The last year or so of rapid growth by the Celtic Tiger has not been particularly fruitful for most working people. Two problems, for many of us, have been have been spiralling house prices and near gridlock in most cities. According to the bosses' association, IBEC, roads carry 97% of Irish passenger traffic and 86% of freight. The number of cars on the roads is rapidly increasing. The number of new private cars licensed in the state increased from 60,792 in 1993 to 109,333 in 1996 (according to the Central Statistics Office).
Car ownership in Dublin has increased from 275 per 1000 people in 1991 to 357 per 1000 in 1996 (according to the 'Business Contact Magazine' of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce). We can be almost certain that the improvement in the economy combined with the government's scrappage scheme have combined to further accelerate these figures.
The government's answer to growing traffic has been simple - more roads. Millions of pounds of tax payers money, including money from the EU structural funds, have been poured into Irish roads. This has certainly led to some improvement in the main arterial routes between cities and towns.
But within these urban areas and everywhere else (e.g. where there wasn't a major amount of freight traffic) the roads have disintegrated. Business's desire to transport goods from A to B is prioritised over people's movement within their own areas.
So cars are on the increase and more roads are being built; what's the problem with this? Many people would reckon that this is not a particularly bad thing. Firstly I would state that, as anarchists, we are not down on cars per se. Any technology offers possibilities, though under the capitalist system these are usually not fully realised or are realised but mainly for the benefit of a few. Cars promise freedom of movement and a certain amount of independence for the individual.
On the other hand they waste resources and are certainly major polluters. The proliferation of cars in urban areas has led to congestion and delays, and both air and noise pollution. Cars are wasteful in terms of how they use space compared with bikes or public transport. A single person driving a car at 10 kilometres an hour uses six times as much space as a cyclist travelling at the same speed.
The entire German car population commandeers 3700 km2, 60% more than that occupied by housing1. Cars put those who depend on public transport and cycling or walking at a disadvantage, leading to delays for public transport and a high risk for pedestrians and bicycles.
The bosses have no bother with us whinging about traffic, gridlock and the spiralling increase in road fatalities (mostly foot and cycle passengers). In fact, as ever, they would be delighted to throw more of our money into their solution to our problem. IBEC wants £555 million a year to be invested in roads (three times current levels of spending by both the government and the EU). According to their own recent survey (quoted in the Irish Times) "certainty and reliability in distribution is crucial to success" (no mention of gridlock, pollution or road deaths here). It is the 86% of freight traffic that is carried by road that is at issue here. There's no percentage in trains or buses for them.
We get to live with the delays and the brunt of pollution, road accidents and traffic jams. So it is in our interests to press for change. We must press for transport that is people and environment friendly. In Dublin, for example, this might include a ban on cars between the canals with a free bus system to help us get around the inner-city, a proper light rail system, bringing the DART to Tallaght, more and cleaner public transport, and repairs to the existing road network.
These are only suggestions, you could probably come up with more and better without even trying. Of course the problem isn't one of formulating the correct demands but about who makes the decisions. It isn't just that you're stuck in traffic or half an hour waiting for the bus, it's that you have no say in how your money is spent.
We don't make the decisions, a small minority do it "on our behalf". There are vital decisions to be made in terms of pollution and quality of life versus production and consumer goods. At present all these decisions are being made by a tiny minority in their own short term interests. As long as we are restricted to grumbling in pubs, we are no real challenge to the bosses.
Des Mc Carron