Bord Snip transport numbers - ‘simply not true...authors have read the wrong line from previous report.’


Bord Snip claims are “a convenient untruth”Professor Seamus Caulfield


Three sets of figures that are the basis for a number of the most important conclusions regarding rural transport in the recent Bord Snip report have one thing in common, according to retired Professor Seamus Caulfield*. He claims that “They’re simply not true and seem to be a case of being a convenient untruth to make the facts fit.”


The McCarthy Report has recommended that the Rural Transport Scheme be scrapped, that small, mainly rural, schools be closed and that free primary school transport be terminated.  Part of the justification for these actions is that car ownership has increased so rapidly since the transport schemes were introduced that they can now be terminated and schools closed without major inconvenience.  The Report states categorically “Car ownership rates in rural Ireland exceeded 90% in most counties at the 2006 Census.”


This statement is in line with that in the ESRI recommendations to Government for the current National Development Plan (in a chapter on Transport in which Colm McCarthy is listed as the lead author) which claims that between 1981 and 2002 “car numbers have increased by 400%” while goods vehicles almost doubled in numbers in the same period.  The National Development Plan claims that “Between 1991 and 2002 the total number of cars owned by private households increased from 445,226 to 1,601,619”.

According to Prof. Caulfield, “This is simply wrong.  The 2006 Census does not show personal car ownership or even household car ownership rates of over 90% in the rural population of most counties. Incredibly, the authors of the ESRI report have read the wrong line from their own graph of increasing motorisation - it is goods vehicles which increased to 358% of their 1980 level while cars increased by 97%, less than one quarter of that claimed. The National Development Plan figure of 445,226 cars in 1991 is taken from the wrong page of Census 1991 ( urban cars only) instead of from the total of urban and rural cars 858,377.  This represents an increase of 87%, not 260%.

“In 1980 the average motorisation level (cars per 1000 population) in the EU 15 was 287 while in Ireland it was 215.  By 2007 the EU 15 figure had increased to 500 while the Irish figure had increased to 434.    Among the EU 15 states, only Denmark, Portugal and Greece had lower levels of motorisation than Ireland. Surprisingly, for a country with 40% rural population against an EU average of 20%, Ireland uses private cars less and public transport more than the average for the EU.”


Prof. Caulfield added, “This is what I call a ‘Convenient Untruth, about Irish car usage being the highest in the world.  Consider two neighbouring five-member families.  Family A own one car which is driven 20,000 kilometres per annum.  Family B own four cars each of which is driven 10,000 kilometres per annum. 

“It is a daft and perverse argument to claim that family A is twice as car dependent as family B.  Likewise, comparing average annual mileage of cars in different countries is utterly meaningless without taking into account the motorisation levels in those countries.

“It has been often repeated that, “Ireland is the most car dependent country in the world.  We drive our cars 24,400 kilometres per annum, 70% more than in France or Germany, 50% more than in Britain and 30% more than in the US”.  These figures were first used by a student of the Dublin Institute of Technology in 2002 in a footnote to an article in an obscure student journal.  Even though the author was made aware that the comparative statistics published annually by Eurostat under the title ‘Energy and Transport in Figures’ contradicted these assertions he continued to publish them and the figures have been cited so often by various groups and political parties that they have come to be accepted as absolute fact. 


“Three years ago Sustainable Energy Ireland proved that the figures and comparisons were baseless when they published the average annual mileage, not of a sample but of all cars which had undergone the NCT.  The average was 17,981km in 2000 declining to 16,985 in 2006 before rising to 17,136 in 2007.  A far cry from 24,400 kilometres per annum.

“That, one would have expected should have been the end of the matter.  But in 2007, the Urban Forum,  an umbrella group representing five major Irish professional associations in a pre-election manifesto, ignored the SEI findings and repeated the student’s footnote of 24,400 kilometres, 70% higher than France or Germany, 50% higher than Britain and 30% higher than US. 

“Just two months ago, The Futures Academy of DIT in their document Dublin at the Crossroads repeated almost verbatim the 70%,50% and 30%  comparisons but significantly, have now omitted the “24,400 kilometres” which suggests that they are fully aware of the SEI data.  Both the Urban Forum and the Futures Academy have questions to answer about their continuing to put figures before the public which are patently incorrect.  But so also has the McCarthy Group in relation to rural car ownership levels.

“Whatever decisions the government comes to in relation to rural transport, rural   schools and school transport, one can only hope that they will be based on factual and full information and that these convenient untruths about car numbers and car use in Ireland will cease to have any part in the current debate.”



* Professor Seamus Caulfield was a member of the Expert Advisory Group for the National Spatial Strategy

Note to Editors:

The Council for the West is a voluntary, independent, non-political body which monitors and reports on the socio-economic state of the West and acts as a lobby group promoting the development of the West. The Council for the West was set up by the Western Bishops and has successfully campaigned for retention of Objective 1 Status for the region.  It continues to campaign for balanced regional development and highlights issues of major concern for the region.

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