Waiting cars in city traffic

In Ireland we have a number of challenges impacting society, all of which can be traced back to increased usage of the car for commuting in particular. Why as a society are we so wedded to our cars & insist on taking it on relatively short journeys but increasingly long commutes?


A Snapshot of Car Usage

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) National Travel Survey 2014 shows that private car usage is by far the most popular choice for our society when taking a journey. Some key pieces of data include the following:

74% of journeys by car
69.1% – private car journey (driver)
5.3% – private car journey (passenger)
14.8% – By walking
4.4% – By bus
1.6% – By bicycle
1.4% – By Rail / DART / Luas
0.9% – By Taxi
2.5% – Lorry / motorcycle / other


Cars are mainly idle

For most Irish car owners, the car is idle most of the time. In the UK, The Royal Automobile Club Foundation published a report titled “Spaced Out Perspectives on parking policy” & it’s research highlighted the following:

“Since the duration of the average car trip is about 20 minutes, the typical car is only on the move for 6 hours in the week: for the remaining 162 hours it is stationary – parked.”

“the average car is parked at home for about 80% of the time, parked elsewhere for about 16.5% of the time, and only actually used for the remaining 3.5%”

The situation in Ireland is likely to be very similar as data has shown that we are using our cars regularly for very short trips on a regular basis. With this in mind, we still love our cars & sales continue on their upward trend in 2017.


Cost of Car Ownership

AA Ireland have an excellent breakdown of the various costs involved with owning a car in Ireland. The latest 2016 figures from the AA are showing yet again there is an increase of car ownership. Many car owners would typically have to give consideration to costs such as the following:

  • Motor Tax
  • Insurance
  • Driving Licence
  • Depreciation
  • Interest on Captital
  • Garage/Parking/Misc. expenses
  • NCT

Based on AA Ireland’s methodology, an average Motor Tax Band B car e.g. Renault Megane, the annual cost tallies up to €7,709.49. Driving 16,000km per year in a Tax Band B car has the associated costs per Kilometre:

Standing Charges: 48.17 cent per KM
Operating Costs: 19.64 cent per KM
TOTAL Cents per kilometre: 67.81 cent per KM

To summarise, it is not cheap to run a car each year. After a car is purchased, the cost of running a car will be several thousand euro per year.

QUESTION TO ASK: Why would a car owner leave their car idle in the driveway if the standing charges are so high e.g. motor tax, insurance, finance etc.? 


Cost of Public Transport

Many people who own cars do take public transport for various reasons, but as is very evident, many people choose to commute to schools & workplaces rather than take public transport. There are obvious debates to be had about the availability & quality of public transport services right across Ireland. Focusing on the economic cost, the annual cost of using public transport for a regular commute. Taking an example cost comparison of choosing Dublin Bus vs. cycling, the cost of commuting can be very high:

Example Route: 46A from Stillorgan to O’Connell Street, Dublin

  • Adult Fare: €3.30
  • Adult Fare (Leap Card): €2.60
  • Monthly Ticket: €132 (€1,584 annually)
  • Annual Ticket: €1,320

Fares calculated using Dublinbus.ie (9th December 2016)

running a car will be several thousand euro per year.

QUESTION TO ASK: Why would a car owner choose to spend money on top of their car costs to use public transport? 


Cost of Time/Convenience

Another factor for car owners to choose their car to commute versus other transport modes is a time related factor i.e. “time is money!”. For many short journeys such as dropping the children to school, from a time perspective it could be quicker & simply more convenient to put the children into the back of the car & drop them to school. That potential time saving factor can deliver a psychological benefit to a car user & justifies usage of the car that would otherwise be idle in the driveway, still costing money. There is also the aspect that for many car owners, dropping the children to school & then getting ‘on the road’ straight to work delivers a perceived efficiency in organising family life.

Choosing to use public transport, walk or cycling to locations is not always a feasible option e.g. if you live in a rural environment or if you need to travel longer distances to get from your home to the destination. There is also the perception that choosing another transport mode such as a bus, train or bicycle is actually more inconvenient. For example, you need to walk to/from a bus stop or train station to get to your destination. With a car you may have the option to leave your home & arrive almost direct to your destination.

QUESTION TO ASK: Why would a car owner choose to add time or complexity to their journey if taking the car will save time or take a similar amount of time?


Can it Change?

There is little or no point in haranguing motorists into changing transport modes without offering clear alternatives.

Public Transport: We do provide in some pockets of the country a reasonably viable public transport service. However even in a high urban density area such as Dublin, many people are not served well enough with a cost effective service to encourage a user to choose public transport over a private car.

Cycling: As many cyclists can attest to, the infrastructure for cycling varies considerably & can be quite dangerous in some parts. The question many a parent will ask is if they would let their children cycle to school. Many adults ask themselves, is it safe for them to commute to work by bicycle. If the answer leads such people to doubt safety, they will choose the car.

Walking: Walking has similar challenges as called out relating to cycling. The infrastructure is not always up to scratch if it even exists especially in rural areas.

These are oft-repeated call outs in Ireland & elsewhere. In the absence of a grand plan to create a substantial public transport infrastructure and/or wholesale road infrastructure for cyclists & pedestrians, it will be challenging to make any major dent in the usage of the private car for commuting in Ireland.