Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Promoting Cycling: Motion [Private Members]
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. Sinn Féin is very much in favour of the promotion of all sustainable forms of transport, in particular public transport and cycling. A wider view needs to be taken and all planning initiatives must prioritise public transport and cycling, along with the reduction of private car usage in our cities. These go hand in hand. The best way to reduce car use is to ensure public transport is reliable, frequent and affordable. There is a long way to go in this regard, particularly in rural areas. While many parts of Dublin are well served, other areas could do with some improvements. Rural public transport services vary with some areas having reasonable services while others are poorly served.
Some areas have no service at all. In our alternative budget for 2019, Sinn Féin pledged to increase spending on CIÉ companies by a quarter, or more than €70 million, with most of this funding targeted at rural bus services. Removing cars from roads is a no-brainer but, unfortunately, rather than increasing services by investing in CIÉ companies, the Government is instead privatising Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus slowly but surely. A second tranche of Bus Éireann routes is due to be put out to tender in the near future despite the fact that the Government has no idea if the previous round of privatisation has been successful.
Cycling is another area that needs an increase in investment. Greenways and cycleways must be developed and the infrastructure in our cities must be altered to ensure our roads are cyclist-friendly. The number of people cycling has increased dramatically in recent years in our cities and we must ensure cyclists can travel safely. We must work towards ensuring that cycling infrastructure provides for safe journeys for cyclists. Sharing lanes with buses and other vehicles is simply not safe and this acts as a barrier to those who would like to cycle but who feel it is simply too dangerous in our cities.
I support much of what is called for in this motion, including dedicated cycling lanes and improved infrastructure. We are all in agreement on that. It is a bit rich for Fianna Fáil to put down this evening's motion as last week it announced it would happily prop up the Government for another year. The party did not revise its requests of the Government or raise any objection to more than 10,000 people being homeless or the crisis in our health service. Fianna Fáil did not ask for an increase in funding for cycling infrastructure either. It supported the last budget, which saw funding from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport increase by only €20 million; current funding increased by €50 million, with €35 million of this going to tourism to take the bad look off the VAT rate increase in the sector. It seems only €9 million of the funding will be available for transport overall. The allocation of capital funding for the Department was decreased by €30 million, and Fianna Fáil gave this allocation a thumbs-up two months ago by facilitating the passing of the budget. It provided next to nothing for transport. I urge Fianna Fáil to use its position to hold the Government to account instead of sitting on the fence.
I agree with some of the matters raised in the amendment put down by the Green Party, especially the Government's failure to implement such Government policies as Smarter Travel: A Sustainable Transport Future and the national cycling policy framework. The Minister has been a bitter disappointment when it comes to transport infrastructure and as a consequence, the general public has been sorely let down by his inaction. It does not help that we have a history of poor planning and short-sightedness when it comes to our infrastructure. We also lost a decade of investment during the recession. The Government must prioritise sustainable methods of transport; we have the plans and the know-how but we just need the political will to secure funding and drive this project.
This will not be easy and some may have to give a little in order for our cities to gain a lot. Dublin is 1,000 years old and we all know that it and other cities in Ireland present difficulties when it comes to widening roads or building new lanes and tracks. We must prioritise cycling and public transport. We must shift the mindset from accommodating cars to prioritising sustainable transport. I support the motion but it must be pointed out that as a motion, it is really only a statement with no legal standing whatever. It is important that interest groups understand that. It is positive that almost all parties appear to be on the same page on the matter. I hope the Minister will focus more of his energies on sustainable transport, including cycling, in the coming year.