Wednesday, 6 December 2006
CIE has applied for an average increase in 2007 of 9% in Iarnród Éireann and Bus Éireann fares and a 10% increase in Bus Átha Cliath fares. CIE has based its application on a projected 6% increase in costs in 2007, plus a 3% to 4% increase to meet historical fuel cost increases over recent years which CIE contends have not been adequately dealt with in previous fare increases. CIE's application is under consideration in my Department and I intend to announce a decision in the matter shortly.
I asked the Minister for his views on CIE's application for fare increases. The reason for the annual request for exorbitant fare increases is that the public funding it receives is completely inadequate. Does the Minister accept the level of subvention he is providing to the three transport companies which make up CIE is inadequate to allow them provide the type of service the public expects?
The latest figures indicate that out of 16 major European cities, Dublin is bottom of the list with a subvention rate of 26%. This compares poorly with, for example, Stockholm at 54%, Paris at 58%, Milan at 63%, Brussels at 67% and Luxemburg at 78%. We all marvel at the wonderful public transport services in the foreign cities we visit and imagine how wonderful it would be if it were the same in Dublin. The reason that is not the case is the inadequate funding; the Government is trying to provide a public transport system on the cheap. It simply cannot be done with a subvention rate of 26%.
What is the Minister's view on public transport subvention? Has he any intention of moving closer to the European average, for example, of some 50%? In regard to CIE's application for fare increases, does he accept that to sanction such increases at this point would amount to an additional tax on public transport users? These are the people who take the environmentally friendly and sustainable option. For this reason, increases should be ruled out and the Minister must secure a commitment from the Minister for Finance that adequate funding will be provided for public transport.
I do not accept the Deputy's contention. The total subvention from the Exchequer in the period 2000-06 is more than €1.76 billion, an increase of more than 60%. The CIE companies will have grown from €190 million in 2000 to more than €306 million in 2007.
Perhaps we might look at the other side of the coin and consider whether we are more efficient than other states in our delivery of public transport and that we do not need the same level of subvention as is required in other cities. Could it not be that we do things well when it comes to the provision of public transport?
I am proud of what the CIE companies do. The Labour Party view on this is entirely different to mine. We all agree, however, that there is an onus on the companies to ensure value for money for taxpayers and to produce efficiencies in a modern competitive environment. We must acknowledge that they have been working to achieve that.
My view on the application from CIE is that the increases sought are excessive. I am seeking further information to back up the request for such significant increases, an average of some 9.5% across the companies. If we maintain public transport in Dublin city at a good level, more people will be encouraged to use it.
The most successful light rail system in Europe is Luas. There is no comparison in any other country. Light rail projects in other countries have only achieved high-peak capacity whereas Luas has defied expectations in that it also has off-peak capacity. This year it is running a surplus with no subvention required. That is unique in Europe. Rather than criticising our public sector companies that deliver public transport, we should acknowledge the successes they have brought about.
How can the Minister say Luas does not have a subvention? Luas has been given considerable road priority and expensive road space in the Dublin area for free. As Dublin Bus has pointed out, if its buses were given anything like the same priority as Luas, it would have a wonderful service. Dublin Bus is losing €60 million because of traffic congestion and the absence of adequate bus priority measures. Its entire subvention is being eaten up by the cost of congestion.
Does the Minister accept that the fundamental problem with public transport is that its subventions are inadequate? Is he prepared to move closer to the European model where, on average, public transport subvention averages at 50%? He cannot maintain it can be done cheaply without the level of funding provided everywhere else. The best models in Brussels, Paris and every other European city provide good public transport, have a real alternative to using the car and keep traffic moving in the city. We cannot do that because we have inadequate public transport.
The rail network is expanding. The Labour Party believes everyone will stop using their cars if there are more buses, but that is simply not the case. Alternative modes of transport attract people to public transport and, as much as it galls the Deputy, Luas proves the point.