Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 12 December 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
BusConnects Bus Corridors Project: Discussion
The purpose of today’s meeting is the committee’s consideration of the BusConnects core bus corridors project. I welcome our witnesses, Ms Anne Graham, chief executive officer, and Mr. Hugh Creegan, deputy chief executive, of the National Transport Authority.
For the purpose of the witnesses attending, in accordance with procedure, I am required to read the following notice. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter to only a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against either a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Ms. Anne Graham, chief executive officer of the National Transport Authority, to make her opening statement.
Ms Anne Graham:
I thank the Chairman for the invitation to attend. I am joined by my colleague, Mr. Hugh Creegan, deputy CEO of the NTA. I understand the committee wishes to focus on the core bus corridor project which is part of the BusConnects Dublin programme.
In terms of background, the overall framework for transport provision to meet the needs of the region over the next two decades is set out in the Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy 2016-2035, which was approved by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in 2016. The strategy outlines the various networks to be developed - heavy rail, light rail, bus, road, cycling and pedestrian networks, together with supporting measures, including park and ride provision, information provision, integration and demand management measures. The core bus corridor project is outlined in that strategy.
BusConnects Dublin, which was launched last year, aims to overhaul the current bus system in the Dublin region by: building a network of new bus corridors on the busiest bus routes to make bus journeys faster, predictable and reliable; completely redesigning the network of bus routes to provide a more efficient network, connecting more places and carrying more passengers; developing a state-of-the-art ticketing system using credit and debit cards or mobile phones to link with payment accounts and making payment much more convenient; implementing a cashless payment system to vastly speed up passenger boarding times; revamping the fare system to provide a simpler fare structure, allowing seamless movement between different transport services without financial penalty; providing a number of supporting park and ride facilities; rolling out new bus stops with better signage and information and increasing the provision of additional bus shelters; and transitioning to a new bus fleet using low emission vehicle technologies. BusConnects Dublin is a programme of integrated actions which, together, will deliver a bus system that will enable more people to travel by bus than ever before, and allow bus commuting to become a viable and attractive choice for employees, students, shoppers and visitors.
Regarding the impact of congestion on bus travel, from the perspective of public transport, congestion is a major problem. On the busiest bus routes, bus lanes are in place for only less than one third of the corridor. This means that for most of the journey buses are competing for space with general traffic and so are also affected by the increasing levels of congestion. As a result, whereas bus journeys should be fast, reliable and predictable, the increasing impact of congestion is undermining that objective. Additional buses are being added to the system simply to compensate for delays in journey times.
The bus system is important because, simply put, it is the main component of the solution to address our current congestion problem and to meet our future transport needs. As Dublin is a low density city there are few areas with the size and concentration of population for rail-based public transport. This means that for most corridors in Dublin bus travel represents the optimum form of public transport.
Dublin Bus carried 137 million passengers in 2017. When combined with Bus Éireann commuter services in the Dublin region, 143 million passengers were carried on State operated bus services in the Dublin area, compared with 38 million on Luas and 33 million passengers on the DART and rail commuter services.
Overall, the core bus corridor project envisages the provision of about 230 km of bus lanes on 16 of the busiest bus corridors in Dublin, which we refer to as “radial core bus corridors”. These corridors are shown in a map appended to my statement.
Our objective is to provide a continuous bus lane in each direction as well as maintaining two general traffic lanes. In addition, we also want to provide a dedicated cycle track on each side of the road, providing safe cycling facilities, segregated from other vehicular traffic. The standard layout also includes footpaths for pedestrians and supporting elements such as pedestrian crossings at all key road crossing points, and bus shelters for waiting passengers. However, this standard layout is difficult to achieve in practice and there are a number of challenges we face in trying to implement this target layout. Difficult decisions will have to be made and some locations will require more changes than others. Some of the likely impacts that will arise from the core bus corridor project are set out in the following sections.
In terms of traffic movement, by creating more priority for buses and cycling, there will be changes to how traffic currently moves around the streets. Some roads may become one-way, new bus-only sections will be introduced and in some places general traffic will have to take new routes in and out of the city.
Regarding acquisition of parts of gardens, because there is so little unused space along these busy roads, it will often not be possible to accommodate the bus lanes and cycle lanes in the width available. To achieve the required space it will be necessary, in places, to acquire parts of front gardens and land in front of commercial properties to allow the bus and cycle lanes to be provided. This would require rebuilding new garden walls a short distance back from the existing road boundary.
In terms of the reduction of on-street parking, because the roads we are widening travel through residential and business areas there will be a need to reduce the amount of on-street parking to accommodate the new layout. Regarding the removal of trees, as with the need to remove some parts of front gardens and footpaths, there will be also a need to remove trees along some of the corridors.
In terms of mitigation, every feasible option will be looked at to minimise the disruption to people, their properties and the wider local community. Where there is simply no viable alternative, and where we know we have to remove trees, portions of gardens or parking, we will ensure appropriate mitigation measures are put in place, wherever practicable.
One of the benefits of the core bus corridor project is that it will improve cycling infrastructure. The major bus corridors across Dublin city are also the main cycling arteries. The widening of these roads for bus lanes provides an opportunity to transform cycling infrastructure at the same time. Our objective on each of the 16 radial corridors is to provide high-quality cycling facilities that are segregated from the bus lanes and general traffic lanes as far as feasible. We calculate that more than 200 km of cycle tracks or lanes will be built, or current lanes improved upon. A better cycling network is good for all transport users. It avoids cyclists sharing bus lanes with buses and removes many of the conflicts between buses and cyclists. This initiative is the foundation of the overall cycle network that has been planned for the greater Dublin area.
The core bus corridor project will help people to get home more quickly by improving journey times and creating certainty and confidence in the bus system. Improvements in current journey times on key bus corridors will make bus travel more attractive, improve the efficiency of services and give people reliability in knowing exactly how long their journeys will take. On average, bus journey times will be reduced by up to 40% or 50%. In the absence of BusConnects, journey times will continue to get worse and commuters will spend more time travelling to and from work each day.
We have all heard recent reports suggesting that Ireland is performing poorly in comparison to our European partners when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and meeting climate change targets. The transport sector is the largest fuel consumer in the economy - it consumes 33% of fuel - and has the largest share of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions - 35%. It is vital that we move more people from cars onto sustainable transport, which is a key component in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and addressing congestion with all of its adverse environmental impacts.
The core bus corridor project will support the economy and jobs. A well-functioning public transport system is a basic requirement for any metropolitan area that aspires to provide plenty of good employment opportunities for its people into the future. Dublin has some great bus, rail and tram services. If it is to maintain its capacity as a city, a region and a capital and continue to attract the best jobs and the best employers, we urgently need to do more. By improving the overall public transport offering, these proposals will make commutes shorter and more reliable, and will therefore make Dublin a more attractive location for employers. They will also make it easier for people to get out and enjoy the city and all it has to offer, which is good news for businesses in the city centre and beyond.
Public consultation is being undertaken in three phases. The first phase of consultation, which relates to four corridors, commenced on 14 November last and will continue until February of next year. The second phase of consultation will commence in January and the third phase of consultation will begin in February. All property owners who are potentially affected by the proposals will be notified by post in advance of the public consultation. A one-to-one meeting will be offered with each of them. The NTA is establishing a community forum for each corridor to give representatives of residents' associations, community groups, public representatives and interested groups an opportunity to get informed and engaged during the public consultation process. A series of public information meetings will be held in venues along the corridors. Written submissions and observations on the corridors involved in the first phase may be made online at www.busconnects.ie, by post to the core bus corridor project at the NTA's offices or by email to email@example.com.
hat concludes my introductory statement. I will answer any queries that arise.
I thank Ms Graham for her opening statement. Many Deputies and Senators who are not members of this committee, particularly those from Dublin city, are interested in this significant issue. I know there are transport issues in Limerick as well. As I said at the beginning, I will call members of the committee first and non-members from a list thereafter. I am including Deputy Shortall as a member of the committee because she has informed us that she is an official substitute. The first member I will call is Deputy Rock.
Ms Graham, Mr. Creegan and I have seen a lot of each other over recent months. I have seen more of them than I have of my family. Perhaps that illustrates the scale of their ambition to transform transport in Dublin city and across the country. There is no question about the fact that the broad scale and scope of these ambitious plans is to be lauded. I want to state from the outset that I believe the idea of trying to anticipate the challenges, demands and needs of public transport right across Dublin city is to be lauded. A number of challenges arise in this context. Some of them are general and relate to the process and some of them are more local.
