Wednesday, 19 September 2018
BusConnects: Motion [Private Members]
“That Dáil Éireann: notes that:— public bus and rail services provide an essential environmentally friendly service and their use should be promoted; and
— Dublin Bus provides a vital and necessary public service for all citizens in Dublin and its greater area and should receive investment to ensure that its services are maintained, improved and enhanced to meet the needs of a vibrant capital city;
condemns the unnecessary anxiety and anger experienced by the public in the last eight weeks since the BusConnects consultations have commenced; and
— the current proposals put forward by the National Transport Authority via BusConnects for culling bus routes across Dublin and its greater area be immediately reversed and re-configured so that all communities in Dublin and surrounding counties can retain access to their schools, colleges, work places, hospitals and other essential amenities, by Dublin Bus; and
— the reconfigured plan, when completed, should be put to consultation so that communities can be fully consulted on any route changes.”
I will share time with Deputies Jack Chambers, Curran, Haughey and O'Brien. Each of us will take four minutes.
I welcome the opportunity to bring forward this Private Members' motion. I will allow my colleagues who represent particular constituencies to outline their main concerns about some of the proposals in the BusConnects plan. I acknowledge that the National Transport Authority, NTA, will have carried out 32 public consultations by the end of the consultation period. I encourage people to engage in these public consultations to have their views known, not just on the negative elements of the proposal but also on its positive aspects.
People have asked me time and again what the NTA does. The National Transport Authority is the body responsible for public transport. It is responsible to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, and he and the Government are responsible to the Dáil. The reason we have moved this motion is to ensure the Minister is aware of the anxiety, worry and concern caused by BusConnects.
There are some positive elements of BusConnects, such as the segregated cycle lanes, which I welcome. Earlier today, the Minister referred to BusConnects and segregated cycle lanes, but in reply to a question he was unable to say exactly how much will be spent on this measure. Perhaps the Minister will do so this evening. The new orbital routes will alleviate the need for everybody to come into the city centre. This will reduce congestion and is welcome. The new fare structure is also welcome. I would, however, question why the Minister enabled the NTA to allow Bus Éireann to withdraw the refund facility before this new fare structure and cashless option was introduced. Greater capacity and new energy efficient buses are all very welcome. I put it to the Minister that the drafts of the plan that were put on display at the end of July have caused great anxiety. Public meetings organised by my colleagues, Deputies Jack Chambers, Lahart and O'Brien, Councillor Cormac Devlin and Senator Catherine Ardagh, were attended by between 100 and 600 people.
The NTA is responsible to the Minister. I want him to give a commitment on the floor of the Dáil that the consultation process is not simply a box-ticking exercise, that the views of Dublin Bus service users will be taken on board and that, whenever a redesigned network is agreed to in draft format, that it will be put back out for consultation in order that the 150 million passengers who use the service annually will have an opportunity to give their verdict on it.
Was Jarrett Walker and Associates the only consultancy firm considered for the draft plan? If not, who else was considered and why was Jarrett Walker and Associates chosen? Will the Minister acknowledge that the timing of the public consultation process was wrong from the get-go?
It was wrong to put it out for consultation during the summer months because, rightly or wrongly, it created a perception that the views of the public were not welcome. Will the Minister ensure the drivers who provide the services day in and day out will have their views taken on board? Will he guarantee that any redesigned network in draft format will be readvertised to ensure the service, in respect of which we not only want to retain current users but also encourage new ones who are currently driving, will have sufficient capacity, that there will be an accelerated roll-out of hybrid energy efficient buses and, most importantly, that the needs of passengers will be met in getting to work, college, social and hospital appointments?
I thank my colleague and our transport spokesperson, Deputy Robert Troy, for tabling the motion. It shows the importance Fianna Fáil places on this issue that it is our first Private Members' motion post the summer recess. It is a major issue that may affect Dubliners.
