The recently published Dublin Mayoral Bill proposes a new framework for decision-making in relation to transport in Dublin and the National Transport Authority in particular. The Bill proposes to establish a Dublin Area Transport Council (DATC) which would replace the not-yet-formed Dublin Traffic Advisory Council. Unlike the latter body, which only has an advisory (i.e. non-decision-making) capacity, the DATC will have strong decision-making powers. Principally it will be responsible for approving the Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area and Mid-east Region, with which all relevant Development Plans and Local Area Plans must comply. How will this body affect the quality and accountability of Dublina��s transport network?
Bahnhofstrasse, ZA?rich where strong accountability ensures a highly networked and efficient public transport service
The NTA, finally established in December 2009, represents the incorporation of a long-awaited and much debated land-use and transportation planning body with legislatively-backed executive powers. Initially established as the Dublin Transport Authority, it is now a national agency responsible, more-or-less, for all transportation matters nationally.
The origins of the NTAa��s powers lie in not one but a plethora of statutes, including the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 which established the body. The Public Transport Regulation Act 2009 amended this Act to elevate the DTA to a national body, i.e. the NTA.
Very oddly, it did this without amending its corporate structure or its principal functions. It therefore incorporated a Dublin-centric organisation with national responsibilities. For example, the NTAa��s principal function is to prepare a transport strategy not for the country, but for Dublin. It also has a specifically Dublin-based representation on its Board and Advisory Council.
The Mayoral Bill also proposes to amend the DTA Act.A� And the DTA Act includes its own significant amendments to the Planning & Development Act 2000, principally that all land use plans MUST comply with the transport strategy.A� This means Development Plans, the primary source of all planning control in Ireland and the strongest contract between communities and their local government, will be hamstrung by what the NTA directs them to do.
So, out of this tangle of legislation emerges an NTA with strong powers to license and coordinate services, control the distribution of subsidy to agencies and preside over the delivery of infrastructure. Reflecting primarily on the situation of Dublin, the NTA seems to be a significant step forward in terms of concentration and coordination of executive powers. Coupled with this, and the impending arrival of key end-user service features such as real-time-passenger-information on QBCs and integrated ticketing, Dublin appears on the threshold of having a much improved public transport network. But will this lead to a state of quality mobility that is socially accessible?
Bellevueplatz, ZA?rich where people interchange effortlessly and without hurry
Experience from cities like ZA?rich, which boast an efficient and easy-to-use transport system, suggests that accountability is a key determinant in this regard. Even a cursory glance at most European local government systems, most especially the northern European and Nordic models, shows that such communities have a much greater say in the direction of their towns and cities.A� On a recent visit by Frank McDonald to Freiburg and commenting on the quality and sustainability of ita��s transport network, the Chief Planner for Freiburg said that a�?It comes from their citizenshipa�?, implying that the involvement and empowerment of the community led to decisions that best benefitted them and their city (The Irish Times – Tuesday, November 30, 2010).
To that end the composition of the proposed DATC is both important and interesting. According to the current Bill it is to be a council of 12, made up of the Mayor, 5 mayoral appointees, 5 appointees of the Minister of Transport and the Cathoirleach of the Mid-east Regional Authority. This Council will take over the approval of the transport strategy for Dublin. This is a hugely important responsibility and will excerpt strong influence over the direction of the city and its future transport system.A� Under current standing this approval belongs to the Minister. This therefore represents some increase in accountability, i.e. one would assume that an elected mayor plus appointees would have some closer interest in the city region than a national minister. However, coupled with the fact that the minister has five appointees to the council AND retains vetoing rights under the Bill, any increase in accountability appears to be at best incremental and frankly contestable.
Bearing in mind that the transport strategy for Dublin must be complied with by every and any land use plan, including Development Plans a�� the principal source of all spatial planning a�� this has no little affect on the lives of citizens, the quality of environment and the well-being of the urban economy.
Aside from accountability within Dublin transport, there are many issues raised by the new legislative framework. The potential effectiveness of the authority in the delivery of services and infrastructure, its ability to deliver and operate an integrated network and to effectively brand and explain the transport service to the community; these are all relevant questions in the early stages of its incorporation. However, fundamental to all of these is the accountability of the entity. In its current composition, the NTA is an appointed body which answers to a national minister. This is, to say the least, an unusual approach to city-level decision-making within a supposedly evolved democratic society.
The proposals contained within the Mayoral Bill appear to address the existing lack of answerability in transport for Dublin but in reality stop far short of a properly democratic and accountable structure. It is surprising and disappointing that such a purportedly reforming piece of legislation does not go further in this regard. An elected mayor presiding over an elected regional council, perhaps nominated through a list-system, even with rotating community representatives, would be just one potential alternative. Making the Mayor (as opposed to the Dublin City Manager) a member of the Board would be another. Indeed, reverting to a proper DTA responsible for the capital-city region would be yet one more. But any such measures, or even a combination of them, would certainly improve the likelihood that Dublin be a user-friendly and accessible city for all her citizens.
David O’Connor is lecturer in Transport Planning and Urban Design at the DIT School of Spatial Planning, Chair of the M.Sc. Spatial Planning programme and A�is Chairperson of the Spatial Planning Graduate Network.
Buses, tramways, bike lanes, pedestrians but no cars on Schweizergasse in ZA?rich