19 May 2008

Can you dig it?

I will be heading out to the airport tomorrow with the Very Understanding Girlfriend to collect a friend of hers that will be visiting for a few days. A trip to the airport is one of the only occasions that makes me wish we had a car. Living in the city centre there is rarely any need for a car, and to be honest the traffic is so bad and the parking so sparse that a car would be more hassle than its worth, except when travelling to the airport.

The airport is served by three types of bus services. The privately operated Aircoach supposedly takes about 30 minutes with no traffic, and costs €7. Dublin Bus operates a service that takes 45 minutes on the exact same route, and costs €6 one way. You can also take a regular bus (like the 41) for about €2 that takes around an hour. All of these routes, despite 'quality bus corridors', are still subject to the insanity that is Dublin traffic, especially at peak times. Thus public transport to the airport from the city center takes up to an hour each way, and can not be relied on if you are in a hurry.

The only other alternative is to brave the institution that is a Dublin taxi, or more specifically a Dublin taxi-driver. For someone arriving fresh into Ireland, I cannot recommend a taxi-ride enough as the perfect introduction to the country, and one that will dispel any illusion you have about forty-shades of green, leprechauns and pots o'gold at the end of a rainbow. By and large taxi drivers are foul-mouthed, racist, sexist, homophobic and opinionated, and liable to give you a running commentary on the country's woes (most of which they will blame on immigration) straight from the sewer wherein they park their car between airport runs. An estimated 20% of all taxi drivers in Ireland have criminal records, and despite promises of tough new regulations little has been done over the last few years to improve the quality of the average taxi experience.

It is with some hope then, that I have been reading about the proposed new Metro North route, a combined underground/overground train service that will run from Stephen's Green out to the airport and beyond to Swords. The journey to the airport will take about 17 minutes, but unfortunately the service is not scheduled to open until 2013. Given the delays on the completion of the Luas I would view that target as highly optimistic.

The introduction of the Metro line will also allow for the creation of a car-free city centre, and congestion charges in other areas. Both the Dublin Transportation Office, Noel Dempsey (the new Minister for Transport) and John Gormely (Green Minister for the Environment), have floated such ideas before but have admitted that given the current lack of serious public transport alternatives a congestion scheme was unworkable. However once construction on the Metro North starts in 2011 the amount of disruption caused could necessitate a ban on private cars in the city centre altogether.

Until then, however, it looks like we must continue to brave the torrent of abuse that stems from one of the last bastions of Dublin culture. The Carlton Cinema, the Olympic Ballroom, The Floozy in the Jacuzzi and Bewley's sticky buns may all be long gone, but the true ignorant racism of our taxi-drivers remains, like an eternal flame, to welcome generations of Dubliners home to Ireland.

A bit like Mary Robinson's candle in the window really.

Dublin's Metro
Transport 21


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