Just in the last few weeks (as reported by Connected Limerick and All About The Triple blogs) it was announced that Limerick is one of three places in the country that is to receive a good chunk of funding over the next few years in order to roll out its Smarter Travel plan. The Limerick proposal has been devised in a rare joint effort between the University of Limerick and both local authorities which have jurisdiction over the Limerick urban area (Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council). €9 million euro will be spent between now and 2016 on this. That’s a good deal of money so let’s hope that it’s spent wisely.
Some recent mistakes
The recent history of investing in Smarter Travel initiatives doesn’t inspire confidence, however. Two examples immediately spring to mind. First, there is the decision by Limerick City Council last summer to spend almost €700,000 on an ill thought out scheme to direct drivers to the multi-storey car parks of the city, the result being the plethora of poorly located and ill-fitting electronic signboards all around the city. Notwithstanding the waste of resources that this represents, that money from the Smarter Travel budget was spent on an initiative that promotes car usage and which goes against the whole raison d’être of the Smarter Travel programme underscores the belief that those at the tiller don’t really know, or perhaps don’t care, what they are doing. I’ve written about this particular issue previously here.
The other example is the decision to spend about €800,000 on developing a cycle track between Limerick and Nenagh. This time it was Limerick County Council and North Tipperary County Council who were behind the plan, with Minister Alan Kelly gleefully cheering the project on as if it would revolutionise the way we go about our lives in the Midwest. But, when you look at what they are actually rolling out, you’d have to wonder at the justification for spending such a large amount of money, there being no clear benefit to anybody except the contractors engaged to carry out the work. Was any due diligence done? Was there any survey of the demand for this? When it became obvious to everybody that this wasn’t exactly a viable commuter route, we were told that it would greatly enhance tourism in the region (should the Smarter Travel budget be spent on tourism initiatives?). Of course, there’s even more holes in that argument. Every other country in Europe recognises that if you want to promote cycle tourism you must build infrastructure specifically for cyclists, and you choose the route wisely, with cyclists in mind (a radical thought). Painting the hard shoulder of an existing national route red and erecting numerous (expensive) signs to tell people that it is now a cycle-way just doesn’t cut it. Here‘s a local newspaper article from last summer which casts doubt on the plan.
How to spend €9 million?
How should the €9 million be spent? It’ll be cut in some way between administration costs and capital expenditure. But what should the breakdown be?
€5 million on administration would keep an office of 20 people going at an average salary of €50,000 per year (way too high in my opinion, but when you factor in the salaries of the senior managers you’ll probably be left with an average of something like this). That would leave €4 million euro for spending on infrastructure. Is it enough? What would you do with it? Perhaps only 10 people are required to staff the Smarter Travel office. That would leave €6.5 million for infrastructural projects. What can you do for €6.5 million that will bring about not just a benefit in terms of jobs for those who carry out the work but a long-term benefit for the city?
Various working documents associated with the project can be viewed and downloaded from the Limerick City Council website here.