Deputy Robert Troy has covered some of the positive aspects of BusConnects, in which we welcome the investment of €1.2 billion which is undoubtedly needed in the creaking public transport system. I commend the Deputy on another point. The process would have been done and dusted had it been left to the Minister and the NTA. It was at the Deputy's insistence at the transport committee in July that the public consultation process was extended. It is important that people have their say. The meetings I have hosted in Dublin Fingal have been attended by hundreds of people because it is their bus service and they care about it. The review is good and that we will find out what people want is to be welcomed.
I will cite a few examples from my constituency of Dublin Fingal which per the census has a population of just under 300,000 people, as the Acting Chairman will know. It is a young constituency with many commuters. Let us consider some of the changes proposed. The 33 bus route serves the major growth areas of Balbriggan, Rush, Lusk and Skerries. All direct services into the city will be discontinued. Direct services from Donabate and Portrane into the city will be discontinued. Direct services from Malahide, where I live, will be reduced by 25%, but from some areas of Malahide such as Seabury there will be no direct services into town. There will be no direct services into town from Kinsealy. The direct services from Portmarnock will also be removed. During the Topical Issues debate the Minister mentioned the much vaunted metro north proposal and the need to serve Dublin Airport with a light rail or metro system. We need to serve it with bus services. In north County Dublin the 102 bus route will be removed.
People are concerned. This is a quality of life issue. It is about how people get to work, college, hospital appointments and school. Just before I came to the Chamber I received an email from Portmarnock community school, which has 900 pupils. Pupils in secondary schools are concerned about how they will get to school based on the plans. We want to ensure public consultation means just that, namely, that it means consult, listen and changes to BusConnects where it needs to be changed. Let us consider the Dublin Port tunnel, one of the best pieces of infrastructure built in the past 20 years. All of the 142 bus route services which pass through it - nine buses per day - will be discontinued. Is there a reason for this? Are the routes being cleared to allow for the future privatisation of services? That is not stated in the report and we never received a copy of the exact terms of reference.
I am speaking on behalf of my constituents in Dublin Fingal when I say that if the BusConnects report as it stands was to be implemented in the morning, it would be an unmitigated disaster for services on many routes. While there are positives, changes need to be made, where appropriate. The motion is important, as it directs the Government to give a firm commitment that it will listen to customers and ensure those who are dependent on buses will not have routes ripped out from under them. As for the over-reliance on the Northern-DART commuter line, anyone who uses it will realise it is already creaking at the seams. We cannot just put tens of thousands of additional passengers onto a rail line and say the issue has been resolved.
I welcome and wholeheartedly support my party's motion. I hope there will be a positive response from the Government to the feedback we have received from thousands of people all over Dublin.
There is widespread concern across Dublin city and county about the BusConnects plan. Many public meetings have been held, while many official consultations have taken place. I share my colleagues' regret that the public consultation process took place over the summer months when many people were not politically aware.
The main problem with the plan is that it severs links with important services such as hospitals, colleges, shopping centres and Government offices. Many bus users who currently use direct routes into the city centre from where they live will need to take at least two buses to reach their destination.
There will be problems with the proposed interchanges, particularly given the difficulties they will cause for the elderly, wheelchair users and people with special needs. There will be capacity issues at the bus interchanges. I can imagine the chaos there will be on the Malahide Road at the Artane roundabout when people arrive to catch a second bus. I assume the Minister can give assurances that the bus stops at the interchanges will be close together. Has any thought been put into that matter? Will there be pedestrian-operated traffic signals to enable people to cross the Malahide Road? These issues have not received sufficient consideration. Will the number of buses be increased? The solution to the problem of bus services in the city is to increase their number.
It is a general rule in politics that, if people have had the benefit of a service for generations, we cannot just take it from them overnight, yet that is what is being proposed. In Edenmore there are problems with the 27A bus route. In Howth there are problems with the 31 bus route. In Raheny there are problems with the 29A, 31, 31A, 31B and 32 bus routes. In Artane, Beaumont, Coolock, Kilmore, Santry and Clonshaugh there are problems with the 14, 16, 27B and 17A bus routes. People have many concerns about the issues that arise and I worry about what is being proposed. For example, I worry that it is a route to the privatisation of further bus services in Dublin. The plan is opposed by the NBRU. Any bus driver to whom I have spoken has been opposed to it.
