Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 13 October 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Sustainable Mobility Policy: Department of Transport
We are dealing with sustainable mobility policy, which has been in train for a number of years but which is now under a different Minister. We will be interested to see what views are emanating from that. The purpose of this meeting is to engage with officials from the Department of Transport to discuss the policy. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. Ken Spratt, Secretary General, Mr. Garret Doocey, principal officer at the sustainable mobility involvement and policy division, Mr. Dominic Mullaney, principal adviser at the regional and local roads division, and Mr. Andrew Ebrill, principal officer at the national roads, greenways and active travel division.
Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of a person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks and it is imperative that they comply with any such direction. Witnesses attending remotely outside of the Leinster House campus should note that there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as witnesses who are physically present. Witnesses participating in this committee session from a jurisdiction outside the State are advised that they should also be mindful of their domestic law and how it may apply to evidence they give.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Oireachtas Members and witnesses now have the option to be physically present in the committee room or join the meeting remotely via MS Teams. I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present within the confines of the Leinster House complex in order to participate in public meetings. Reluctantly, I will not permit members to participate where they are not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Any member who attempts to participate from outside the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting. In this regard, I ask any members taking part via MS Teams that, prior to making their contribution, they confirm they are on the grounds of the Leinster House campus.
Those attending in the committee room are asked to exercise personal responsibility to protect themselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19. They are strongly advised to practice good hygiene, leave at least one vacant seat between themselves and others and maintain an appropriate level of social distancing during and after the meeting. Masks should be worn at all times during the meeting except when speaking.
I call on Mr. Spratt to make his opening statement.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
I thank the Chairman and members for this opportunity to discuss sustainable mobility policy. I am joined by my colleagues: Garret Doocey, who is leading on the development of our new sustainable mobility policy; Andrew Ebrill, principal officer, national roads, greenways and active travel division; and Dominic Mullaney, principal adviser, regional and local roads, all of whom have been providing input into our new policy framework.
As we all know, we need to transit to a low-carbon, climate-resilient society. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 commits us to a 51% reduction in our overall greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to achieving net-zero emissions no later than 2050. In 2018, transport-related emissions accounted for 20% of our national total, second only to agriculture. It is clear that the Irish transport sector faces significant challenges regarding the need to both reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. In short, we require a fundamental change in the nature of transport. Central to that change will be increasing the numbers of people using sustainable modes of transport, be that walking, cycling or public transport.
To achieve that increase, we need to put in place the right policy framework. That is the core purpose of the new sustainable mobility policy. It will replace the existing policy framework, Smarter Travel, which was published in 2009, and provide a new ten-year policy framework for active travel and public transport. The policy review has been under way for some time, with a very successful stakeholder engagement event held at the beginning of the public consultation process and over 250 submissions received last year from a wide variety of people and organisations. Since then, the Department has reviewed all the submissions, published a full report of the consultation process, engaged further with stakeholders and is finalising the revised policy.
The primary focus of our new policy will be to cater for daily travel needs in a more sustainable manner. We intend to achieve this by making sustainable modes the smartest and most attractive choice. Active travel and public transport are not only the most environmentally friendly options, but also the most socially inclusive and economically accessible. Both are a key part of a just transition to meeting our climate goals. Fairness demands that they should have priority.
The new policy will have two parts. First, a ten-year policy statement which will set out the vision for the future of sustainable mobility in Ireland. Second, a five-year action plan to deliver that policy statement. The draft policy statement is centred around three guiding principles. The first principle, safe and green mobility, will set out an ambitious and comprehensive set of actions for the decarbonisation of public transport. These actions will be aligned with the forthcoming climate action plan and will position us to meet our transport emission targets. However, it will not be enough to decarbonise public transport fleets. We also need to increase the capacity and range of public transport services to meet the projected travel demand set out in Project Ireland 2040. As the committee knows from its work, these transport needs are not uniform across the country and tailored solutions will be needed for urban and rural areas. Funding for active travel initiatives in both urban and rural Ireland, together with improved and expanded public transport services across the country, is needed to reduce car dependency. Projects like BusConnects in the cities and Connecting Ireland in rural areas will provide viable alternatives to the private car. These will be implemented alongside a range of behavioural change measures to encourage more people to make a sustainable option their preferred mode of transport.
I emphasise that safety is an important part of our policy. Ireland ranks second among EU member states for road safety. We cannot take that for granted. We need to maintain and improve our existing transport assets while also providing a safe space for everyone, including pedestrians and cyclists. Safety is an essential requirement for modal shift.
Unless we prioritise it and resource it, modal shift simply will not happen.
The second principle, people-focused mobility, looks at how we can make sustainable mobility options accessible to everyone. While a key priority under this principle is ensuring accessibility for people with reduced mobility, we should not forget that accessibility also extends to social inclusion. Universally accessible, affordable, and reliable transport makes a big difference to our quality of life. If we focus on the needs of those who are most vulnerable, we can improve the experience for everyone. This principle will also examine how we can better engage with stakeholders. The Department is committed to working closely with all our stakeholders as we seek to deliver the new policy.
Our final principle, better integrated mobility, looks at better integrating transport and land use planning, as well as examining smart transport solutions. We want to create neighbourhoods where everyday amenities can be reached easily by foot or bike. We want to ensure such neighbourhoods are connected and develop in areas where public transport services are available to link them to larger towns and cities. However, integration is not just about land use; it is also about innovative services that support quick and easy transfers between different transport modes. Importantly, legislation and regulation will need to safely integrate emerging technologies like e-scooters within the transport network.
Clearly we need to put these principles into practice and to do that we have developed ten high-level goals for our ten-year framework. Within that fits our five-year action plan. We will revisit this action plan midway through the policy to measure how we are delivering on our goals. That will allow us to take stock, update actions and add new ones if necessary. This action plan will keep our feet to the fire and hold the Department to account for the successful delivery of the policy. While I should emphasise that the draft policy framework remains subject to ministerial and Government approval, the publication of the finalised policy is planned before the end of the year. However, publication is only the beginning. Achieving the necessary shift to sustainable mobility will require both individual and collective effort. We will continue to work with our stakeholders, at national, regional, and local levels as we carry out these actions and to support others in our collective efforts to deliver the policy’s outcomes. Together we can create the necessary changes in the transport sector to reduce our climate impact. I hope my remarks have given the committee a useful overview of our work to date and I look forward to our discussion.
I welcome Mr. Spratt and thank him for the work he does on behalf of us all. To broaden the debate a little, when it comes to climate change there is pretty widespread acceptance that it is an important feature of life and will be important moving into the future. While people have bought into the concept of climate change and the necessity to change, most believe somebody else's area needs to change first. The transport sector believes it should be somebody else carrying the pain and it is the same with agriculture. There is a dilemma. Where I see the difficulty with the work ahead of transport is the urban-rural divide. I am just flagging some of the issues; I do not have the solutions. Further investment in infrastructure in densely populated areas will get a significant return on investment. It becomes far more difficult in rural areas, such as the ones I know best. It has been suggested that changing the planning rules or regulations will solve the problem but it is not going to do it by 2030 or 2050 because many of these areas are already settled communities. While Local Link is a good service, it is not used to the extent that it could be or is resourced to. We see Local Link services all over the country with relatively poor uptake. They play an important role for some young people, people with disabilities and certain marginalised members within communities. That is a test of public transport in rural areas and the people behind it are doing well but it is not getting the kind of uptake that would have any meaningful impact on reducing individual vehicular traffic on the roads. I am not suggesting that Mr. Spratt is taking a one-size-fits-all approach but instead of attempting to use public transport as a system to solve all our problems would we be better off trying to encourage a greater use of electric vehicles in those regions? Should we skew the supports for electric vehicles to areas other than the city? When we started off talking about electric cars, Mr. Spratt always said the run-around car, the second car in the home that does 8,000 km to 10,000 km a year, could be electric because of the range. Should our efforts be focused on looking at those electric vehicles with a broader spread of population and give special targeted supports there?
Have we looked at the emergence of hydrogen or are we looking at it at all? The ESB has identified hydrogen as a method of storage of energy. Part of its ten-year plan is to capture a lot of wind energy off the Atlantic Ocean and use that energy at a time the demand is not great on the grid. It will develop or create green hydrogen, store it and use it at a later stage. There is a lot of talk around the world about the use of hydrogen as a liquid fuel for the future. Are we playing a part in that or looking at it? Heavy goods vehicles, for example, are big burners of diesel. They are significant contributors to our emissions. The road haulage people provide good information. The latest trucks are quite compliant and they have reduced their emissions in a big way but that has to go to the next stage. Is that hydrogen? We met with Bus Éireann recently, which is testing three buses in this space.
I am a little concerned that when we talk about modal shift and the necessity of looking at the way we travel, a lot of focus is on public transport, walking and cycling. While that is wonderful, it misses to some extent the issues from a rural perspective. BusConnects will get a considerable measure of activity within urban areas and we can put in more rail or light rail in some of the smaller cities. That will work but in villages that are satellites to county towns enough buses cannot be put on the road to resolve the complexity of people's transport needs. I live in a village in east Clare, in a development of 50 houses, and each of the two people in most of the houses goes in every direction, from Tipperary to Galway to Cork to Ennis to Shannon, every day. The Department is not going to be able to provide a bus service to Tulla that will meet the complex needs of the way people have chosen to base themselves in rural Ireland. Close to a big city running a bus from Rathfarnham into the city centre, getting the frequency and the connections right will cover 90% of the demand. It is a different issue in rural areas and people there get concerned when they hear the stick of trying to get cars off the road because they recognise that there is not an obvious mix. It is not cycling, walking or e-scooters and it is not buses. That is just my tuppence ha'penny on that.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
There is nothing in what the Senator said that I disagree with. We have significant challenges ahead. It is the case that we would get much better value for money and much bigger bang for our buck in cities. There is no doubt about that. Our approaches to 2030 and 2050 are almost parallel. Our approach to 2030 will be around maximising and getting as many electric vehicles, EVs, on the road as we possibly can. We have to try to get 960,000 EVs on the road by 2030. There will also be a bit around biofuels in terms of diesel and petrol and there will be a bit about trying to educe the demand for car journeys using internal combustion engine, ICE, cars. The key point the Senator makes around value for money in urban areas being much better than in rural areas is true. We will roll out the Connecting Ireland initiative.
