Recently, there have been a few publications which focus on the need to reprioritise policy and investment across various aspects of Irish transport infrastructure and services.
The Irish Exporters Association (IEA) has published a paper entitled Building a Transport infrastructure that fosters Irish exports to the world, see here. The IEA, whose focus is on supporting Irish exporters and ensuring efficient international transport access, sets out policies and recommendations which they believe are necessary to more effectively support exporters across Ireland. From a Western Region context, a few of these are particularly relevant.
Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC)
The IEA believes that the Atlantic Economic Corridor needs to be supported through improved connectivity from the North West to the South West of Ireland. The IEA sees the AEC and Ireland’s regions as an important counterbalance to Dublin and the transport infrastructure needs to more effectively support Ireland’s agri-food and Life Sciences industries along with all other industrial clusters located there.
Rail Freight development
The IEA are asking for policy supports to move more freight by rail, noting the relatively tiny share of traffic carried by rail in Ireland (0.9%) compared to an EU average of 17% in 2016. The Western Region is the source of most rail freight in Ireland. The IEA is asking for supports such as reduced track access charges for rail freight, which is a practice common across Europe. This is discussed further in a report commissioned by the WDC and available here. Apart from the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (rail freight can reduce the carbon footprint by 70%), the other significant driver is the huge degree of congestion which generates significant costs, highlighted in a report discussed further below.
The IEA believe that with Dublin Port operating at or near capacity, further upgrading and diversifying Ireland’s export gateways must be a strategic Government priority. This need is compounded by Brexit. The IEA believe the Government should further develop Ireland’s regional seaports to provide exporters across Ireland with viable, cost efficient and accessible alternatives to Dublin port. They welcome the proposed redevelopment of both Rosslare and Galway Ports.
Airports and air cargo
Similar to the concentration of traffic through Dublin Port, the IEA recognises the concentration of air cargo through Dublin airport. It believes that cost-efficient, viable and well-connected alternatives should be promoted in the West and South to facilitate high-frequency aviation connections to key European and global cargo and business hubs and ensure sustainable economic growth nationally.
This echoes the views expressed by the WDC in its submission to the recent consultation on the Regional Airports Programme, arguing for the need to update transport policy generally and aviation policy specifically to reflect the overarching objectives of Project Ireland 2040, see the WDC Submission here.
The CSO Aviation statistics, see here, highlight the trend of the increasing concentration of air passengers travelling through Dublin airport compared to other airports. For example, in 2014, Dublin accounted for 81.9% of all passengers (total = 26.5 million), compared to 85.6% in 2018 (Total = 36.6 million). This represents an increase of 9.6 million passengers in 4 years with Dublin Airport accounting for 95.2% of total passenger growth in that period. So along with a significant increase in total air passenger numbers, there is an ever-increasing share travelling through Dublin airport. The WDC considers that with Dublin Airport now operating at or near capacity, and capacity available at other airports such as Ireland West Airport Knock and Shannon, cost-efficient and accessible alternatives to Dublin should be utilised and promoted.
Level of concentration unusual in a European context
Just last week a report by Copenhagen Economics entitled Assessment of aviation policy as a driver of economic development in the West and Mid West of Ireland, see here noted the particularly high concentration of passenger traffic in Dublin relative to the other airports in Ireland which is especially high when compared to other small, open economies in Northern Europe. According to this report, the concentration of Dublin’s share of passenger traffic in Ireland represents the second highest, behind only Schiphol in the Netherlands. However, while Dublin’s share continues to increase that of Schiphol has been decreasing over time. This is partly due to Dutch aviation policy, which sets maximum aircraft movements through Schiphol, and actively encourages flights via other national airports in the Netherlands. Dutch aviation policy recognises that airport development is viewed as being part of regional development outlined in the Randstad 2040 Strategic Agenda. The report calls for initiatives to improve Shannon Airport’s global connectivity. A better capacity utilisation at Shannon Airport (in addition to other airports outside of the Capital) will enhance the growth capacity of the West and Mid West regions, and at the same time alleviate pressure on Dublin without requiring costly infrastructure investments.
It seems Government maybe listening and in Budget 2020, a marketing support fund was announced, comprising approximately €10 million over three years to Tourism Ireland which is to be made available to support the regional airports outside Dublin, including Shannon Airport see here. This is a small but welcome development but more policy supports will be needed to ensure that other airports can grow their numbers and their share of national traffic which in turn will help them to become self-sustaining.
The Costs of Congestion
Finally, recent reports by the Department of Transport indicate that rebalancing traffic away from an increasingly congested Greater Dublin Area (GDA), will not only support the goals and objectives of Project Ireland 2040 but will also make financial and economic sense! The research measured the costs of congestion, specifically around the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) see here. Some of the congestion in the GDA and the M50 are contributed to by passengers and freight originating in the catchments of ports and airports in the West and South such as Shannon and Knock but who currently travel through the GDA to access services at Dublin Port and airport.
The reports estimate the annual value of time lost to road users due to aggravated congestion in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), as compared to where the road network is performing well. The cost of time lost due to aggravated congestion is measured at €358 million in 2012 and is forecasted to rise to €2.08 billion per year in 2033.
These estimated costs do not include other costs, for example, increased fuel consumption and other vehicle operating costs, or increases in vehicle emissions or the impacts of congestion on journey quality. Additionally, congestion also has an impact on the wider economy, and Ireland’s competitiveness. All else equal, high levels of congestion will reduce the attractiveness of a location to work and live in, as well as directly affecting the cost of transporting goods and services. These costs are not captured by this study, and as such, the total costs of aggravated congestion are likely to be higher than those estimated in this report.
It is clear that the benefits of supporting better transport infrastructure and services across ports, airports, the rail and road network outside of the GDA and specifically along the Western Region and Atlantic Economic Corridor makes sense from an economic, social and financial perspective. Implementation of Government policy already set out in Project Ireland 2040 through the NDP and the updating of various sectoral policies needs to take place to give effect to these policies and to a better Ireland for all its regions.