I wish to raise an issue about public transport generally. It concerns the DART. Both last week and this week DART services from Malahide and Howth were significantly overcrowded. By the time they get to Harmonstown and Killester, they are completely full, which is quite dangerous. Passengers who wish to get off at various stops have to bash their way through the crowds on the carriages. There is a major problem with DART services on the north side of Dublin for passengers heading into town, yet I am not sure the changes implemented last Monday will solve it.
The plan has to be scrapped as there is too much concern about it, but we cannot scrap one system overnight and impose a new one. It must be done incrementally. We need to get the NTA to go back to the drawing board to start again and come up with a revised plan.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The BusConnects project has caused considerable public concern, but that is not surprising, given that Dublin Bus is the dominant carrier of passengers, with 140 million per annum in the greater Dublin area.
There is concern that the public consultation process took place over the summer.
Most of us, as public representatives, receive more inquiries and queries about what is in the plan now than we received in July and August. That is the reality. It was unfortunate that it took place in that period. I would like the Minister to take the opportunity to clearly set out clearly the timelines for how the plan will be developed and, more important, to incorporate the submissions received which were made by the public and for the redesign of the plan to be made public.
The first concern that people had was losing the direct route that existed. It all sounds very well and I listened to and observed how that might work. I will give an example of one area. A bus leaving Rathcoole, the 69, goes no farther than the Luas stop at Saggart. When one reads the narrative, it says that instead of being once an hour, the 69 will be twice an hour, which looks like a net gain. When one gets to the Luas line, the Luas is very frequent, so that is not a problem. The problem in reality is the return journey. One ends up in the middle of nowhere, with no shelter, waiting for up to half an hour to get a bus. These are the concerns with losing the direct route which have not been factored in, including where one is waiting and the type of environment one is in. People are genuinely concerned about the loss of that direct route. I do not have time to go into every route and I will not. Some of the design takes buses out of existing population areas. The one that goes through Clondalkin village, the 13, will no longer come down the Fonthill Road and serve the whole parish of Sruleen and will no longer go up Woodford Road and serve the parish of Knockmitten. Two areas are being left vacant.
Much of it relates to interconnectivity between Dublin Bus and other modes of transport and where the plan does not clearly indicate the additional capacity that will be made available on the Luas. People are concerned that at 7.30 a.m., at the Red Cow, the Luas is full. What will happen if more people are brought to that? That is a huge source of concern. The underlying concern is that the plan is predicated on increased frequency, with a bus every eight or ten minutes. For that plan to happen, the quality spines, the corridors, have to be in place. There is a lack of clarity about implementation. At what stage are the corridors built and at what stage does one revert to this new BusConnects project? People are genuinely concerned that the transition will take place first, so new bus routes will come in before the spines and corridors are in place. If that happens, the frequency that the Minister anticipates will not be delivered.
This is a plan for the future and the timelines are somewhat unclear. I know the Minister will take an opportunity to spell that out. People ask me what is happening this year and next year. I reiterate that people who will go to work tomorrow who are dependent on the 25 in Lucan will not be able to get on that bus tomorrow because it will be full. While we are planning for the future, we are not dealing with today's demand on some of our routes. People are not able to get on the bus. There are other routes with similar issues, such as the 68 from Newcastle. Some people living in Lucan get on the outward bound bus to go farther out so that they can cross the road and get a city-bound bus. I ask the Minister, in his response to this, to set out how he sees this being implemented with regard to the delivery of the capacity that underpins the required frequency.