The pilot projects that we rolled out in Leitrim, for example, have gone really well. That will require a significant increase in the public service obligation, PSO, funding for rural areas. Based on the strategic approach that we have taken to rural transport and working with stakeholders like the HSE, for example, and understanding what are the needs of people during the day, evening and night, and where do they want to get to and from where, the Connecting Ireland pilot project has gone very well.
We have managed to secure in the budget significant additional resources for 2022 to roll out more pilot schemes. We will learn a lot from those. It is our intention that we would have a Connecting Ireland facility and service throughout all of Ireland in all rural areas. There is a strong commitment, from Government, for that.
I would hope that we will make very good progress and that people would, as the services are rolled out, think whether a particular service meets their needs. There might be a need for a bit of a sacrifice and people may have to leave a little earlier or later. We hope, however, that we can get a better bang for our buck in terms of our PSO investments in the Connecting Ireland scheme in rural areas.
There is an opportunity in terms of hydrogen. We have just set up a sixth assistant secretary area within the Department. This is something I did when I came in and took over because I felt that we needed to look at all aspects of climate action. We are recruiting at the moment for a lead for that area. We have four principal officers in there who are doing all of the thinking that we need to do around making sure that we achieve the objectives that have been set for us by the Government and the Oireachtas and that we do it in as just a way as possible. One of the things that we are looking at is the establishment of an office of low-emitting vehicles in the context of private vehicles and heavy goods vehicles. There is a significant opportunity for hydrogen, as well as compressed natural gas and biomethane.
The Department is responsible for ports infrastructure. One of the things that we are doing is working quite closely with our colleagues in the Departments of Environment, Climate and Communications and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. We also work closely with our colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine who have responsibility for the Irish Maritime Development Office and what happens at sea. We want to make sure that ports are fit for purpose when it comes to harvesting the opportunity that presents with offshore renewable energy. There is a very significant opportunity not just to power the country but to get into using hydrogen, particularly as a transport fuel.
I accept that the challenges that lie ahead in terms of rural mobility and access will be tough nuts to crack. However, we have some good ideas on how to make progress.
We have always talked about the way that the Government works. It is departmental and sometimes there is a silo mentality for all sorts of reasons, some of which are good. There is an opportunity for the Department to get involved in the area of school transport. Those of us around this table who represent rural areas spend most of August, September and October each year arguing with the Department about whether people are a mile or two miles closer to where they need to be. If a child lives 2 yd or 100 yd closer to a school, he or she does not qualify for the school bus, he or she cannot get a ticket and he or she has to be driven to school by someone..
At some point, and it does not necessarily have to come from the budget of the Department of Education, there should be a climate change initiative to change the mindset of those who use the service and give the service free to everybody. There would be a cost, but there are a couple of aspects involved. There are many costs that the Department incurs in order to provide infrastructure for all sorts of other things. The Department could make sure that every child who lives in close proximity to a school and whose house the bus passes would be collected. Some families live 100 m too close to a school and, as a result, the children cannot get the bus. This is despite the fact that there might be space on the bus, and there are plenty of buses out there. If people see buses being used every day, it will get them used to the notion of using public transport right from the very start and will broaden the reach of the service.
Is there a cost? Yes. When you go to the Department of Education, it states that it cannot afford what is proposed because there is a need for more special needs assistants or whatever. I suggest that the Department of Transport should look at school transport in terms of it being a climate change initiative and getting people into the habit of getting on buses. It should seek to break down the impediments that are there are look at the matter from a long-term perspective. The latter would result in their being a lot less traffic. If you go to any primary and secondary school in a rural area, the big demand from the school principal will be in respect of more parking spaces or a turning bay to facilitate all of the cars used to transport children to and from school. It would be of great if we could get that right.
There are initiatives in this regard. Senator Garvey is not with us but she was very involved in the green schools programme before she was elected to the Seanad. I urge the Department to work in the context of the existing initiatives from a transport perspective because there is an opportunity here to change mindsets. It is like getting somebody to purchase an electric car. As soon as people do so, you really have them. They will then start looking at insulating their homes and making considerable investments on the journey towards carbon neutrality. My suggestion is around that aspect.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
People between the ages of 19 and 23, and regardless of whether they are students or at work, who have the card will be able to travel for half of the normal price. The objective behind that is to get people to think about their travel options and to go for the one that is the most sustainable and climate friendly. It is a little nudge to get people to figure out that this works. The Senator's suggestion is very much aligned with the thinking of the Minister, and it is something that I can take up with my colleague, Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, at the Department of Education.
The official title for this session is active travel and public transport. I was a member Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, which I think has been quite topical recently. In 2010, I was elected the cycling champion of the county council. That did not mean I was any good at cycling, it just meant I was supposed to promote cycling, which was far less fashionable then than it is now. Also, I was chair of the council's transport strategic policy committee, SPC, before I was elected to the Seanad in 2016. Therefore, I bring a certain amount of experience and knowledge to this debate. I can talk a lot about transport, and probably not from the same perspective as Senator Dooley and other members who are based in more rural areas. I am based in Dublin and I cycled here today. I passed by the offices of the Department on Leeson Street, which is part of the most treacherous stretch of my journey. I had to weave my way across Leeson Street and St. Stephen's Green before getting onto Kildare Street. The journey in question is not for the faint-hearted, but I did it and managed to get here.
I support all of the improvements to cycling infrastructure, but I have reservations about some of them. There was a pilot project on the road with which I am most familiar - Goatstown Road - where wands were installed and concrete strips. A number of people have told me that they have tripped or fell over those strips or that they nearly fell over them.. Somebody was injured as a result of their being there. I know people who been distracted or injured by the wands, which are very narrow. They serve a purpose in parts and are very useful, particularly at traffic lights, but I am not sure we need so many of them because cyclists end up being corralled into a very narrow space. If somebody in front of a cyclist is moving slower, then the latter is trapped and cannot get around that individual. It is unfortunate that some people are bad drivers because it is as a result of their behaviour on the roads that so many of these wands are needed.
We should think longer term and consider what has been done in London, where there are quiet greenways through residential areas and permeability through estates that are not connected by road but are connected by walkways. We should open up those kinds of areas and allow people who are less comfortable with bicycles to get cycling again. I had not cycled in 20 years until I got back on a bike in 2010. Now I cycle more often than I drive. My national car test, NCT, last year showed that I had driven only 1,000 miles during previous 12 months. Admittedly, there was a lockdown and I had lost my seat but I drove a very small amount and cycled far more.
In terms a modal shift, if somebody has paid €70,000 for a Land Rover or some other expensive car, it is hard to argue against the person using it. There is an element of using both the carrot and the stick here. The most efficient way to reach Leinster House within, at a minimum, a six-mile radius, is by cycling because it is quicker. I live in Goatstown. I can walk to the nearest Luas stop, get a tram and then walk to Leinster House, which takes approximately 45 minutes. Of coursed, that is if there are no delays with the Luas. However, I can make the same journey by bicycle in 17 to 19 minutes if I am lucky. An awful lot of people do not know that cycling is far quicker.
The bike-to-work scheme has been good, but it has meant that people have bought very expensive bikes.
In addition, only people within the PAYE system can use that mechanism. People need to be aware that the amount the Exchequer would need to spend to get people to move to bicycles is so much less than the cost of a Luas line, so much less than public transport and so much less than anything else. The more bikes we get onto the road, the more cars will be taken off the road in many cases.
I come from the constituency of Dublin Rathdown. That is where I live, it is where the Minister for Transport lives, it is the constituency he used to represent, it is the constituency the deputy leader of the Green Party represents and I see a downgrading of the Luas upgrade. The green line southbound is pretty much full already. Pre-pandemic it was full. We have Cherrywood coming on stream. We have increases in Sandyford, with high-density developments, at the Central Mental Hospital and in Goatstown, Sandyford, Carrickmines and Cherrywood. People getting on at Dundrum and going up to Sandyford had to cross over the track pre-pandemic. I would like to know where we are going on that.
We will have a second round of questioning. E-scooters are, in the context of the climate, not as efficient as pedal bikes but certainly much better in that they use much less road space and energy than a diesel or petrol car. What is the status of e-scooters? I have had representations from people saying the limits we are talking about are used only in Sweden and Portugal and are too low for the robust scooters that are required. We need a modal shift. We need people to realise that cycling is far better and far safer than they might think. However, we also need to provide the infrastructure to train people up, to get people used to cycling and to get them confident in cycling. We need to bring the public with us with public consultation if we are to do what was done on the coastal mobility route in Dún Laoghaire. The witnesses will have seen the controversy regarding what is going on in Deansgrange. Equally, there is the Strand Road issue. How do we convince people, planners and the courts that these are a good idea? In some cases they are not always a good idea. I have seen bus lanes proposed that were the worst in the world and were opposed by people who lived in my area and who were former chief executives of CIÉ and former Secretaries General of Departments involved with public transport because they just would not work. Sometimes a bus lane cannot fit into a particular area. The road is too narrow and it just will not work.
