11 Apr 2011
The remit of the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) is to promote cooperation for public health between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the areas of research and information, capacity building and policy advice. Our approach is to support Departments of Health and their agencies in both jurisdictions, and maximise the benefits of all-island cooperation to achieve practical benefits for people in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
IPH has a keen interest in the interactions between transport and health. IPH has produced two papers in the recent past on this topic, the most recent being Active travel – healthy lives published in January 2011 which built on the 2005 publication Health impacts of transport. The IPH welcomes the draft transport strategy in terms of addressing each of the key messages outlined in the Active travel – healthy lives paper.
IPH is interested in this area not only in terms of increasing ‘active travel’ for healthier lives, but also in terms of the environmental and social impacts of inequitable access to forms of private and public transport.
• IPH welcomes the GDA Draft Transport Strategy’s clear intent to maximise cycling, walking and use of public transport; as well as minimise environmental impacts and reduce car journeys and speeds.
• Active travel, referring to journeys that use physical activity such as walking and cycling instead of motorised transport, has a key role to play in improving health and reducing health inequalities (1). This refers to not only the individual’s health, but also to reducing the environmental and safety impacts of motorised transport on other people.
• Aside from the respiratory, cardiovascular and safety benefits of active travel, it is hoped that increased levels of active travel will also positively impact on obesity levels. It is estimated that 60% of adults and 20% of children and teenagers in the Republic of Ireland are overweight or obese. The rise in obesity accounts for the 31% anticipated increase in the Republic of Ireland’s prevalence of diabetes (2).
• The inclusion in the GDA Draft Transport Strategy, after the 2008 consultation period of objective 5 – to decrease levels of personal stress associated with travel – is particularly welcomed by the IPH in terms of positive mental health.
• According to the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) car dependency contributes to substantial and persistent inequalities with vulnerable groups travelling less and carrying a greater burden of the costs of other people’s travel in terms of air pollution, noise, traffic danger, injury and crime. Children in the lowest socio-economic groups are up to 28 times more likely to be killed on the roads than those of the highest socio-economic groups, while being struck by a vehicle is the most common cause of death for children between the ages of 5 and 14 in the UK (3).
• IPH welcomes the Strategy’s intent to promote social connectivity and ameliorate social inclusion in disadvantaged areas of Dublin through provision of public transport and promotion of improved access to active travel.
• Although overall the draft transport strategy is very positive from IPH’s perspective there are statements with regard to road charges and road use, and footpaths for pedestrians that cause concern:
- Road charges are not distributed according to means and therefore have a greater impact on people with lower incomes. As homes closer to public transport, even proposed public transport corridors, are more expensive to buy or rent, people on lower incomes may be more car-reliant in certain circumstances. This may also be the case for people with mobility impairments such as older people, people with disabilities, or parents of children with disabilities. Although overall people of lower means may have reduced access to a car, in cases where car dependency is essential for social inclusion and access, this population cohort’s needs should not be ignored. In addition, road tolls have divided the city and been a barrier to connectivity in recent years.
- There is no mention in the GDA Draft Transport Strategy of motorbikes or mopeds. In terms of car safety, these transport forms can be more dangerous than cycling although using similar methods of road use (allowing overtaking by travelling by the road edge), as both users (car and motorbike/moped) are travelling at speed. In addition, where personal motorised transport is essential, motorbikes/mopeds should be treated with preference over cars as they use less fossil fuels that contribute to health problems, contribute less to greenhouse gas emissions, decrease traffic congestion in comparison to cars, and are more conducive to electrification than cars.
- While the prioritisation of walking in the GDA Draft Transport Strategy is welcome, and in particular the proposed rationalisation of street furniture which will have a positive impact on people with mobility and sight impairments, it is of some concern that there is no mention of winter conditions. The past two winters have witnessed considerable problems in the capital with people falling on icy footpaths, having to walk on the cleared roads alongside traffic, or simply being unable to use footpaths at all. IPH would welcome inclusion of a section on tackling these conditions, for all forms of travel – public transport, pedestrians and road users.
- IPH welcomes the Strategy’s acknowledgement and inclusion of active travel for leisure and reiterates the call for better information on journeys other than for commuting in the Republic of Ireland as stated in Active travel – healthy lives.
- IPH welcomes the transparent way the GDA Draft Transport Strategy was assembled but calls for a Health Impact Assessment of the Strategy that would incorporate and build on the Common Appraisal Framework.