Wednesday, 1 February 2006
I propose to take Questions Nos. 107 and 108 together.
I am committed to the further expansion of bus services both in Dublin and nationally. In this context, Transport 21 provides for significant Exchequer investment in expanding bus services in the greater Dublin area and in other urban and rural areas outside Dublin. As regards the bus market in Dublin, as I have indicated to this House previously, I requested Dublin Bus to carry out a network review to examine the impact of recent investment in rail infrastructure and demographic changes and if the existing bus fleet was being utilised to maximum effect. The review is also a necessary first step in the new investment programme set out in Transport 21. I understand the company is currently finalising the reviewand I expect to receive the completed report shortly.
In the meantime, Dublin Bus has recently submitted an application for funding to me for additional fleet requirements, which has due regard to the emerging findings of the network review. I will make a decision on the number of buses to be provided in 2006 when my Department's assessment of the application has been completed. I understand Bus Éireann is also finalising proposals for the expansion of its fleet and an application will be submitted to the Department shortly.
I appointed Professor Margaret O'Mahony of Trinity College Dublin, as chairperson of the Dublin Transport Authority establishment team, which will make recommendations to me regarding the structure, remit and responsibilities for the new authority. I will make my decision on the future regulation of the bus market throughout the country after Professor O'Mahony's team has reported on the structure, remit and responsibilities of the Dublin Transport Authority and the Government has made its decisions in this regard.
I take it the Minister does not have a bus policy and is just thinking about one. I know Dublin Bus is carrying out a review. A review was undertaken in 2000, the Scott Wilson report, which recommended that by 2006, this year, Dublin Bus would need around 1,500 buses. Of course that was a gross under-estimation of requirements, but nevertheless it has nothing like that, with just over 1,000 buses today. That report was ignored. Even the 180 buses promised under the national development plan was ignored. Prior to that the Government had announced policy based on the Bacon report on the liberalisation of the bus market in Dublin. That was accepted as Government policy. Another report was commissioned at great expense to show how it might be done. That was accepted by Government and subsequently ignored. In view of the latest report from the Competition Authority recommending the liberalisation of the bus market in order to get rid of the inefficiencies that are endemic in the current system, which is not serving the public well, does the Minister intend to ignore this report as well or will he liberalise the bus market as announced several times as Government policy?
I am not prepared to give to any agency under my aegis resources belonging to taxpayers without a basis and proper business plan for doing so. That is a reasonable position. Dublin Bus was made aware of this, as was Bus Éireann. They accepted the challenge. They accept that they have a responsibility to make a business case to me based on the network review they are carrying out. They say this is almost finished and expect to submit it to me shortly. On 20 January, some days ago, my Department received an application from Dublin Bus for a substantial enhancement of its fleet in Dublin. It is based on projections in advance of its completion of the network review. We are looking at that application in anticipation of the network review.
The second point of the Deputy's question is about my view, which I have stated to Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, unions and management. I want market opening in Dublin and around the country. I have no doubt about that. That is what I want to achieve. It is for the benefit of the customer and the commuter and we can have greatly enhanced capacity in terms of the delivery of the bus model as a transport mechanism both for Dublin and around the country. That must be part of the future.
It is interesting the Minister says, as regards buses, that he wants market opening. The public wants buses and it does not care who owns or operates them. If the Minister goes to Westmoreland Street this evening between 5 o'clock and 7 o'clock he will see hundreds of people being turned away from buses because they are full. That is happening on a daily basis. It is being repeated in the morning all over the city of Dublin.
The Minister is changing the goalposts. He promised under the national development plan to provide a certain number of buses to Dublin Bus. He still owes them 180 buses before the end of this year, as the figures show. He has welched on that undertaking. The Government was supposed to provide funding for those extra buses and has failed to do that. The Minister has 11 months left to honour that commitment, if he intends to do so. Is the Minister aware that three new quality bus corridors have been created by Dublin Bus in the last year on which there are no buses? The road space has been provided, the white lines have been painted and the signs are up but there are no buses because the Minister continues to stall on this issue. He has failed to provide the additional buses that were promised.
It is time to end the excuses. People are sick and tired of the fact that they cannot travel to work or move around the city because there are not enough buses to do so. When will the Minister deal with the immediate situation? It is all very well to have grand plans for the next 15 years but we need solutions now to Dublin's traffic gridlock. In the short term and for the foreseeable future, that solution must be bus-based. When will the Minister provide the buses?
——so long as they are available. I have urged both Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann to send me the plans so I can release the buses. It would be irresponsible of me, or any Minister, simply to waste taxpayers' money on no basis. The cost of the application that has arrived from Dublin Bus is €120 million. The Labour Party Members speak every day about value for money in expenditure on health and education. Is it the Labour Party position on transport that there should be no value for money, that the buses should simply be provided and that we should have no business plans, no demonstrable use for the buses, no way of showing how they will be paid for and no way of considering what the subvention is for the buses?
If Fine Gael and the Labour Party want value for money in every aspect of what the Government does, I agree with them. Do not, therefore, suggest in the House that I, as Minister for Transport, with no basis of a network review and without a business case should willy-nilly spend €120 million of taxpayers' money immediately. The Members are contradicting themselves and it is time it stopped. They have been getting away with it——
The Minister knows as well as I do that this is nonsense; it is a time-wasting exercise. He has been in Government for nine years and there has been plenty of time to prepare any plans or value for money assessment that is required. Since 1998 it has been Government policy to liberalise the bus market——
The Minister cannot count either. In 1998, the Government decided to liberalise the bus market. It is now 2006 and the Government has been in power consistently over that period. When will the bus market be liberalised? There are thousands of new communities consisting of newly married couples and new house owners. These communities have no buses; they are utterly bereft of any form of public transport. The first thing the people must do is buy a car and then the Minister wonders why there is congestion and why an outer ring road must be built. The reason is that these communities are bereft of services. The Minister has already spent €117 million building bus lanes. Another €40 million is to be spent this year but there are no buses, and no prospect of buses, to travel on them. When will the Minister liberalise the market?
I am not sure in what part of the country the Fine Gael Party or the Labour Party live but since 1998 the liberalisation in the bus market in this country has been phenomenal. The number of private operators operating in the bus market has gone through the roof in that short period. Ask the customers. Private operators are running services from practically every part of Ireland today and from places where there was no service. They have brought tremendous competition to the market, lowered prices on the routes and forced the State bus companies to change their ways.
They have expanded dramatically. The number of services available has had a huge impact in liberalising the market. An issue remains and that is the on-street delivery of bus services in Dublin, on which both Fine Gael and the Labour Party have diametrically opposed views. One party wants the market liberalised to allow private operators onto the bus market in Dublin——
The Minister is using it as a cover to distract attention from the fact that he has not delivered the 180 buses which were promised to Dublin Bus under the national development plan. They are supposed to be in place at the end of this year. Furthermore, despite the huge demand for bus services throughout this city, the Minister has failed to provide a single extra bus for the Dublin Bus fleet since 2001.
The Minister should not be disingenuous. There is a difference between a new bus and a replacement bus. There has been no net increase in capacity or in the number of buses in Dublin Bus since 2001. That is entirely down to the Minister. The reason people are squashed on buses or not allowed onto them and have no option but to take their car into the city centre is that the Minister has failed to provide the adequate number of buses that were promised. He has reneged on that promise.