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In Defence of Public Transport - Dr John Lynch, Chairman CIE

Sunday Independent Letters - Aug 3rd 2008 

PUBLIC transport is not the simple business that Shane Ross seems to believe it is.

In an unbalanced report on the CIE accounts in last week's Sunday Independent, he betrays nothing more useful than a prejudice. Unfortunately it is a dangerous prejudice because it exactly reflects the thinking that has held back the transport sector for years. It is the very same discredited view that was responsible for the chronic underfunding of the sector in the quarter century after the Seventies.

Happily, policymakers have now fully awoken to the urgent need for significant investment in public transport. More importantly still, the Irish travelling public have applauded the change.

Unfortunately, the Sunday Independent Business Section struggles to grapple with this bigger picture.

Our customers - 300 million travellers journey every year on the public transport system - don't resent the subsidisation of the sector. Their concerns are that we constantly improve the system and that we enhance its reliability.

It is the job of CIE management to meet these challenges in the most efficient and expeditious way. But while carping about subsidies in public transport, without looking at the wider benefits of such funding, may have an appeal for some rightist ideologues, they are concerns not shared in any fashion by the travelling public.

The lessons of the past as far as public transport systems are concerned, prove only one thing. The best systems are put in place where they are backed by strong public funding. If they are evaluated on a simple profit and loss basis, they would not happen at all.

The payback on such systems is felt by communities through the economic and social benefits they produce. These benefits include enhanced mobility for everyone, reduced congestion, lower pollution, fewer accidents and many other factors that Shane Ross chooses not to rate in his P & L analysis.

We have independent and outside endorsement of this view. CIE's subvention produces benefits which are a multiple of the funding involved.

In the case of the rail network alone, consultants Booz Allen Hamilton, produced a strategic review in 2003 which showed that the net benefit to our economy of rail services exceeded euro1bn annually. And that applies even before the expansion of services in recent years.

Further analysis by the same consultants published in 2007 found that the subvention across the CIE group offered "value for money". This is an analysis based on recognised economic measures and doesn't make the mistake of amalgamating as a subsidy the CIE subvention and the capital funding of development which the Sunday Independent unfortunately did. To describe the CIE group's operations across Iarnrod Eireann, Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus as "ailing", ignores some important salient facts:

  • Iarnrod Eireann is currently delivering the fastest growing rail service in Europe, with fares and subventions below European average;
  • Bus Eireann is also one of the lowest subvented operations in Europe, while its network has delivered record growth in recent years, despite the cost of gridlock (euro23m annually); and
  • Dublin Bus has a low subvention rate by European standards. Customer demand is growing apace in spite of gridlock (euro60m annually).

All these three operating subsidiaries are currently expanding their services and the range of choices for commuters. Meanwhile, capital investment is set to accelerate under the Government's Transport 21 Programme. There is nothing "ailing" about CIE.

John J Lynch, Chairman CIE








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