Speech by Noel Dempsey T.D., Minister for Transport, at the launch of the National Smarter Travel Areas Competition

15 - 07 - 2009

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Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for being here today.
We are here to launch the National Smarter Travel Areas Competition. This competition is a key action in what I consider to be my most important policy initiative – Smarter Travel, which offers the vision of a sustainable transport future for Ireland.
You were invited here today because I want to recruit you! I want you to work with us as sustainable transport ambassadors in your local authorities over the coming years. Our success depends on your success.
Each of you will have a key role in the success of many new initiatives being announced by me under this new agenda. 
I have always been clear about the critical importance of local government in pursuing the sustainability agenda. 
One of the first things I did after I launched the Smarter Travel policy document back in February was to address the City and County Managers annual meeting. I was very encouraged by the response I received at that meeting to my plans to pursue the sustainability agenda with the help of Local Authorities.
I am delighted that the Local Authority Network I proposed at that meeting has now been established and that its first meeting took place yesterday.   This network will help to move this agenda forward in a coordinated fashion and in accordance with best international practice at local level in Ireland.
My challenge to you today is to respond with equal levels of urgency and ambition to the Smarter Travel Areas competition. This competition demonstrates the Government’s commitment to funding and delivering outstanding examples of sustainable travel in urban and rural areas right around the country.
If this competition is a success and I have no doubt but that it will, then it will be because of you.
We know from the Freiburg experience that Smarter Travel areas is an achievable ambition and one that can fundamentally change people’s lives for the better. It illustrates the importance of the role of a local authority in leading such change.
Smarter Travel Areas have the potential to revolutionise not just people’s travel patterns, but their lifestyles, their communities and their localities.
Streetscapes currently overrun by cars can be transformed to greener, more open and social spaces, which encourage walking and cycling, and put shared public space at the heart of our communities.
Aoife O’Grady of my Department will outline the scheme to you in detail in the next presentation.
I have every confidence that you will respond to this competition and deliver local exemplars of Smarter Travel. 
I am prepared to allocate €50 million over a 5 year period to this project. Funding will only be granted to credible proposals which can be credibly implemented to give the type of radical reduction in car usage needed. 
That’s not to say that there is no place for the car in the future. Of course there is but we are talking about balance and we need to move in the direction of alternatives. Just as the car is appropriate for some types of travel, walking and cycling are appropriate for many shorter journeys, and we need to encourage people to use these alternatives.
I know that many local authorities already have in place or are engaging in individual initiatives which fit with the Smarter Travel sustainability agenda.   We must be prepared to move to the next level to create a fully integrated approach to travel which requires much more than a focus on infrastructure.   
Local authorities must devise a strategy whereby local businesses, workplaces, schools and community groups are engaged, encouraged and incentivised to participate. 
Education, training and awareness will be a key element in the delivery and long-term success of the Smarter Travel areas concept. We know that people like you in local authorities must be fully au fait with best practice so that the principles of smarter travel are embedded in your organisation at all levels.
Over the past year or so I have been impressed and heartened by the real commitment demonstrated by the Irish business community to the Smarter Travel agenda. 
I have also been struck by the level of interest displayed by the Irish public in the sustainability agenda. When you help people to see that an alternative to the car is possible, particularly for short journeys, then they respond. 
You will already have seen this morning what is possible from the Freiburg example and I see that you have three other speakers lined up to set out for you other possibilities and lessons learned in this area. 
I want to finish up by thanking you again for being here today. Please keep up your interest and enthusiasm for the sustainability agenda. We are on the cusp of moving in a very new direction with our transport policy here in Ireland.
There has never been a better time to pursue the sustainable travel agenda. The public is ready for it and the Government is fully behind it – your input will help us deliver it faster and better. 
Thank you

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