Much of the debate around the changes in city-centre transport has focused on what the impact will be for retailers.
Last week, Geoff Tucker of Millward Brown showed councillors the main findings of another survey around what people think of the plans, and how shoppers said the plans might change their travel and shopping behaviour.
“Overall, the support for the proposals was by and large pretty good,” Tucker told councillors on Dublin City Council’s transport committee on 5 October.
The study – which was carried out by Millward Brown along with accountancy firm EY (formerly Ernst & Young) and economic consultants DKM – had a few parts.
The survey consulted people living in Dublin, and visitors to the city. Researchers held focus groups with 48 people who regularly visit Dublin city centre, asked 400 people on the street in the city centre, and carried out 517 face-to-face interviews with people in their homes throughout the four local authority areas and Bray.
Among those asked, 55 percent to 66 percent of consumers supported all of the main proposals, while just 3 percent to 5 percent supported none of them. (The percentages varied within those ranges depending on whether they were at home, on the street, or in focus-group interviews.)
Also, 34 percent to 38 percent said they would visit the city centre more often once the plan was completed. Just 6 percent to 11 percent said they would come into town less often.
Even among car users there was support for the proposals. Of those asked, 38 percent to 50 percent said they would come to the city centre more often as a result of the proposed changes to the car parking arrangements, notably park-and-ride areas with free Luas rides for those with a parking ticket as well as keeping existing parking in the centre.
At the 5 October transport committee meeting, independent Councillor Nial Ring challenged the figures used in this latest survey.
According to the survey, only 9 percent of those asked came into town in cars. But Ring quoted different research, which said 33 percent of visitors to Dublin come into the city by car.
“We were presented with the Dublin City Centre Transport Study Consultation Document in June 2015, which had the actual number of people using whichever form of transport,” he said.
Geoff Tucker of Millward Brown said their study had only interviewed those who came into town for non-work purposes, to shop or socialise. Ring continued to refute the figures.
“We have the actual numbers and then we have numbers that are put in this … now you say it’s non work … in any case, to go from 9 percent for car to 33 percent – the numbers just don’t add up,” Ring said.
The most recent survey also differed from past research into the possible impact of the changes. It concludes that “the overall impact of the proposed NTA changes to the City Centre will be positive and should lead to increased numbers of consumers in the City Centre and subsequently increased retail opportunities”.
This appears to conflict with what a previous survey concluded. In August last year, a survey put out by the Irish Parking Association said that if the changes were implemented, there would be a drop of around 25 percent in shopping revenue for retailers.
But the methodology seemed flawed, and the finding was the result of asking whether shoppers would have come in if they hadn’t been able to park or drive and the city centre car parks were shut down (which isn’t planned) – to which 59 percent of car users asked said they were unlikely to have visited.
Despite the overall positive feedback from the most recent survey, some city-centre retailers are still unconvinced that the changes will be good for business.
The results of the study don’t matter because customers are already voting with their feet, Brian Kenny, the manager of McQuillan’s Tools in Capel Street, said on Friday.
The McQuillan’s Tools outlet in Blanchardstown Shopping Centre is thriving in comparison to the city-centre branch he runs, he says.
Kenny cycles to work every day, and so do four of his colleagues, but he still fears developments that discourage cars from driving through the city centre.
“You only have to look to many cities in the UK, where the city centres have died, to see what will happen to Dublin if cars are diverted to the out-of-town retail outlets,” he says.
Some of Kenny’s concerns stem from the suspicion that once cars are diverted from the city centre the improved public transport won’t materialise. “They’ve been saying they are going to introduce fast buses for the last 15 years,” he says.
Kenny fears that the long-term plan is for pedestrianisation of the whole of the city centre: “In summer that might be okay but in winter, shoppers who drive will just go straight to the out-of-town places.” (Dublin City Council currently has plans to make the city centre more pedestrian friendly, but not to pedestrianise the whole city centre.)
There will always be a cohort who just won’t use the bus, Kenny says. Drivers who want to purchase heavy items will always prefer to drive to do so. “For our trade customers it is essential that they can park up the van for a few minutes, buy their stuff and load it up,” he said.
Past research by Dublin Institute of Technology has found that retailers underestimate the number of shoppers who travel by public transport or on foot, and overestimate the number who come by car. (Dublin Inquirer columnist David O’Connor was one of those behind the research.)
Brown Thomas Managing Director Stephen Sealey said his company supports improvements to the city centre experience and to public transport. But he stresses the importance of cars to their business.
“A large proportion of our business comes from customers who travel by car. We need to ensure that people who wish to travel by car can do so. If our customers can’t travel by car they will go elsewhere,” he said. “This will impact sales, and ultimately employment.”
Kenny, on Capel Street, says many of his customers come in early on a Saturday morning by car, so that they can get parked outside and load up their shopping. He is adamant he will lose their custom if the plan goes ahead.
John Mitchell, owner of Mitchell’s Accessories on Capel Street, which sells car accessories, also thinks the long-term plan is for the pedestrianisation of the entire city centre. “They are heading for pedestrianisation and it won’t work. People have to have a way to get the stuff out,” he says.
Mitchell says he doesn’t believe the survey results either. “They would turn anything to suit themselves,” he says.
Mitchell says that congestion affects him, as some firms won’t even deliver to the city centre. But he doesn’t believe the plan will solve this.
Green Party Councillor Ciaran Cuffe, who is head of the transport committee, disagrees: “The plan is to get more people into the city, but it can’t cope with more cars, so public transport, walking and cycling are more efficient ways to get people in.”
Says Cuffe: “You have to make it more attractive to draw more people in.”
Perhaps some car drivers may stop coming in due to the changes, he said. But more people will come in via other methods, so the only businesses that will lose out due to these changes will be the car parks, he says.
“There were similar predictions of doom and gloom when it was planned to pedestrianise Grafton Street, and it’s been a great success,” he said.