Our health, our modern lifestyle, our economy (urban & rural) and the ever increasing availability of groundbreaking ride sharing technology requires that we tear up the rule book of our transport system and start over again.
I’m a regular Dublin Bus commuter, cyclist, travel enthusiast and general technology geek that would like to share with you my vision of Dublin as a smart commuter city and my idea of a transport revolution for Ireland and why we need nothing short of a ground breaking cultural shift and widespread change in how we think of commuting in our daily life.
Lets talk about commuting stress
The health consequences of long commutes are grim. A raft of new evidence suggests that long term commutes are extremely damaging to people’s health so much so that this phenomenon may well be the new smoking in terms of morbidity. Recent studies have shown that long commutes involving inactivity are not only damaging to our health because of sedentary lifestyle but also carry an inherent health risk due to commuting stress. One only needs to be sitting or standing on Dublin Bus for long periods in gridlock to get an idea of what this study means in practical terms. Commuting stress has been implicated in an increased risk of high blood pressure (Hypertension) and associated risks which include heart disease, stroke etc. Our commute maybe in fact killing us. That is before we even factor in the loss of quality time & sleep deprivation which of itself carries health risks. For further details on the negative effects long commutes have on our bodies take a look at this article from Time Magazine. Further research on quality of life indicators regarding long term commuting from The Guardian. One of the biggest ever studies on the implications of long commutes and cardiorespiratory fitness was the 2012 Texas study published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine. You can read it here.
Now onto the matter of our dysfunctional Health service. Successive Ministers for health have consistently failed to improve health services, hospital waiting lists, rising drug prices and ever increasing health insurance premia. While undoubtedly many politicians are incompetent, the failing of health services cannot be completely attributed to the political ineptitude of successive health ministers. Medical inflation, better diagnostic tools, lab tests and drugs combined with an aging and growing population all push up the cost of delivering a modern health service. This is and will greatly be exacerbated further by an obesity epidemic of which Ireland now ranks among the top in Europe with regard obesity rates. All of these reasons are why I believe that this particular ministry is a poisoned chalice and that by far the best way of delivering the best service we can is by reducing demand at source. In short I would refuse the office of Minister for health if I couldn’t commandeer the ministry of transport along with it. In my opinion our transport system and how we commute is the low hanging fruit that has not yet been picked, the proverbial elephant in the room when it comes to massively reducing the demands on our ailing health services. Aside from the public health initiatives introduced by the Department of Health such as the smoking ban, alcohol awareness etc; I believe that a smart transport revolution could save us millions per year by reducing hospital admissions and treatment for conditions resulting from obesity and sedentary lifestyle. I am convinced that a smart transport revolution for the entire country is possible if the political will is there. I also believe that many of the recommendations I am about to make will ultimately be forced upon us by market forces and sheer necessity. If we don’t take action now we will undoubtedly suffer years more unnecessary commuting stress along with its dire health and economic consequences.
You are probably thinking well that’s all good and well but what do you propose? So here is a summary of what I believe needs to happen. As I said many of my proposals involve far reaching changes and not merely tweaking at the edges. Many of these ideas will not be popular with groups such as motorists and the Taxi lobby but I believe that although radical & disruptive they are nonetheless essential if we are to improve the quality of commuting in Dublin and elsewhere.
1) A massive reduction in the number of cars in Dublin achieved through a 10-20% increase in VRT and road tax throughout the country and other taxation measures. With a growing population, the problem of traffic congestion is only going to get worse until we take decisive measures to drastically reduce traffic that is grinding Dublin City to a halt and rendering existing methods of mass transit completely ineffective. We will not have an elaborate subway system anytime in the medium term future so freeing our streets of gridlock by every means possible is paramount. All other proposals are dependent on achieving this. By taxing cars off the road we increase the demand for public transport and ridesharing hence more funding for these areas as well as allowing these to actually move.
2) A congestion charge for cars entering Dublin City Centre. Other cities in Europe including London do not allow unlimited traffic to flow through the city centre. I would impose a daily charge of €15 for cars entering the city centre. Those wishing to shop there could avoid this charge by using public transport, taxis or ridesharing services such as Uber or Lyft which need to be allowed and encouraged to fully enter the market.
3) Further Increases in VRT and yearly road tax on cars within a 3KM radius of Dublin City Centre. Inner city roads were not built with cars in mind and I would discourage the ownership of cars which unnecessarily take up road space. I would then place out a tender to car rental providers to offer these residents a substantial reduction in car rental when they need a car to drive longer distances outside Dublin.
4) An act passed mandating that all money received by these measures be ring fenced for public transport and other sustainable transport measures. Transparent measures outlining the funding of these projects should be part of the yearly budget accompanied by regular audits on the use of this revenue directly under the remit of the minister for transport.
5) A complete U turn by the NTA in its approach to ride sharing technology that has the potential to offer the benefits of car ownership to the disabled, the blind, the elderly in rural communities and make a massive impact on the problem of drink driving. Legalise Taxi pooling and allow anyone who has passed a criminal background check by the same authorities that license regular taxis to drive for Uber, Lyft and any other acceptable ride sharing company that enters the Irish market.
App based taxis can be made even safer than current regulated taxis as new technology can now match lady drivers with lady passengers etc. Empty taxis are part of the problem of traffic gridlock. Antiquated laws result in far less uptake of taxi services than what potentially could be a mass form of public transport instead of the occasional lift to the airport or expensive lift home after a night out. Again taxi pooling technology can pair lady passengers with other lady passengers etc and if one still wants to travel alone in a taxi for the full fare you can. Its all about choice. Dashcam technology should be mandatory in all taxis and ride share cars for the protection of both drivers and passengers.
6) Pilot studies regarding the feasibility and implementation of ride sharing technologies should be undertaken as a matter of urgency.
7) The development of park and ride facilities and what is known as last mile technology. This refers to such things as folding electric bikes, electric kick scooters etc that can conveniently be stored in cars or public transport and rapidly deployed for easy transport into population dense areas or regions inaccessible to public transport.
8) The promotion of cycling to an even greater degree and continued investment in cycle lanes.
9) Better facilities for carrying bikes on Intercity trains and public transport.
10) The promotion of walking. Dublin City Council and others could develop an app outlining the distances and walking times between various focal points in the city. Those within walking distance of work should be encouraged to walk.
Ride sharing is the future and where the need arises, services such as Uber and Lyft need to be fully liberalised. Taxis in their current form are the fossil fuels of the transport sector. They are unsustainable. Predominantly empty taxis add to traffic gridlock and will eventually lose the battles they are facing across Europe right now with ridesharing technology providers. Strong Unions have held this back in many regions to a certain degree but as more customers become acquainted with ridesharing technology and governments fully realize its potential, traditional taxi services will either be forced to adapt or die.
I firmly believe ride sharing technology such as that developed by Uber, Lyft, BlaBla Car, Wundercar and others that is currently aggressively fought by the NTA, has the potential to be the greatest development in road transportation since the invention of the car itself. Most people are familiar with the concept of self driving autonomous vehicles. All major car makers have staked their future in this technology and they tout it as having the potential to allow the disabled, the elderly and blind to enjoy most of the benefits of car ownership.
I believe that if we as a country are ready and willing and possess the innovative skills required to deeply integrate ride sharing technology into our society instead of fearing it; we can become a world leader in its development and implementation and can achieve most of the benefits attributed to autonomous vehicles years if not decades before they become commonplace on our roads.
Sooner or later the NTA will lose the war it is waging against ride sharing technology as will other European countries who rail against it. It is like the last blacksmith fighting the invention of the automobile.
Public Service Vehicle regulation is outdated. We can address the safety issues and other practical concerns around ride sharing technology. For example the law could state that for a driver to be licensed to drive an Uber or Lyft they must pass the same criminal background checks by the same authorities that license regular taxi drivers. Whether licensed taxi driver or Uber employee, in ear app navigation gives drivers turn by turn directions to their destination. It is time to realize that most people who have passed a driving test and have no criminal background who own a relatively decent vehicle are more than capable of delivering a service on a par with traditional drivers who had to pass a geographical area theory test. In the vast majority of instances this is no longer necessary. Consistently poor performing drivers will be flagged by the passenger reviews on ride share apps.
Others have brought up potential insurance issues. Again the State could put this out to the insurance market or failing an acceptable policy, it could offer its own insurance similar to the uninsured drivers fund. We already have an example of a State insurance scheme. This insurance would only kick in once a driver accepted a passenger and would revert to their normal insurance once the passenger leaves. The driver could contribute on a per passenger basis to this scheme or by a percentage of revenue earned.
Dublin non taxi-licensed ride share company drivers would be subject to maximum earnings of €3000 per year to prevent them from becoming professional drivers. Rural drivers would not be allowed participate in the Dublin market but would be granted an ability to generate unlimited income from ride sharing with the first €6000 being tax free.
I would propose a cap on ride share earnings of €3000 per year (tax free) for those with a Dublin address and to earn anymore one would have to become a conventional licensed taxi driver. This would prevent a flood of other alternative taxis clogging up Dublin streets. Those without a Dublin address would not be allowed offer these services in the greater Dublin area under any circumstances and would be charged and prosecuted as per current laws for offering an illegal taxi services. The same rules would apply to other big cities.
I would have vastly different rules for rural Ireland and would essentially allow anyone who passes the standard criminal background check and has a decent vehicle to drive for these ride share companies without restriction. I would go even further and double the tax exemption to €6000. Further earnings would be taxed as regular income. This would result in a public transport revolution for rural Ireland where other public transport options are not economically feasible. This would be revolutionary by even global comparison as even within the US, ride sharing technology has not yet successfully penetrated rural areas. I believe if the political will is there we can essentially give rural dwellers the same if not better access to efficient transport on demand as their urban counterpart. This could prove to be of enormous benefit to the rural economy.
Such technology could greatly contribute to the revival of the rural pub and Post Office as well as providing a means of social interaction for the elderly.
In summary I believe city drivers will ultimately be forced to address their addiction to the car. Even automobile manufacturers now realize that the traditional model of car ownership for all will greatly reduce as city populations grow even further and innovations in ride sharing technology greatly reduce the necessity of owning a car. City planners will likely introduce strategic taxes and charges similar to what I have proposed to help achieve this objective and raise much needed revenue for sustainable transport projects. If this does not become the cultural norm in Dublin, traffic congestion will become an even bigger public menace, public transport will stagnate and the challenges facing our dysfunctional health service will become much greater. The cost of treating increasing rates of chronic illness will test the limits of the health service even further. It is likely the city’s population will suffer from increased rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. I look forward to a brighter, better future for Dublin and the rest of the country. Do you?