Why we need more buses on the M50 and why it won´t happen

Whilst the court of public opinion is still out on the need for a complete revolution in terms of urban mobility towards mass scale public transport, the scientists and climate experts weighed in long ago on the need for a modal shift towards public transit.

Ireland is going to need to make a complete paradigm shift in the way we move on a daily basis. This will happen at a national level, but by far the greatest change will occur in mid and high density urban areas where the private car will increasingly become a secondary/backup mode of travel rather than peoples core transport provider. Irelands commitment to reach a 50 per cent reduction in transport emissions by 2030 will not happen without this revolution. The effect of this will ultimately mean there are less cars owned by private individuals in our capital city. In order to achieve this, we must make public transport significantly more convenient for people.

Right now Dubliners drive because it is the most convenient option. We don’t need to transform the whole country to get people to use it, we just need to make it convenient enough so that they want to.

An orbital route connected to the existing Dublin Bus/Go Ahead and Luas Network would be powerful in helping to unlock the city’s transport problem.

Ireland has committed to reducing transport emissions by a 50% by 2030 but is way off course to achieve this target even if all planned transport measures are implemented on schedule. One glaring problem preventing this goal being met is the fact we have hundreds of thousands of cars that are dependent on heavy usage of the M50.

A concept called induced demand meant that a third lane was added to the M50 in 2010 due to what Transport Infrastructure Ireland termed “chronic capacity problems”. This has resulted in increased usage of the M50, increased traffic congestion and pollution. Fourteen years on, it is the single biggest contributor road to our transport emissions and efforts should now consider converting this additional northbound lane into a bus/carshare lane between J11-J3 to provide decent/attractive public transport options to locations such as Dublin Airport.

Widening of the M50 cost millions but did little to solve it’s problems of today
Madrid´s 24hr bus route makes extensive use of its circular motorway network

To move 50,000 people per hour and drive in cars you need a paved street about 175 meters wide. To transport the same number of people in buses you need a 35-meter strip and a 9-meter metro or train.
Each car occupies about 4 m2 of parked land and about 25 m2 of asphalt while moving around the city (depending on speed), a demand for land that has come to determine the physiognomy and life in urban areas.

Various groups have called for usage of the M50 for public transport over the years and various excuses have been given by lobbyists and political figures to avoid it´s implementation. The fact of the matter is there is a lot more money to be made by forcing Irish citizens to continue buying newer cars, filling tanks with petrol/diesel, paying for car insurance and expensive tolls. Make no mistake, there is only one reason we are the only capital without decent public transport to the airport and it is a lack of political will. This problem was designed by ourselves and in order to change direction we need to vote for those with the political will to change it despite the short-term economic cost.

  • More people using public transport generally means less cars which means less gridlock. Unfortunately history would point to the relevant authorities and decision makers having a hard time understanding this. Such projects need to be done with careful planning, to be well integrated with the rest of the public transport network, be cheap, punctual and with easy payment options such as tap-and-go payment systems. They rarely if ever are which means people aren’t convinced to make the switch so the projects are often abandoned early after trials, assuming they even make it that far which most don’t.
  • It could be a restricted to certain off-peak times, particularly in early trials. This may be fruitful in showing the potential benefits to drivers. The lane could potentially be open to all multiple-occupancy vehicles, maximizing it’s usage to the greatest extent
  • We would suggest the same fare structure as Dublin incorporated into the Dublin Bus/Luas 90 minute fare. This would ensure that anybody taking another bus or tram afterwards would not be double charged, thereby making the route more attractive to more people.
  • None of the stops would be on the motorway itself or on ramps. They would be at secondary roads and bus stops nearby, such as the park and ride at the Red Cow Luas. Some additional bus stops with connected cycling infraestructure would need to be looked at.
  • Park and Rides near junctions such as Tallaght and N4 would need to be explored.
  • It would intersect with several Bus Connects spines and the Luas Red and Green lines.
  • A reduced number of stops per route (more routes with less stops) can alleviate this. Add new stops nearer the secondary roads which are near to the M50. A good example of this being done at one junction is adding bus stops near the Spawell in Tallaght and National Basketball Arena which could easily be done

The deals between the State and the private-sector operators that build and maintain our tolled infrastructure can involve the State getting a proportion of the income stream if the level of traffic exceeds a certain threshold [1]. This gives the state a financial incentive to have high traffic levels.

Tolled motorways are part of the daily grind for many people. But for those involved in the world of finance, they are regarded as “funding vehicles”, carrying investors’ hopes for returns.

Pension fund managers and other investors supply the money – and shoulder the risk – for the construction, operation and maintenance of new roads and tunnels.

In return the State promises they will be able to toll the users of the infrastructure for an agreed period, after which ownership switches to the State. These arrangements are called public-private partnerships (PPP).

Figures were released to Newstalk [1] by Transport Infrastructure Ireland under the Freedom of Information Act.

With such profits being made, there is arguably little incentive for a change of the status quo. However, this does not mean that solutions do not exist. The most obvious solution is naturally a re-alignment of the existing roadspace to cater to other higher density modes such as public transport and active travel. An infographic of such a solution can be seen below.


Colm is a Madrid based QA Engineer from Terenure with a passion for sustainable transport. Amongst his motivations for this project, he would like to see Ireland achieve a 'very high' rating in the annual Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), an independent monitoring tool for tracking countries’ climate protection performance.

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