Invest in Public Transport to Keep Jobs Growth on Track?

by Cormac Spencer, Consultant and Director with Link Personnel Services

Working in recruitment, I know that one of the major stumbling blocks to finding a suitable candidate for a job is their proximity to the role. Find me someone who is willing to commute from Skerries to Sandyford and I will find you someone with an overzealous penchant for drive time radio!! Candidates rightly don’t want to have to undertake a 2 or 3 hour round trip to get to work each day, not to mention shell out the funds necessary to do so. Such punishing commutes, turn people off applying for jobs which can benefit their lives, thus putting them at a disadvantage, as well as hindering companies seeking the right people to help their business succeed.

This is why the recent opening of the Phoenix Park Tunnel is a very welcome development for commuters and businesses in Dublin. The project, which cost a mere €13.7m now opens up job opportunities in the Dublin 1, Dublin 2 and Grand Canal Area to people from vast tracts of Kildare. Previously citizens in Newbridge had to get a train to Heuston, a LUAS to the IFSC and walk 15 mins to reach Grand Canal Dock. Direct access through the tunnel saves time and makes commutes easier thus opening up new opportunities for people and allowing businesses to access a wider group of potential candidates. Why the tunnel, built over 100 years ago, hasn’t been put to use before now given the small cost is another question! Similarly I look forward to the LUAS link once it comes on stream as it will further enhance Dublin’s infrastructure.

These are extremely welcome developments, but in general our transport infrastructure plan seems to lack urgency. The last government unveiled a multibillion euro capital expenditure programme for transport due to run over the next 5 years, but most projects in the plan (Metro North, Extension of the DART) had been sitting on a shelf since before the recession. Nearly a year later we aren’t much further along the road to seeing shovels in the ground. Though our debt levels are high, we should be taking advantage of near 0% interest rates on government debt to borrow for infrastructure investment. This is positive investment which will see great returns in the medium to long term. The boardrooms of post Brexit Britain, plagued by uncertainty, are now deciding if they should up and leave, and if so where they should go. By investing now in top class infrastructure, we help make a compelling case for Ireland as the destination of choice.

International companies locating in Ireland often cite our educated population as one of the main motivating factors for setting up here, but that advantage is null and void if these talented people can’t or won’t travel to join the business. Businesses want to move to places where they can attract employees, and where their staff have a decent standard of living. A city and country which is found wanting in terms of connectivity risks being left behind.

We may never have a perfect transport system, but as a society we have neglected the economic and social returns that emanate from having top class infrastructure. No one in Dublin should have to commute more than an hour or so to work in any other part of the city or county and companies should have a reasonable expectation that when they take the risk of setting up a business that access to the people they need is not stymied by poor transport connectivity – If they don’t they will look elsewhere.

Investment in public transport is not a luxury, but a necessity for Ireland and is furthermore a hugely productive investment which vastly improves quality of life for commuters, shoppers and citizens in general. We should make sure that in future we don’t score an F and do what we can to get people from A to B with an efficient, reliable and green transport system.