Irish Examiner view: EV decision suggests Ireland's transport policies are in a muddle

Policymakers seem unsure which way to turn, given the plan to hike the cost of public electric vehicle charging 
Irish Examiner view: EV decision suggests Ireland's transport policies are in a muddle

The policy to increase the number of EVs on Irish roads is contradicted by the ESB’s plan for rolling increases in the public charging network. Stock picture: Denis Minihane

Plans for hefty increases in rates for public charging of electric cars, to put it at its most generous, appear to be counter-intuitive, and contribute to a general sense of muddle when it comes to transport policies, which are trammelled by a series of contradictory objectives and political ambitions.

We all know there’s a crisis in energy costs which is unlikely to go away soon. Electric vehicles (EVs), the green alternative, rely on power created by fossil fuels, and the core battery technology also falls short in its eco credentials.

But there is a major effort, which will almost certainly fail at current rates of take-up, to place 1m EVs on Irish roads by 2030. How this will be encouraged by ESB’s plan for rolling increases in the public charging network — 53% in May, 52% due on December 20 — is impossible to discern. 

It drives a hole through the fundamental justification for buying an EV, the lower running costs compared to diesel or petrol vehicles, and distorts the payback time for the higher level of initial investment required. 

Those drivers, and there are many thousands, who don’t have access to home charging are vulnerable, trapped on the wrong end of a monopoly. Even the leaked new target for EV ownership, down a third to 650,000 by the end of this decade, looks over-ambitious.

The position the Government finds itself in — promoting a significant change in consumer behaviour but doing very little to support it — is characteristic of its ambivalent and confused attitude towards the place of the private motor car in society. 

While it wants to oversee a huge increase in the bus network, implement growth in “active travelling” (that’s walking and cycling to the rest of us) and usher in an era of green alternatives to improve air quality and help reduce global warming, it has many miles to travel to persuade citizens that “four wheels are bad and two legs are good”, to commandeer and update a phrase from George Orwell. 

However, Nissan Ireland’s chief, the straight-talking Cork man James McCarthy, warns that environment minister Eamon Ryan is living a “pipe-dream” if he believes lower emissions will be achieved by lessening dependence on cars by substituting encouragement to use public transport, walk, or cycle.

This is not what strategists and planners want to hear and no one should underestimate the zeal they possess in reining back the influence of the internal combustion engine. But their efforts are likely to be further hindered by news that the Government is set to miss its deadlines for the greater use of traffic cameras, regarded as a fundamental first step in influencing driver behaviour on speeding, the illegal use of bus lanes, parking, and traffic light discipline.

It is the wide network of such devices which has facilitated congestion charging, and the implementation of the low emission zones in London, which now threaten to cover the whole of the capital. The next iteration of that technology is going to herald an era of individual road pricing.

Drivers may not yet fully appreciate what is coming down the highway in the next decade, but there are plenty of warning signs to consider. It will not be popular and may become politically toxic. That’s when the rubber will meet the road.

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