work. In the few months since it was opened, I’ve spend some 10 minutes there and witnessed four near misses as cars turn on bikes. Fortunately, Dublin bikes are equipped with above-average brakes.

Copenhagenize has used the old let’s-rank-something trick to generate publicity. Unfortunately, they did not add to our understanding of what makes a city friendly to cycling.

McDonald and Cuffe on Metro North

On PrimeTime last week, Sean Barrett and Edgar Morgenroth cast severe doubt on the wisdom of Metro North. They are now joined by Frank McDonald.

Cairan Cuffe’s response starts with “[n]ow is the time to invest”. That says it all really. You can read the rest for yourself.

The Green Party is apparently still oblivious to the situation with the economy and the public finances. Cuffe wants to invest billions of euros in a project with a doubtful return. Gormley wants to spend unnecessary hundreds of millions of euros on waste disposal, despite warnings of his own EPA.  Ryan invests ESB’s money in electric cars and continues a subsidy scheme that does not deliver according to his own SEAI.

It is never wise to waste money, but now is a particularly bad time.

Dublin is badly served by public transport at present. Liberation of the bus market is the way forward.

UPDATE: Metro North got planning.

Economist on electric vehicles

The Economist has three pieces on electric cars (1, 2 in print and 3 online), calling it a big gamble for the car industry, questioning the sustainability of the generous subsidies for the well-to-do, and highlighting the limited reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Interestingly, Carlos Ghosn, one of the keenest supporters, appears to believe that 1 in 10 of new cars in 2020 will be all-electric. The goal for Ireland goes far beyond that: 1 in 10 cars (new and old) in 2020 should be all-electric.

Luas needs joined-up thinking

A guest post by Donal Ó Brolcáin

The property-induced economic crisis has given us an opportunity to scrap Metro North and the proposed Dart Interconnector, and instead expand the Luas system in Dublin. Within the next few weeks, the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) will open the Luas Green line extension to Cherrywood. This includes two fully equipped stations that will not be used. Recently, Iarnrod Eireann said it will not open a newly built station on the Kildare line. In both cases, the reason is that expected property development did not take place.

Metro North and the Interconnector are also predicated on development assumptions that no longer hold. Meanwhile, the government has dropped plans to link the two existing Luas lines for passenger services. This perpetuates the folly of the decision made in 1998 to build two separate Luas lines.

To meet the aims of government transport policy – to ensure the provision of a well-functioning, integrated public transport system that enhances competitiveness and contributes to social cohesion – I propose an integrated Luas, which would create an on-street loop around the central business district; access Dublin airport from all parts of the network, including a link to Dart; and fill the transport void in north Dublin with three Luas lines, all on the surface and cheaper per kilometre than Metro North.

Luas cannot be a network without integrating the Green and Red lines. This means a full interchange at the O’Connell Street-Abbey Street junction. This is no more radical a suggestion than the RPA-Iarnrod Eireann proposal to uproot St Stephen’s Green as part of their plans for two lines (Metro North, Dart Interconnector) underneath that part of Dublin.

Integrating the Green and Red lines needs two tracks on-street from Stephen’s Green to Broadstone, as RPA proposes. It would transfer to the unused line that joins the Western line (Maynooth, with the new Dunboyne line) at Broombridge.

Last Friday, An Bord Pleanála was due to hold a preliminary hearing on RPA’s application to build another Luas line, one that will not connect the existing lines for passenger services. The plan includes a bridge across the Liffey, joining Marlborough Street and Hawkins Street. This is silly, as it ignores the Samuel Beckett bridge, designed to take Luas vehicles. Why build yet another bridge that does not extend the Luas catchment area? Such a proposal goes against the notion of cost-effective improvement of public transport in the built-up parts of the capital.

The Docklands loop that I am proposing would use the Samuel Beckett bridge to integrate this new city quarter. Running on-street, it would connect the catchment areas of the Green line (Sandyford- Cherrywood) to the docklands, linking up the newly opened National Conference Centre, O2, Busaras, Connolly station and the Abbey theatre. It would connect the Red line (Tallaght-O2) to the south docklands, allowing easier access to the Grand Canal theatre, Shelbourne Park, the Aviva stadium, the Eye and Ear Hospital and National Concert Hall. It would require a new Dart interchange at Barrow Street on the southside, complementing Connolly Station on the northside.