As other speakers have said, there is massive anger, dismay, concern and fear about this BusConnects proposal. Across my constituency, we have held four meetings and have another one tomorrow, Thursday. Hundreds of people fear that this will drive a wedge through their communities, their connectivity and undermine the present and existing bus service. The Minister is trying to create radial routes to channel people into central, spinal arteries which will bring them to town. That is all very good on paper but people who might have disabilities and elderly people may have to switch or go backwards to go forwards into town.
Whoever designed this in the company the National Transport Authority, NTA, tendered it to, Jarrett Walker + Associates, is trying to impose an American-like transport system on a city that cannot take it. Many people across the suburbs of this city cannot operate within that service. There was a proposal in recent years to build a spinal artery but to have it as a parallel bus service to the existing one so if people want proper connectivity through their communities, that will be enhanced and improved. This plan robs Peter to pay Paul. It takes buses from existing communities, estates and neighbourhoods and brings them into a channel, but undermines their present service. The fear emanates from there.
In my area, the 39 bus, the main service for people for many years, is being removed and abolished altogether. People are being asked to go backwards towards a new hub in the Blanchardstown Centre. Anyone who knows the Blanchardstown Centre knows there is complete gridlock at the best of times. This proposal to try to create a hub in the Blanchardstown Centre will only increase commuter times and undermine people's commute and the promotion to them of public transport.
The 37 and 38 are losing connectivity. People will have to get off on the north side of the city to switch. It is all very good on paper, but people who do not want to switch or to have their existing commute increased but want their services and frequency increased are being undermined.
The Minister is removing the 40D and 17A from a growing community, Tyrrelstown and Hollystown, which will have an isolating effect on the communities. That is an area of population growth in a west Dublin suburb, where thousands of new homes are being built, and in parts of it the Minister has not even planned for proposed growth. Are the national planning framework and future growth across the city considered?
There is another mistake. In Clonee, the 70 and 270 are being removed to two local radial routes, increasing commuting times and affecting the connectivity that we have with Dunboyne and many people who go to primary and secondary school there.
What engagement with communities was undertaken before this plan was designed? I have noticed in all the public meetings I have had that people have constructive suggestions about things that they would like to see tweaked and operational improvements that could be driven by Dublin Bus and the NTA. This is a plan that has come from the top down and is being imposed on people. It was a very cynical announcement through the public consultation process. The Minister announced it at a time when he knew people would not fully engage. They were not fooled and tens of thousands of people have had their say in this plan. The removal of the 122 on the Navan Road will mean that communities there will be completely neglected. The net result for many suburbs throughout Dublin will be an inferior bus service. It is time that the Minister and the NTA went back to the drawing board. They are trying to create a sardine service by bringing radial routes into a centralised spine, where the spinal networks can be sold off to private companies. It is important that we have a public bus system which delivers for the people who pay their taxes, so that we have enhanced community connectivity. This bus plan does not do that.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
“notes that:— public bus and rail services provide an essential environmentally friendly service and their use should be promoted;
— Dublin Bus provides a vital and necessary public service for all citizens in Dublin and its greater area, and should receive investment to ensure that its services are maintained, improved and enhanced to meet the needs of a vibrant capital city; and
— as with any proposed change to public services, the necessary consultation has caused some anxiety and worry to some members of the public in the last eight weeks since the BusConnects consultations have commenced; andagrees that:— the current proposals put forward by the National Transport Authority via BusConnects for changing bus routes across Dublin and its greater area be reviewed in the context of all submissions received during this consultation process so that all communities in Dublin and surrounding counties see the enhanced benefits of the new BusConnects scheme; and
— the reconfigured plan, when completed, should be fully communicated to all local communities and further consultation undertaken if required."
I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the issues raised, particularly in light of this Government's serious commitments outlined in Project Ireland 2040 which launched earlier this year. That includes the national planning framework and the ten-year national development plan. While I agree with the opening aspects of that motion, my agreement stops there. I am proposing an amendment to the motion and call on the House to support it.
