Any transport tax imposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will hit rural households harder than others, because of the greater distances involved, an analysis of transport statistics in Ireland show.
There will be much abuse of these statistics, now that the election has kicked off, and many candidates will claim that the countryside is being forgotten by the Government and that policies discriminate against rural areas.
Others will refute such claims; some claims will be factual, others not.
The fact is that we now have plenty of data and reliable statistics on transport in Ireland, and this objective information supports many of the warnings of rural people, that climate action policy could hit them harder.
We now have national statistics quantifying the distance to services and the absence of public transport, which make the use of cars so necessary, to get to work and school, as well as for social and shopping reasons.
Using these statistics, we can compare urban and rural areas, and show the distances people are from various services such as banks, schools and shops, in order to explain the different transport patterns.
A particular reason for looking at transport is its high and growing contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and the likelihood of higher transport taxes in the near future.
These taxes have been described by some rural spokespersons as discriminatory because the rural dweller is more highly dependent on car transport.
The three main sources of data used in this article are a December 2019 report from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) called “Urban and rural life in Ireland”; another report from November 2019 from the CSO called
“Measuring Distance to Everyday Services in Ireland”; and a National Household Travel Survey carried out in 2017 by Amarach Research for the National Transport Authority.
Firstly what is “rural” and what is “urban”? The traditional definition used by the CSO was that “rural” embraced all communities with less than 1,500 people.
People in towns of greater than 1,500 people and in cities were regarded as urban dwellers. The rest were rural.
In their December report, the CSO adopted a more sophisticated division, with six categories (a) cities, (b) satellite urban towns, (c) independent urban towns, (d) rural areas with high urban influence, (e) rural areas with moderate urban influence, and (f) highly rural or remote areas.
Let’s look at the facts about the trips we take.
They come from the 2017 Travel Survey, which included adults and children over four years.
The definition of “rural” here is the traditional one, living in communities of less than 1,500 people.
49% of households nationally have two cars, 34% have one car, 9% have three or more cars while 8% have none.
The corresponding figures for rural areas are 52%, 30%, 14% and 4%.
The number of cars per household is significantly higher in rural areas, with only 4% of households lacking a car.
The average number of trips undertaken per day is 2.05 per person, nationally. 71% of these trips are taken by car, 18% by walking, 5% by bus and 3% by cycling.
Public transport plays a very limited role in Irish transportation.
6% of trips take less than ten minutes, 23% between ten and fourteen minutes, 31% between fifteen and 29 minutes, 19% between thirty and 59 minutes, and 19% over an hour.
The number of trips taken is highest in the regional cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, at 2.44 per person per day, and lowest in Dublin city at 1.56.
The number of trips in rural areas is slightly above the national average, at 2.12.
Car usage accounts for 80% of trips in rural areas, compared with 40% in Dublin city and the national average of 71%.
And what is the purpose of these trips?
Nationally, 28% are for “business” reasons (getting to and from work) and 23% are for educational reasons (getting to and from school).
20% are for “social” reasons, 16% for shopping, and 10% for personal reasons.
The reasons in rural areas are very similar, with 27% of journeys for business, and 24% for educational reasons.
The table shows the proportion of trips of varying distances, nationally. The average trip is about 6 km in Dublin, 11km nationally, and 14km in rural areas.
One particularly interesting statistic derived from the study is the distance from where people live to a range of amenities including, a doctor, a pub and a bus stop.
40% of rural households do not live within a 15-minute walk of any of the amenities cited. This clearly shows part of the reason for longer journey distances in rural areas. All these data on distances came from the survey carried out in 2017.
The CSO in their November report use a more sophisticated measure of distances, involving location of houses based on the Eircode system, and a digitised measure of the road system — a bit like that used for Google maps. And this data is not from a survey, with its usual limitations because of sample size. All houses who filled in a census form in 2016 are included.
They also measure distances for a wider range of services.
Another table shows the average distance of dwellings in the state as a whole, and in the counties of Munster, from a range of services.
Separate figures are not available in the report for Limerick or Waterford cities. Their data are included with those of their counties, helping to bring figures lower.
Kerry fares worst in Munster, with longer distances to five out of six services than other counties.
Figures for the north and west are generally considerably higher, I have included Mayo to illustrate this.
Other rural issues which will be to the fore in the election debates, such as population, economic growth, unemployment, and housing. They will be covered here in future articles.