Crossing the Divide

How the Luas Cross City cuts through Dublin's social and economic divide

By Rachel Lavin, with videography by Cian Brennan.

Wednesday 4 July 2018

From Broombridge to Bride's Glen, north to south, Roddy to Ross, Dublin is imagined as a city centered around a divide: the River Liffey.

Not just a natural cleavage through the capital's landscape, the Liffey also – in the imagination of many Dubliners – loosely marks a divide between two identities, and two vastly different social, cultural and economic realities.

The new Luas Cross City, an extension of the southside's green line across the river and through the northside, makes promises to change all that, with its chosen tagline of “Bringing the City Together”.

But what exactly is the nature of the divide this new tramline cuts through? And how is the tramline changing the shape of the city?

We looked at the statistics, stop by stop.

Deprivation Score

From approximately -40 (most disadvantaged) to +40 (most affluent)

Source: 2016 HP Deprivation Index

The Pobal HP Deprivation Index measures the relative affluence or disadvantage of an area. (Here figures are based on the “small areas” from the 2016 census, in which the Luas stop is located. For stops that cover more than one small area, we’ve taken an average.)

Scores range from roughly -40 (most disadvantaged) to +40 (most affluent) with 0 being the national average.

The majority of stops south of the city are far above the national average, peaking at 25.82 on Dawson Street. However, as the tram glides north this falls dramatically, sinking to a low of -14.6 at the Broadstone-DIT Luas stop. It rises in the relatively affluent northside neighbourhoods of Cabra and Phibsborough, falling again to a low of -12 below the national average at Broombridge.

While the southside's deprivation score averages well above the national average at 14.6, the stops along the northside route average 14 points lower, at an average deprivation score of 0.6.

The index uses data from the 2016 census, basing the score off a combination of markers, including education level, unemployment rate, single-parent ratio, population change, age dependency and the proportion living in a council-owned property.

Let’s break down some of those categories further.


Percentage (%) of unemployment (male and female)

Source: 2016 Census

Unemployment figures from the 2016 census show stark contrasts. While the percentage of unemployed residents south of the Liffey peaks at 18 percent for men at the Harcourt stop, and 15 percent for women at the Ballyogan stop, the rate of unemployment averages at 6.8 percent across the southside stops.

However, once the tram crosses the Liffey, both male and female unemployment starts to rise sharply, peaking at Broadstone-DIT where nearly half the population are without jobs (48 percent of women, and 45 percent of men).

While women were slightly more likely than men to be unemployed on average along the southside stops (0.3 percent more), men were more likely to be unemployed than women on the northside route at 1.3 percent more on average.

Can the new Luas line help change this?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, when the Luas Cross City was launched, that these projects are good "for competitiveness and economic growth".

There are a few ways that investment in public transport may affect workers and firms close to stops, says Martina Kirchberger, professor of economics in Trinity College Dublin.

"It will make (the city) move more freely,"
says Marty Morris from Sandyford.
Commuters can get to work faster, which might make workers more productive, she says. “Better public transport also means, for any given resident, they can reach a larger number of jobs in a certain amount of time.”

Firms and workers can be better matched, “which is at the heart of the economics of clustering that drive higher living standards in bigger and more densely populated cities", says Kirchberger.

But that depends on how the Luas operates in practice. Some have found the lines convenient, they say.

Sat on a stoop in the shade at the Dominick stop in early July, John Ryder says he commutes to work from Dolphin's Barn.

He finds the Luas is dependable, and will get him to where he needs to be in between 12 and 18 minutes. "You can go to the Luas stop and you know in three to five minutes, there'll be one," he says.

It's getting busy and traffic can be a problem but he blames cars for that, he says. "It's definitely frustrated by the cars."

Others found though, in the early days at least, that overcrowding made travel difficult.

Craig Phillips says that he and his wife really struggled after the new Luas extension opened last winter.

Their son had childcare in Rathmines and they lived in Dundrum. Catching a tram from the Beechwood stop – the nearest one to Rathmines – back home was near impossible at times, he says.

The trains were full so they couldn't squeeze a buggy on. Once, his wife and son, who is one-and-a-half years old, waited for two hours to get on the train on a rainy night, he says. "It was a bit stressful."

The Luas is a small tram and not too accessible for those with buggies and wheelchairs for that matter. "Any kind of time around the rush hour made it just impossible to get home," he says. "It was a bit extreme."

Now, they've had to find somewhere closer to home for child care, he says.

Nevertheless, the new Luas extension may make jobs in the south more accessible to those living near northside stops, and vice versa.