I will start with the general concerns and problems I have. Why has it been decided that the process of consultation should be staggered? Why is there consultation on the routes, in the first instance, followed by consultation on the core bus corridors? The consultation on the corridors has been divided into three phases. As Ms Graham has said, the first phase of consultation on the corridors began in November and ended in February. The second phase will begin in January and end in March. The third phase will begin in February and end in April. This puts public representatives in a difficult position. In effect, we have to decide, debate and work with constituents in an information vacuum. We do not know the exact scale of the plans for the core bus corridors from Ballymun to the city centre, or from Finglas to Phibsborough. We are expected to adjudicate and make arguments on the corridor from Swords to the city centre, which passes through Santry village, in a vacuum of information. I suggest at this early stage that we should extend the deadline for the first phase so that people can make their adjudications, observations and decisions in a cohesive and holistic way. I would appreciate it if the NTA would consider that.
I reiterate that I would like to know why the corridor consultation is going ahead when we do not know what the revised routes will be. It is obvious the routes which were proposed in the draft plan a few months ago solicited an unprecedented volume of feedback. I understand that approximately 30,000 pieces of feedback were received. I assume this will naturally lead to some revisions of the draft plans. When I met representatives of Dublin Bus yesterday, they certainly left me under no illusion that there will be revisions to the draft plans. If there are revisions to the draft plans, it would seem fair to posit that they will potentially have knock-on effects on the core bus corridors. We are adjudicating and giving feedback in a vacuum, based on an old draft route plan. We are not privy to, and do not have access to, the current draft route plan. When will the current plan be released? Will it be released in time for the current consultation deadline, as it stands?
I would like to ask about the consultation meetings themselves. Last night, Deputy Shortall hosted a meeting of more than 20 residents' associations. It was suggested very clearly at that meeting that the consultation meeting which is due to take place on 8 January should be split into a Swords consultation and a separate and distinct Santry consultation. It is clear there are many interested bodies in Santry. It was suggested that the issues being faced outside and inside the M50 on this 12 km bus corridor route are potentially somewhat separate and distinct. From the perspective of how NTA officials, public representatives and residents will spend their time, it would be beneficial to split the consultation into two meetings. I would appreciate the witnesses' feedback on that.
As we know, it is planned that the bus corridor between Swords and the city centre will be considered at a meeting on 8 January next. I would be curious to know whether it is intended at this stage that any additional meetings will take place. A number of residents' associations intend to put questions to the NTA, just as I am doing right now. I think it would be useful and beneficial to have a second round of consultation before the date in question.
What are the terms of reference for the consultations? Last night, a number of residents expressed concern about the lack of published terms of reference for these consultations. I understand the NTA intends to publish them and is working on them now. I would appreciate it if we could get a date for that.
It has been reported that approximately 30,000 written submissions have been made. Has the NTA placed those submissions into broad categories like accessibility to routes or corridors, electric vehicles or disabilities? If so, does it intend to make that information available to us? Are any changes planned on foot of the submissions? Ms Graham did not say a lot about the written submissions. Perhaps we could get a brief update on that. Does the NTA intend to make many changes?
Deputy Rock referred to the terms of reference for the consultation process. I would be also interested in seeing them. It is a very contentious issue for the residents with gardens who are directly affected. Have those residents been identified? I know Ms Graham has said she will be in touch with them, but have they been notified or has there been any engagement whatsoever with these residents? I am sure they are very anxious at this stage.
I wish to share my time with my colleague, Deputy Dessie Ellis.
I wish to allow members of the committee to take precedence. In fairness, members should have the first opportunity to speak. However, Deputy Shortall is the official nominee of Deputy Paul Murphy. Is Deputy Munster agreeable that I call her?
I thank the Chairman. I thank Ms Graham for her presentation. It is interesting that the three Deputies representing Dublin North-West are in attendance. That is a measure of the importance of this issue to the residents of the Dublin North-West constituency. That is the case because Dublin North-West is the only constituency in the greater Dublin area that is entirely dependent on buses. We are very familiar with buses, and down through the years the bus services have been honed time and again to suit local need. It is true to say that the constituency of Dublin North-West has an excellent bus service. We need more buses during the morning peak period but apart from that, it is an excellent service and it provides fantastic access to various parts of the city, and the residential areas also are very well served. That is really important because there is a very large older population and there are many people with disabilities as well in that constituency. There is very good access in all respects.
With any major project, there are winners and losers. When it comes to the Dublin North-West constituency, there would be more losers than winners under these proposals. That is not what it was supposed to be about. It is supposed to be about improving bus services and journey times for everybody.
We know from the analysis on this and from Ms Graham's presentation today that the big problem in the greater Dublin area as regards public transport is traffic congestion. I do not know why the NTA is not dealing with that issue in a more radical way. Why do the routes have to change? I cannot understand that from the point of view of the north west part of the city, because the routes are very good at present. What is needed is greater priority to be given to those routes and more road space to be provided for buses. Has Ms Graham considered in any detail the possibility of restricting traffic while maintaining the existing bus routes, which are very popular? I wonder why the NTA has not taken that approach.
When the NTA came out with proposals on the network, as others have said, there was a huge reaction to it. That is mainly because what is being proposed would result in a poorer service than what people enjoy at present. That is not something people will accept. People expected to see an outcome from that first round of consultation on the network before the NTA would get into the business of looking at the corridors. The decisions in relation to the network will dictate where the corridors will go. The NTA has not done that and has not come back to the public with a response on the proposed changes to the network and that is why this is being seen as a fait accompli. The NTA is not listening to what the 30,000 people have said and is ploughing ahead with the original plan. That does not inspire the people to have confidence in the consultative process being meaningful. Will Ms Graham explain why she has not completed the first round before going into the detail of proposed bus corridors? At present all buses going down the Swords Road and the Drumcondra Road serve O'Connell Street. Perhaps they should not all serve O'Connell Street but under the NTA plans none of the them will serve O'Connell Street any longer. That will have serious implications for shoppers and for people who want to get into the area around O'Connell Street. It will also have implications for the business community on the north side of the city, which is struggling. If the NTA is going to bring about a situation where people have poorer access to those shopping areas in the north side of the city, I do not see how that is a win for anybody? As part of the proposed plan it runs all the buses down Gardiner Street and away from the city centre. Now the NTA is consulting about having a corridor down Gardiner Street. Does that mean the NTA is assuming the Gardiner Street network changes are going ahead? Does Ms Graham understand that people are concerned about this as they think it is a fait accompli. We need an explanation as to why the NTA did not wait until members of the public have the outcome of the first round of the consultation process.
Another issue is the forum for discussing the issues. There are many different local issues affecting people along the entire route of the corridor. It seems to be entirely unwieldy and ineffective to try to have one forum for the long corridor such as the Swords corridor. The request is to split the corridor and have one forum for the route within the M50 and another forum for the area outside of the M50. I hope Ms Graham might accede to those requests. The other concern is about what these forums are about. Are they a way of going through the motions of giving people a platform or are they actually going to mean something in terms of people having an input which can have an impact on the proposed changes. We would like to know more about the role of the forum and its terms of reference Will it be possible for people who engage in those forums to effect any change or is it just about the detail of a proposal that has been already set in stone?
I now wish to raise a concern that was brought to my attention today by the Dublin Cycling Campaign who are extremely critical of the cycling proposals. The Dublin Cycling Campaign are alleging that those proposals do not meet any of the international standards in respect of safe cycling. They are looking for a meeting with Ms Graham, which seems absolutely reasonable. If there is to be an investment in providing new cycling facilities - they are desperately needed in the city as cycling is a very precarious activity at present, which should not be the case - we should be doing everything we possibly can to make cycling easier and safer for people. The regular cyclists who are involved in the campaign are saying that the standards the NTA are using are not acceptable. They are looking to meet Ms Graham separately. They have been told they can engage with the NTA only through the forums. That strikes me as not acceptable. If the standards the NTA are using are not up to scratch, surely that is an issue that should be dealt with from the very start. I appeal to Ms Graham to agree to an early meeting with the Dublin Cycling Campaign.
Thank you Senator. I wish to follow up on Deputy Shortall's comment on cycling. There is real concern among the cycling community who are starting to look at some of the details. Their fear is that they will be forgotten about. I will give examples. The cycle route from Malahide Road into town, the Clongriffin and the Santry detours are all benefits but when one is coming to the key point and heading down hill into Fairview on to the main road, the cyclists have to divert off the main road and cross a multilane highway and take a detour route. I do not think cyclists will do that and I do not think they should have to. The solution to tight pinch points is always to remove the cyclist.