As for quality bus corridors, I am very familiar with the Stillorgan QBC. It was an amazing success. The Luas was an amazing success. People are willing to change. There was no traffic on the Luas pre-2004. It did not exist. There was no one on that corridor. It jammed every day bringing thousands of people in and out of Sandyford and all along that route, and I am very concerned about it. How do we get a modal shift? What is happening to the Luas green line upgrade, which is essential? The capacity that is needed is not available.. In a post-pandemic world the Luas green line will be full, before Cherrywood kicks off properly, Carrickmines and Sandyford expand significantly and all the developments on infill sites along that line, through Dundrum, Milltown and various other parts of the line. It is there, the people want to use it and they want to make the change. If, however, they cannot even get on the Luas, what do they do? They go back into their cars. I apologise for that long rant, but it is important we convince people of that modal shift.
The security of bikes is hugely problematic. I can cycle into Leinster House and leave my bike here. It is the safest place in Ireland to leave a bike, without a doubt. However, many people do not cycle because they do not know, when they come out of a restaurant or out of their workplace, if they will find their bike still there. It is a major problem and needs to be dealt with in many different ways. Employers such as restaurants and shops need to provide better facilities, for example, bike lockers and car parks, including supervised car parks where employees can register and store their bikes. Whatever it takes, it needs to be done because we need to get people out of their cars and into other forms of transport.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
I will ask my colleague, Mr. Doocey, to cover the green line Luas. Over the next ten years we will have €35 billion to spend in capital investment. That will work out at approximately €13 billion in protection and renewal, €4 billion in active travel, €12 billion in public transport and €6 billion in roads infrastructure. We looked for significantly more than that when we put in our pitch to the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance for the national development plan. We have been given €35 billion over the next ten years and we have a significant amount to do across all modes of transport with that money. There will therefore, be a level of prioritisation and scheduling of the projects we have to do. As for the mega projects we have to do, we are focusing in on MetroLink, BusConnects and DART+. There is some work to be done on light rail and the Luas as well.
Mr. Garret Doocey:
The Senator is correct that before the Covid pandemic capacity on the Luas green line was a serious issue. As he will probably be aware, the Luas green line capacity enhancement project finished this year. That has expanded the capacity to the Sandyford depot, first and foremost. It has extended all 26 existing trams to 55 m. We have also introduced eight new 55 m trams, which extends the capacity by approximately 30%. It is not an exact science. There is a second phase under consideration as well. That will extend the capacity on the Luas green line. That is about increasing the pathways on the southern section into St. Stephen's Green. There are probably some works required around the platforms at St. Stephen's Green. That is a second phase, which will bring in and of itself an additional significant bonus to capacity. I just do not have the percentage in my head at the minute. They are the two immediate and medium-term requirements on the Luas green line. Then, in the coming month or so, there will be a revised draft greater Dublin area, GDA, strategy published for public consultation, which will set out the longer-term ambition in the area of light rail generally and on the Luas green line. Of course, the ultimate ambition remains the upgrade to a metro standard at a point in the future when capacity requires it.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
I am not across the detail of it, other than to say we recognise that we need to introduce some sort of appropriate legislative framework to allow for e-scooters. We do not have that at the moment. I am not across the technical details of the devices themselves but I can send that on to the Senator. That is no problem at all.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
It is not easy, and all of us in the Department are working as best we can to try to make sure that public transport services are available to encourage people out of the car and into active travel. It is a matter of achieving, or at least pursuing as best we can, all the options available to us across active travel, whether walking or cycling, and across public transport. It is a matter of making it to a certain extent less attractive to use the car and more attractive to walk or cycle or use public transport. If walking and cycling are not suitable options for people, it is a natter of making sure that the transport services are frequent, comfortable and more enjoyable.
I will conclude now. My final point is that there are issues with antisocial behaviour on longer distance modes of travel such as trains but particularly on the Luas more recently and on buses. Whether it is a transport police or whatever else we need, people want to use public transport but if they do not feel safe on it, they will not.
You have an airport, which is not very popular in climate change times.
I thank the witnesses for coming before the committee and for all the work they are doing. The sustainable mobility policy, as it has been presented to us, is quite a radical document. It really is radical in a good way. Putting universal design principles and the hierarchy of road users central to its goals is very important. It will be about applying them in practice. The national development plan was launched last week. Many of the major rows ended up being about roads, cars and congestion. We need to have a modal shift.
I want to talk about people with disabilities and how the disability sector engages with the Department and how the Department engages with the disability sector. It is at the very top, along with pedestrians and cyclists, of the hierarchy of the road user model. We speak about journeys of great distance and commuting journeys. We talk about needing to make cycle lanes. I live in Swords. I do not feel safe cycling from Swords into town. Twenty years ago, I witnessed a fatality in Dublin city centre. It had a huge impact on me and where and how I cycle. I used to rip up and down the quays going to see my nana on Oliver Bond Street after school. Ever since, the thoughts of cycling into town have been very difficult. What are we doing to make it safer to cycle into Dublin city centre from distances of 23 km or 24 km away, such as where I live in Swords and areas such as the Donabate-Portrane peninsula? Hearse Road is not a cycle friendly route. It is the primary access route in and out of Donabate and Portrane. What are we doing in respect of infrastructure of that nature?
Getting back to people with disabilities, sometimes the biggest challenge is just getting to the bus stop. The dishing of a path can be a big barrier to accessing a wheelchair-accessible bus. People cannot get to the actual bus stop. These are the things we need to get right from the very start. Having the disability sector included and having people with disabilities central to all of this planning is vital.
It was great to hear that MetroLink is included. I have a problem with the use of the term "megaprojects". It invites negative commentary. Speaking about megaprojects is like some kind of Discovery Channel TV show such as "Megastructures" There is the idea that they are some kind of elective and almost vanity projects. These are all needed projects. BusConnects, MetroLink and DART+ are vital. They are as vital as the Luas and everything else. I have an issue with the language used.
With regard to electric vehicles, Senator Dooley raised an excellent point on the realities of living in villages. On Monday, I was speaking to people in Garristown and transport was mentioned. I represent a constituency that is rural, urban and commuting. Garristown is a rural village. Transport was involved in every issue that came up, such as, for example, better bus services. The reality is that people in Garristown will need their cars for many years. We need an improved bus service. Electric vehicle take-up needs to be incentivised because these vehicles are still very expensive. The year 2030 will arrive in the blink of an eye. If we are to meet the targets we need to look at scrappage schemes. This is something the Minister has pushed back on. I can understand this but we have to start planning for scrappage schemes to incentivise people with regard to electric vehicles.
I echo the points made by Senator Dooley. There are villages that development plans incentivise for people to live in. People are being told to come and live in a particular beautiful village and commute into Limerick, Ennis or Swords. We cannot incentivise this in development plans and not provide transport by means of buses, where necessary. If we are to move to electric vehicles, then these people and their homes should be prioritised.
The points on school transport were well made. With regard to the welcome half-price public transport initiative announced by the Government in the budget, what will be the technical impediments to this? Will it be a Dublin-centred scheme for people with Leap cards? What about the vast majority of the country that does not have access to Leap cards? We put forward a plan for a pilot scheme for free travel because we are concerned about the technical impediments of bringing on board this scheme. Not every transport provider is linked up to the Leap card system. I will be interested to hear if Mr. Spratt can shed any light on this.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
There was quite a bit in that. I will touch on as many of the questions as I can and I might need some help from colleagues. With regard to the disability sector and people with disabilities, for a number of years every public transport service provider has had make sure new infrastructure or new vehicles are accessible. Thankfully, it is the case that all relatively new vehicles are accessible. Some retrofitting is also being done. We are very alert to the hard infrastructure. It also needs to be supported by soft schemes. We have the Just a Minute card so people boarding public transport services can give the driver an indication they need a bit more time. We also have the travel assistance scheme, whereby assistance is provided by some of the transport service providers to people who need help embarking or disembarking. There is also disability awareness training for all of the drivers. We very much acknowledge that we need to up our game and we are working as hard as we can to make sure we do so.
The point on mega programmes is interesting. I had not seen it that way. For us, they are massive projects. Some of the programmes involve multiple projects and huge amounts of money. For us they are mega, but I can see were the Deputy is coming from.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
It is a point very well made.
With regard to electric vehicles and Garristown, I live close enough to Garristown. It is the case that people in north County Dublin and other rural areas around all of the cities in the country will need to use their private vehicles for some time to come. We want to try to get 960,000 electric vehicles out by 2030. There is a question as to how we incentivise. A scrappage scheme is something that can be considered further. Again, we have to make sure that we maximise value for money and that we assist those who need assistance but that we avoid assisting people who might not necessarily need that assistance and who, potentially, could buy their own vehicles without Government aid.
The point on development plans is very interesting. What we have at present is predominantly road-based development, whereby many houses and commercial entities follow the roads. To be perfectly honest, many roads have many political champions. Sustainable mobility has less political championing. What we will try to achieve is having transport-led development, whereby development, whether housing or commercial operations, would evolve around sustainable mobility projects and public transport projects. This is something of which we are very mindful. This is not to say that in the example the Deputy gave we are ignoring the fact people still need their vehicles. Our preference is that if they are using vehicles that they are electric vehicles.
With regard to the technical impediments to the youth travel card, this was something raised with us quite close to the budget. We now have to put on our thinking caps to see how we get it out to as many people as possible aged between 19 and 23 throughout the country and not just those who are in cities. This is something we are working on along with colleagues in the transport agencies. There are some issues with the supply of the cards, which are related to the chip industry, the global demand for chips and the shortage of supply. This is another challenge we will have to grapple with. I think I have touched on all of the issues the Deputy has raised.
I thank the Chair. I know Mr. Spratt does not have the technical specifications for powered personal transport. An issue that has emerged is that the regulations refer to electric motors with a power charge of 250 kW.