Being able to tap into that, though, depends on the opportunities that residents have, and on education and skill levels. Those vary greatly across the tramline, too.

Education Level

Percentages with third-level education and primary education

Source: 2016 Census

Education levels fall dramatically once the Luas line moves north past O'Connell Street.

In the affluent neighbourhood of Beechwood, the share of residents who have a third-level education is as high as 82.8 percent, with 0.5 percent of residents having just a primary education, according to the 2016 census.

Four kilometres away, fewer than one in ten residents local to the Broadstone-DIT Luas stop have a third-level education. A quarter have only primary education.

Could the new Luas extension impact this? Like easy access to jobs elsewhere in the city, the new Luas provides a direct line to Trinity College Dublin for northside students.

Meanwhile, Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) is expanding its campus at Grangegorman, relocating the majority of the campus there, with the new Luas allowing direct access to its namesake stop for students elsewhere in the city.

"For my course, I need to be in Grangegorman and then Aungier St. within half an hour so this is very handy,"
says DIT student Kate Burke.
Researchers looking at transport links and the rates at which school-leavers go to university have found different effects.

Richard Geoghegan, Sean Judge, and Gerard Mills at University College Dublin looked at where students from secondary schools in the greater Dublin region in 2013 went on to study at universities.

For UCD, about 60 percent of incoming students were from schools within a 9km radius, they found. Trinity had a wider catchment of students – perhaps because it was better linked to the region’s transport network, their paper said.

But “although distance is critical in determining university choice for students in the Dublin region, it does not pose a substantial barrier to university participation overall”, they found.

In other words, if a student lives closer to a university they’re more likely to pick that one. But it doesn’t really affect whether or not they go to university.

Pockets of educational disadvantage close to universities suggest “in many instances social and cultural barriers are more significant in determining access than proximity", the researchers found. So resources should be focused on that, it said.

The new Luas may, though, push up prices of accommodation in the area surrounding the universities, adding to students' costs.

Social Housing

Percent of Local-Authority Rented Accommodation

Source: 2016 Census

There are other indicators, too of the social and economic diversity of the city. Take levels of social housing, which vary, with a higher concentration of social housing along the northside stops.
"Even from a social and cultural perspective, I feel that it is joining the city more,"
says Mary O'Leary, a Charlemont resident.

But as the above graph shows, there are pockets where a high proportion of the population live in homes rented from the council on both sides of the city.

In Ballyogan Wood it jumps to 36.7 percent and again at St. Stephen's Green to 46 percent. Across the Liffey however, it is more consistently concentrated in the northside's "inner city" area, jumping to 40.1 percent at Dominick St, 49.9 percent at Grangegorman and to a peak of 96.6 percent of the population at Broadstone-DIT.

In contrast, the southside stops of Milltown, Glencairn, Sandyford, Carrickmines and Cowper recorded less than 1 percent.

Differences in the physical make-up of the city were emphasised by the UCD School of Geography Tree Canopy Study led by Geography Professor Gerald Mills, who did a detailed study of green spaces in Dublin city.

Green Space

Percentage of tree canopy cover in orange and green cover (grass, shrubs, etc.) in blue.

Source: UCD School of Geography Tree Canopy Cover Survey

"All of the evidence shows that the ‘leafy suburbs’ as a measure of wealth is a justifiable shorthand," says Mills.

From peaks of more than 90 percent green cover in suburban Laughanstown and 38 percent tree cover in Milltown, the greenery markers fall to below 20 percent in the city centre. It fails to realign with its “leafy” counterparts as it moves into the northside, though.

"It's going to change Cabra a lot."
Mills says that property type is the primary reason for this. Along the route, the Luas passes from areas with housing with substantial gardens and parks into parts of the city – especially the north inner city – where houses are smaller and nearly all the space is built on.

"The big difference then is the amount of private green space that is well landscaped with large trees. You see fewer trees out on the urban margins where the spaces are often green but have few trees and fewer trees that are large," says Mills.

"Closer to the city you see more public trees (along roads and parks) but this is very inconsistent and whole sections along the Luas have no street trees and little green space," he says.

Some areas – while still lacking green space – have been tidied up since the arrival of the Luas. Behind the bar at Cumiskey's pub, on the corner of a tangle of roads near Constitution Hill, Stephen Cumiskey says the footpaths look neater than they were, and the streets cleaner.

"It's a bit better than the way it was," he says.

Poor Health

Percentage of population who report general health is bad or very bad (per electoral division)

Source: 2016 Census

A graph of “poor health” per area shows a health divide that deepens as one moves out of the city centre and into the northside.

