Tuesday, 2 November 2004
Heavy Goods Vehicles.
Supercubes and other similar height vehicles can, in comparison to lower vehicles, present additional challenges, particularly with regard to road safety, rail safety and environmental damage. However, they differ essentially from road haulage vehicles in general only by reason of their greater than usual height. This difference gives rise to concerns that the use of such vehicles, combined with certain height constraints such as those imposed by bridges, tunnels, street lighting etc. on certain routes, poses inherent safety risks. As a consequence, the research to date is mainly concerned with the nature and extent of that risk by establishing the current number of supercubes in use and likely future penetration of such vehicles into the overall haulage fleet.
Two vehicle height surveys of HGVs using Dublin Port have been carried out by the Dublin Port Company and the National Institute of Transport Logistics, respectively. The results of both surveys indicate that only a limited number of trucks, between 0.6% and 1.7%, are over 4.65 metres in height. I will arrange to provide a copy of the report of each survey for the Deputy.
As a result of its geographical base, this research may not be definitive in terms of national use of high vehicles. Nevertheless, it provides a good basis on which to extrapolate the national usage by reference to the share of national imports and exports handled through Dublin Port. In this regard, it is the view of both Dublin City Council and the National Roads Authority that most of the vehicles using Dublin Port will be no higher than 4.65 metres. On that basis, the overall proportion of the national road haulage fleet accounted for by supercubes is unlikely to be substantial.
The collection of statistics on the transport of goods in, into and out of Ireland is done on a weight basis rather than a volume basis and records of vehicle dimensions such as height are not collected. I understand that researchers and policy-makers face similar constraints with research on vehicle characteristics in other jurisdictions. I have met a number of road hauliers who have provided statistics which differ greatly from those to which I referred.
In a reply to a number of parliamentary questions today on the matter of a vehicle height limit, I am committed to early public consultation on the subject with a view to bringing forward measures to deal with the risks involved in using supercubes and vehicles of similar height. To this end, a consultation paper is being prepared by my Department which will deal with a range of issues, including road and rail safety, business competitiveness, environmental considerations, implications for infrastructure, alternatives to a specific height limit and legal options for dealing with a specific height limit.
I thank the Minister of State for his detailed response. I gather from it that very little research has been carried out in respect of these vehicles because they are new to the market. How many supercubes or super trucks are in operation in Ireland? As a result of the debate on the Dublin Port tunnel etc., concerns have arisen. Do these vehicles represent the way forward? Is the Minister of State aware of recent media reports regarding a ban on super trucks and so on? He referred to the fact that a review is taking place. Is there a timescale for that review? There will be a collective groan when people hear that another report is on the way.
The Irish Road Haulage Association argues that there is no significant difference between the weight of supercubes and other trucks. I am aware that these vehicles are more prevalent on the Continent and in Britain. A British professor who carried out a study on these vehicles referred to the positive effect of their use on the environment and stated that it would lead to a reduction in the number of trucks on the roads. Statistics show that the State's haulage business grew by 220% in the past ten years, with an increase in vehicles from 30,669 in 1993 to more than 81,000 in 2003. Does the Minister of State or the Department have a view as regards the way forward? Will there be more trucks? Will it be the case that larger will be better? The current position is unsustainable. I have a view as regards the use of rail transport but that is a matter for another day.
Deputy Crowe posed a huge number of questions and, in view of the time constraints, I will not be able to answer all of them. He asked about the number of trucks currently operational in the haulage fleet. I draw his attention to the surveys carried out by the Dublin Port Company and the National Institute of Transport Logistics, one of which relates to the period from October 2002 to July 2003 and the other to May 2003. I concur with his view that there have been major developments in the area of transport. Supercubes are relatively new and we do not have statistics available as regards the actual number in the fleet.
We can address the issue of supercubes. On how we would go about doing so, all stakeholders would be asked to place their chips on the table to see if consensus can be reached as regards the best height. In that context, matters such as road and rail safety and the various issues relating to infrastructure to which I referred would have to be taken into account.
On whether there are matters other than height restriction to which consideration could be given, as a person who thinks outside the box, I believe there are. In the coming weeks, the Department and I, working with the stakeholders, will be in a position to commence consultations on reaching consensus and a conclusion that will be satisfactory to all concerned.