Fare increases will drive commuters back into their cars
The latest increase in public transport costs, which will see bus and rail fares rise by up to 13pc, will push commuters off buses and trains and back into their cars, further increasing traffic volumes.
The announcement from the National Transport Authority (NTA) - the quango that approves fare increases - that it had okayed fare increases for Dublin Bus, Irish Rail, Bus Eireann, DART and Luas was about as clear as mud.
Instead of sanctioning an easy-to-understand across-the-board increase, the NTA approved a multitude of fare increases ranging from a little over 1pc to 13pc. This of course made it impossible to calculate the average fare increase for passengers - which a cynic might suspect was exactly how the NTA and the public transport companies wanted it.
Some of these increases are due to come into force within days and will hit household budgets already stretched by the tax increases of recent years and the introduction of water charges from the beginning of next year.
These fare increases are merely the latest in a series that had already seen average public transport fares rise by approximately 50pc in the three years to 2013. While rising oil prices and cuts in government subsidies provided some justification for the earlier fare increases, no such excuse exists this time.
Oil prices have fallen by more than 20pc over the past three months and now stand at their lowest level for more than four years, while the Government announced in the recent Budget that the subsidies for public transport would not be cut in 2015.
Despite these developments, the NTA went ahead and approved the public transport fare increases. Whose interests is the NTA supposed to serve - those of the transport companies or of the travelling public?
The NTA made its decision despite clear evidence that the earlier fare increases were pushing commuters out of the trains, trams and buses and back into their cars. Road traffic levels, which had fallen sharply following the post-Celtic Tiger bust, have risen sharply as the economy has recovered.
With the roads network already under severe pressure following years of under-investment, the last thing we need is a further increase in traffic volumes - which is exactly what will happen when these misguided fare increases are implemented.
While the latest increases will undoubtedly hit passenger numbers at Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann, Luas and DART, the implications for Irish Rail's struggling intercity railway services are potentially much more serious.
Passenger numbers at Irish Rail have fallen by almost a fifth to 36.7 million over the past five years. While Irish Rail doesn't break out passenger numbers between its intercity and DART operations, most of the passengers were lost by the intercity services.
Fare increases are only part of the problem at Irish Rail. The competition from buses and cars using the new motorways network is almost a far more serious threat. It is now possible to travel by car to most provincial cities more quickly than one can make the same journey by train.
While competition from the motorways isn't going to disappear any time soon, one would have thought that it would have occurred to both Irish Rail and the NTA that jacking up rail fares was a dumb idea. Truly, those who the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.
What these fare increases demonstrate once again is that the Government's public transport policy is at sixes and sevens.
While the bus and suburban rail services can be maintained with only modest levels of subsidy, intercity rail depends on the taxpayer for a massive 42pc of its annual revenues.
This is despite the fact that the vast majority of public transport passengers are carried by bus or suburban rail.
One would have thought that if the Government was in any way serious about reducing traffic levels on our roads, it would be concentrating its scare financial resources on these forms of public transport rather than an obsolete intercity rail service.