Road traffic falls by 55% during second lockdown

Data collected by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) shows that traffic volumes for the week commencing the 25th of October were 55.4% lower in regional locations and 51.3% lower in Dublin than the same week in 2019. Erica Carter explores the environmental impact of less cars on the road.

Photo taken by Bertram Nudelbach. Sourced from Flickr.

This was the first edition of the transport bulletin since the introduction of Level 5 restrictions in Ireland on the 22nd of October. The impact of the increased restrictions can be seen in car traffic data throughout Dublin and other regional sites. The latest car traffic data available, for the week commencing the 25th of October, indicated that traffic volumes at the Dublin sites measured, were 51.3% lower than the corresponding week in 2019.

In the figures below from the CSO, we can see that road traffic in both Dublin and the rest of the country has been significantly lower than last year. This decline is due to current lockdown measures, and as a result an increase in the amount of people working from home. 

The data collected also shows a large decrease in the amount of people using public transport. The use of bus and rail services has fallen significantly since the introduction of Level 5 restrictions in Ireland on the 22nd of October. The total number of bus and rail journeys taken during the week commencing 25th of October was a quarter (25.3%) of that taken in early March. The number of bus journeys outside of Dublin now stands at 27.1% of pre COVID-19 levels. The corresponding level for bus journeys within Dublin is 28.1%.

But what is the environmental impact of less cars on the road this year? According to data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2017, just under 20% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions are due to internal transport. Road transport amounts to the bulk of these emissions.

Phillip O’Brien, Secretariat for the Climate Change Advisory Council, highlighted that despite the huge fall in traffic this year, after the first national lockdown, traffic went back up to similar numbers to last year, and that the lower traffic numbers will likely not make any long term difference.

“I fully expect that come December, we’ll see ourselves back up to the same levels as usual,” said O’Brien. “This is not a long term change and we haven’t reformed our driving habits.

“When we get back out on the roads, we will slip back into the same habits – they may even be worse because people have been cautious to use public transport because of perceived higher risk to catch the virus.”

“We do need policy to get our emissions reduced over the next decade,” he said, “but we want it to be planned.

“This is not the way to reduce our emissions; taking cars off the road and infringing on people’s mobility. That is not the way forward. The goal is that people have the same amount of mobility, and can still move around, but that there are less emissions associated with it.”

O’Brien also suspects that the energy use from people working from home could potentially balance out the lack of cars on the road. “People at home would be using more energy than usual – heating an office for ten people is more efficient than heating ten people’s homes separately.”

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