Ireland looks to introduce Dublin congestion charge
By Andras Gergely
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland wants to tackle Dublin's traffic problems by giving the city a directly-elected mayor who would have the power to impose a London-style vehicle congestion zone, the local government minister said on Tuesday.
"One of the great success stories of the London mayoralty is the way they have transformed transport in that city," John Gormley told Irish public broadcaster RTE after he unveiled planned local government reforms.
"Anyone who has visited (London) will see that the city has been transformed, the bus service has been transformed and it is moving... more swiftly," Gormley, the leader of coalition Green Party said.
Gormley said a directly elected mayor would also head up the Dublin Transport Authority.
Critics said the minister's plan lacked real detail.
With only two tram lines and the DART commuter train, most Dubliners have little choice but to travel by road.
Gormley's praise for the London congestion charge, introduced in early 2003, came as part of a wider proposal on Tuesday to overhaul Irish local government.
"I think a mayor here should have the opportunity to impose a congestion charge if necessary," he said.
Dublin's Lord Mayor is elected annually by city councilors. There is no direct, public vote, in contrast to London where residents do have a say, and who will go to the polls on May 1.
Five years on, London's congestion zone remains a topic of intense debate. Supporters cite less traffic in the city centre and reduced pollution, while critics say businesses within the zone have suffered and that congestion has worsened on the edges of the congestion zone.
In New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to introduce a similar scheme to free Manhattan from gridlock stalled this year in the face of opposition from the New York State senate.
Ireland's main opposition party, Fine Gael, said Gormley's proposals were "high in rhetoric but low in detail."
"The proposals... do not explain the functions of this (mayoral) office," spokesman Phil Hogan said in a statement.
The chief executive of Dublin's Chamber of Commerce, Gina Quin, said local public transport, which did not even reach some areas, needed more investment if any such charge was introduced.
"There is no point even looking at a congestion charge until drivers have real alternatives," Quin, who broadly welcomed the reforms, said in a statement.
(Editing by Andrew Hough and Matthew Jones)