The North Dublin loop would start from the joined-up Luas lines in O’Connell Street, run up Dorset Street, Drumcondra, Whitehall, Collins Avenue/DCU to Ballymun, onto the airport and back through Finglas to join the extended Green line at Broombridge. The airport can be linked to the Dart at Clongriffin, with a Luas line taking in Coolock, Beaumont Hospital and the North Fringe. That would put Dublin airport on a loop connecting it to the central business district from two directions. The airport can be also linked to the Dart at Clongriffin, with a Luas line taking in Coolock, Beaumont Hospital and the North Fringe.

Our governing classes love grand gestures, usually involving the feuding public-sector baronies of CIE companies, the RPA, National Roads Authority, local authorities, government departments and the newly created National Transport Authority. They refuse to learn from the mistakes made when railways were first built in Ireland.

Spin, hype and bluster cannot disguise the fact that quiet competence is missing. Dublin needs an integrated Luas network to show the “joined-up thinking” of which we have heard so much, and to get us out of the crisis caused by reliance on property development.

This article appeared in the Sunday Times of September 26.

The value of public transport

Alanna Gallagher has a piece on the impact of the Luas on house prices in today’s Times. It’s a mix of facts and anecdotes that reminds us of some of the positive effects of proper public transport in a city. At the same time, the fact that people are willing to pay a hefty premium for being near a Luas station reflects badly on transport options in the rest of Dublin.

Bike paths to somewhere

Olivia Kelly reports that the national cycle path network has been unveiled. As is all too common, there is no trace of this with the Department of Transport or the National Roads Authority. There is a powerpoint from January 2010, though, which is consistent with Kelly’s description.

I’m all for cycling. I cycle to work. I wish more people would cycle, so that there are fewer cars on the road (they’re a menace, not just to women). A proper cycling policy is one of the few ways in which carbon dioxide emissions can be cut fast.

The national cycling network disappoints. Its primary aim is to connect Ireland’s main towns. People do not commute by bike from town to town. The distance is too large. Bike commuters travel from the near suburbs to the city centre (and back).

The cycle paths are for recreation so. It is instructive to compare the NRA’s proposed network to the one proposed by Failte (page 19). The Failte one takes the cyclist through a scenic landscape from one place of interest to the next. The NRA one takes the cyclist on the shortest route from population centre to population centre.

Bikes are not cars. You use them in a different way for a different purpose.

Dublin to Cork in less than 10 hours

A trained cyclist can probably do it in that time. An all-electric vehicle would manage in three and a half with a bit of luck. The drive is about 3 hours, but the car would need to be recharged half-way through. If there is no queue at the “fast” charging point, you need at most half an hour. But as batteries wear or your driving style does not get you the nominal range, you would need to re-charge twice. And maybe you’re out of luck and need to recharge at the kerbside rate (60-90 mins) or from a standard socket (6-8 hours).

The government announced its support for electric vehicles yesterday: No VRT and a €5000 grant. In addition, the ESB gives away electricity and is investing in infrastructure, all courtesy of the shareholders (aka taxpayers).

All-electric vehicles are not yet ready for prime-time. They are fine for city driving and the perfect choice for those who can afford a second car and want to polish up their green image.

The current investment will not result in any intellectual property for Irish companies. Given the dire state of the public purse, it would be better to let others pay for the demonstration of all-electric vehicles and roll them out in Ireland when (if?) the technology is ready.

Dublin Bikes

he Irish Times has a story reminding us of the runaway success of Dublin Bikes, the bike rental scheme in Dublin city. The question is why is this so popular? It strikes me that Dublin is small enough to cycle but too big too walk, while motorised public transport is inconvenient and taxis too expensive.

Dublin Bikes copies Velo’v in Lyons, which was introduced in May 2005. There is no academic literature on who uses these bikes and why (but there is work on the trips taken). Bike rental is typically presented as a complement to other forms of public transport. A look at the station map suggests that Dublin Bikes are used to get around the city, rather than get into the city. Bike rides would thus replace bus rides and walks. Assuming that Dublin Bus did not respond by changing routes or frequencies, that means that Dublin Bikes does not reduce emissions and increases congestion by putting more bikes on the road.