However, those regulations are outdated and the standard now is 500 kW. There is a concern that this provision would be openly flouted. All modern scooters are well above 250 kW, and in the two EU states that operate that level, a blind eye is turned. Given what the witnesses have said, this is going to be part of the overall modal shift, so we must draft regulations to adapt to it and we must examine the reality of what people are using in order for them to be able to get insured properly. The Department might consider this matter, and I might send a letter to Mr. Spratt with more details.
I welcome the witnesses. I have a few questions. I am broadly supportive of the policy intent. In terms of climate and the role of transport, compact growth and transport-led development are concepts that we will hear much more about in future. As such, it is an important policy area.
I wish to discuss some of the barriers encountered to date and the Department's experience. Is it almost the case that the Department has more money than it can spend? Was there a carry-over this year? What has been the experience of spending the money that has been available? Do local authorities have the capacity, culture and organisation to develop and deliver on these projects? Is the planning system fit for purpose and well aligned with these projects? The Minister has spoken about introducing proposals in that regard. Are the NTA, the Department and local authorities sufficiently staffed? While I was a member of a local authority, I saw such projects being delivered but also resistance to them from a various perspectives.
I wish to ask about the challenges in the Irish context. It was mentioned that the Department was developing some ideas that might fit the Irish context. A number of committee members have spoken about our particular spatial distributions and the nature of our settlements, that being, urban, rural and everything in between. As has been mentioned, the services that we currently have are underutilised in many places and do not meet their needs. I can point to specific instances in my constituency where we fought for bus services and, although services were put on, they were not the ones for which we asked. They went to the wrong places from the wrong places and were underused. Where is the Department going with Connecting Ireland and how will it assess what the appropriate service for a place is?
I do not know whether the Department received a copy of the report of the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action. We heard from many witnesses with international experience of making progress on these issues. There is the concept of every village, every hour. I do not know whether that is achievable in the Irish context, but it would improve on the services currently available through Local Link - perhaps Local Link could deliver it - to the point that people could set their clocks by them. Some services are underutilised because they do not meet the needs of the people in those areas. If the Department reconfigured services to meet people's needs, those services would be used. The experience with good public transport is that it is used. We have seen that with Luas and a pile of other transport methods.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
I might call on Mr. Doocey to discuss Connecting Ireland and how we will assess it.
There was a great deal in the Deputy's questions. We will have some carry-over for next year. At the start of this year, which is the first full calendar year of this Government, we had €360 million to spend on active travel. There was a bit of catching up to do by local authorities in recruiting human resources to do this work. Our outturn will get close to that figure by the end of the year. There will be a push between now and then. We are spending significantly more on active travel this year compared with last year and a huge amount compared with two years ago. However, there has been a struggle in recruiting the capacity to deliver active travel.
In recent years, we have done well in terms of not having underspends. Our spending is lumpy and quite a great deal goes out between now and the end of the year, but we have done well in handing back very small percentages. Last year or the year before, it was a fraction of 1% of our total budget. We are not bad when it comes to underspending. We will have a little underspend this year, but we are trying to ensure that it is as small as possible.
Regarding local authorities' culture and resources, it is now clear that there is €360 million per year for the next number of years to be spent on active travel. That is more or less guaranteed and ring-fenced. Therefore, local authorities know that they can recruit, ramp up and roll out. While this year will be good, the Deputy will see us getting better and better and getting every euro out the door over the coming years. We are working closely with the local authorities to ensure that happens.
There are always issues with the planning system. The Deputy will be aware that a review, which the Attorney General will be well resourced to carry out, is under way to examine the areas where there are not so much legislative impediments, but where legislation can be improved to ensure that, when it comes to the roll-out of important infrastructure, the planning system delivers in the way it should and in a way that protects the rights of people who want to object and have their voices heard. That review will be sharp and focused and done in a relatively short period.
As to whether we have enough staff, all Departments and agencies have sought significant additional resources in their Estimates campaigns with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. We sought a significant number of additional people for ourselves and all of our agencies. We did not get all that we looked for, but we did okay. We were also allowed to capitalise the human resources costs on some of our larger projects. While the projects were not given additional current funding, they can use their capital allocations for contractors who will be required for short periods.
The Irish context is always a challenge. We are the second or third least densely populated country in the world. That is a challenge in the provision of public services. We will need to work hard on the design of Connecting Ireland. I will hand over to Mr. Doocey in that regard.
Mr. Garret Doocey:
Connecting Ireland is very much in the vein of the contributions the Deputy would have heard at the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action on rural transportation and what needs to be done. He is correct about the need for different approaches for rural and urban contexts, as was alluded to by Senator Dooley. Connecting Ireland will go out to public consultation before the end of the year. The plan is about trying to connect settlements at the smallest scale in rural Ireland into the broader network of transport between larger towns, regional growth centres and their nearest cities. It is also about providing opportunities for people to access services, for example, shopping, leisure, retail and employment, through public transport. It is a positive development. As Mr. Spratt mentioned, a pilot is under way in Leitrim. It is an example at a local scale of the intent behind Connecting Ireland. The results have been positive in terms of passenger growth and overall numbers utilising the services. One would hope that the kinds of issue the Deputy mentioned in terms of the underutilisation of certain services will be addressed through the roll-out of Connecting Ireland. This week's budgetary announcement of the support to be provided for Connecting Ireland are positive.
Yes. I will echo a point.
Mr. Spratt said that the Department is looking at travel to work, home, education and leisure. Each of those could be broken down. From an Opposition transport spokesperson perspective, when I try to chase that education piece it falls between a number of stools, whether it is at primary, secondary or third level. One is pushed from Billy to Jack and people say they are not responsible for that area. When I see that I wonder where the overall focus is. There is a lot we can achieve as regards travel to education if there is a focus on it. The school bus transport scheme was mentioned earlier. The youth travel card for third level is positive but there are other pieces we can do if there is a focus on it.
I thank Mr. Spratt and the Department for being here today. There are a number of points I would like to make. With regard to electric vehicles, there has been a very good discussion so far but a number of members have mentioned some of the hesitancy about buying an electric vehicle, putting it on the road and everything involved. I will be very frank. One of the things that puts me off is the lack of infrastructure. I recently met a number of forecourt operators in Clare. They tell me that fast-charging electric vehicle charge points cost in the region of €250,000 per unit. That is a substantial outlay for them to invest in as they would have to take out the old petrol and diesel pumps and put in these units. That needs to be incentivised because it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation at the moment. I will probably be looking at changing my car in the next number of years and while I would love to say that I will move to an electric vehicle, I do not think the infrastructure is there. A lot of people will be a little hesitant until that infrastructure is there. Those who are currently driving electric vehicles are almost like pioneers. They have a good home set-up, with a good charge point at home, and most of them probably have a fairly good set-up in their workplace. For everything in between, there is a bit of a risk element to taking off in that car and trying to head across Ireland and cover serious mileage on the road. We will only see that seismic change in public opinion and in consumer decision-making when we have that infrastructure in place.
Like anyone, every so often I browse through DoneDeal and various online sales sites. When looking at electric vehicles for sale there, one just does not fully know what quality of vehicle one is getting. Of course we have the NCT and that is one metric of how good a vehicle is but maybe we need some form of certification for what is under the bonnet in terms of batteries and electrics. This is probably a poor analogy. I am thinking of the BER certification, where there is a grading of A to F for how good a house is in energy terms. Perhaps we need something in that regard because batteries have a lifespan and if people are going to buy an electric vehicle second-hand, they need to know that it is not near the end of a ten-year cycle and that there are more years in it. That is off-putting for people at the moment. Perhaps that is something the Department might look at.
When e-scooters first appeared they were a real head-turner. People would talk about someone passing them while whizzing down the road on an e-scooter but now they are very much part of everyday life and are here to stay. The fabulous thing about them is that they give people of a younger age a bit of independence from their parents to go down to hurling training, pop over to their friend's house or to go to college. It is great and legislation is coming into play now that will make it a bit safer and more regulated. Again there is an infrastructural deficiency there for e-scooters. There is an opportunity to have public e-scooters in larger towns and cities and I have spoken to some people about trialling them in cities, as well as in some regional towns like Ennis, where they could be used as an alternative way of nipping in around the town centre and getting to the outskirts of a town. That is something that needs to be trialled.
At the moment, in the Government and in the Department, there is a 2:1 ratio of spending on public infrastructure versus roads. I have my own thoughts on that. It is very nice to load the bikes into the boot of the car and head off to the local greenway with the kids at the weekend but for Monday to Friday, getting to work and doing the school runs the road infrastructure of our country is crucial. There are projects both within the national development plan and outside it that local authorities are going to bring to the Department's attention over the next number of years and I hope the Department will continue to push them along. It is important that they are there. This is not Amsterdam or the lowlands of Holland or Luxembourg where there is an immense network of public infrastructure, flat terrain and focal points of villages and towns. Ireland by its very nature is quite scattered in how it has been developed over the years and we need a road infrastructure to bring people in from the peripheral parts of counties into town centres and up to cities. Road infrastructure is a major part of that.
The next point I wish to raise relates to Irish Rail. For the last eight months I have become a bit of a convert to using the train. I will use it this evening to go back to Clare and will bike and train home. I have a few points on that. It is frustrating that the last trains operating in Ireland are around 8.30 p.m. or 9 p.m. There is merit to having a late-night service for getting people from one part of the country to another. The train would not have to be five carriages long. It could be one carriage or two, taking off at 11 p.m. or midnight and bringing people across the country. There would need to be a driver and an inspector on the train and someone at the other end managing the station. It would make public transport even more attractive. This is a small island but public transport virtually shuts down at a certain hour of the evening and that needs to be looked at.