I will give a second more local example from my constituency, an area I know well, the Rathmines main street. As was revealed yesterday from the latest draft drawings we have seen, when one is coming into town, near the Tesco store and the Garda station, it is expected that cyclists would literally go around the houses, around the schools and take a 2.1 km detour to get to the George Bernard Shaw pub, which people might know. We always go by pub directions. I measured it this morning on Google Earth. The direct route is 1 km. If anyone knows the Rathmines main street, it is the cycling super highway in this city. The thought that we would remove cyclists from Rathmines main street beggars belief. That has been mentioned at various stages of the consultation process. I cannot believe the approach that is being taken.
There are numerous others examples of concerns from cyclists. We did a good design on the existing Clontarf cycle route in terms of how we dealt with it and issues such as bus shelters and junctions and there seems to be different solutions in each of the four designs in those regards. That is one concern I want to raise.
My last point relates to the general level of urban design. I am very supportive of the BusConnects project. The NTA say there will be an opportunity to improve urban design, tree plantation and the greening of streets but none of the designs that have emerged to date has that element within the design. This should be an opportunity to create beautiful streets, not multi-lane highways, which I fear is the direction in which the NTA is going. It is all about having as many lanes as one can in either direction but that does not necessarily make for good streets. I am concerned that has not been identified in the design so far.
In fairness to the NTA, I have asked that question in previous meetings and it is committed to strategic improvements in the urban environment apart from the physical changes that will happen because of the new routes. I call Deputy Kevin Humphreys or rather Senator Kevin Humphreys. I am promoting him again.
I also wish to raise the Rathmines route. Lengthening a route for a cyclist will only discourage more cyclists and put them off the road and not necessarily increase the number of people using bikes.
The first maps for the corridors came out in June and July. The bus routes were next and now we are back to the corridors. We had a press release from Dublin Bus to which Deputy Shortall referred. It said the routes are not connected to the corridors and involve a separate consultation process. There is no point in putting a corridor where there will not be a bus route. They are interconnected. We need to see the outcome from the consultation on the routes before we say for definite where corridors will be and how they will operate.
Deputy Rock mentioned the corridors and public forums. For example, on the Bray to the city centre route, there problems on different sections of the route similar to what is happening on the north side and that must be taken into consideration. As a committee and as public representatives, we need to have much more information on community forums. Will there be independent chairs? We must have that level of information. It is required in order to build up trust in the community. We need to be able to tell people that there are independent chairs, for example. I could envisage three or four different community forums being required on very long corridors. They could meet on a monthly basis as a super group to look at the entire corridor, but they must be broken down into smaller sections.
Design is another issue of concern. I accept we need to get more from the bus network in the city and therefore we need improvements. However, they must be interconnected and related. Issues of urban design and street design must be paramount. I was recently involved in a consultation process concerning Cambridge Road in Ringsend which potentially has a bus corridor at one end and a cycle route at the other end, yet we are looking at only a very narrow stretch of 1.5 km. We are told that the bus corridor is the responsibility of BusConnects and that the NTA has responsibility for the cycle network. There appears to be a lack of joined-up thinking, especially in terms of small sections of development where one does not know exactly what will happen.
Are sustainable drainage systems, SuDS, being taken into account? What level of consultation has been had in that regard? Trees act as carbon sinks and absorb particles emitted by diesel engines. Has the NTA commissioned studies on the roads and streets that are affected? What is planted along the routes will have a significant effect on how quickly particles are absorbed, as airflow is an interrelated factor.
The big issue for many is when people will know. I was in contact with many people who were about to sell their homes or had gone sale agreed but are now in limbo. Families were moving to properties to suit the size of the family but they are now frozen and can do nothing due to their location on a potential corridor with the possibility that their gardens will be gone and they cannot move on. The NTA has said people will know when the letters are issued but that is still at the beginning of a consultation process. If the NTA is truly consulting on the corridor there might be changes even though people have received a letter. Everybody who is on a corridor must be given a clear understanding as to the start date and the markers in between. The NTA witnesses must make a commitment to the effect that the NTA has the resources to take on such a major project. There are bus corridors, routes and the MetroLink, which are all significant infrastructural projects. What are the resources of the NTA in regard to those projects? I am concerned about MetroLink and the bus corridors in Ranelagh, Rathmines and Milltown. Each one will have a major impact on the other. What level of joined-up thinking is there in regard to them?
Mr. Creegan mentioned the cost of what I describe as the elephant in the room but a lot more information is needed. Why has congestion tolling not been discussed? If cars are part of the problem and we are investing significantly in public transport, why are we not also considering congestion tolling, or at least having a consultation about it? It is in operation and has worked well in other cities. What is the position in that regard?
Residents on the Lower Kimmage Road, Nutley Lane, Terenure and other places on the south side and the north side have lost confidence in the process due to the lack of information in the early stages. Not many of their questions were answered. There is a need to provide a much more detailed engagement. Community forums are fine but there is also a need to meet the residents on certain roads that are impacted, for example, Lower Kimmage Road or Nutley Lane. They will have far more detailed questions than someone discussing the entire route.
There is an information deficit. I still come across rows of houses where people do not have an understanding that there is a possibility of a bus route on the road. When residents or an auctioneer acting on their behalf contact the NTA office they are told it is an indicative line. There is no clarity. An example of that is the 16 route from Ringsend to the city centre which has an indicative line on Pigeon House Road. An indicative line means that 90 odd families do not know whether they should be engaging in the process. Auctioneers now highlight the fact of there being an indicative line if a house comes up for sale but there is no plan or detail. That is a major issue of concern. I will not ask any more questions at this stage as I am aware Deputy Ellis is waiting to contribute.
I thank the Chairman for allowing me to attend this meeting. My questions are not, unfortunately, about Dublin. I want to speak about the issues facing bus services in Limerick city, in particular the 304 and 304A which serve the Dooradoyle-Raheen to Castletroy areas, which are two largely populated areas. Each morning, including at off-peak times, these buses arrive between 15 and 23 minutes late. There is a similar time issue in the evenings. There are many people working or living in the city centre who have to travel to the other side of the city for work or other reasons. The real time app does not co-ordinate with the arrival time of the buses. I have been told by people who use these services on a daily basis that when they check the app it states a bus will arrive in two or three minutes but it might not arrive for half an hour. There is a time lapse between the information provided in the app and the arrival of buses.
In regard to the leap card, there are only a few locations at which people can top them up, such that unless one is from Limerick one would not know the places to go. There is no information for tourists or people visiting the city from other cities around Ireland on where they can top-up their leap cards. I was speaking to a man recently who told me the journey from the city centre, where he lives, to Troy Studios, Castletroy, where he works, took more than 40 minutes, yet a private bus operator on the route appears to be able to complete the journey in less time. Another issue is the lack of policing of cars parked at bus stops, which I accept may be an issue for the council rather than the NTA. Also, on Sundays and bank holidays services are not as frequent as advertised. This service is not reliable. Listening to the discussion today on BusConnects and the consultation around it, I am jealous.
I would like to raise one more issue. Corbally in Limerick has a large population. The bus service from Corbally to Crescent Shopping Centre, which serviced five or six schools, was withdrawn without consultation and it has not been replaced. I accept the witnesses might not be able to answer my questions today but I would appreciate it if they could. Limerick is the third largest city. We need a plan and consultation on services.
I thank Ms Graham and Mr. Creegan for being here today. BusConnects will impact hugely on the Swords, Finglas, Glasnevin and Ballymun to the city centre bus routes. While there are some complaints about services in these areas, in general they are good. The lack of feedback from the consultations concerns me. Like many other people, I made a number of submissions, but I have had no feedback.
The process has moved now to the corridors. I refer the witnesses to the metro north project, on which there were many meetings between the NTA and residents regarding the three proposed routes. We are continually told that metro north is progressing and that consultation in that regard will commence towards the end of this year or early next year. We are now faced with BusConnects on top of metro north. To my mind, it would have been wiser to complete the metro north project first as it will impact hugely on what is being proposed in terms of BusConnects.
