Getting the council to plant a new stop sign, say, or a speed ramp in an area is a slow and tedious process, says Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney.
She’d been waiting more than a year and half for a street sign on Killester Avenue in the north-west of the city, she said in September.
The problem? The current street sign is on the wrong road. Taxis and delivery vehicles often go to the wrong houses, she said. “It’s an absolute disaster.”
She’s followed up and followed up again with the council’s traffic advisory group (TAG) which deals with traffic requests, most recently in March, she said. “It is just unbelievably slow.”
Grumbles about delays in the TAG system are nothing new.
Currently, nine transport engineers work for TAG, assessing whether requests for traffic measures like street signs, yellow lines, and crossings, are valid and feasible.
Some councillors point to frequent staff turnover in recent years – and their more recent diversion to Covid mobility measures – as reasons why the group isn’t getting through proposals as fast as it should, leading still to years-long delays and a pile up of requests.
Dublin City Council Press Office hasn’t responded to queries about engineers leaving, why the council may struggle to keep engineers, and delays dealing with traffic requests.
In the last five years, seven traffic engineers have left TAG and 10 engineers have been hired, according to council figures through a freedom of information request.
This year, one engineer has left. That vacancy is yet to be filled, the request response shows.
A traffic engineer decides whether a request from a councillor, or a member of the public, for a stop sign or double yellow lines, say, should get the go ahead.
The turnover of traffic engineers at the council causes many delays but staff retention is an issue for all local councils, says independent Councillor Vincent Jackson.
Two years ago, the South Central Area was without a traffic engineer for six to eight months, Jackson says. “There was nobody even sitting in the meetings.”
A traffic engineer working in the same area for a while will build up local expertise which speeds up the requests, says Jackson.
Says Heney: “When somebody new comes in it slows down the whole process because you have to learn the ropes.”
Labour Councillor Mary Freehill says that the long waiting time for TAG reports can be frustrating.
The waiting time is even longer this year because of the Covid-19 transport changes, says Freehill.
A spokesperson for the council says that traffic engineers have been moved from TAG to work on Covid mobility measures.
Why the Turnover?
Heney thinks that the role of traffic engineer needs to be re-evaluated, she says.
“It’s not a very exciting position to hold and that must be why there is such a high number of people moving out of it,” says Heney.
The job is technical with strict guidelines and policy to follow, which could be part of the problem, Heney says. “It may be the case that there isn’t room to be creative.”
On top of this, the workload is massive, she says.
In the first half of this year, 468 requests were submitted to TAG engineers, according to the latest figures at the October monthly council meeting.
Of those filed in the first quarter of the year, 66 percent were decided on within four months, according to council figures.
“There is a huge volume of requests that are very minor for an official maybe but they’re very serious to a member of the public,” says Heney.
The council should survey the engineers to see why they are leaving, Heney says.
This problem is not specific to the transport department, says Jackson, “Retaining staff has always been an issue for Dublin City Council.”
“Dublin City Council is not unique. This would be the same feature right across the board in local government around Ireland,” says Jackson.
This is down to the private sector offering higher wages to workers, he says.
On the other hand, local government can offer better job security than the private sector, he says.
“The job prospects would be stronger in the public sector than they would be in the private sector. They’re not susceptible to recessions like the private sector,” Jackson says.
“In the last couple of months, I’d say the people that are in local government are fairly happy,” he says.
A spokesperson for the council said that the number of staff joining and leaving are narrow indicators.
“Exits from the organisation occur for a variety of reasons including retirements, secondments, cessation of contracts, career breaks and resignations,” they said.
Meanwhile, back on Killester Avenue, the wrong street sign still hangs.
“I don’t live too far from the street. The new sign still hasn’t been erected,” says Heney.