Tough choices will have to be made to allow delivery of a landmark €3.5bn transport strategy for the greater Cork area which includes a €1bn tram system and a €700m plan to upgrade the bus, rail, and bike networks.
And the region will need that level of investment in public transport if it is to meet ambitious Government targets of becoming the fastest-growing city region in the country, with population growth of some 60% by 2040.
Anne Graham, head of the National Transport Authority (NTA), made the comments yesterday as she unveiled the draft Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (CMATS) for public consultation.
Amid concerns the CMATS document could end up gathering dust, Ms Graham said the predicted growth in metropolitan Cork will see daily trip demand increase from 830,000 to 1.3m by 2040.
“You need a plan to be able to push for investment from the Government,” she said. “This is an important step in that. We have set out what’s required.
CMATS aims to improve the region’s bus, rail, cycling, and road networks to increase the number of morning peak journeys by sustainable transport modes from 33% to 50% by 2040.
While a €1bn, 25-stop light rail system linking Ballincollig to Mahon via a new docklands bridge is among the proposals, work is unlikely to start on it until 2031.
The immediate focus will be on a €545m investment package for the bus network to deliver a 700% increase in bus lanes, from 14km today up to 100km.
The bus network was described yesterday as the “workhorse or the glue of the city’s future public transport system”, with major plans for bus lanes and corridors, bus priority measures, and a new fleet, with ambitious predicted journey times of 20 minutes from Mahon to Blarney, 20 minutes from Ballincollig to Glanmire, 15 minutes from Dublin Hill to Togher, and Ringaskiddy to Cork Airport in 30 minutes.
A high-frequency east-west bus corridor will be delivered first and will form the basis of the future light rail route, but transport engineers said the tram system could be delivered sooner if population densities along that corridor hit certain targets sooner than expected.
There was major controversy in Cork city last year over attempts to prioritise buses on just a few hundred metres on St Patrick’s St. Ms Graham said tough choices lie ahead and some things will have to give.
"That’s challenging, it’s not easy to do, choices have to be made and some things have to give in order to achieve that. But that’s the choice we are putting forward. If you want to have a reliable bus service, you have to provide good priority measures.”
She said it might not always require the purchase of private property, but could require the loss of on-street parking in places, or the introduction of bus gates or bus priority at junctions.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that while the overall €3.5bn figure is high, the cost-benefit analysis of the CMATS projects shows they are essential.
Cork Chamber welcomed the strategy but said it needs to be put on a statutory footing to ensure it is delivered.
However, there was concern that the draft strategy has completely ignored the potential for river ferries in and around Cork Harbour, with councillor Deirdre Forde describing it as a glaring omission.