I am concerned about the houses and gardens that will be affected and the likely repercussions at Hart's Corner where the Finglas-Glasnevin and Ballymun routes to the city centre meet. It is proposed to compulsorily acquire gardens. What will happen if people dig in their heels? I do not know how, if the NTA meets resistance, and it will, what is proposed can be progressed. In the case of metro north, much of the route will be underground. While this will cause some disruption it will be nothing like the disruption that will be caused by what is proposed in terms of the BusConnects corridors. We are moving ahead with the ambitious BusConnects project and, thus, moving in the direction of privatisation of Dublin Bus, with 10% of routes already withdrawn and more in the pipeline.
I will give an example. The 17A service was recently privatised. I have been hearing complaint after complaint about it, which I expected. It was inevitable that when services were privatised there would be problems. It is happening already in regard to the privatised 220 and 17A services, yet we are continuing with the BusConnects corridors. I believe it would have been wiser to get metro north over the line before implementing BusConnects. In January, there will be another series of debates on metro north. Coupled with that debate, we will have another round of consultation on BusConnects. This process is a mess. We all want improved bus services. I believe in a proper public transport system but I am confused at the manner in which we are going about achieving it. I am not convinced BusConnects will work. I am hearing too many complaints about it. We are opening debates on every front and that is a problem. We should have dealt first with metro north and then moved to BusConnects and dealt with it route by route. To my mind, the manner in which we are going about all of this is problematic.
I thank Deputy Coppinger for allowing me to speak first. Many of the points I propose to make today I made already to the NTA when we met it as a group, but I want to put them on the public record. The NTA has contracted out 10% of services. I disagree with Deputy Ellis that that percentage will increase.
The NTA and my colleagues know that my party are champions of Dublin Bus and public representatives are sometimes afraid to call out its failings. Employees of Go-Ahead are also workers. There are two Go-Ahead routes operating in my own area. It is still at an early phase and if, after six months, there are still issues, they should be raised then.
I have a problem with the Minister's lack of input. He stands by and has no input or ideas particularly regarding the big gap that will exist between 2018 and 2027. The BusConnects corridors will not be completed until 2027, the same time that metro north will be finished. I would like to see intervention measures between now and then and I ask the NTA witnesses their view on that.
I have said to the NTA privately, and I will say it publically, that all these corridors have to be done. I will echo what Senator Humphreys has said and ask the NTA to advise the committee on the NTA's human resource capacity. Does the NTA have the number of staff it needs because, if it does not, that is a matter for the Oireachtas. This should be pushed through if there are enough engineers, administrators, designers and all the rest available but, if the NTA does not have the staff available to it, then the Oireachtas urgently needs to look at giving assistance. The NTA is taking on a lot.
Phase 2 of BusConnects absolutely has to happen. We had disagreements on phase 1 and we look forward to the NTA coming back with a second iteration on that in the spring.
I have said to a number of my colleagues that if we were putting Luas trams rather than bus corridors along those 16 spines there would be a much bigger public buy-in and people would be willing to wear and accept being discommoded in the significant way they are going to be discommoded. We need to sell the bus corridors project as Luas on rubber wheels and it has to be of the highest standard from the design phase. I have strongly proposed the use of what the NTA calls articulated buses and what Dubs call bendy buses which allow multiple access points. The NTA is resistant to that because those buses involve a lot of standing room and questions arise as to how far a passenger should be allowed to stand for a full journey. At the moment, if a passenger is travelling on the Luas from Sandyford, he or she is standing from start to finish in some cases. That is a decision for the commuter. These long-length buses should look like a tram, have all the technology the trams have, stop at bus stops with all the technology and show where people need to connect, etc. I push the NTA to look at that. Those buses were introduced in Belfast recently and faced some of the challenges that will face us. A first class bus system would be a significant selling point for people.
Our bus corridors and boxes are not policed and, if they were, it would encourage people to switch from cars to buses and would grow confidence in bus corridors. That does not have to be done by An Garda Síochána. That is under different jurisdiction in other countries and that could be looked at as an option. This is where the Minister lets us down. I do not think he loses sleep at night worrying about traffic congestion in Dublin. There are some public representatives who spend a lot of time thinking about how can we do this and that and, in fairness, the NTA listens. What do we do between now and the time the first corridor is delivered? Traffic congestion is growing. An Taisce suggested this morning that the NTA did not look at the idea of a corridor on the M50 going from interchange to interchange.
My final, serious question relates to two areas in my constituency. The 175 route has been introduced to essentially connect the green and red Luas lines. My ultimate ambition would be to see a tramline do that. There is sufficient road width and possibilities for very clever landscaping along almost entire sections of the roads that lead from the red Luas line to the green Luas line in Dundrum where there could be a dedicated and segregated bus corridor. Is the core corridor design piece the only show in town for the next decade, or is there a possibility to add to that, or can local authorities do it if they feel there is a demand? Must it be NTA led and will there be funding for other possible corridor projects that come up and are feasible in the interim period?
I am sorry to have missed the presentation from the NTA but I have the notes. We are talking about the bus corridors specifically, which are important, but it is inevitable that we also raise points about BusConnects in general and some of the issues pertaining to the NTA. I want to pick up on the point about privatisation because I questioned the Minister on that issue this morning. It is true to say that more privatisation is pending because Bus Éireann has been told its services on three more routes will be put out to tender. The reality is that, in the last round, even though Bus Éireann underbid Go-Ahead by €3 million, it did not get the contract. It seems the system is rigged in favour of private companies.
I have received lots of reports from bus workers that it is impossible for those workers to stay working in Go-Ahead for a long time because the starting salary and top rates of pay are between €10,000 and €14,000 less than Bus Éireann workers are paid.
I want to be as fair as I can to Deputy Coppinger and to every other member of the committee. I take my role seriously and, before I started the meeting, I went through how we hoped to deal with members and allow them ask pertinent and relevant questions. A question to a witness about the pay rates of any company is not relevant to bus corridors.
The unions in Bus Éireann believed there would be a period of time to see how this company was performing, so it is related, and I would hope that we care about the working conditions for bus workers. I am sure nobody is suggesting we do not.
I met Mr. Creegan at a public meeting in Blanchardstown where a lot of people came up to him and he probably had his ears burned off with people repeating the same things to him, mainly to do with the loss of local routes. The pattern in all areas seems to be to create a giant corridor and a super route. The problem is the number of routes feeding into the super route and therefore people feel, when they arrive at a hub in, say, the centre of Blanchardstown, which is one of the busiest shopping areas in the whole country, they are competing with people in neighbouring districts for the same buses. That is why it has proven unpopular. It has nothing to do with people not appreciating public transport. The changes to routes Nos. 70 and 38 mean that a passenger has to get two buses when he or she previously had to get only one.
What it boils down to is we need investment to increase public transport and not just rejig what we currently have.
A question was raised about metro north. People's gardens will be cut across as a result of this project. We all want to see bus lanes but there is a massive shortage of light rail. There is a plan for Finglas but what about Blanchardstown? We are talking about a large conurbation with 100,000 people relying on buses alone. It cannot work for an area that is 10 km outside the city. It is too far. There are too many obstacles in the way, such as traffic lights and so on. We have people suffering because they spend an hour and 20 minutes trying to get home from work. Their quality of life is affected by it. I would not have a problem with BusConnects if it was implemented in addition to what we already have, but I do not agree with taking away routes and rejigging them in this way. Public consultation is going on with regard to the bus corridors. I am sure people have been informed by the National Transport Authority. It is a CPO process. What happens if people refuse to cede their territory or space which they feel is important. How will the issue of noise as a result of buses being closer to people's homes be addressed? Will there be insulation or noise abatement measures? I assume it will be an issue. It is not just about ceding one's flower beds, for example, but about noise which can affect people's quality of life.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
The BusConnects core bus corridor project will require compulsory purchase. When more than one, two or three people are involved, we cannot do land acquisition by agreement and have to use the compulsory purchase order process. Our intention is to deal with people fairly and properly during the procedure. We started to meet people. For the first four corridors, 343 people were potentially affected. We wrote to each of them in advance and invited them to contact us for a one-to-one meeting. We have had about 40 meetings so far with people. We are waiting for the remainder to contact us and we will meet them.
Noise abatement is something we will get into at the next stage of design. We are really at the first step of concept design. Later we have to do what used to be called an environmental impact statement, EIS. It is now called an environmental impact assessment report. In that, we will have to assess the noise impacts and the air quality impacts on all property. If mitigation measures, of whatever type, are needed, we will do them. It is far too early at this stage to say where we are affecting people to the point where we need to implement those measures.
