Thursday, 28 June 2007
At present, bus services are authorised under the Road Transport Act 1932 and the Transport Act 1958. The programme for Government includes a commitment to improve bus services under Transport 21 by reforming bus licensing to facilitate the optimum provision of services by creating a level playing field for all market participants. The new licensing regime will be designed in a manner consistent with the new EU regulation on public service obligations in the transport sector, which was recently agreed by the European Parliament and the Council. This new regulation is expected to be adopted formally in the coming months.
The programme for Government also includes a commitment to examine a national transport regulator in the context of the fundamental review of the entire economic regulatory regime, which will be established immediately. This review will be designed to ensure that the existing regulatory regime is operating efficiently, is balancing the needs of users with the requirements of producers and is not imposing excessive costs on the economy.
My first priority is, however, to fulfil the Government's commitment to expedite the establishment of the Dublin transport authority, DTA, which will have overall responsibility for surface transport in the greater Dublin area. In this regard, I expect to be in a position to bring legislative proposals for the proposed authority to Cabinet for approval next month in order to facilitate the early publication of the Dublin transport authority Bill.
It is not possible at this juncture to indicate a precise time as to when the legislative proposals on regulatory reform of the bus market will be published. However, the licensing provisions of the Road Transport Act 1932, as amended, and the Transport Act 1958 will continue to be applied and all applications and notifications from bus operators will be considered on their merits in accordance with the provisions of the legislation.
I am pleased the Minister intends to reform the 1932 Act. However, this is hardly refreshing news. Such reform was promised by the Minister's predecessors, namely, Deputy Mary O'Rourke, who stated she would introduce competition, Deputy Séamus Brennan, who stated that he would open up 25% of the market to competition, and Deputy Martin Cullen, who stated that 15% of the market would be opened to competition. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, stated in 2003 that she would walk away from Government unless competition was introduced. However, there is still no competition and the Taoiseach recently stated it is an insult to the good men and women of Dublin Bus etc., if we even discuss competition.
What is the current position? I appreciate the Dublin transport authority is extremely important but its establishment is not a sufficient condition for reform of the Transport Act. What we are seeking is competition in the bus market. Such competition has been the subject of discussion for the past ten years and the lack of it has given rise to a ludicrous situation whereby the Dublin Port tunnel is operating way under capacity. The tunnel is a huge white elephant. I laughed when I heard about it being used by 1 million vehicles in the past six months. That figure represents only a fraction of its capacity. Encouraging the use of the tunnel by public and private transport operators should be an absolute priority. The current nonsensical position is a direct result of failure to make any progress on the reform of the 1932 Act. Will the Minister act on what I have outlined as a priority?
My absolute priority is to ensure the DTA legislation is published and that the authority will be established as quickly as possible. Immediately thereafter, I intend to reform the bus market and the Transport Acts 1932 and 1958. In my ten or 12 years of experience as a Minister, I have learned that one cannot have 25 priorities because none of them would ever be dealt with properly.
Question No. 5 cannot be taken as Deputy Perry is not present. We will, therefore, proceed to Ordinary Questions. I wish to highlight to new Members that while supplementary questions relating to Priority Questions are confined to nominated spokespersons, any Deputy may pose a supplementary in respect of Ordinary Questions.