Thursday, 28 September 2006
Question 2: To ask the Minister for Transport if it is still Government policy to encourage people to switch from private to public transport; if that is the case, the reason for the delay in providing the additional 200 buses Dublin Bus requires to meet current demand; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30289/06]
Question 5: To ask the Minister for Transport his plans for regulation of the Dublin bus market; the arrangements he will put in place to allow for a new bus regulator to review or change existing bus routes; the authority the regulator will have to set service levels on such routes; and the means the regulator will have to ensure such service levels are reached. [30290/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1, 2 and 5 together.
The Government yesterday made a number of significant decisions that will provide a solid basis for expanded and improved bus services throughout the country over the coming years, while ensuring better value for money for both passengers and taxpayers.
In the case of the greater Dublin area, there is a requirement for an expansion of the number of buses providing scheduled services. This will require an increase in the total number of buses to approximately 1,800, under Transport 21, with a requirement for at least 200 extra buses over the next two years. The Government has decided to meet this initial requirement by providing up to €30 million immediately to enable Dublin Bus to buy 100 additional buses for delivery over the period 2006-07 and by mandating the proposed Dublin Transport Authority, DTA, to procure the additional 100 buses from the private sector to provide services on new routes.
The 100 buses procured from the private sector will form part of an initiative to facilitate the entry of new, private operators by awarding franchises to operate routes accounting for 15% exclusively to such operators by way of competitive tendering. Following this period, all new routes will be subject to a competitive tendering process open to all operators. The precise arrangements will be approved by Government on the basis of proposals from the DTA. This approach will encourage new investment and innovation in the Dublin bus passenger market.
In the interests of stability and integration of the bus network, the legislation establishing the DTA will allow the DTA to enter into a direct contract with Dublin Bus, in accordance with EU law, on the basis of its continuing to operate without a diminution in the size of its current bus fleet. The DTA will also enter into contracts with other operators in the Dublin market. All subvention payments, both to Dublin Bus and to new operators, will be made on an objective, transparent and even-handed basis to maximise value for public money.
The integrated nature of the Dublin bus market will be underpinned through the DTA having responsibility for traffic management strategy, which will prioritise public transport, and for integrated ticketing, fares and information systems. The DTA will also be empowered to organise the allocation of routes to operators in such a way as to maximise the prospect of efficient operation and the coherent development of the bus network. It will also be responsible for monitoring the quality and cost of services by all operators and ensuring value for money on all routes.
The Government has also decided to invest up to €50 million in Bus Éireann for the delivery of up to 160 buses in the period commencing in 2007 for non-commercial services outside of Dublin.
As part of the Government decision, new legislation will be brought forward to replace the Road Transport Act 1932 by a modern regulatory and licensing regime in line with commitments in the programme for Government. This will be designed in a manner consistent with EU law on public service obligations and State aids and in such a way as to create new opportunities and a level playing field for private operator involvement in the bus market.
The combination of immediate investment in new bus capacity and structural reform to introduce competition and enhance incentives for efficiency represents a balanced strategy to benefit bus passengers and taxpayers alike. It follows extensive consultation with interested parties and a study of mechanisms used internationally to achieve efficiency and effectiveness in bus markets. The Government's strategy will deliver immediate benefits and secure steady and continuing progress into the future.
The demand for bus services is set to grow substantially over the coming years. Ongoing economic, population and employment growth, the growth of urban areas and the significant role of bus-based public transport in a sustainable transport system will all drive growth in the bus market.
The Government's transport investment programme, Transport 21, has already recognised the critical role that an expanded bus service will have in meeting transport needs, including new and expanded feeder services to support a substantially expanded rail network. In total the programme provides approximately €770 million for upgrading bus services, with €530 million being provided for the greater Dublin area and €240 million for the rest of the country. The Government has now taken significant steps towards delivering on its commitment.
I did not absorb the whole of the Minister's reply but I welcome the fact that some sort of a decision appears to have been made. Is the Minister aware of how bad the transport situation has become in Dublin in recent months, particularly since early September when the schools reopened and the full impact of the upgrade to the M50 made itself felt? The impact of 100 buses on that situation will be minuscule. A major input of buses is now required.
I take it that the money being made available will provide 100 additional buses. The Scott Wilson report, prepared for Dublin Bus five years ago, estimated that by this year an additional 500 buses would be required but none has been provided, which illustrates how far behind schedule we are.
I am not clear about what has been agreed with the Progressive Democrats on competition and the involvement of the private sector. I understood from the Minister's reply that 15% of new routes would be put out to tender. Is that correct?
That is very disappointing in the context of the volume and extra capacity required in Dublin. I welcome the fact that there are to be some improvements. Can the Minister let us know when these buses will come on stream? I know the Ryder Cup buses are available. Does the Minister agree that they must be targeted in the vicinity of the M50, to bring people who live on the far side of that road into the city? It has become unbearable for people living on either side of the M50. It was supposed to liberate us but the M50 has become like a wall, imprisoning people inside and outside it. In my constituency I can travel right around all the new communities on the north side, such as those who use the Navan Road, and they now experience appalling delays, not just on the M50, its approach roads and slip roads but in trying to get in and out of estates, which they cannot do because the traffic has become so bad.
It is necessary to target new buses not at existing routes but at new routes, because it is very important that those people can get into Dublin city. I am sure the Minister is aware we are facing another five years of traffic chaos with the M50 upgrade and something has to be done as a matter of urgency.
I am pleased that, after many discussions with stakeholders, both in the public and private sectors, the proposals on which I was working met with favour in Government. This is an evolutionary approach to a planned opening up of the market and is in line with EU competition law.