The local routes in Blanchardstown was a theme that came up. We got a lot of feedback from the consultation on the bus services. It is taking us a lot of time to go through them. A bag of 30,000 submissions is not a small one to go through. We are working our way through it. We will be redesigning the network to try to address most of the issues. We will not be able to address them all but we are absolutely confident we can address many of them and still keep a better bus system. Our only objective in doing it was to try to get a better bus system overall for people. It will be a number of months before we finish the process and have something to go back out to consultation with and get people's feedback. At that stage, we will not have solved everybody's problem but we would be disappointed if we had not solved a lot of them.
Ms Anne Graham:
I will deal with the issue of privatisation. I have said many times in the committee room that we do not consider the tendering of the bus services as privatisation of the services. The routes remain managed by the NTA, a State agency. It is a tendering of a service. The State operators, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, are entitled to bid for the individual tenders. The routes are controlled by us and the fares are managed by us. There is no change other than the operator may change when we tender the services.
Ms Anne Graham:
I am just making the comparison. The Luas service is operated in that way and is not considered to be a privatised service. It is considered to be a service operated by a private operator. I want to make that distinction. We have made that distinction many times. We do not consider the tendering of public service equates to the privatisation of those services.
I will do it in two sentences. The money that accrues to Bus Éireann, for example from bus fares, goes back to the State coffers. That is what happens to any profit or surplus. The money that accrues to the private company running the new routes accrues to the shareholders. That is the difference. It is a huge difference. Workers' pay and conditions are the other difference. Please do not insult us by suggesting there is no-----
Ms Anne Graham:
We might go back to Deputy Rock's questions. A number of Deputies have asked why there was a staggered consultation. The reason is we are undertaking quite a significant consultation on all 16 corridors. We want to be in a position as an organisation to respond and be available for individual property owners. That is the reason we staggered it and started with four corridors. If we are talking about the potential number of property owners that could be impacted - up to 1,500 - we want to be in a position to organise one-to-one meetings as we have indicated. That is the reason for the staggered consultation.
A number of Deputies asked why we were doing the corridor consultation without having completed the network consultation. The corridors being proposed are needed. The improvements in those corridors are needed no matter what network is being operated. They are the 16 main corridors-----
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
Gardiner Street was the route for the A spine in the network design over the summer. Many bus services run down Gardiner Street, including Bus Éireann services, so in the revised network design, we will look at whether the A spine should go down O'Connell Street with some other bus services on Gardiner Street or if it should stay the same. We do not know yet. We are certain that both O'Connell Street and Gardiner Street will be busy with buses. While O'Connell Street effectively has bus priority by exclusion of cars, Gardiner Street does not, and we need to improve it. We need bus priority on Gardiner Street for the current system and whatever system we have in the future. That is why we put forward this. It does not presuppose which route the current bus service will run down.
I have had the request about splitting the consultation from others. There is a logic to that and we will consider it. There is also a logic to keeping it together and managing it as a single corridor. Will the committee give us the opportunity to consider it? Resources to manage it are an issue. If we had only one corridor to handle, it would be simple but we have 16 corridors around the city. Starting to split them up in twos and getting requests to split them into threes makes it very-----
It seems the Swords to city centre route has a natural delineation at the M50. Senator Humphreys made a sensible suggestion about having two committees, which for the sake of this could be one from outside and one from inside the M50, which come together to consider the macro issues. That would require more resources but seems useful. As Senator Humphreys said, it is a matter for the Oireachtas if the NTA wants to request more resources. There is an open door. We want to get this right, not to be cheap.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
Let us take it away and consider that suggestion to see how we can do it. We want to meet the need. If that requires us to split, we will not deny that. The Deputy asked if there were any plans for a second meeting. The short answer is "yes". This is not intended to be a one-off meeting. We did not set a date for the second meeting because the idea was that at the first meeting, there would be a discussion of how frequently we would meet and when the next meeting would be.
Terms of reference were raised. They are very short, being half a page of bullet points. We are happy to circulate them to the committee. The essence of them is to facilitate a two-way dialogue process. It allows us to provide information more directly to people who are directly affected by the proposals and to answer people's queries. Just as importantly, it allows people to give feedback and suggestions. I am not blindly saying we will follow all the suggestions we will get. I think Deputy Shortall asked if the proposals are cast in stone and if we are not for changing. They are not cast in stone. If there are good ideas and ways to do it better, we are in the market to do so. There is a very difficult set of proposals in various places and if people have better ideas to make it better, we will change it.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
It is our intention. We had our first consultative community forum yesterday evening on the Clongriffin to city centre scheme. We have an independent chair for that and intend to have an independent chair at all of the meetings. We think it works better from the point of view of those involved. There will be an independent chair at each one.
Ms Anne Graham:
I will continue with Deputy Shortall's questions and then maybe get back to Deputy Munster's questions. There was a suggestion that there were more winners than losers with regard to traffic congestion. We are discussing the bus corridors here, which is a matter of trying to provide more space for public transport and improving current services. While existing services are provided primarily by Bus Éireann along that corridor, their operating times are challenged as the road gets more congested. This is a plan for ensuring that we have better reliability of journey times on those corridors and to avoid increasing congestion and journey times because they will get longer if we do not put in place this bus priority.
Why not deal with the issue of congestion? The routes are very good as they are. Why is Ms Graham proposing to change the routes so drastically? If the NTA sticks with the routes and improves on the congestion and blockages along the way-----
Ms Anne Graham:
I am not answering about the route. This is our proposal for dealing with congestion on bus corridors. They are needed no matter what network of services are operated. These main radial corridors into the city are the ones that will be used no matter what network of services we put in place. That is our initial draft response, which is out for consultation, about how to manage growing congestion for our bus services.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
We are aware of commentary about some of the details we put forward in proposals about the Dublin cycling campaign. All that we have put out are concept designs. It is the first step in a long process before we end up with a final route where everything is honed to the nth degree. With regard to the standard we are using, we produce the National Cycle Manual, which I think cycling groups would recognise is a solid, well thought-through standard. We will apply that to the detailed design we do on all these corridors. As we evolve through the design process, people will see most of the issues we are identifying now being resolved. When we are trying to do 230km of design, it is concept level only and the final engineering details in their fine-tuned form will get them right at the next stage.
Deputy Ryan mentioned junctions and bus stops. Those both fall into that category. It is at the next stage we get the details of junctions to be as good as they can be. Details of bus stops are more difficult because there are two solutions and we sometimes do not have the space for the perfect solution, which is to bring the cycle route around the back of the bus stop, which I know most people would favour. If we have the space, we try to deal with it, and if we do not have the space, we cannot. We will fine tune that at the next stage.
This is not easy but we have to do it. The fear from the cycling community is that the concept seems to be that when we come to difficult pinch points, the first response is to remove cyclists from the road. Yesterday, a cycling website released the initial drafts for Rathmines Road. Peak morning cycling numbers on the road are 1,650 or so, with approximately 1,300 cars and vans. Buses may have large numbers but compared to cars, cycling is the much bigger mode, yet the first response in getting this four-lane solution in everywhere is to narrow the footpaths in Rathmines and remove the cyclists in a way that is unworkable. The concern is that the first concept design is to take out cyclists.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
We have not published anything for the Rathfarnham to city centre corridor yet. We are not commenting on anything that people might have seen anywhere at this stage. To take the previous example the Deputy mentioned, in Fairview, we looked at many options to put in a continuous cycle route along the Malahide Road to Fairview. We believe there are disadvantages to all the other options and the one we put forward is to reroute that section through the quiet roads of Marino, with a toucan crossing at Fairview to reconnect to the cycle route, and it is a reasonable solution. Another solution we looked at was to further widen the road, which would have meant we would have to go further into people's properties on one side of the road, removing the opportunity to park in driveways, which they all currently do.
In widening these roads, we have tried to preserve the opportunity to park a car in the driveway in so far as we can, if that is what people were doing beforehand. This is a consultation, however. If people think we have got it wrong and that we should go with another solution, they need to tell us what alternative they would like and we will consider it and perhaps go in that direction, but we did not take these decisions lightly. A lot of work went into making these decisions before we came up with what we put out there.
On the cycling complaint, apart from individual details in different areas, the charge is being made by the cycling community that the NTA is not adhering to basic design standards, including not adhering to the manual. Surely that is something that should be addressed from the start separately with representatives of the cycling community, rather than them having to go along to each of the consultative forums and make the case there. This is an overarching issue on the design standard. Can that be resolved between the NTA and the cycling community?
