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Where the Streets Have No Trucks

By John Spain

DUBLIN became a transformed city this week as the new ban which keeps trucks out of the city during the day came into operation on Monday morning.

The effect was immediate. The hundreds of trucks that used to clog up the city streets, belching fumes and intimidating car drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, were gone. Suddenly the city was a bit like it used to be 10 years ago, quieter and calmer, with a significant reduction in traffic congestion.

The truck problem had become impossible in the last decade, as you will know if you have been here. There were two reasons for this the location of the port and the Celtic Tiger boom.

We are an island nation and Dublin Port is the biggest port in the country, located just down from the city center where the River Liffey runs into the sea. So trucks going to and from the port have always had to go through the city before they could get to the main road network to the rest of the country.

In pre-boom days this was merely unpleasant and a nuisance. But as the Celtic Tiger took off and trade multiplied the situation became impossible.

Most of the trucks used the routes through the city along the quays on either side of the Liffey, which took them straight past O’Connell Bridge and its crowds of pedestrians. Other truckers tried to escape the congestion on the quays by meandering through residential areas.

Every morning and evening, and lately throughout the day, the trucks turned the city center into a nightmare, with convoys of them dragging their huge loads through the historic streets, past groups of startled tourists.

A situation that used to be just unpleasant and unhealthy also became highly dangerous. Cyclists and pedestrians have been killed in accidents in the city center involving big trucks in the last few years. At its worst on busy days, some parts of the city center seemed to be completely full of trucks.

The first step in sorting out this mess was the Dublin Port Tunnel, built over the past few years at a cost of *750 million and finally opened before Christmas. It is a few miles long and runs from the port under the north side of the city emerging near the M50 C-ring motorway that wraps around Dublin. From the M50, trucks can access the main routes to Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway and the North.

Even at busy times, trucks can get from the port to the M50 beltway in under 10 minutes. And the tunnel is free for trucks. So you would think that all the truckers would be willing to use it.

The past six weeks since the tunnel opened have shown that most of them are. But there has been a significant number who persisted in going through the city center, mainly trucks heading for the south of the country or Dublin’s south side industrial suburbs. For them, it was easier (and cheaper because they avoided the M50 toll) to push through the city center and out the south side rather than going around the M50 C-ring motorway.

But from Monday this week, they have been banned from the city center. This reluctance by the truckers was anticipated by the City Council, which had already passed the necessary law. The truckers were given a few weeks to get used to the tunnel before the law was activated.

Maps were published in all the papers here last week showing the cordon enclosing a circular area five or six miles across roughly bounded by the canals. Any truck crossing the invisible cordon must have a permit (issued for trucks making city deliveries). Any driver caught breaching the cordon without a permit faces tough fines of *800 for a first offense and *1,500 for a second offense.

The ban applies from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily to trucks with five axles or more (the bigger trucks). Before permits are given to drivers, city center businesses also have to supply a mitigation plan to the City Council showing how they plan to reduce the deliveries they get from large trucks. The intention is to see a year-on-year reduction in the number of permits issued as businesses change to nighttime deliveries or smaller vehicles.

What all this boils down to is that trucks going to or from Dublin Port can only access it via the Port Tunnel or from the Eastlink Toll bridge on the south side of the Liffey which takes them away from the city center.

Needless to say, the truckers have been complaining bitterly, saying that forcing them on to the M50 will add to the congestion on the beltway, which they refer to as a rush hour car park. But no one has any sympathy for them. They have made life a misery for Dubliners for too long.

As I said above, the effect on the city was immediate. Walking along the city quays at lunchtime on Monday, I immediately noticed the absence of the trucks and the calmer atmosphere and cleaner air.

And this is just the beginning. The present ban is on five-axle trucks the heavier big rigs but this could easily be extended to cover the four-axle vehicles, the lighter container trucks which are the same height and size as the five-axle ones.

In the future it might be an idea to limit the city center access of all trucks to nighttime deliveries and to force daytime deliveries to be done by van. Again, this would be opposed by city center stores and supermarkets that prefer to suit themselves, but the quality of city life should come first.

The tunnel, of course, was built specifically to take trucks out of the city, and for the first few weeks it was confined to trucks only. But for the past three weeks cars have been allowed in, and myself and my junior car freaks took our car through it a week back for a test run.

Although it’s free for trucks, cars and vans have to pay, from *3 at off peak times up to *12 at rush hour (in the morning that’s between 6-10 a.m.). In spite of the steep rush hour cost, more than *150,000 week in tolls was being taken from motorists in a hurry in the first two weeks.

At those prices, you’d need to be in a hurry. The *150,000 is the result of approximately 2,000 car drivers using the 5.6 kilometer tunnel (the longest city tunnel in Europe) every day as a quick route in and out of the city at peak times.

Before the tunnel opened the truckers waged another propaganda war which went on for a year or two and for sheer brass neck should have won an award. This was about the height of the tunnel, with the truckers claiming it was too low.

The fact is that the tunnel, which can take trucks 4.65m high (15.25 feet), is higher than tunnels across Europe. Only the U.K. has some tunnels that have slightly higher openings, and the truckers claimed this was a major problem because these so-called supertrucks that came in here on the ferries from the U.K. could not use the Dublin Port Tunnel.

This was true because a few of the big British multiples with branches here (like Marks & Spencer) send stock over in these huge trucks which are about a foot higher than the tunnel opening. But they could use the more usual height trucks if they wanted to.

The truckers were never going to win this one because the vast majority of people here think trucks should be smaller, not bigger. Not only in Dublin but in towns and villages around the country people are fed up seeing huge trucks squeezing through narrow streets. So the trucker campaign to get the tunnel height raised failed, and the government very sensibly announced a ban on supertrucks altogether.

This affected only 2% of all trucks, but listening to the truckers you would think the country was going to grind to a halt. The same goes now for their complaining about being banned from the city center.

They will get used to it. And we will all be better for the change. Keep on truckin’ guys!



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