Thursday, 26 April 2007
Question 15: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the policies in place in his Department to encourage the use of public transport by staff travelling to and from work; the policies in place to encourage staff to use public transport when travelling on Departmental business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15481/07]
The mode of transport staff of my Department use in travelling to and from work is a matter of choice for them. However, my Department generally supports the use of public transport by staff. In this context, it operates a travel pass scheme which was introduced by the Department of Finance in 2001. Under this scheme, an employee can forego part of his or her salary in lieu of the provision of an annual bus or rail pass by my Department. A particular attraction of the scheme for staff is that it complies with the Revenue Commissioners' guidelines on benefit-in-kind tax exemption. The employee is not liable to pay tax and PRSI on the cost of the travel pass provided by the employer. A total of 216 staff in my Department are availing of the scheme in 2007.
Travel by staff on official business is governed by travel and subsistence regulations issued by the Department of Finance. The overriding principle in these regulations is that all official travel should be by the shortest practicable route and by the cheapest practicable mode of transport. As a general rule, officers are only authorised to use their own transport on official business where suitable public transport is not available, where public transport is available only at equal or greater expense, or where the use of public transport would result in the unnecessary loss of official time.
Given the nature of the work carried out by some areas of my Department, it is not always feasible for staff to use public transport. For example, labour inspectors and prices inspectors are often required to carry out site visits at locations or at times that make the use of public transport impractical. In such instances, the use of an official's private car is authorised. As far as possible, journeys of this nature are arranged to maximise the amount of business carried out in a particular geographical area. Travel by car may also eliminate the need to incur overnight subsistence expenditure.
The Minister might clarify the number of staff in his Department who use the travel pass. I want to separate his reply into two categories. There are two categories, the first of which is travel to and from work, in respect of which the Minister incentivises civil servants to use public transport. Where people have access to the Dart and Luas, these are the options they choose. The major issue is that of the mileage rate for a civil servant in using his or her car, which provides a greater cash incentive than using a train or taxi where a worker is reimbursed the actual cost of travel according to a receipt. There is a discrepancy in mileage rates depending on the size of the car used. Therefore, all other variables being equal, it is preferable for a civil servant to use a car. When one strips away the cost benefit analysis, a civil servant is better off using a car and claiming mileage rather than using a taxi, bus or train because in the latter scenario he or she only receives the cash expended.
I hate to be a killjoy but the Minister presumes civil servants use public transport in the vast majority of cases. In fact, it is so in less than 5% of cases. People are not stupid; the Minister provides a major financial incentive to drive. As a result, the State spends some â¬20 million on mileage rates and the centre of Dublin is clogged because the State promotes driving by way of providing Civil Service car parks. It does this through the mileage rate system and the provision of free car parking spaces in Dublin city centre and elsewhere. Does the Minister wish to change this?
I will not introduce a fatwa against civil servants, follow them around and insist that they travel in a certain way. We need practical application and to cop on. Mileage has been paid for some time and rates are negotiated by union representatives. One cannot unilaterally wade into this matter. In the case of labour inspectors and other civil servants travelling to particular locations, public transport services may not be amenable. The result may be far more inefficient, with more overnight stays, if one were to use another system. Using a taxi does not lead to a reduction in carbon emissions any more than using one's own car.
Not necessarily. Taxis still run on petrol or fossil fuels. We need proportionality and pragmatism in this debate. People throughout the country seek access to public and civil servants. Those outside Dublin believe the official mindset to be too Dublin centred. If we continue along this route, we will ensure no one will leave Dublin or travel to any other part of the country.