Motorists set to face congestion or clean-air zone charges under new traffic plan

Cabinet signs off strategy from Minister for Transport that will put pressure on councils to choose between congestion charges or clean-air zones

Motorists face potential congestion charges or paying for the cost of clean air zones in cities and towns by 2030 under a radical Government strategy aimed at reducing traffic gridlock and greenhouse gases.

The Cabinet signed off on the strategy from Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan that will put pressure on local councils to choose whether motorists should face congestion charges to drive through high-traffic parts of major urban areas or pay for the creation of low-carbon emission or clean-air zones.

In a bid to force through the changes locally, future State funding for local authorities will be tied to the councils adopting the most environmentally-friendly measures. The funding will be prioritised for areas well serviced by public transport and active travel such as walking and cycling.

Local authorities will be forced to complete traffic-management plans in a short time frame – by the end of 2026 – as the Government must push through far-sweeping measures in the light of projections that the State will fall well short of legally-binding targets to cut carbon emissions.

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The strategy aims “to reverse a car-centric model which has dominated Irish planning and settlement patterns for decades” and sets out 35 specific recommendations intended to reduce travel demands and carbon emissions.

Mr Ryan said the approach of the strategy was “not about adding additional costs on motorists”.

“Congestion is not working for anyone. It’s not working for the environment,” he said.

The strategy provides guidance needed for local authorities and local council representatives “to develop plans for their own areas that suit their own communities’ needs best”, the Minister said. “It does not contain a prescriptive series of actions.”

Instead, the plan provides options such as the reallocation of road space, tax changes, better efficiency in freight and incentives to change behaviour to bring about the changes at national, regional and local levels, he said.

The plan is intended to bridge the carbon emissions “gap” in transport as more radical measures are needed up to 2030 to ensure emissions are halved as required under legislation to combat climate change.

“The benefits of current and future Government investment and supports in public transport, walking, cycling and electric vehicles cannot be fully realised while current levels of congestion remain,” the strategy says.

The Government plan is designed to lead to “an incremental change in travel behaviour” among those who have alternatives to car use.

“Heavy traffic makes public transport less reliable, often discouraging people from using it, and makes the environment for vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, less safe, again leading people away from using active travel, particularly for shorter journeys,” the strategy says.

Graphics based on figures from Department of Transport's stategy to reduce congestion in Ireland

The Government plans to engage with insurers to encourage a move away from car ownership and incentivise motorists to carpool with less costly premiums and to ease restrictions on newly qualified drivers who car-share.

While pushing for major changes, the strategy recognises that the car will remain the main mode of transport for many, particularly in rural areas and will be needed by people who have no other viable alternative to the car.

Mr Ryan said the plan would improve journey times for car drivers, public-transport users, business and freight, leading to better air quality and reduced stress with associated health benefits for society.

The public will have to opportunity to offer feedback to the Government on the plan during a three-month consultation period.

Any charges that local authorities introduce will be separate to an overhaul of the road tax regime, which is likely to be rolled out closer to 2030.

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