I have already conveyed the need for Dublin Bus to provide an additional 100 buses into the market in Dublin. Dublin Bus is responsible for its own day-to-day operations but I and others in the House have articulated the need for as many buses to come on stream as quickly as possible. We also want to provide 100 extra buses to the private sector, as additional buses are required, particularly on the periphery of the city, as the Deputy made clear.
We will wait for proposals to come forward but I am not averse to it. The immediate requirement, however, as indicated by Dublin Bus network planning, was for 100 buses, which it has now received. It is often forgotten by people looking purely at the numbers in the present fleet that the capacity has increased by 40%, owing to a change in the type of buses the company uses. One cannot simply compare numbers with numbers — capacity is important.
I agree, as I set out in Transport 21, that the bus market and the role of the bus fleet in the public transport network is fundamental and crucial to the delivery of public transport, not just in Dublin but around the country. That is why I am providing such substantial moneys through Transport 21 for both Dublin and the rural market. I have also met Bus Éireann's requirement for 160 new buses.
I trust the Chair will give ten minutes to my question. I asked the Minister if it is still Government policy to encourage people from private to public transport. There is no evidence that it is. Between 2001 and this year only 20 buses were provided in the Dublin area. As I have often said to the Minister, on Westmoreland Street every evening one can see hundreds, if not thousands, of people being refused access to buses because the number of buses is inadequate. The Minister has mentioned various figures today. Under the NDP, by the end of this year he is supposed to have provided Dublin Bus with 183 additional buses. They are still owed to Dublin Bus. The Minister tried to long-finger this over the past 18 months. He asked for and received a review early this year and was told Dublin Bus could provide the services required to meet demand if it received an extra 200 buses. The Minister has said he will authorise 100 buses. Can he clarify what he intends regarding the other 100 buses Dublin Bus says it requires?
It is cold comfort to those who live close to the quality bus corridors, which were recently provided at great inconvenience to drivers and considerable expense, to see that there is not a single bus on them. This is intolerable and the Minister should be ashamed of it. There is an urgent need for buses to be provided on those QBCs and to enhance the number of buses on existing routes, as the queues at any bus stop morning and evening will demonstrate. Will the Minister explain his proposals on the second batch of 100 buses? These buses are overdue.
Will the Minister also explain what regulation he plans? He is about to dismantle a good, integrated and co-ordinated network that encompasses a degree of expertise on the wider Dublin area's bus needs. There is a danger that if the Minister dismantles that he will appoint a new regulator who will know nothing about the area and will not have the expertise, and it could take a number of years to recover and return to the current position. Will the Minister confirm that Dublin Bus will still manage the overall network? It is a specialised area in which there is limited expertise.
I do not know how the Deputy can question the Government's significant commitment to getting people on to public transport in Dublin and throughout the country. There seems to be some confusion on her part. Some 22 million people use the Luas each year.
The key figure of the Government's record is that capacity has increased by 40%. I agree with Deputy Shortall that more buses were promised that were not delivered. According to Dublin Bus official figures the volume of bus passengers in this city decreased last year while transport numbers increased by 80%. Is that not an example of the incompetent manner in which the Government has managed our transport system? Bus passenger numbers decreased at a time when we needed to switch people to buses and they were queuing at the stops, as Deputy Shortall said.
I have three questions for the Minister. Why, in August 2000, were we able to produce a report on a new institutional regulatory framework for public transport, page 19 of which recommends that within a year we would establish a regulatory authority to do exactly what the Minister has committed to do today? It was promised six years ago. What happened six years ago to prevent that from being implemented? What has been happening over the past five years as that sat on the shelf and Dublin passengers stood on the side of the road?
The new regulator should be given the full strategic role of designing the bus network in this city. It needs to be radically changed. We need to leave the 1950s and enter the 21st century. We require a mesh of bus services and new routes, not just in the expanding communities of which Deputy Mitchell spoke, but in existing areas. In my area the 75, 17 and 18 orbital bus routes do not work. One never knows when the buses are coming and they go all around the world. We need new orbital bus services to replace those services and provide fast frequency services. Will the regulator be able to regulate the routes and design the network for Dublin Bus routes as well as the private ones?
I am still uncertain of the Minister's meaning. If only 15% of the new routes are to be opened and 100 buses made available to the private sector, the Progressive Democrats have obviously caved in. I would like the Minister to explain it in more detail. What roll-out to the private sector does the Minister envisage? Will it apply only to new routes? Will the changes consist only of new private sector routes tagged onto the existing network or does the Minister plan a comprehensive review of the Dublin bus service? A comprehensive review is needed.
The 100 buses I mentioned for the private sector are not the total. They form part of an immediate guarantee ring-fenced for the private sector so that it can get a strong foothold in the market. In respect of regulation, the Dublin Transport Authority will discuss with Dublin Bus and the various operators how the network is working in Dublin and throughout the greater Dublin area. There is a need for many new services on the orbital routes and interconnectivity both with other modes of transport and the city.
It is proper not to dismantle a network that works. We are trying to add capacity and work within EU competition law and the EU directives to ensure that we achieve a modern regulatory framework that brings competition into the market and opens the market in a measured way, unlike the big bang approach taken in other countries, following which whole systems collapsed.
I said that the DTA, which will be a strong body, will be responsible for the integration of all the services in Dublin. We will have to take an overview. The Deputy seems to presume that the DTA will have an adversarial role. The DTA will work with Dublin Bus and the private operators in expanding the route and maximising the public transport system, the bus networks, to the benefit of the customer. That is what we want to see. I think that is what the Deputy is saying.