As tourists sail in for the summer, Dublin City Council plans to ramp up efforts to clear the city’s clogged streets of some of the coaches that the visitors use to get around on tours and trips.
That’s why it opened a new coach park in the Docklands in January. It cost €1.7 million to construct, says Dermot O’Gara, a spokesperson for the National Transport Authority (NTA).
Uptake so far, though, has been slow. Coach operators complain that the new facility is in the wrong place, and has the wrong opening hours.
Also, it costs money to park there, and there are free coach bays right down in the city centre.
Coach operators and council officials don’t make easy bedfellows.
“Coach operators often abuse spaces they inhabit [around the city centre] by long overstaying their time limit, ignoring set-down, pick-up rules,” said council Senior Engineer Andy Walsh, at last week’s meeting of the council’s transport committee.
This creates safety risks and congestion, he said. In 2017, the council ran a campaign to try to educate drivers and enforce the rules. Officials liaised with the Gardaí, who forced coaches to move on, and not to idle in places like Nassau Street and Merrion Square, said Walsh.
As the seasonal spike in tourists approaches, the council and the Gardaí plan to do the same again, says Walsh.
There are 30 coach-parking bays in the city centre, with room for 90 coaches, Walsh said. They’re free to use and, although some are time-stamped, limiting how long coaches can park, not all of them are – yet.
In the coming months, though, the council plans to get rid of some of these bays, and time-stamp the remaining ones, to try to nudge drivers into using the new coach-parking off Sheriff Street Upper in the Docklands, which can hold up to 50 coaches.
It costs €10 for up to three hours to park in the new facility, or €15 after three hours. The idea is that the coaches can drop off their passengers where they need to go, park up in this lot off Sheriff Street, and return to pick them up when the time comes.
As far back as 2015, Labour Councillor Mary Freehill was calling for coaches to be cleared from Merrion Square, and to terminate elsewhere. But now that Dublin has somewhere special for them to park, it’s not being used much.
“The usage is quite low, even negligible at times,” said Walsh, at last week’s meeting. “This is obviously very disappointing.”
“It’s a lot of money,” says Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe, who heads up the council’s transport committee, referring to the €1.7 million the coach-parking facility cost to build.
“It stands out in comparison to the drip-feed of funding for walking and cycling projects in the city,” he says. (The NTA has allocated €8.2 million for sustainable transport this year.)
Planning restrictions aren’t helping though, says Cuffe. They mean that the coach park opens between 7am and 7pm, Monday to Friday and coaches can’t park overnight.
It’s in the heart of a residential neighbourhood, which is a challenge of the Docklands, he says.
“While we’re going for high-density development, on the one hand, with the coach park, on the other, there’s a strong community of people living in two-storey housing who feel that there’s a lot of disruption to their lives by activity nearby.”
Some nearby residents had opposed the coach park, said Walsh, at last week’s meeting. “There was huge resistance on the part of some of the adjoining properties. This is better than nothing. It’s not absolutely ideal.”
The coach park is a “superb facility” but it’s hard to see drivers using it if opening hours stay the same, says Caoimhe Moloney-Kavanagh, director of operations with Pierce Kavanagh Coaches.
Many hotels in the city don’t have dedicated coach parking, says Moloney-Kavanagh. So, if the coach park closes after 7pm, where should they go after they drop visitors off in the evening?
“That’s why the coach park is not being used,” says Moloney-Kavanagh.
Getting rid of 30 coach-parking spaces in the city centre to encourage use of the new facility “will have to work”, says Moloney-Kavanagh.
“But what the council also need to bear in mind is that these coaches are bringing in tourists that are spending in our city where the restaurants and shops are already paying huge amounts of rates,” she says.
As tourism increases in the summer, there’s a challenge in striking a balance, says the Green Party’s Cuffe. “I’ve received weekly calls [about coach parking].”
It’s early days for the Sheriff Street facility, says Cuffe. He hopes to see it used “a lot more” during the summer months.
“All space in Dublin is at a premium,” says Richard Guiney, CEO of city-centre business group DublinTown.
Everybody is conscious of congestion and squeezed road space. “So for somebody then just to sit in prime space for two hours is just not good utilisation of space,” he says.
At last week’s meeting, Walsh said that a review of parking bye-laws is on the cards. That could mean in the future charging for coach parking in the city centre, he said.
But without an overnight facility and looser opening hours at the new coach park on Sheriff Street, relations between coach drivers and the council could remain strained, says Moloney-Kavanagh.
“Coach companies and the coach drivers are incredibly resentful and upset that their needs have not been taken into account,” she says. “Their primary need for a coach park in Dublin is for overnight coach parking. Until they get that they’re not going to use it.”