Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Question 101: To ask the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the recent National Survey of Goods published by the Central Statistics Office for 2009 which shows that the road haulage of goods has dropped by 40% over the previous 12 months; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that many hauliers are unable to maintain payments; his plans for protecting the industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35072/10]
The Central Statistics Office has recently published its 2009 Road Freight Transport Survey. This survey covers both licensed operators and other hauliers. In 2009, Irish registered goods vehicles transported 148 million tonnes of goods by road. This represents a decrease of 40% on the previous year and an overall decrease of 9% on the 1999 figure. In light of the current global economic recession, some downturn in trade is not unexpected. However, more recently published shipping traffic statistics on export and import volumes indicate an increase in the volume of exports from April to July 2010.
The recession is impacting on the haulage business and while some hauliers have gone out of business many have sought to consolidate business, reduce costs and increase efficiencies. The number of operators licensed by my Department to carry goods for hire and reward has, on average, remained fairly constant. Although there was a reduction in the number of licences issued in 2009, statistics show an increase in the number of licences issued in 2010, over the 2009 figures.
The Deputy will appreciate that road haulage operates in a liberalised market. The main supports which the Government can provide are through our significant investment in road infrastructure, which improves the efficiency and competitiveness of the sector, and through our enforcement of licensing conditions, which protects legitimate operators from being undermined by those who are unwilling to comply with the conditions.
The problem is we have a road infrastructure but no trucks are moving on it. The decline in goods transported by 100,000 tonnes is a considerable amount of haulage. A decline of 40% in one 12 month period is enormous, as the CSO statistics reveal. It is not comparing like with like to say that exports increased. That is largely due to foreign direct investment. We are talking about the lifeblood of the economy where goods are being brought for consumption throughout the country.
This industry is now floundering. Most of the hauliers who are going out of business are family operations. Their businesses are going into oblivion. What can the Minister do to provide some succour to them in these difficult days? No business sector other than the construction trade has suffered so much.
As I indicated earlier to the Deputy, there was a dip in the number of licences issued in 2009 but I am pleased to report that it has increased again in 2010. Up to 30 September there was an almost 10% increase in the number of licenses issued which may indicate some increase in the business. As I said previously a number of times - I will not try your patience, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle - it is a liberalised market. I do not dispute that it is difficult at this time but there is no direct aid we can give to any individual haulier in the current circumstances.
Does the Minister accept that there is a link between the usage of motorway infrastructure and the amount of money people are charged to use it through tolls? Does he accept that if we introduce a series of new tolling booths on our motorway infrastructure, it will have a negative impact on the number of haulage vehicles that use our new excellent road infrastructure and drive them into towns such as Abbeyleix, Durrow, Fermoy, Mitchelstown and all the other towns that have benefited from the motorway infrastructure that has bypassed them? Is the Minister taking that into account in looking at the possibility of introducing new toll booths on national road and motorway infrastructure?
When I get the report to which the Deputy adverts, I am sure the NRA will have taken those matters into account, and I will certainly take them into account. They are reasonable points to take into account if one is talking about charging people for the use of the roads. On the general point, regardless of this morning's newspaper reports, the indications I have currently are that the levels of diversion from motorways as a result of tolls is very low.
From my information, it is lower than that again in regard to heavy goods vehicles because, overall, the advantages in using a motorway right through from one end to the other outweigh the disadvantage of the toll fee.
One section of the M50 is tolled at present so people using one part of the M50 pay the toll charge while those that use other parts pay nothing, which is not a very fair or equitable system. One can introduce toll systems that will reduce the cost for some, although more people might be caught at a lower rate. Issues like this need to be discussed and considered.
On tolling in general, road pricing has a role to play, particularly in urban areas in regard to reducing carbon emissions and improving health and the environment.