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Commuting Preferences in Dublin

It’s a cold, wet Monday morning in January. As usual, you have to get to the bus stop, but it’s a good three kilometres from your house. How do you get there – and, for all your good intentions, would it be easier – maybe just this one time, and despite the traffic – to just drive to work, and to hell with the high parking fees and sitting in traffic?

Across Ireland, Europe and, indeed, the world, commuters are weighing up these options. What they decide, and how policy makers respond, may be vital as we reimagine and readapt our cities to become carbon neutral and pollution-free.

At UCD, lead author Giulia Oeschger, a PhD candidate at the UCD School of Civil Engineering, and her supervisor, Dr Páraic Carroll, Assistant Professor at the same school, and who is leading the transport strand of the Science Foundation Ireland funded project entitled Next Generation Energy Systems (NexSys) have been investigating this topic. Published in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Cycling and Micromobility Research, Oeschger and Carroll found that commuters in county Dublin who had to reach public transport from their homes, or reach their destinations from it, preferred walking over bikes and e-scooters.

Why is this the case, when bikes and e-scooters are invariably faster?


“Commuters were put off by safety issues,” says Oeschger. “There is not enough infrastructure to allow them to safely use bikes or e-scooters on a continuous route. Cycle lanes can be patchy, and cyclists often find themselves riding in the bus lane in busy traffic. In the survey (sent to a sample in County Dublin), we collected a lot of data about respondents, including gender and age, and we found the female and older respondents were more likely to choose walking for that first and last mile. Those who chose e-scooters, meanwhile, tended to be 35 or younger, which largely reflected international evidence. They were also more likely to be male.

“We can’t necessarily extrapolate why from the survey results, but based on the comments, safety was one of the main issues. There remains uncertainty as to how, where and when e-scooters can be used, and the infrastructure is just not perceived as safe. And international evidence tells us that women tend to be more risk-averse than men. But, outside of this study, we know that in countries with good cycling infrastructure, such as the Netherlands or Denmark – two places with similar or colder climates than Ireland – this gender gap is much smaller. Indeed, it is close to non-existent when the conditions are there for all to feel safe.”

“Media coverage of transport and traffic issues is also influential”, says Carroll. “If there is a story about a collision between a cyclist and a lorry for example, this will logically lead to a negative perception of cycling for some, in terms of safety.

It shows that there is still a lot of work to be done to improve cycling infrastructure.

In terms of sustainability, walking is the best option: it is free, it produces no emissions and is good for health. The big limitation for people is the distance or travel time to public transport.”

Practicality and Familiarity

Closer to home, another factor of this gender split is quite practical, says Oeschger. “Women may be more likely to combine different purposes: yes, they are commuting, but they’re also taking the children to different destinations, doing the shopping, going to the post office and so on while on the commute. These tasks are more difficult on e-scooters when you have children with you.”

The preference for walking is also tied in with confusion over which rules apply to bus, train and tram services, Carroll and Oeschger say. “You can’t bring your bike on the DART at peak  times, except for a fold-up bike,” says Carroll. “Intercity train services have more space for non-foldable bikes, but you have to book in advance, and it books up quickly. People aren’t sure what is permitted on which service.

We could provide more capacity to accommodate cyclists who don’t use foldable bikes and, indeed, we could be more imaginative overall.

The solutions are quite simple really. In Singapore, for instance, there are racks on the doors which you can pop your bike onto. If we want to incentivise multimodal transport, these are obvious solutions.”

Oeschger says that intermodal trips need to be seamless. “If it’s a hassle, if you are worried what the driver or transport operator will say, or there isn’t anywhere to safely and securely leave your bike where thieves won’t be able to simply break your advanced lock, why would you do it?,” she asks.


The relative costs of walking versus bikes or e-scooters, also comes into play, says Oeschger. “People are more willing to pay for shared e-scooters than shared bikes. If it is an annual, monthly or once-off fee, people may be more inclined to use the shared bikes than if they have to pay per minute. Although there are shared bike schemes in Dublin, there is not yet a shared e-scooter service in Ireland, so people are not as familiar with them.”

Carroll points to the ‘Dublin Bikes’ scheme, which is publicly operated and run by the City Council with the support of a sponsor, and contrasts that with privately run schemes which, he says, are more expensive because they often work within tighter margins. “For many councils, it takes work to establish and maintain these bike schemes, and it is one demand among many, so it may be easier for them to adopt these private models,” he says.


“The frequency of public transport is a key indicator influencing the attractiveness of the bus or train when they have to reach it from a longer distance,” says Carroll.

Oeschger says that we can encourage more multimodal transport by integrated ticketing, and examining the data generated by this to help improve planning. “Allow people to bring their bikes or scooters on board, but above all else provide secure parking and safe and continuous infrastructure.”

To this, Carroll adds that regulation around e-scooters will create a framework that commuters can understand, but that it’s also important to enhance the frequency and reliability of public transport.

“We looked at Dublin as it has a relatively dense public transport network compared to other Irish cities,” says Oeschger. “This study, however, is just starting to show what is needed – and what is possible.”

Giulia and Páraic were in conversation with Peter McGuire (BA 2002, MLitt 2007), a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Irish Times and to Noteworthy, the investigations unit at