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
The short answer is the same as what I have said already. We have put out only concept designs and people are interrogating them as if they are detailed designs. On the engagement with one of the cycling groups, as recently as today we responded to them saying that, at the end of the consultation period, we are happy to start meeting with them because we will be then going into the design phase. In the meantime, however, they should put in their submission, identifying their issues. We have committed to starting an engagement at the end of the consultation process and if there are details that need to be changed we will take them on board at that stage. We have communicated that today.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
Senator Humphreys started off with the very fair point that corridors should be only where the bus services are, and we agree with that. In all of the four corridor plans we have published, those corridors require upgrading no matter what bus network is put in place because they are all the vital routes on the north side and they need to be done. When we publish the south side corridor plans, we can discuss Nutley Lane at that stage but we have not published it yet.
We have answered about the community forums and independent chairs.
On sustainable drainage systems, SuDS, we will be of course taking that into account during the design stage. I repeat my phrase that it is concept only and we have not gone into it yet. We know that people have been affected by our publication of plans but the reality is that we can publish them only as we get them to a certain stage and all 16 corridor plans will be published by mid February, which is less than two months away. At that stage the details will be out there and people can form their views based on whether they are affected or not.
Ms Anne Graham:
I will answer the question on resources within the NTA. We have requested additional resources and, given the level of work, we are confident those resources will be approved and will be put in place and that we will be in a position to manage all of the significant projects that are going out for consultation and are currently under consultation.
Before we get to them, I want to make it clear that we are dealing with members who have asked questions already and we will answer the questions from those who are not here after that. I am conscious that Deputy Ellis wanted to get in as well.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
Congestion charges are not part of the transport strategy that was published and approved two years ago, but we effectively achieved the same outcome that congestion charging would have because of various restrictions that have occurred in the city centre. As we dedicate more space to the bus lanes in the city centre, it will have the same net effect as applying congestion charges because there will be less space available to cars and therefore fewer cars will be going into the city centre.
On the Pigeon House Road, the Senator mentioned that it is only an indicative line, and that is correct. That corridor plan will be published in mid February and the full details for that Ringsend corridor will be available at that stage.
I asked this question in a roundabout way but other members have also asked the question. Can I confirm that we have the same understanding of the compulsory purchase order as the NTA? My understanding is that letters have gone out on the north side. The NTA has offered the meetings and it will cover people's costs on whatever experts or legal advice will be needed under the CPO structure. Once the letters have gone out, the NTA is entitled to survey the property and surveyors enter the property to ensure the design and the work can be carried out prior to an agreement being made on the financial settlement. Are we all of the same understanding on that CPO process or have I got the NTA's thinking wrong in any manner there? We need absolute clarity on this because this is the level of detailed question that every member-----
Ms Anne Graham:
Deputy Ellis also requested that there should be feedback on the submissions on the network. We covered that in saying the corridors we have out for consultation are required no matter what network of services is put in place because they are the main and most busy radial corridors into the city centre.
We covered the CPO powers, and the other issue the Deputy raised was that the whole thing is a mess and confusing and he questioned whether we would start one project and then continue with the others. We make no apology for bringing forward all of these projects together because the city needs them and congestion is growing. We need to move on all aspects of our public transport system - metro, bus and rail - and there is an urgency about delivering these projects for the city. While I know it is difficult for communities when a lot of consultation is going on at the same time or even on a staggered basis, we need to bring forward these projects and start delivering them because there is a timeline in terms of planning and construction before we will actually see these improvements. We are ambitious to get these projects moving and get them to a point of an agreed planning permission and then we will move into construction. That is what we are proposing to do.
On the Go-Ahead services that have commenced operation, we agree that there have been a few teething issues that have resulted in some complaints but we believe they will work themselves out. There are issues related to changing operator as well as service timetables and these are beginning to calm down now and the services are operating well. Something else that has particularly impacted on the 17A is congestion.
The commencement of that service at a time when there was a big build-up of congestion, particularly in the lead up to Christmas, has caused difficulties for running times. We will make any amendments that need to be made to improve reliability with Go-Ahead Ireland. The services will certainly bed down and we need to give them at least a number of weeks and months of operation before making a judgment on them.
I went to many consultation meetings on metro north and we were told it would take something like 70,000 cars off the road on a weekly basis. I am sure that number would be even more. With its potential impact, why have we not completed that process but jumped to this instead? I know we must improve standards and do things but it is in the programme for Government to build metro north. Why have we not concentrated efforts to get this over the line before looking at the routes or corridors we are discussing today? I agree with Deputy Shortall in many ways. The routes in general have worked very well but the areas of congestion are the problem, for example, the likes of Hart's Corner. The concentration should have been on such locations in order to get solutions. At that stage we could look even more at improving corridors. The ordinary routes should have seen more examination. Many of them should have been left alone as they were hard fought for by communities. Now there is uproar over them. I could go through the list in my area, and I have already outlined this to Mr. Creegan. What is happening with metro north and why have we not pushed on even more with it?
Ms Anne Graham:
It is a short answer. MetroLink is a project running in parallel and it is being done in conjunction with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. We carried out a consultation on the emerging preferred route and we expect to complete that in January next year. We will go out for consultation on a preferred route at the end of January or early February.
I welcome Mr. Creegan and Ms Graham. I am sorry I am late and I did not hear the other exchanges. I will speak to BusConnects and the issues we are having. I engaged with Mr. Creegan on the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre and the proposal to have it as the transport hub. In Dublin 15 one can see the gridlock now because of the Christmas shopping period but there is planning for a potential transport hub there. The upgrade of the exchange has been mentioned. Some of the infrastructure proposals around bus lanes are welcome as they will address congestion matters and the connectivity of our bus network. The route issue is being parked while other elements are being progressed but in many ways these are intertwined.
Are there plans for alternative bus lanes aside from those that have been mentioned? If a spinal bus network is being planned, which is what is outlined, with very little mention of other bus lane development, what are the plans for alternative bus lanes in village areas outside the spinal routes? What is the capital plan for those? If the route system committed to is be amended, there must be capital expenditure to address congestion issues where there are existing radial routes connecting with towns. Will there be a future phase of this bus corridor process in addition to what has been announced? This is linked to the spinal proposals from the route system but if there are no provisions for any additional bus lanes, it may potentially undermine the route system.
As Deputy Ellis mentioned, the changes to routes have caused significant concern across communities. One of the designers, Jarrett Walker and Associates, indicated that minor changes to the route system would collapse the plan as designed. Has Mr. Walker been sidelined in the route system design and, if so, who is redesigning the route?
I appreciate that, and I am sure the witnesses can clarify the remarks made around how minor changes to the route system would result in the plan as originally designed collapsing. How can those remarks be squared with what has been agreed? The public has concerns that while this project continues to plough on, the route issues will not be addressed. Will the witnesses answer those questions?
There are significant issues with parking in the Dublin suburbs for people using BusConnects, train and Luas stations. What plans are in place to increase parking capacity in peripheral areas and where we want people to use this BusConnects route network? Are the difficulties being addressed with companies over which the NTA has jurisdiction, specifically Irish Rail, with regard to the increasing fees? We are trying to encourage people to use public transport and next door there is a meeting of the climate change committee, whose members are blue in the face trying to encourage people to use public transport. People are being ripped off by Irish Rail and other entities increasing their parking fees and discouraging the use of public transport. The NTA must come on board and encourage people to use the parking capacity. It is currently discouraging that use.
I also ask about growth projections. I can speak only for west Dublin about the BusConnects plan. Even with the bus lane system, much of what BusConnects contains does not future-proof the bus network. Many areas will see a large growth in population over the next five to ten years. What planning is being done to ensure the bus network can be amended and infrastructure put in place to take into account the national planning framework and future population changes? There has been some concern about this.
There will be decreased transport connectivity in areas where there will be huge population growth in the next three to five years.
Many important questions have been asked. Mr. Creegan spoke about the need to reduce the number of people travelling in cars to and from the city. The provision of a park and ride facility somewhere along the M1 would be of huge benefit. While that does not form part of the BusConnects project, could such a facility be linked to the provision of new bus services?
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
On the Chairman's question, BusConnects includes the objective of park and ride facilities at various locations around the perimeter of the city. We have not done a lot of work on them because until such time as the bus lanes have been put in place to ensure people can travel quickly from those parking sites, they will not work. We will work on them in the not too distant future because once we have done the investment in the bus lanes we will want to maximise what they can achieve.