I have rail transport sussed out now. When I first started using the train I was paying extortionate prices for tickets but now I buy my ticket a few days in advance when the Dáil schedule comes out each week. If one is lucky one will get a €13 one-way fare and it is very economical, very fast and very reliable. Contrast that with trying to bring a family of two adults and three kids from County Clare up to Dublin Zoo at the weekend using Irish Rail. I did a calculation of this a while ago. To go this Saturday with a family of two adults and three children would cost €177 return. That is crazy. That was always a rite of passage. I do not know what it was like for people living in Dublin but certainly in the west of Ireland it was a rite of passage for the family to get on a train and there was a buzz about getting that early morning train up to the zoo and back home again. That is now impossible, meaning more people are back in the car. We need to look at the costing model of Irish Rail and public transport because that is simply unviable. People could fly to Manchester or London, or even the Balearic Islands, for that kind of cost.
I am concerned about the national development plan. There has been a debate over the last week about what will see the light of day and how long it will take these projects to develop. I am not so concerned about the document of the national development plan, the wording of it and its structure. What I am most concerned about is the law, the policy and the frameworks that relate to public consultations and objections, and the hold-ups for all these projects. The Killaloe bypass is County Clare, which was mentioned yesterday in the budget speech, is in the national development plan. That was held up for years by a man - I think I am allowed to mention his name as this is in the public domain - called Peter Sweetman, of The Swans and the Snails Limited.
Of course I will be but this is factual. This was covered in the newspapers. He objected and took this project through the ringer. That is wrong. If the Department were developing a BusConnects project in Dublin, I would think it would be utterly wrong for me as someone living in County Clare to hold up a Dublin project. Yet, it is possible for someone on the other side of Ireland to hold up key infrastructure in County Clare. That kind of process that has slowed things down has to end.
There was mention of school transport. In July and August in whatever town or city in Ireland one can nip from one side of it to the other very quickly because schools are closed. That tells us that most of the traffic congestion every day, more than 50%, is down to school runs. That is at peak times. I was a schoolteacher for 16 years. There was a small road in Parteen that would have no cars on it all day but at 8.50 a.m. we would have 300 cars going up it. That is crazy. We tried to deal with that in many ways over the years. This is just an anecdote from Parteen but this could be replicated anywhere in Ireland. We went to Bus Éireann and said we had 100 kids coming from the Westbury housing estate so could we get a bus to go up and down doing two collections. Bus Éireann came out and measured and looked at its maps and said that for various reasons we could not because there was another school nearer. That is wrong. The sooner the Department of Transport gets its own hands on school transportation away from the Department of Education the better because it is being viewed through one lens and it is utterly impractical. Imagine the difference it would make to have two bus runs in the morning bringing those kids up and dropping them back. It would free up parents to have options for getting to work or working from home and it would take so many cars off the road. In July and August one can get around most places in the country very quickly. We need to embrace school transportation but the Department of Transport needs to get its hands on it as opposed to the Department of Education. I have raised a lot of issues there but I hope they can be responded to.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
I will try my best. In his initial remarks, the Deputy mentioned EV hesitancy and the lack of infrastructure and charging points. That is a challenge for us. The electric vehicle policy pathway proposed that we establish of an office of low emitting vehicles, OLEV. We are doing that. We will be putting significant resources into that office. We accept that we need to up our game when it comes to charging points. The OLEV will look at incentives for installation of charging infrastructure for high-density residential areas. For example, where there are apartment blocks in which there may be up to 100 residents and ten of them are owners of EVs, how we ensure that they can charge overnight is one of the issues we will look at. We will also look at charging points in visitor attractions to ensure that we provide some incentive and cover some of the cost in order that it makes sense for that infrastructure to be put in place. People need to know that if they choose to visit a particular place they might have to wait a short while, but they will be able to plug in and charge up. The concern the Deputy raised is one we are alert to. I accept that we need to make sure we address it. The OLEV will also look at the second-hand market for EVs to give people assurances around the purchase of such vehicles, again, so that people do not have questions around the reliability of the vehicle and so on.
The suggestion with regard to e-scooters is interesting. A company that is new to Ireland is looking at introducing some sort of e-scooter scheme similar to the Dublin Bikes scheme. There is a market opportunity there. Based on what I have seen, that opportunity will be harvested by the commercial market. We will see how that goes. On Irish Rail, the Deputy's anecdote on the cost to him to bring a spouse and children to Dublin hits home. It is fairly compelling. It is an issue on which we will have to engage with the CIE group of companies to see what can be done at relatively short notice to ensure that prices are not as high as they are at the moment.
I mentioned the planning review being undertaken by the Attorney General in respect of making sure that people who have legitimate concerns can raise them. Important projects being held up by objections which, once they go through are unfounded or, at least, the final arbitration decides that they are without merit, is one all Ministers and Departments are alert to. I expect that the review by the Attorney General would help us to address some of the issues there.
The issue raised by Senator Dooley in his initial contribution and by Deputy Cathal Crowe as well in regard to the school run piece is coming across loudly and clearly today. I will take it up with my counterpart, the Secretary General at the Department of Education. There seems to be an opportunity there for us to harvest. I will engage with my counterpart and try to figure out how we can do that better.
I thank Mr. Spratt. There are two areas where the Department of Transport can act, the first being school transport which he addressed. The second is trains. MKIV trains have been largely been purchased from Spain in recent years. They are heavy duty trains. In other European countries, if people are at a level crossing they will see a train with 20 or 30 carriages passing. We do not require that in Ireland, but it is reasonable that on the weekend we would have low charging, high carrying trains of, say, ten carriages on the Ennis-Limerick-Dublin route. There is an economy in that. Currently, rail travel is disincentivised. Most families in Ireland look to Ryanair when they want a break; they certainly do not look to Irish Rail.
I refer again to the car journey. Most Senators and Deputies know exactly door-to-door what their car journeys cost because they make those journeys every day. From my house to the Dáil and back the cost of diesel and tolls is €36. The cost by train is similar but if I am accompanied by my family there is a fivefold increase. When an all-Ireland final or concert is held in Dublin, nobody in the west considers taking public transport. The prohibitive cost makes people turn to the car. They just load up and off they go.
I thank Mr. Spratt and his officials for engaging with us today. The opening paragraph of his statement states that we all must go on a journey in facing the challenges in terms of reducing emissions. How would he describe the engagement with the Society of the Irish Motor Industry, SIMI, the Irish Road Haulage Association, IRHA, and the Irish Farmers' Association, IFA, on bringing about a fundamental change in the nature of Irish transport?
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
There is a lot to be done when it comes to the decarbonisation of HGVs. They will be much more difficult for us to make progress on by comparison with the private car. We have some technologies that are useable by HGVs. The technologies are not as well developed for such vehicles as they are for the private car. Insofar as the main fuel that is used at the moment for HGVs is diesel, that will continue to be the case for a number of years but, again, the OLEV needs to come up more options for them.
In regard to the budget and the provision of 50% discounted travel in respect of urban, intercity and rural services for the 19 to 23 year old cohort, why was that cohort chosen, as opposed to the 16 to 23 age cohort or the age cohort which Deputy Cathal Crowe and I are in, who would use public transport if there was an incentive for us to do so? Taking the Cork to Dublin route as an example, since the lifting of restrictions traffic as one approaches Naas all the way to the city is at pre-pandemic levels. Why was a decision made to incentivise the 19 to 23 age cohort as opposed to all commuters?
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
My understanding is that that particular age cohort was picked because that is the college-going age group. Those not travelling to college might be apprentices or in employment. They are the people who have left school and are now going to third level, apprenticeship employers and employers more generally. The purpose of the scheme is to get them into the habit of choosing public transport over private transport. It is as simple as that.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
I do not disagree with that. There are only so many additional people we can bring on to public transport at any particular time. It is also the case that for every euro the public transport companies are not taking in, they have to get an additional euro by way of PSO. It came down to the additional funding that would be required by way of PSO funding being provided to the public transport companies and figuring out who we would use that additional funding to focus on. The Minister decided to focus on people who are aged 19 to 23 to try to get them into good habits now that they are leaving schools.
I will move now to the overarching context of the sustainable mobility policy.
My father often has a great debate with me about the person living in Tarelton or Kilmichael in Cork, who has no chance of getting a bus. What do we say to those people in rural Ireland in terms of developing a sustainable mobility policy for them?
We should look at the prohibitive cost of trains because there can and will be more people who would migrate to them if the cost was not as prohibitive. I say this in the context of BusConnects in Cork where we have an outstanding bus service that has become popular because of the frequency, the price and the 24-hour service. We need to address the issue of rural Ireland and the person living in Tarelton or Kilmichael. Linked to that is the issue of the cost of trains.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
I guess we have to start somewhere. I mentioned earlier that we are focusing on increasing our PSO level of funding for rural transport services. We have Local Link at the moment and a Connecting Ireland pilot is under way in Leitrim. This pilot has proven to be very successful to the point where lessons will be learned and tweaks made and it will continue to be rolled out across the country. We would be hopeful that in respect of the example given by the Senator, a Connecting Ireland service would be available in that part of the country before too long that would meet the needs of the people who would want to use it.
I accept the point made by several members about the cost of public transport, particularly rail. Again, it is about trying to strike that balance where we get good value for money on behalf of the taxpayer. Every euro that is reduced in terms of fare income requires an additional euro to be paid by the taxpayer so it is about trying to strike that balance. We have a journey to go on that.
I commend Iarnród Éireann for the intercity service between Cork and Dublin, which is quite good. The commute time has reduced and the frequency has increased. My final comment concerns the active travel initiative relating to schools and the Safe Routes to School programme. I am a big advocate of this and I hope the Department of Transport with An Taisce will expand it. What are the plans for next year? Does Mr. Spratt see this committee having any role to play in assisting the Department in terms of this programme? As we move towards the decarbonisation of public transport and promoting sustainable mobility, how does Mr. Spratt see this committee playing a role with the Department in respect of this?
