Every argument supports public transport

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In this piece Malcolm Lake, Press Officer , Alternative A5 Alliance makes the case for a renewed focus on public transport before work begins on the upgrade of the existing A5.

The construction of two stretches of the proposed A5 dual carriageway will be of little use to many people in Derry/Londonderry.

Certainly it will be of no benefit to the 38% of the city’s households that do not have access to a car.

Despite the situation in the second city, Northern Ireland is the most car dependent region in the EU and building more roads is condemning us to greater use of the car.

In announcing the project, Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy spoke of “up to 800 (construction) jobs.”

This is a 60% fall from the 2,000 jobs that Finance Minister Sammy Wilson “confirmed” when he announced funding for the project in February. A subsequent Freedom of Information request revealed there was no basis for this number.

The same could well be the case with the latest announcement. Whatever the new jobs, probably an equal number will be created by an upgrade of the existing A5.

The Alternative A5 Alliance believes that investment is public transport would be a far better way of spending the £330million—being topped-up with a proposed £50million contribution from the Dublin government.

Every economic and social argument supports public transport.

It is obviously vital for those who don’t have cars; many are the most vulnerable in our society.

Before a sod is turned, £40million has been spent on the ‘A5WTC’ project. But since it was announced, the Derry-Dublin bus service has been cut; at one stage, from eleven to six buses per day.

Public transport offers safety: bus travel is eight times safer than car travel. Rail is safer still, and the Executive should look to reinstating services.

This is important, as—worldwide—road accidents are the greatest single cause of premature death.

Public transport is much more environmentally friendly and sustainable. One of the stated aims of the A5 project was to improve communications between this region and Dublin. That could be achieved more cheaply and quickly by upgrading public transport.

An expansion of public transport does not require spending millions on building a new road. It reduces vehicle exhaust fumes, a major cause of climate change.

Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology established that over 5,000 people die each year in the UK as a result of the particulates the fumes contain. Unlike government figures on jobs, this research was verified by other scientists before publication.

World oil production peaked in 2006, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), an intergovernmental agency. The IEA has warned that oil production is set to fall sharply in about 30 years time.

This, it believes, will have catastrophic economic and social effects, unless governments now work on conservation and alternatives.

Disgracefully, Northern Ireland has the lowest spend on public transport of any of the four administrations in these islands. Here, 80% of transport investment goes into roads, only 20% into public transport.

The Inspectors’ Report into the A5 public inquiry states, however: “Improvements to public transport are…outside the scope of the A5WTC Scheme, and indeed Roads Service.” Contrary to its own guidelines, the Department of Regional Development did not explore any of the possible alternatives to the A5WTC: neither transport systems nor infrastructure.