On the congestion issues at Blanchardstown Shopping Centre and how BusConnects will work there - an issue that has arisen again and again in the consultations - the proposals we published provide for continuous bus lanes for the bus in and out of that hub. While there will be congestion in Blanchardstown town centre, the bus will get in and out of it via a bus lane because it should be free of traffic, assuming it is enforced properly. The plans for those bus lanes are in the published document.
The Garda in Blanchardstown have opened the bus lanes to all cars in and around the shopping centre because of the congestion caused by the current system. It would be important to take this into account when designing the new system.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
And to also have a conversation with a garda before doing it. On the question of whether there are plans for other bus lanes and future phases, these are not the only corridors that should have bus lanes on them. There needs to be more in Dublin. Deputy Lahart asked about urban bus corridors. We do want to provide urban corridors and they are part of the transport strategy but as we have to start somewhere we are staring with the radial routes into the city centre. When that work is completed we will see what else can be added.
On the bus network redesign, the submissions and the level of change, the comment made at the time was that up to 15% was easy to accommodate but above 15% the concept of the system began to unravel. Our job is to work through the submissions received and to identify the changes that address the issues raised. We are not looking at a percentage; we are looking at how we address the issues raised. Whatever that number comes out at, so be it.
On growth projections and what planning is being made to allow for future growth, BusConnects is at the heart of growth. We are trying to put in place the infrastructure and, ultimately, improved services with which people are happy, that can be scaled up to cater for additional growth areas, which I know exist in Dublin 15.
Ms Anne Graham:
On car parking, we are working with Irish Rail on the provision of additional car parking, where possible, at train stations. There are capacity constraints on car parks on the rail and Luas lines. It is not easy to increase that capacity, particularly within the city but where we can, working with TII and Irish Rail, we will put in additional capacity. On car parking fees, it is a requirement generally to have a fee because without a fee parking tends to be used for other parking-----
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
As part of the MetroLink project, there will be a large park and ride site at the north end of the metro scheme close to Lissenhall, which will be known as estuary station. In the intervening period, Fingal County Council, supported by the NTA, will develop a bus based park and ride site close to the location. The service to be provided, the route and so on have yet to be decided but a bus based park and ride facility is being developed. We can route bus services through the Dublin port tunnel, which means this corridor will not be like others that have a slow journey into the city centre. I cannot say how soon it will be up and running but in fairness to the council it is proceeding as vigorously as it can.
It is goods news for people who travel on the M1 because it will take hundreds, hopefully thousands, of cars off that route. The roads on the approach to the city are very narrow and it takes a significant amount of time to get through Gardiner Street. The tunnel is regularly congested at particular times of the day. I have previously raised the issue of congestion at the barriers caused by the failure of the system to recognise toll tags and so on. This is also a problem at the East Link. Increasingly, there is need for the barriers there to be manned to enable people to get through because mechanisms are not functioning properly. I do not expect the witnesses to be able to respond on that issue today but I would welcome a written response on it.
In the previous round of questioning, I focused on the theoretical and on the consultation process. Earlier, we had a discussion on the routes. The NTA is revising those routes and I expect we will have a future discussion on the new routes. I mentioned in my opening remarks that I have engaged many times with the NTA in the past year. I look forward to inviting it for one more round of discussions when it publishes the revisions.
I want now to focus on the contentious point of the four proposed bus corridor routes, which is what we are here to talk about today. Mr. Creegan kindly met the Chairman, myself and a few other committee members. During that meeting he flagged that he understood this issue would be the crucial, crunch point of the bus corridor project. It has been the main focus since the initial report was launched in June 2018.
It regards the proposal to make the road through Santry village one way for vehicular traffic, with a two-way bus lane. Obviously, this poses grave concerns for residents and employers in Santry, as well as the Omni Park shopping centre which registers 2.9 million car movements in and 2.9 million out per year. The centre is responsible for approximately 1,850 jobs.
That is correct. It would also lead to potential rat runs into Lorcan Road, Shanrath, etc. This is of grave concern for many residents in the constituency. Is there a plan B? Although these are called continuous bus corridors, CBCs, would it be possible to suspend its continuous nature for the relevant stretch of road, a mere 200 m to 300 m, which is all that would be required? Have projections been made regarding the outcome if the continuous bus corridor was suspended for that stretch? If not, can such traffic projection be carried out? We are talking about a 12 km bus corridor but this short 200 m to 300 m stretch is causing all of the anxiety regarding the bus corridor. Public representatives, residents, and those in the NTA need to think outside the box on this issue. We can resolve it. Does the NTA have any proposals at this stage or has it previously examined alternatives? Have traffic projections been carried out regarding the outcome if that bus corridor were to be suspended? As I mentioned, the restriction of the current 5.8 million annual car movements in Omni Park shopping centre would lead to a loss of jobs. The shopping centre has compiled a submission to the NTA and I have met engineers who have proposed several alternatives.
The proposal would lead to additional car movements. Many local journeys from areas such as Shanliss, where I live, and Shanowen would treble in length as a consequence of the proposed change to a one-way system. That would obviously run entirely counter to what Ms Graham mentioned in her opening statement with regard to reducing carbon emissions and would undercut one of the key principles of the BusConnects campaign, which is to reduce carbon emissions and make more people use public transport. This proposal would inadvertently increase carbon emissions along the bus corridor, which does not seem to run in line with the principles Ms Graham set down. What are her thoughts in that regard?
I wish to emphasise that, as Mr. Creegan rightly predicted, the Santry village issue is proving the key bone of contention with regard to the bus corridors. I am not in the business of being against things for the sake of it but I do flag concerns. I delivered my November submissions to the NTA office. It is 12 December and my submissions for December, which I have before me, are already substantial. Many people are rightly very exercised about this issue. It will affect their lives, commutes, houses, house prices, and the journeys they have made for many years. I hope the NTA has a plan B in mind. I ask Ms Graham or Mr. Creegan to respond to my questions on the traffic impacts if the continuous bus corridor were to be suspended for that 200 m or 300 m stretch.
I am sure Ms Graham will remember that earlier this year several Deputies came to the committee to discuss proposals for the preferred route for metro north, at which stage many of us expressed very strong views in regard to the Na Fianna proposal on the basis that as local representatives of local residents we knew the proposal was flawed and would not work. We are now in a similar situation in regard to the proposal for the Swords corridor and its impact on the Swords Road between Shantalla bridge and Omni Park shopping centre. Those of us who live in or represent those living in the area know this will not work. There is a unanimous view among all residents' associations in the area that the proposals will not work because the impact on the movement of traffic will be so great that there will be only losers. There are no winners in what is being proposed for people living in the greater Whitehall, Santry and Beaumont areas.
The impacts would be enormous. There are impacts on business in terms of cars exiting Omni Park shopping centre being able to turn only left. It is currently chaotic there at weekends. There are long tailbacks to exit the shopping centre where there are currently the options to turn left or right or to go straight on. If there is no option but to turn left, it will cause chaos in the area. The Swords Road is mentioned every day on "AA Roadwatch". There is no doubt about that. I listen out for it every morning on "Morning Ireland". It features every morning because of the difficulties in access there. If the NTA is proposing to divert a significant amount of other traffic down that road to try to access the Santry bypass it will add enormously to current traffic chaos in the area.
There is a grave concern among residents living in the Shanrath, Shanvarna and Lorcan areas which would undoubtedly be used as rat runs. Many people trying to avoid the traffic jams on the Santry bypass would undoubtedly drive down the Swords Road and take a left turn into Lorcan to use it as a rat run to Shantalla bridge. There is no way of stopping that other than completely banning traffic within that estate, which is not possible. In regard to residents of Santry west, those who currently drive down Shanowen Road and take a right turn into town would not be able to do so under these plans. All of those motorists would be forced back west onto Collins Avenue, which is currently chaotic because of the growth of DCU. Traffic is currently almost at a standstill. If these proposals are proceeded with, it will cause further chaos. That will not work.
There are several small businesses along the relevant stretch of the Swords Road. The NTA is proposing not only to restrict the traffic passing those businesses but also to take away almost all of the on-street parking. That would kill those businesses.
We must revisit this proposal. We cannot proceed with it as currently envisaged. A very short stretch of the overall corridor is causing the difficulties locally and that must be revisited. There are alternatives which could be considered. Creating a one-way system on that short stretch of the Swords Road will bung up the rest of the greater Whitehall, Santry and Beaumont area. That decision must be revisited.
