Thursday, 28 June 2007
Question 8: To ask the Minister for Transport and the Marine when the national transport regulator will be established; and the duties and functions of this agency [18121/07]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 10, 26, 36 and 43 together.
The Government is committed to the expansion of bus services nationwide. Transport 21 provides more than €530 million for bus investment in the greater Dublin area in the next ten years while more than €240 million is included for investment in bus services outside the area.
The programme for Government also includes a commitment to improve bus services under Transport 21 by reforming the bus licensing process to facilitate the optimum provision of services and providing a level playing field for all market participants. Bus services are authorised under the Road Transport Act 1932 and the Transport Act 1958. The new licensing regime will be designed in a manner consistent with the new EU regulation on public service obligations in the transport sector, recently agreed by the European Parliament and European 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 presently established. This review will be designed to ensure the existing regulatory regime is operating efficiently, balances the needs of users with the requirements of producers and does not impose excessive costs on the economy.
My first priority is, however, fulfilling the Government's commitment to expedite the establishment of the Dublin transport authority, which will have overall responsibility for surface transport in the greater Dublin area. In this regard, I expect to bring legislative proposals for the proposed Dublin transport authority to Cabinet for approval next month to facilitate the early publication of the Dublin transport authority Bill. It is not possible to indicate 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.
Will the Dublin Transportation Office be a subset within the Dublin transport authority? The programme for Government contains plans for integrated transport plans for the gateways and hub towns in the national spatial strategy. Will this come under the remit of a transport regulator? Is it too early to say how this will pan out?
It is too early to say. We are committed in the programme for Government to examine the need for a national transport regulator. This will be done against the background of the wider review of regulatory regimes in place. Although I must have discussions with Cabinet colleagues on integrated planning for transport in hub towns, I expect local authorities to take the lead on it.
Does the Minister intend the proposed Dublin transport authority to regulate bus transport in Dublin city? The former Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, promised 100 additional private sector buses. Will these only come into the market when the Dublin transport authority is in place and the bus licensing system is updated? Private operators are applying for licences and, as the system does not work properly, this is holding up the provision of new Dublin Bus services. What percentage of bus services both in Dublin and nationally are run by private operators?
Three services have been deferred due to a prior application from a private operator. One service has been part approved. Up to 11 notifications have been received in the past three months which are being processed in the normal way. I understand Dublin Bus received 100 new buses but claims it cannot use them. It receives 100 new buses each year to replace old buses that need to be taken out of service. Up to 60 of those are sitting somewhere. Confident in the knowledge it will get 100 new buses each year, it is up to the management of Bus Átha Cliath to ensure the new buses are brought on-stream as quickly as possible and it manages them better. I am making inquiries into this matter.
——have been deferred due to a prior application. If I did not have the Transport Act 1932 as it stands and the 1958 Act, which is beloved by some people in the transport sector, we might be able to put a more streamlined system in place as regards approvals. That is certainly something I will be delighted to do, chronologically, but we cannot have it both ways. I must operate in accordance with the law and the recent highly publicised case in relation to this. The Department has to follow the law. It cannot ignore it and the Minister cannot put himself above the law.
The sequence of events is that if a private sector operator applies to run a service on a particular route that must be judged and decided upon before any subsequent applications can be made.
On public transport, particularly in my constituency of Dún Laoghaire where we are fortunate to have both the DART and the QBCs, unfortunately, while we are trying to encourage people to use public transport, this is all right as long as one lives adjacent to the DART line or a QBC. However, if one lives half way between both, the only way to use public transport is to either drive or get a lift in a car, parking it in a housing estate, or go by shanks mare. At times, in the middle of winter, to ask people to walk up to four miles is not conducive to encouraging them to use public transport. Has the Minister any proposals to introduce a feeder service such as the small Imp buses to bring people to and from either the QBCs or the DARTs? They could run in a circular fashion and would be very attractive, particularly if we are going to have integrated ticketing, as I hope we will. In the event, one ticket could be used for the feeder service and the DART or QBC journey.
On another issue, would the Minister kindly contact local authorities and prevent them from introducing pay and display tickets in public car parks where they are charging people €5 a day. Again, this is no encouragement for people to use public transport — €25 a week for some people out of taxed income, together with their fare does not encourage them to use public transport.
This is not a matter for the Minister concerned. We are able to provide services such as the Imp, but I believe a business opportunity exists for Bus Átha Cliath or whoever wants to do it. I cannot understand why it is not happening much more. People become fixated on issues, instead of looking for new commercial opportunities. The Deputy's idea is a good one and it would work well, particularly as increased public transport levels are being made available whether in the form of DART, Luas or whatever. This is certainly something I would encourage and like to see happening more and more.
As regards the Deputy's second point, he will appreciate that any diktats from a Minister to local authorities are normally viewed with great disdain by the elected members of such bodies. However, I take his point. The general thrust of what he is saying, I believe, is that there needs to more integrated thinking in this area. If it is not possible, as it will not be, to provide public transport within a few yards of everyone's home, we should try to make it as easy as possible for people who have to use other means to get to a DART station, a Luas or whatever else. This is certainly something the DTA, in looking at an integrated plan for the city, should take into account and I will convey this view to that authority in the strongest terms.
Tá ceist agam agus tá sé ag teacht anois. Why do we have such nonsensical red tape so that we cannot have public and private services both running together? There is plenty of precedent in health, for example, with the co-location of public and private hospitals. Are we saying that in other areas public and private enterprise cannot work hand in hand? That does not make sense. This Act apparently dates back to 1932, so it is time it was changed. I do not understand why a public service should need a licence to go through a publicly built tunnel.
What is the reason the bus corridors, which cost millions to maintain, are lying empty most of the time? Has the Minister any plans to allow vehicles containing four or more people to use them? It is frustrating for motorists in Dublin north to sit in queues miles long with an empty bus lane beside them. In some cases there is no bus, for example, on the N32, the extension of the M50.
I am not a free marketeer, totally, as regards this. Public transport is not quite the same as other commodities that are allowed to operate in a totally free market. My preference as regards transport in the greater Dublin area in particular as well as in areas around other cities is to have a regulated competitive market, one where the needs of the public are met. If it happens that the private sector is in first and gets a licence, the public transport system cannot be allowed to undermine this simply on the basis of a subvention. I do not mind competition where no subvention is involved. However, it is a regulated competitive market. One does not want a totally free market where one may end up with all of the lucrative areas being served, and poorer areas being ignored.
I understand the Deputy's position as regards QBCs and the need to have those routes populated with buses. The issue of changing the regulations has been examined several times and there is no proposal before me at the moment in that regard.
As regards the DTA, I hope the legislation will be with Government during the course of next month. If it is cleared by Government, it will then be before the House in the autumn. With the co-operation of Members on all sides of the House, I should like to see it going through as quickly as possible, consistent with it being scrutinised fully. The DTA will have overall responsibility for surface transport in the greater Dublin area. It will have a primary role as regards strategic transport planning, the procurement of public transport infrastructure and services, the regulation of fares, routes and service levels and the delivery of integrated ticketing and passenger information, while trying to ensure, generally, that there is effective traffic management in the greater Dublin area.