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
We have been given political direction. It is set out in the national development plan and before that, it is set out in Project Ireland 2040 so we have the political direction. We need political support across all parties. We will have to do our public engagement as well and will significantly ramp up our public engagement on the climate side. We appeal to this committee for support. Sacrifices must be made by everybody, particularly when it comes to us trying to incentivise and motivate people to get out of their internal combustion engine cars and use public transport. Of course, we will have to have the public transport services in place to make that modal shift happen. If I was to summarise how the committee can help us, it would be to provide political support for the tough sacrifices that need to be made to move from private vehicles to public transport and active travel.
I hope Mr. Spratt will come back to us on a separate date to discuss the national development plan, the very important projects involving connectivity, particularly between Cork and Limerick, and the aviation sector, which is important for regional and international connectivity.
As we discussed, this committee will do a body of work on the national development plan very shortly that will obviously involve Mr. Spratt, the Minister and the various bodies that will come before us. We will do that very quickly because it is very current.
I will talk about the theme begun by Senator Dooley, namely, electric cars. Everything is now predicated on getting reductions in carbon emissions. We are putting a significant amount into active transport. A figure of €360 million per year is a substantial amount. School transport costs approximately €220 million per annum while €360 million is going into active travel. The question is whether we are getting value for money. It is a serious amount of money. It is approximately €1.5 billion within the space of four years. It is serious money and it is new money. I am looking at it in the round. We have put all this money into active travel and it is very important.
Side by side with that, with the best will in the world, a certain proportion of the population will always want to use cars. That is just the way it is. It is human nature. We are not going to get everyone to switch because there are people living in rural areas and various other factors. The Irish like their cars. It is just a feature of this country. Is enough being done to get people to switch to electric cars more quickly? Like everyone else here, I am considering whether my next car will be an electric one. I would like it to be an electric car. We meet taxi drivers. If I am caught for time, I might take a taxi from Heuston Station. A lot of taxi drivers are switching to electric cars. The incentives are working. It is a business for them. It is their livelihood. I have gone through it with them. They have done the figures. When we are looking at sustainable travel, how much of a focus is there on electric cars in this document? If we got everyone to switch to electric cars in the morning, how much would we reduce carbon emissions by? This committee will do a body of work on it. Do electric cars form part of this document? It goes without saying that we all support what is happening but it is taxpayers' money. Is enough being done with regard to electric cars?
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
Is enough being done? No, we have more to do. We are establishing this office of low-emitting vehicles and will be putting resources into that. I have just set up an entirely new climate action division with a new assistant secretary who will probably be in place by the end of November, four principal officers, each of whom-----
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
It is not but we will ask people like that for guidance and advice from time to time. We are starting from not having much expertise in this at all. We need to ensure that, if everybody is driving EVs in urban areas, we do not have a situation at night where there is too much draw from the grid because of local issues. Other members mentioned charging infrastructure-----
There has been a definite shift in the public consciousness over the past year about moving into that space. People are talking about if they could afford an electric car in the morning and there was certainty about being able to plug in at home. It takes the myths away. Many people would then purchase electric cars. We are talking about active travel, including walking and cycling. That is great. With the best will in the world, not everyone will be on bikes, walking or on public transport. A certain percentage of the population will use cars, including carbon-emitting cars. Some €260 million a year is €1.5 billion in four years. It is a serious amount. I would not like the car to be seen as the troublesome relation. We need to get the troublesome relation to change its ways. That means going from fossil fuels to electric. How can we assist people in doing that?
The point that I am trying to make is that rather than being abstract, we now know that we must get to a certain stage. The public is now engaged. Joe Bloggs like me is now looking at the possibility of our next car being electric. How can we ensure people do it? How can we provide infrastructure, power points around the country and charging at home? It is working for the taxi drivers. Many are changing their vehicles to completely electric. We might come back to the Department on that. It could do with more attention. The Department is doing it but it could be more immediate attention. It is happening much quicker and public consciousness is moving into that space much quicker. They are always ahead of the politicians and many want to contribute to the environment but having it all be based on active travel and buses may not be practical for them. Rather than trying to have a binary situation, we need to have a target and say that we are going to meet or beat it. Does the new sustainable mobility plan involve electric cars?
Mr. Garret Doocey:
The sustainable mobility policy is about active travel and public transport. The overarching climate action plan will look at the entire transport sector, including EVs. We struggled with this question ourselves in the early days of this policy, deciding what it was focused on. It was decided that this is an active travel and public transport policy, which was done in the knowledge of the point that the Chairman rightly raises, that there will always be cars. We need to look at how to incentivise a shift in the car industry. That is in the climate action plan.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
The consultation has concluded so we are writing up the report of it. I am short on resources in the strategic research and analysis division. I ask the Chair to forgive the long answer. We hope to have NIFTI brought to Government towards the end of November or in early December and then published before the end of the year or in January.
It will go to Cabinet and then be published. I want EVs to be plugged into the process when assessing road projects. If just fossil fuels are assessed, it takes away from the point that we are trying to get to. My views on the M20 are well-known. For me, it is about connectivity. If there are climate change issues, we have to find a way to adopt policies that encourage people to go to electric cars. If our model is just about compact growth but we do not look at regional connectivity, there is an issue. This is a small country. If we were in a much larger country, Limerick, Galway and maybe Cork would be satellites of Dublin in geographic terms. This is a small country and, therefore, we have to have synergy between cities. We must have connectivity for that, including road, rail, bus, active travel and everything else. I hope that is taken on board in NIFTI. Mr. Spratt gets my point.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
Bear in mind that NIFTI is just a strategic assessment that we use to compare and contrast all proposed projects. It is not the final decision-making tool. The Minister will decide at the end of the day, based on consultation with Government, what projects, whether they are active travel projects, public transport projects or roads projects, do and do not go ahead.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
We will assess all projects. The first question we will ask ourselves is: does it meet one or more of these priorities that I mentioned? If it is the case that it meets at least one of those priorities, we then move on to compare and contrast that project with all other projects.
That is important.
The e-scooter legislation is an issue we get a lot of queries on. We will write to Mr. Spratt to see where it is at in terms of publication and when he expects the Minister will taken it to Second and Committee Stages. That will involve the Whips but it is only to see what the intentions of the Minister are. The issue of wattage - 250 kW on the scooters versus 500 kW or 600 kW, comes up. Has that come on your radar? Is that addressed in the legislation or is that done by way of regulation by the Minister?
That is the question. I thank Mr. Spratt.
In essence, with this mobility plan, delivery on the ground is through the local authority. Am I correct that is how the Department will deliver much of it? Would that be fair?
Mr. Garret Doocey:
There will be an awful lot on the NTA and there will be an awful lot in terms of support to those NTA-led actions which will be from the local authority. There will be some that will be local authority with support from other actors. Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, will also be in the mix as well. Obviously, we will own some of the actions as well.
What has been the Department's engagement to date - I suppose that is through NTA - in the spending of €360 million at local authority level? What has been the feedback from the local authority engagement?
Mr. Andrew Ebrill:
The primary delivery authorities for the active travel infrastructure, the walking and cycling, on the ground will be the local authorities. We deal with them generally through the NTA because it is the overseeing authority.
Perhaps I will answer one of the queries you had earlier. You are right that a lot of money is being spent. There will be approximately €360 million this year between greenways and more traditional walking and cycling infrastructure. To put that in context, approximately 1,200 walking and cycling projects are being delivered across the country through that money. The NTA is working to an overall plan of approximately 1,000 km of new walking and cycling infrastructure being delivered between now and 2025. Most of the money that we have is for that infrastructural roll-out but we also have money for some behavioural programmes as well to encourage people to use the infrastructure.
Mr. Andrew Ebrill:
It is both, but primarily through the NTA. The Chairman is correct. The local authorities and the NTA are recruiting. A letter went out from the Minister earlier this year to allow for and finance that. That is in train. It is probably fair to say that staffing has been one of the constraints.
It would be remiss of me not to mention school transport. It is a large element of our work, particularly in the months once the schools close and before the new school year starts. It involved expenditure of €220 million per annum pre-Covid. I will not refer to the period during Covid because the numbers were higher. That gave the context to me of the €360 million. It is a huge amount, looking to have it put to good use.
On school transport, if we get to safe schools, I would like to see money put in at that level enabling children to cycle to schools, looking at the way you can take cars off the school run. The distance for school transport is 4.8 km. If students are not that distance away, they will not get it. They may get on as a concession, but I will not complicate this. If I can encourage a child to cycle or walk to school that is the best of all but if the weather is very bad, in many cases they may not. There is a body of work to be done on getting children to cycle to school at a young age. We speak about spending money on young people in respect of their education. It should be the same with active travel. They are modes of transport and there is an interdepartmental body of work to be done with the Department of Transport and, I suspect, the Department of Education. Am I correct that Mr. Spratt has taken it on board to do that?
Gabhaim buíochas leo. I thank Mr. Spratt and his team who have come in. A number of these issues have been dealt with to some degree and I apologise for any repetition.
School transport needs to be dealt with. It is a farce every year in respect of who can access it. The Chairman mentioned students on concessionary tickets. A child is meant to get it. Initially, it was for the closest school or closest node of school once students are 4.8 km away. Then, this year the second closest school or node was introduced.
Every year there is a panic and some people do not think they are getting it. Then we all do whatever we do politically between ourselves and the person responsible. Most of them get it but some do not and they are the people one is then forcing into cars or whatever else. It defies logic as we try to get people onto public transport. It goes without saying a serious piece of work must be done, even to get us to that farcical point where we could avoid that nonsense we all engage in every summer of clientelistically trying to sort this. It is not only Teachtaí Dála but councillors. Everybody becomes involved.