Residents are concerned and they do not wish to engage in a talking shop. They want to know that if they study the figures, get involved in the process and attend the community forum they can have an impact on the decision. That does not mean tinkering with the current proposals but, rather, that the NTA is prepared to consider a radical change from what is currently on the cards.
People find it very difficult to understand how the officials have come up with these proposals when they know the impact they are likely to have. Local people know these proposals will probably cause absolute chaos and make people prisoners in their own homes. That is why questions have been asked about the underlying studies that have been done on the current base traffic figures. Has the NTA modelled the impact of a one-way system on that stretch of the Swords Road? Can we have access to those figures? If a solution can be found that involves the removal of the current proposal, I think it will be possible to reach agreement on this corridor. As things stand, it is just not a runner.
I have found this meeting very useful. It has related predominantly to the first phase. All of the phases are equally important because each of them will have an impact on the city. I ask the Chairman to facilitate similar meetings of this committee when the second and third phases are up and running to ensure all parts of the city are treated in the same way.
I have two questions for the NTA. One of them was asked earlier and partially answered. The projects that have been undertaken are very important for Dublin city and the sustainability of transport in the city. Have extra resources been provided? What level of extra resources is the NTA looking for? When did it ask for those resources to be given to it?
My second question for the NTA relates to studies and models. When efforts are made to improve public transport and cycling infrastructure, there is always a kickback from motorists and traders. It is suggested that motorists will not be able to come into the city to spend money and there will be a substantial loss of business as a result. I am aware of an old DIT study which found that people who travel on public transport or cycle stay in Dublin city centre for longer periods and spend more money. The original perception was that one needed to have a car to come into the city centre in order for the city centre to work. I wonder whether any modern studies on spending power and additional businesses are available. It is always said that there will be a reduction in the business of a shopping centre when a change like this is made, but the opposite can be the case. I wonder whether the NTA has accessed the studies that have been done which show the impact on business - whether business is lost or gained - when public transport and cycling infrastructure is improved. That is all.
Sorry, I want to answer the Senator's question in the best way I can. I cannot decide what the committee will do. I will be very happy to support what has been proposed as long as the Senator gives us an email note on it.
I think it would be hugely important for us to visit the area to see what the issues are. The question of Santry has been raised by members and substitute members today. If it is necessary for the committee to go to Santry to consider that matter, we should do so. It will probably be resolved by looking at maps and getting another solution. It is essential that we look at other options at this stage. Does Deputy Ellis want to say anything?
I agree with what Deputy Shortall has said about the Swords Road. There is absolutely no doubt the proposal for dealing with this major problem will be very contentious. If it goes ahead, areas like Lorcan Drive and Shanrath Road will end up as rat-runs. That is just the first problem. Hart's Corner will be probably an even bigger problem to solve. That is why I am saying we should have addressed all of these possibilities to see what could be done before we went down the road of going through massive consultation. We should have looked at what could be worked on and implemented. We should have looked at the effects on the running of buses of this approach when it is up and running. We should have concentrated on the bottlenecks. I think we are running into major problems because of our failure to take this approach to the matter. This is only the start of it. We will continue to run into problems.
The metro north proposal was on the table before this process began. There had been a great deal of consultation on that proposal. The possibility of park and ride up at the M50, which has been mentioned, was part of the metro north proposal. What was the procedure in terms of talking to the various Departments? Did we not say it would be far better to push forward with metro north and finish it at an earlier date than to go down this road? The proposal to which I refer would take approximately 70,000 cars a week off the road across the city and across the country. People would be coming in not just from Ballymun and the whole area right down along this route, but from every area. This proposal would affect the whole city. I think we have jumped from one scheme onto another scheme. We should have concentrated-----
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
Deputies Shortall and Rock asked many questions about Santry. We know how difficult Santry is. There is a problem for the bus system in Santry. It takes a long time for buses to get through the Santry area. We did a great deal of work to examine what the best thing to do might be. We struggled to come up with a better solution than the solution we are proposing. We do not underestimate the challenges. We do not have a plan B sitting in our pocket. We have thought about whether we could add lane capacity on the section of road from Coolock Lane roundabout down to Shantalla Bridge. It is possible that we could add a third lane there. If we could put extra traffic onto that link, it would ease the pressure on it. However, that would not address the fact that if this proposal goes ahead, there will be a one-way system through Santry.
We would love to have another solution. The Deputies said there are alternatives. If there is an alternative that enables us to get the bus system working reasonably well through there - it does not have to be perfect - while preserving what people want, we would love to explore it. A great deal of genuine effort went into examining the various options. We looked at what we would need to do to fit in a fourth lane. None of the options was very palatable. The only thing we have in our back pocket is the possibility of a third lane southbound on the Santry bypass between Coolock Lane and Shantalla Bridge. We have not done a design, so we will have to check whether it is technically possible. We will have to get TII to say it is okay with it, but it still might not be enough. When we were doing this work, we were very conscious of the Omni Park shopping centre. Members will notice that it will be possible to access the shopping centre from all the routes that are currently used to access it. There will be an issue with leaving the shopping centre. The entrance to the centre will remain the same, but people will have to turn left when leaving it. I know there is congestion at the Omni Park shopping centre at the moment. I think it would work better if cars had to turn left when leaving the centre. That is a small point. It is cold comfort to the shopping centre. The junction would perform slightly better if those leaving the centre had to turn left.
One of the Deputies spoke about making the consultative forum useful. If people can bring to it ideas that work, it will be up to us to develop them. If we can get an alternative that does most of what we are trying to do now, it will be great if it works. We would love to do it. I think that is probably all I can say on that matter.
Some traffic modelling was done a couple of years ago, but not enough was done to be able to provide it in a useable format. Our intention on all of the corridors is to do traffic modelling at the next stage. We are putting our hands up and saying these interventions will cause extra traffic congestion on other routes. That is just the reality. We do not need a model to tell us that. We know it will be the reality. We will do detailed transport modelling at the next stage of the process. We will issue it to whoever wants it. There will be no difficulty with that. We do not have it at this stage.
Do the NTA witnesses understand the views of local people who say this proposal will result in a lack of access to a number of residential areas, increased traffic chaos and ultimately a weaker bus service? That is the problem. It will be a poorer bus service than those people have currently.
I agree with Deputy Shortall. In terms of possible solutions, would it be possible to arrange a meeting with committee members and others, especially Deputies from the constituency, to talk about this significant issue?
It would happen outside of the committee system. Following such a meeting, the NTA representatives could come back before the committee. It would allow for those concerned to talk about every possible aspect without me intervening as Chairman.
Mr. Hugh Creegan:
All of those projects need to be done. That is the second reality. While MetroLink north is important, it is a corridor that covers only about 5% of the Dublin area. The catchment area is roughly 5%. There are a lot of potential users but one still has 90% to 95% of Dublin that need something better rather than having to wait ten years for MetroLink to be finished and to start at that point. Our view is that MetroLink needs to proceed but BusConnects also needs to proceed.
Ms Anne Graham:
I wish to make one final point. The proposals we are putting forward are to deal with the growing congestion in the city. It is about trying to encourage more people to use public transport as part of their journeys and giving priority to public transport and sustainable transport. That means the space is not available for car users. That possibly increases journey times for those that use their cars but we have to start giving priority to the bus where we possibly can. We always said it would be challenging and would cause impacts locally but the aim is to try to improve sustainable transport and bus priority. We would not propose something that would make it worse for buses. What we are about is making it better for buses and bus users and encouraging more people to use buses and means of transport other than the car.
I wish to make one point that is not germane to today's debate, as such, it relates to increasing congestion on the M1 which is outside the city. That is the case regardless of the time of day, be it 6 a.m. or 10 p.m. I travel frequently at both of those times. Is there a possibility of creating additional lanes from the airport going north where there is significant congestion? Traffic is bumper to bumper.
Ms Anne Graham:
On the question of resources, we have put forward a request for an additional 26 staff for the NTA for 2019 and a similar number for 2020. As an organisation we also use consultants and other service providers to assist us in delivering projects. We call on those resources if we need them to assist us in various aspects of our work.
As next week's meeting has been scheduled to discuss our work programme. We will have no witnesses but we may require the advice of the clerk on procedural matters. I propose that we convene next week's meeting in private session at 10 a.m. Is that agreed? Agreed.