Thursday, 16 February 2012
As the Deputy will be aware, public transport fares are a matter for the CIE operating companies in conjunction with the National Transport Authority which is responsibility for regulating the maximum fare on public service routes. I am aware that the NTA approved a range of fare increases in respect of the CIE companies, which took effect last month. It is, however, important to point out that significant savings can be made by passengers who choose to avail of the integrated ticket, the Leap card.
Notwithstanding the NTA's statutory responsibilities, the Government recognises the need for the CIE companies to respond to the challenge of reduced PSO subvention funding, reduced fares income arising from reductions in passenger numbers and increased costs, such as fuel costs, which are outside their control. As a general principle, efficiencies in operational costs should, in the first instance, be examined over fare increases and service reductions. I have stated this in the letters of mandate I issued to each of the four CIE company chairpersons appointed in 2011. In the current environment, however, there must be a recognition that, unfortunately, fare increases will be inevitable if costs cannot be reduced sufficiently to maintain a reasonable level of service provision.
While a recovery in passenger numbers could increase company revenues, all concerned in my Department and the NTA must focus on identifying key public transport priorities in our cities and throughout the country. In turn, the PSO public transport service providers will have to achieve greater efficiency and cost effectiveness in the years ahead based on a realistic assessment of the scope and level of contracted services.
It is disappointing that in recent months there has been a series of price increases of 6% to 15% across all forms of public transport. I hope we can put pressure on the NTA, Dublin Bus and other companies to stop these increases. The Minister should ensure as far as possible that we do not have further increases. It is evident from the traffic on the road that there has been an increase in car traffic because of the cutbacks in public transport, which have affected many areas. In my areas the bus services have been devastated, with the number 19 route completely removed. That has affected those with a disability, the old and others, and we cannot allow that to continue. We have the least subsidised public transport system in Europe and we must stop this from happening again. We have pushed for people to use public transport for years but this goes completely against that.
I have sympathy for what the Deputy is saying but I do not see any evidence of increased traffic volumes. Perhaps if that is the case, it is a sign of a recovering economy. I do not necessarily think that increasing traffic volumes would be such a bad thing. The numbers using public transport are down slightly on last year but not by as much as they went down in 2010. The situation is difficult. Often public transport is used by those who cannot afford a car or car parking and for that reason no one wants to see fare increases imposed, but the situation is difficult, notwithstanding the subvention, which must be reduced in coming years. Fuel prices are also increasing, which has an impact on the companies. The Government is trying to limit the fare increases to the bare minimum and limit service reductions as much as possible, but that means a much stronger focus on the cost base of the company in the next few years.