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Could motorists be charged for driving through gridlocked cities and towns under new plan?

Some form of congestion charge is inevitable by 2030 to ease traffic volumes and reduce greenhouse gases

The Government’s approval of a strategy to reduce traffic demand in Ireland and ease congestion in urban areas is a bold attempt to end car dependency.

Public transport has been the poor relation, while active travel modes such as walking and cycling all too often involve taking your life in your hands in spaces where air quality is not what it should be.

The scale of congestion inevitably means that by 2030 motorists manoeuvring through our main cities and large towns are likely to be facing some new charges designed to disincentivise the private car. The strategy allows local authorities to decide what form they might be – congestion charges, fees for entering low emission zones (LEZs) or clean air zones (CAZs).

Such measures are becoming the norm in parts of the UK – especially London – and Europe and have prompted a big shift in transport trends, even if they are bitterly resisted in some quarters.

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CAZs are defined as areas where certain types of vehicles are required to comply with emissions standards or pay a fine. LEZs charge drivers of “non-compliant, private passenger cars” a daily fee or penalty charge.

In London most vehicles, including cars and vans, need to meet the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) emissions standards or their drivers must pay a daily charge to drive within the zone, which is £12.50 (€14.60) for most vehicle types, including cars, motorcycles and vans and £100 (€116.77) for heavier vehicles, including lorries and buses or coaches.

Bigger, congestion-filled Irish urban areas are likely to be facing a similar fate because of the emissions “gap” in our transport sector, which is legally required to halve its emissions by 2030. Analysis shows that continuing with business as usual will make that target unreachable.

Failure on climate commitments could result in “noncompliance costs” – in other words hefty EU fines – in the order of €3.5 billion by the end of the decade.

The environmental impact is separate to escalating financial costs. In the Greater Dublin Area, congestion was estimated to cost the economy €336 million in 2022, predicted to rise to €1.5 billion by 2040. Nationally, congestion is projected to cost €2 billion by 2040. There are also significant environmental, health and social costs, including poor air quality and negative impacts of stress, inactivity or time away from family or community.

The strategy is a suite of 35 recommendations, with most onus on local authorities to adopt which ones suit their areas. .

The 57 organisations, Government departments and experts who compiled the strategy had a brief of not advocating for an increasing in fuel costs, while the measures are designed to be introduced incrementally as alternatives to the private car are put in place.

For the beleaguered motorist, it may seem as if they are being pushed off the road, as a radical overhaul of motor taxation will also be rolled out, alongside higher parking fees and removal of on-street parking spaces as road space is reallocated to pedestrians and cyclists.

The exact shape of those taxation changes will be determined in a separate process, whether it’s based on weight, distance travelled or the degree to which a vehicle is a pollution source, while phasing out fossil fuel subsidies in the sector will be negotiated at EU level.

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