On active travel, the NTA is basically the lead. The local authority is in most places the primary delivery outfit and there is obviously a piece of work that involves TII and whatever. I accept recruitment and everything is ongoing. Has an assessment been made of what the requirement is here with respect to moneys and resources? Local authorities have implemented some of these over the years, such as cycle lanes and everything. There have been some good projects and some bad projects. On some level it is welcome that the NTA is coming in with an overall strategy for this but again it is just about the assessment of what is required and how close to that point we are currently.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
I might get Mr. Ebrill to take that but the fact we have certainty around the funding for the future at €360 million per year means the local authorities know they must deliver and deliver big time but they also have certainty for at least four years. That allows them to go out to the market to try to recruit people and give some certainty around the length of the contracts or the length of time people will be employed. I am not sure if there is more to say on the more granular detail. Mr. Ebrill may know.
Mr. Andrew Ebrill:
To elaborate a little on what Mr. Spratt said, the NTA will come to us on a regular basis and propose an overall budget envelope and a suite of projects it thinks will best deliver for the modal shift. For example, for this year, the allocation has fallen with roughly €240 million being spent in the five cities around the country and then €73 million on walking and cycling outside cities in more rural areas, so we take account of that and as part of the budgetary process we approve that. I should say those figures are separate to greenways, which are also being developed. We have a programme of work at the moment to look to integrate the greenways, which are more tourist-oriented although not entirely, with more local active travel infrastructure as part of a coherent network. That is a piece of work the agencies are working on.
We had the whole discussion around the NDP. I do not want to misquote the Minister, but the general notion he sold was a Darwinian system of who could get through planning, in relation to what gets sorted. We obviously have a problem in planning. There is a planning review at this point in time. The Department is eventually going to come up with a strategic assessment regarding NIFTI, but I am looking for Mr. Spratt's current view of the planning process when we are talking about major infrastructural projects and all the rest, and as I said, especially around the discussion of the NDP. I am not going to get into the ins and outs of the politics of it.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
It is not necessarily the way the Deputy described it but the Minister is keen there would be some competitive tension between the local authorities in order to encourage them to get their ducks in a row, get their works done and get their planning and any other needed permissions sorted in order that they would get their projects rolled out. There is that incentivisation or encouragement of local authorities to get going with their pieces of work. The Attorney General is quite keen that this analysis of the planning system, which would be fairly focused, fairly short and fairly sharp would be done with a view to, as I said, trying to identify where improvements can be made without in any way undermining people's rights to be heard and to have their concerns-----
All right. On the climate action division, Mr. Spratt said, in fairness, that there is a learning process and the officials will be experts at the end of this rather than at the beginning. Much has been learned in the recent period but what will the remit of this be? The secondary question relates to Mr. Spratt saying he put in asks to Government and that he was reasonably but not fully happy. That is part of negotiations and maybe sometimes one asks for more than one needs. What will the Department's future asks be? Mr. Spratt might even be willing to tell me what he asked for but did not actually get.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
As I think I mentioned, it is a newly established division. It will be headed by an assistant secretary. We have four principal officers in it. We have also reassigned our permanent representative in Brussels, that is, our Department of Transport principal officer over there, under that assistant secretary area.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
No, he is newly appointed to Brussels but instead of reporting directly to me he is reporting into that assistant secretary area. That is because the shift in Brussels is now very firmly to Fit for 55, whereby we would reduce our carbon emissions by 55% by 2030. Thus there is a huge climate agenda in Brussels at the moment. Those four principal officers and that fifth person based in Brussels will be working to that assistant secretary. The Department, and the Department on behalf of the agencies, would have looked for additional numbers of people. I am not into the detail on it but we were happy with what we got. I think we got a little more than half of what we looked for in terms of the number of people but given it is going to take us a bit of time to build up that team, we are happy with that.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
One of the principal officers is on the whole 2030 and 2050 ambition. If one thinks about it we must do certain things to get to our 2030 ambition. Those things are around electric vehicles, biofuels and demand management. We must also do certain things to get to our 2050 ambition. Bear in mind that by 2050 we must be carbon neutral. That is going to require us to do lots of things in the cities and lots of things in Dublin but also ensuring we get the connecting Ireland public service obligation-funded services rolled out as quickly as possible in order to reduce carbon emissions.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
Yes. That principal officer is looking after that. We also have a principal officer looking after air quality and adaptation and all the things in terms of the transport and how that becomes climate resilient. We have one who will be very focused on public engagement. We see the public engagement piece as being so important. The whole area of behavioural science is key as we are going to have to use new ways of encouraging people to do things. That officer will be entirely focused on that. We have our fourth person in Brussels. I am trying to think of our fifth person. We have Caoimhín, Andrea, Aoife, Ronan and then whoever am I missing.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
Climate action. Our fifth principal officer is Eddie, who handles capital and Brussels co-ordination and also EU and international affairs. Again, this is because the climate issue is so central to EU and international affairs.
He also looks after Brexit, because there is a such a crossover in terms of supply chains in transport.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
The instructions we have been given to deliver are set out in the national planning framework - Project Ireland 2040 - the national development plan, which has just been revised, the climate action plan, which is about to be published, the sustainable mobility policy, which we have been working on with the OECD-----
If we take the specifics of electric vehicles, there are two issues at the moment. If we were able to deliver 960,000 by means of whatever set-up in the morning, we would not have the infrastructure to deal with them. We are in the middle of an energy crisis and there are difficulties with the grid. One can put whatever terminology one wants on it. I imagine that the job of the division will be to constantly review. The best-case scenario is that it deals with all the stakeholders to ensure that we deliver.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
That is right. Everything he has said is bang on. Needless to say, there will also be quite a bit of involvement with all the other divisions within the Department and also with the agencies. Research and modelling will be important as well. The NTA has its role, but it is also very good when it comes to modelling, particularly in the context of users. It looks at reducing travel demand and modal switch. Transport Infrastructure Ireland does a lot of modelling work, particularly in respect of vehicles, vehicle speed, vehicle efficiency, induced demand and embedded greenhouse emissions as well. The SEAI does a lot of modelling on fuel, fuel composition and biofuel blends. There are a number of specialists in UCC, and McKinsey also has great specialist expertise. Part of the role of one of the principal officers on the engagement side is to understand everything that all of the expert modelling suggests that we should do.
That is sound. I thank Mr. Spratt for the comprehensive answer. The only other point is to follow up on what the Chairman said about the work relating to e-scooters. That needs to happen. I am sure many of the Deputies here are like me in that they are starting to get people coming to them with complaints. More people are using e-scooters. It is good to see. I probably should not say it, but my own wee lad bought one. Luckily enough, there was a problem with the battery and he has not been out lately. As a result, I do not have to worry about him when I see the complaints going in about young fellows on e-scooters. We need to get the framework up and running as soon as possible and a system that works.
The Department has been very proactive. Someone has been in contact with the clerk to say that Second Stage of the Bill is expected to come before the Dáil in the first week in November. We will probably try to schedule it sometime in mid to late November. The witnesses must provide feedback to us on when it is ready in order that we can get Second Stage under way because it is very important legislation. Perhaps once the legislation is published Mr. Spratt would provide us with a briefing note and we might be able to arrange a briefing session for members on where the Bill stands. I have no doubt he will be able to accommodate us in that regard.
That is the thing. Providers are talking about solutions that will add to the active travel operations in towns and cities. It is a case of getting ahead of the game. We must deal with the people who are already starting to complain. It is very hard to keep everybody happy.
The general view is that there is anticipation that it will be in place before the end of the year. In order for that to happen, the various components must be put in place, one of those being the Committee Stage debate. I presume the Bill will go to the Dáil before it goes to the Seanad. That appears to be the way now. We will work with the Department to progress the Bill as quickly as possible. Does Deputy Ó Murchú have any further comments?
I do not know if Mr. Spratt would necessarily have information relating to taxi drivers and what buy-in there is for electric vehicles. A significant number have switched. I have heard complaints from others about the way the process is set up. People will always look for improved circumstances and situations to suit themselves. I am interested in seeing where the lie of the land is. In Dublin, a greater element of infrastructure is required to support electric vehicles and there is a logic in helping people to get to that level. We all accept that taxi drivers played a huge part in the public transport infrastructure in the recent period.
No, I am happy enough. We might come back to a discussion on the taxi industry and how we can engage with it on the sustainable mobility policy. To be fair, some taxi drivers feel there is a disconnect. I hope Mr. Spratt could reach out to the taxi industry to feel sure it is part of the conversation and the modal shift in that regard. I thank him for being here today.
I thank the witnesses. I wish to make a few points. I remember being on holidays in Hungary some years ago and you could bring your bike into train carriages. There were seats at either end of the carriage, and you could hang your bike up on a rack in the middle, in the same way as a coat, but it was for bikes. I am not sure such a facility is on Irish trains at all. There seems to be limited capacity for bikes. People must be able to use public transport, cycle to the station and put the bike on the train without necessarily having to pay a fee for it, and be able to get off the other end and use the bike. I am not sure we are anywhere near being able to provide that.
To come back to what we were discussing previously about the Luas, what timeline, if any, is there for the potential for the Luas and MetroLink to Cherrywood in terms of visibility? I would like to hear a little bit more about how fast BusConnects will roll out. I would also like to hear the Department’s view on public consultation versus engagement.
The public sometimes feels that some consultation is not very well listened to, while at other times, there is more meaningful engagement. We need to try to bring people with us. I refer to projects such as those in Strand Road and Deansgrange. There are many other examples and there will be more. BusConnects was quite controversial in advance of the latest local elections. I am absolutely not against it. I have been around long enough to recall the Stillorgan quality bus corridor, which I mentioned earlier. Owen Keegan, who has been quite topical in recent days, was a director of traffic in the city in the late 1990s when no one was in favour of the bus corridor yet nobody would give it up now. There are quite a number of such interventions where people instinctively were not in favour of change, but when it happened they would not go back to the old regime. I was a member of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in 2008 when a councillor said we should rip up all the cycling lanes because they were taking up valuable space that could be used by cars, but nobody would say that now. That is not so long ago.