Dubliners were asked on census night if they thought themselves to be in bad or very bad health. Only 0.3 percent of residents near the Dawson Street stop reported that to be true, whereas those reporting themselves to be in poor health across the Liffey increases, with more than 2 percent reporting poor health near Broadstone-DIT and Grangegorman. This figure doubles to nearly 4 percent of the population at the Broombridge stop.

Let’s look at how the electoral division of each stop voted at the last local election in 2014. There were starkly different political patterns each side of the river.

Political Differences

Vote share (%) per major party in 2014 Local Election (per local electoral area)

Source: 2016 Census Report

While on the southside Fine Gael, the center-right party that's in power, maintains dominance, alongside Fianna Fail and Labour, the left-wing party of Sinn Fein is consistently one of the lowest recipients of votes in those areas.

As the tram crosses the river however, independents and Sinn Fein become dramatically more popular, while the traditional mainstream parties of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael fall to their lowest.

Despite a peak of popularity for independents and fall for Labour in the electoral divisions from Kilmacud to Windy Arbour, the above chart shows a reversal in the popularity of political parties between north and south.

As the new Luas meandered through the city on a lazy Wednesday afternoon in January, some passengers on both sides of the city said they were optimistic about the potential of the Luas.

One young mother was taking her child for a walk in St Stephen's Green, something she said she would have found a struggle before. Two older ladies from Cabra were on a day out to a museum in the southside.

"It's opening up the southside to the northside," one Phibsborough passenger said.

"It’s easier with kids. I’m probably more open to going further now that it’s quicker," says Megan Naughton from Cabra, sat with her mother and daughter.
However, it works both ways. One young woman from the southside expressed her excitement ahead of an event in Dublin 1 that night, somewhere she would have never considered going out before.

But some on the northside expressed fears that as their areas become more attractive, house prices will rise and locals will be priced out of their communities.

Professor Martina Kirchberger says new transport networks can impact property around stops. "While shorter commutes lead to an improvement in the quality of life for those living close by, this might be offset by congestion around new stations," she says.

"The trade-off between these different forces – access to amenities and employment opportunities as well as congestion – is likely to be reflected in home values."

So how do the property prices compare? And how have they changed since the Luas was extended?

House Prices

Average asking price at each stop for a three-bed property (in €1,000s)


A comparison of asking prices between December 2016 as the Luas Cross City was being built and in December 2017 when it finally opened, showed increases in property values at some stations that were larger than average rises elsewhere in the city.

According to data from's Luas and Dart Reports for 2016 and 2017, stops on the southside saw an average increase in the asking price for a three-bed property – controlling for time, size and type for each of the stations – of 3 percent.

Rises along the Luas line on the southside were highest in the neighbourhood of Beechwood, where there has been an increase of 16 percent, from an average of €626,000 to €727,000.

The latest data for the first quarter of 2018 – which included two-beds as well as three-beds in its analysis, and so is a bit different – also showed a further 4 percent increase in house prices along the southside stops.

Asking prices on the green line are largely higher than those along the new extension. But with the coming of the new tramline, asking prices on the northside along the next extension have risen, sharply.

Around Cabra station, house prices have risen 26 percent. Asking prices at stops on the northside of the city have risen an average of 15 percent between 2016 and 2017.

In the first three months of the new Luas extension being opened, they have increased another 10 percent – but those figures are skewed by some outlier data for the O’Connell Street stops.

The average price of these properties near the O'Connell St stops increased by €132,000 in the first three months of 2018 from €402,000 to €532,000.

Will this trend continue? According to a report from May, renters are now paying 17 percent more on average to live close to transit lines. In the first three months of this year, rent for properties close to Luas – and Dart – stations rose 3 percent, it says.

Of the new Luas cross-city stops, properties near the Dominick station had the highest average monthly rents.

"It's opening up the southside to the northside," says a mother who waits with her child at the Phibsborough stop.
As the Luas snakes through the city, and creates wealth for property and landowners along the tracks, some have been asking if there is a way to make sure the public purse benefits more, too.

“Other cities building or expanding public-transit systems [...] have acted swiftly to both recognise and exploit rising land values for the public good,” says Joseph Kilroy, a visiting fellow at University of Sheffield, who is researching what’s known as “land-value capture”.

“It is time to connect the dots here,” he says.

Get the data here and the methodology here.

Inspired by Berliner Morgenpost, "M29: Berlin's Bus Route of Big Differences" and The New York Times, "Will London Fall".

Funded by: