Dáil debates

Thursday, 16 February 2012

4:00 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Question 3: To ask the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport in view of the distribution of €23 million from the Smarter travel fund to Limerick, Dungarvan and Westport, if he will report on the way the decision was made to award funding to these areas; and the criteria the short-listed proposals, including Drimnagh, Dublin, would need to meet to achieve this funding and is there more funds earmarked for Smarter Travel in the future. [8927/12]

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The smarter travel areas selected for funding were drawn from a recommended and ranked selection made by an independent panel formed to provide recommendations on the smarter travel areas competition. The panel comprised representatives of my Department, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and an independent expert in sustainable travel. The adjudication process involved site visits, assessment of the bid documents submitted from each of the 11 short-listed bid areas and an interview with each delivery team.

The criteria for selection, made available to all authorities in advance, were projected outcomes and impacts of the proposals, for example, percentage of modal shift from the car; project design and infrastructure; information and behavioural change campaigns; and delivery and implementation plans. A guidance document was also made available with further information as to requirements provided under each of these headings.

At the competition launch, the intended programme expenditure was €50 million over five years, but in the current economic climate, this has been reduced to €23 million. Given the current fiscal situation, only a small number could be funded. In the case of Galway, for example, although it was ranked second funding was not awarded because the scale of the bid and the reduction of the programme's budget would have precluded investment in any other areas. However, I hope the disappointed authorities will not be deterred from building on the ambitions which they developed for their areas and which they may be able to progress over time, outside the competition.

I understand the Drimnagh bid received widespread endorsement from local community groups, residents' associations and local businesses. In this regard, and based on the input of the local Government Deputies, I have asked the National Transport Authority to take a positive look at elements of the Drimnagh bid because it has such strong community support.

The smarter travel areas programme has a budget of €23 million over five years. The total smarter travel investment funding available to the national sustainable travel office in my Department is €65 million over five years. The NTA also has a significant budget for sustainable transport improvements in the greater Dublin area and the regional cities to 2016, providing opportunities for authorities to fund smarter travel investment. I understand the NTA will make available funding in excess of €20 million in 2012 for sustainable transport investment in the GDA.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Minister of State is right to say there was a great deal of support and community activity around the bid for smarter travel. People in Drimnagh and in the other areas were led to believe the competition list had been reduced first to 11, then to four, two of which were in Dublin, Drimnagh and either Sandyford or Sandymount - I cannot remember which - and two outside Dublin. When the announcement was made that the smarter travel bids had gone to three areas outside Dublin a question was raised. One bid went to Westport in County Mayo, a well-known area of the Taoiseach-----

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I am sorry, but that is my area.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Let there be no doubt.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Another went to Limerick, where the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, is based and there was Dungarvan which is-----

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Can we have a question, Deputy?

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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-----the ground of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, and others. There is a question mark. The communities asked me to raise this matter in the Dáil. Will the Minister of State give a breakdown of the bids from each area and on what they were based? He mentioned that the Galway bid concerned a project that was too big and would have cost too much money given that the money had to be divided among three areas. I ask for a breakdown that would give some accountability and transparency and eliminate some of the questions raised in respect of how the money was distributed. We would be interested to see that money coming to us because the area really worked hard to make its bid.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I thank the Deputy. The information she requested is available from the Department and I would be happy to provide it to her. The competition was delivered with independent assessment and was run in a very fair manner. The assessments were based on what was put forward by each local authority. Given the economic circumstances there was a restricted budget of only €23 million.

I am aware of the two applications to which the Deputy referred. The authorities concerned were very disappointed. I have had correspondence with various people in that regard across a wide political spectrum and beyond. What we have told people is that in regard to some of the funding the National Transport Authority has over the coming five years for Dublin city, it would look at the elements of the two bids they found most progressive and would try to ensure they were progressed.

In the instance of Drimnagh, the NTA has already provided an allocation of €150,000 to develop and deliver specific elements of its smarter travel bid. The precise elements to be supported under this grant will be worked out in conjunction with Dublin City Council. However, these are likely to include certain junctional configuration as well as other works that support pedestrian and cycle areas in the vicinity.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We understood this €50 million was to come from the EU, not from our own finances. However, the Minister of State stated that was the reason for the reduction to €23 million. We would very much welcome this in Drimnagh where many parts, including the junctions, roads and pathways, need to be upgraded significantly. It would give tremendous support to the people of Drimnagh who, as the Minister of State knows, have endured a great deal of bad media coverage. That was one of the reasons the community was so keen to get money and recognition of what it has been trying to do in the past while. Perhaps we can work more closely with the NTA and the Minister of State in order to get more money into the community. That would be appreciated.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Question 4: To ask the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the number of subscriptions that have been recorded for the new Leap card since its introduction; the number faults or operational complaints lodged with its operator since that date; if he has received any reports regarding consumer reactions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8951/12]

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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The responsibility to develop, procure, implement, operate and maintain the integrated ticketing system in the greater Dublin area became the function of the National Transport Authority with effect from 30 September 2010, in accordance with section 58 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008.

I am informed by the NTA that the Leapcard scheme has got off to a strong start and is proving popular with increasing numbers of passengers. There are 57,000 cards in circulation and cardholders are regularly topping up their cards in payzone locations and online. More than €2 million has been received to date and, a first announcement, in excess of 900,000 journeys have been taken using Leapcards since the launch on 12 December 2011. The current average is 35,000 trips per day.

The Leapcard call centre had received complaints from fewer than 0.4% of cardholders, or approximately 200 formal complaints, by the end of January. All of these have been followed up by the scheme's operator with the complainants. The NTA has not conducted surveys of customer reactions as yet but the authority has advised me that over the coming months it will carry out research in conjunction with transport operators to assess customer reactions.

The overwhelming response from customers has been positive and although there are some teething issues which are being addressed the volume of sales and usage has exceeded expectations for this stage in the launch period. Over the course of 2012 there will be a progressive increase in functionality and expansion to additional operators.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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My understanding is there has been a considerable number of complaints. The Minister of State will be aware of various media reports, both in print and on radio. As I understand it, many of the comments have mentioned an archaic and slow system. Many of the complaints relate to the online top-up system and fare issues. In spite of promises of an integrated system passengers are annoyed they cannot top up at railway stations as Iarnród Éireann does not provide a top-up facility. Although the cards can be topped up at the Luas ticket machines railway passengers must find a vendor in the proximity of train stations. That is not acceptable. In addition, a slow system does not allow online credit to be uploaded automatically and it can take in the region of 48 hours for credit to be ready for collection. This means some commuters must plan two days in advance. That is not adequate.

My concern is there seems to have been a desire on the part of the Government to launch the product notwithstanding the delays that were there - much of them rightly to ensure many of the issues that arise now would have been tweaked and resolved. There was a desire, of both Department and Government, to rush to the market to achieve certain milestones within a set number of days in power. As a result damage has been done to the viability of the project and this has annoyed a good number of commuters.

I look forward to the Minister of State giving an assurance to the House that the NTA, which I take it he identifies as the body responsible, will deal with this. Many of the photographs at the launch of the card did not include the chief executive of the NTA, but the Minister of State, and rightly so - we should take and accept political responsibility.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are running out of time.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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When there is bad news one must come out front too, as I know the Minister of State will. I hope he will put in place an effective methodology to capture the concerns of commuters and try to ensure these issues are resolved in everybody's interest as quickly as possible.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I thank the Deputy for that enlightening contribution which was humorous at times. Maybe the first thing Deputy Dooley should do is ring his former colleague, Noel Dempsey, to ask how it took this length of time and why it took someone in this Government to bring it to fruition. It is a bit rich for Deputy Dooley to complain that the card was launched by this Government when it had to take control of the situation and deliver it on behalf of the people in the greater Dublin area. We stand over the fact that it has been a great success.

The technology is very strong and among the best in the world. What has been missed by the media is that launches of similar cards were an iterative process. A number of launches are required, including in the case of London, and it can take between 11 and 17 launches because of the number of products that must be stabilised. This is a matter for the National Transport Authority, which will add different products and services over the coming months. In the second quarter of this year, we expect it to extend to more operators in the private area. Card sales and top-ups will be possible from Iarnród Éireann vending machines. Luas and Iarnród Éireann vending will be enabled for web collection and there will be an auto top-up facility for all operators, whereby direct debits can be made from bank details. A huge number of enhancements can be made and by the end of year everyone will see the value of the Leap Card, which is a fantastic facility for those commuting around Dublin. The volume of complaints has been very low. Deputy Dooley has been listening to various media complaints but the percentage of people happy with it is phenomenal. It is a great achievement to have in the city and I stand over the way it was launched. By the end of the year, that enhancements will show this to be a quality product.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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It is often said that one humorous comment borrows another and the Minister of State is being humorous in his continued presentation that when he came into office, from base principles he created the Leap Card and all the proprietary software and pulled it together in a few months. The Minister of State has rushed this to the market in order to give himself a clap on the back.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Rubbish.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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This is Question Time, Deputy Dooley should ask questions.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Does the Minister of State accept that he rushed this in order to get a PR lift? It has backfired on him and much of the work was done when he came into office. He sought to bring it to the market a couple of weeks ahead of time and he is now suffering embarrassment and hiding behind the bluster that does not sit well with him.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister of State can defend himself very quickly.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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He does not need any help in that regard.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Perhaps it is because Deputy Dooley is a Clare man, but maybe he should use the Leap Card more often. I do not know if he has one. This Government came into office and had to take control of the situation and deliver it for the people of Dublin. That is what we have done and what we will continue to do because Fianna Fáil was incapable of doing so.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Question No. 5, in the name of Deputy Sandra McLellan, will be taken by Deputy Dessie Ellis with my permission.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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That is fine, even though it is not in the rules.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is in the rules, I have the authority to have the questions in advance.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I nearly got thrown out of the Dáil once for that. It was a previous Ceann Comhairle, not the current one, but I have no problem with it even though I never forgot it.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Ring must have been briefing Deputy McNamara.