I would like to hear from the Department the status of both the green line upgrade and BusConnects in terms of timelines. I wish it all the best with everything it is doing. As for green schools, there are many schools that were not included in that survey and that have never been targeted to participate in the green school project. There is great potential, particularly in urban areas, for a modal shift away from cars to bikes and, to a certain extent, walking. When I was going to school, an awful lot of people cycled but a tiny percentage in comparison do that now. That is probably because the roads are full of huge cars that people are terrified of, but if we could get more bikes on the road, many cars would be taken off the road and replaced with bikes and possibly e-scooters.
Mr. Kenneth Spratt:
I will hand over to Mr. Doocey to comment on MetroLink, the Luas for Cherrywood, BusConnects and their associated timelines. Public consultation and engagement will be important for us indefinitely but we need to make great progress on it over the next five years in particular. That is why one of our key people on the climate action side will be focused entirely on genuine public consultation, seeking to understand what makes people tick when it comes to shifting modes. There will be engagement in order that people will understand that while sacrifices will have to be made by everybody, they should only be asked to make sacrifices they are capable of carrying. People who have more to give will make greater sacrifices, while those who do not have much to give will not be asked to give more than they should. That is why a principal officer is looking at that and will draw on the latest research, evidence and modelling in respect of behavioural science and the nudge factor.
Mr. Doocey might outline the scheduling of the projects.
Mr. Garret Doocey:
To follow on from what Mr. Spratt said about the public consultation, the consultation process in regard to BusConnects, while lengthy, demonstrated a response to queries and issues raised in local communities throughout Dublin. Those lessons will be applied as BusConnects is rolled out in Cork and the other cities. It was a positive example of a bilateral engagement between an authority and local communities throughout the city.
As for where BusConnects and its roll-out sit within the Department, our core focus is on completing the review of the preliminary business case, which the Minister will bring to the Government. It is at decision gate 1 in the public spending code and its approval will allow the programme to enter into the planning system. At a project or programme level, the NTA is finalising the documentation in order that it will be good to go once the approval from the Government comes through. That will then enter the planning system and, once that concludes, there will be a schedule of delivery. Not all 16 bus corridors will be introduced at the same time because that would disrupt the city too much. Instead, there will be a schedule for the programme's roll-out. The priority on our end is to review the business case, get Government approval and complete the planning and documentation at a project level in order to be ready to enter the planning system.
The Senator spoke about his experiences with trains on the Continent. There are different approaches on the Continent in respect of the use or carriage of bikes on public transport. In the Netherlands, for example, which we all recognise as a country with a high uptake of cycling, there is a different approach whereby people cycle to the station do not take their bike onto the train and then pick up another bike at the other end. There are different approaches to how to maximise that last-mile, first-mile mix. I acknowledge that Hungary, which the Senator mentioned, and Denmark have different approaches as well. There will be increased bike-carrying capacity on the new DART fleet, for example, although it is probably unfair to call it simply the DART fleet given that it will apply to the commuter fleet in general. The battery electrics and full electrics, that is, those new units that will be purchased and delivered in the coming years, will have increased bike-carrying capacity as well.
As to the green line upgrade, I refer to my earlier comments on the increase in capacity that has been delivered this year. The medium-term aspect is to increase further the Luas capacity from the south side of Dublin city into St. Stephen's Green. That will require some works, although they are not significant. On the longer term ambition of an upgrade and the associated timings, thoughts and considerations will be set out in the greater Dublin area, GDA, transport strategy, which will be published for review before the end of the year. It will have a suite of background documentation relating to the analysis required by the NTA under statute and the consultation process that will take place. It will provide an holistic view of what is needed throughout that part of the city for the next 20 years.
Mr. Garret Doocey:
No, we will not be talking 32 years. Packages of corridors will be brought forward. That level of detail is being considered by the NTA with a view to minimising the disruption of the city. We do not want an entire quadrant of the city to be jammed up because we are building four corridors at once. Those aspects are being considered by the NTA and will be refined as the programme comes through the planning system.
When might the first corridor be complete and when is it hoped they will all have been delivered by? I am not trying to tie down the Department to something I will post on social media in ten years' time. I am just trying to determine when, roughly speaking, people might be able to use the first corridor and when it is hoped to have the project completed.
Finally, how proactive is the Department in regard to the green schools programme? I acknowledge it seeks interest from schools but does it ask each school about its travel practices? Does it ask schools whether their travel comprises, say, 80%, 90% or 20% by car? What level of resources does the Department have to help bring schools with it to reduce the number of cars on the road and to increase other, more sustainable forms of transport? I refer in particular to urban areas throughout the country.
I might make a comment before Mr. Spratt responds. The Department ran a successful programme with schools to allow them to apply to be designated as safe schools with surrounding infrastructure. Many schools were disappointed they were not selected for the pilot programme. This follows on from the Senator's question. Would the Department consider rolling out this programme for all schools so it will be available to all that want it? Many schools in Limerick applied and were very disappointed they were not chosen. They were very enthusiastic about the programme. The same is true of schools in Tipperary. Is the Department considering introducing a policy whereby it will be open to any schools that apply? By definition, the schools that do not apply will stick out and that will encourage take-up.
Would the Department consider rolling out another round such that the programme would be extended to the school that applied but that was not accepted? Obviously, there is a requirement for some form of due diligence in that regard. Is the programme paid for out of the €260 million budget?
Mr. Andrew Ebrill:
For the first round, 170 were selected. This speaks to the point made by the Chairman. More than 900 schools applied. We are focusing on 170 to start with and will then move on to the later applicants, probably next year and beyond. It is purely a question of resources, not just financial but also staffing.
Mr. Andrew Ebrill:
A significant number of people in local authorities are working on the ground to deliver walking and cycling infrastructure generally. In addition, there are specific staff in the NTA and seven or eight staff in An Taisce. This is in the context of the overall roll-out of walking and cycling infrastructure. I should probably point out that although we have the specific safe routes to schools programme, in general, and as members are aware, active travel infrastructure is being delivered.
What I am saying is that €260 million is a significant amount. If 900 schools applied but only 170 of them were successful, that is less than 20%. The bones of 730 schools that were not picked. This is about starting with young people. It ticks a significant number of boxes - it facilitates active travel and in many cases it will improve safety around schools. That is the case for certain schools of which I am aware. This is a win-win initiative. It is about getting significant buy-in from schools, parents and, in particular, students, as well as the general public. That should be prioritised. Are the Department and the Minister considering the funding of any school that applies to the programme and meets certain criteria? Obviously, there would be a need for some form of due diligence.
The point the Chairman and I are making is that there is significant untapped potential and we need to prioritise that, get people hooked and interested because if you get used to cycling at a young age, you will continue to do it. If you have never done it, it is more difficult to get back into it when one is used to driving rather than cycling all the time. I say that as a person who did not cycle for 20 years but who got back into it.
I endorse the remarks made by the Chairman and Senator Horkan. I asked about this earlier. This is probably one of the most important issues under discussion today. The Chairman and Senator Horkan are right. We need to elaborate on and develop this part of the debate further in future meetings.
Mr. Andrew Ebrill:
No. More than 900 schools applied. They are a mix of primary and post-primary schools. This is part of a longer-term roll-out programme. It involves 170 schools initially, and that is based on the human resources that are available, as much as financial resources. As has been alluded to, €360 million per year is envisaged for the coming years for active travel, so this programme will continue in that context.
Mr. Andrew Ebrill:
Up to €15 million has been allocated this year for safe routes to school within the overall envelope of €360 million. All those that have applied are in the system and will be processed. Those schools will not have to reapply. We have focused on the first 170 purely due to practical considerations. Those are the pieces of infrastructure that can be rolled out most quickly. An Taisce, the NTA and the local authorities will move on. We now have an allocation of €360 million for capital that was provided in the budget.
That allocation of €15 million is less than 5% of the overall budget. The point I am trying to make is a very simple one. It is about how money is spent. The benefits from this initiative are enormous for every town, village, rural area and urban area. Of the 170 schools, what is the breakdown between primary and secondary schools?
The information is in the report. One of the briefing documents we were sent refers to 130 or 131 secondary schools and 787 primary schools. However, that figure of 130 or 131 is out of 700 secondary schools. This means that fewer than 20% of secondary schools applied and only 20% of those applications were successful. A very small number of schools are being tapped at secondary level. The rate may be better at primary school level.
I ask Mr. Ebrill to send the committee a briefing paper in respect of the status of the project and what is being proposed. Collectively, the committee believes this to be a very beneficial project, as do our guests, I have no doubt. The question is whether we can give it more emphasis in terms of process and resources. Members will always judge a scheme based on the queries brought to them in their constituency. Queries on this programme came to us in abundance from schools that first contacted us to state that they had applied and, second, in the context of the application being successful or unsuccessful. Obviously, we link in with the local authorities that will be doing the work on the ground. Am I correct in that regard?
Mr. Andrew Ebrill:
You are. These are the schemes that are being applied for by the schools themselves. There are many other schemes within the €360 million budget that are being rolled out by local authorities. For example, the scheme proposed for Deansgrange would help the schools in the area but they are not in the programme. That is an important point.
I ask Mr. Ebrill to provide a briefing paper to the committee. We will come back on that. I thank Mr. Spratt, Mr. Doocey, Mr. Mullaney and Mr. Ebrill for attending and engaging with the committee. I look forward to further engagement with them. I ask them to provide a further update, if they have one, on the e-scooter legislation that is coming through, as well as a briefing document on e-scooters in order that we will be up to speed when the issue comes before us at the committee and in the Dáil. I also ask Mr. Ebrill to send us a briefing paper on the safe routes to schools programme. We will adjourn. The next meeting of the joint committee will be a private meeting at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, 20 October 2021.