I am a little puzzled by the Fianna Fáil position here and maybe its Members could explain it to us. I understand that they welcomed this project with open arms. I fully understand but will not accept the amendment from Sinn Féin, where there is a consistency which is predictable. I do not agree with it but they have had a consistent line on public transport. Sinn Féin's amendment condemns privatisation. I suspect, possibly with mischief aforethought, that they are suggesting that this is in some way a road to privatisation, where we are not going, but at least it shows consistency and we know where we stand. The situation with Fianna Fáil is deeply confusing. BusConnects is a project which was welcomed by Deputy Troy, Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on transport, as a project which was vital to keep Dublin moving. That was his initial reaction to it. He said on 12 June, "The BusConnects project represents the opportunity to get this investment underway."
He was encouraging and I welcome that encouragement. I am disappointed that today we have a motion before the House that is hostile to the direction in which BusConnects is going. Nevertheless, I think the overall Fianna Fáil position is that the party welcomes the initiative even though it wants to see the consultations go ahead, which we all do.
When Deputy Chambers says he feels the whole system is wrong I think he is in direct conflict with other members of his party. On 2 July, Deputy John Lahart, who is the Fianna Fáil Party spokesman on Dublin and issues of this sort, welcomed the BusConnects launch and along with his colleague in the Seanad, he could not wait to get into a photograph holding the BusConnects brochure high, so enthusiastic was his welcome for this particular project. He wanted to be identified with it. He said it was a great project. I have a photograph of him at the launch with the BusConnects maps behind him-----
I also have a copy of the information Deputy Lahart issued and his tweet on the matter. I welcome the fact that he was so enthusiastic about this project and wanted to jump into the photograph with Senator Gerry Horkan. Good luck to him. That was welcome, but today we have the language of chaos and culling from Fianna Fáil, yet here in the photo I have Deputy Lahart is standing shoulder to shoulder with what he calls the culls. That is the new network on the map behind him but we are now talking about it as culling. Today, we also have the language of condemnation from members of the Opposition. They should get their act together and decide which side they are on. They cannot be on both sides on this one. I know it is difficult. A consultation process is going on which has got a very welcome number of people coming forward with suggestions about changes, many of which are being regarded very seriously and will be considered seriously.
Deputy Haughey said one cannot have a change like this overnight. He repeated that twice. There is no intention to do this overnight. That is the whole point of this consultation process.
That is the difference. The announcement said there would be consultations and after the consultations had been considered in November a new programme would come back. The consultations will be taken seriously and there will be further consultations after that. That is a serious business and it is not to be taken-----
-----with its spokesman posing for photographs at the BusConnects launch and proudly wanting to be identified with it and the other members of the party saying this, that and the other is wrong. There are problems-----
-----as there always are when one introduces a radical measure of this sort, but they are not insuperable and that is why the NTA is out there day and night with members of its staff listening to Members and others speak about the difficulties they have. Those concerns which are considered legitimate will be remedied.
The Government is continuing to take steps to address the underinvestment in integrated public transport following the crisis where public investment was constrained to safeguard the provision of essential public services. Project 2040 rightly recognises that significant investment in public transport will be required to accommodate change and growth, while also providing more choice for the travelling public and improving the quality of people's lives. Together with the National Transport Authority's Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016-2035, Project Ireland 2040, through the national development plan, NDP, provides for the planning and delivery of public transport infrastructure and services over the short, medium and long term.
Recent reports show that approximately 70% of people travelling into Dublin city each morning do so by sustainable transport. Each day the majority, that is 57% of all public transport trips, equating to 136 million passenger journeys annually, use the bus for their commute. Given the numbers, it is no surprise that the bus has to be the main component of the solution to address the current congestion problem and to meet future transport needs. One of the flagship investments to be delivered within Project Ireland 2040 and the ten-year NDP horizon is BusConnects for Ireland's cities, commencing roll-out in Dublin. BusConnects is a key investment priority for public transport to address congestion in Dublin in the short to medium term.
A radical improvement in the bus system can deliver a positive change in public transport performance across all areas of the Dublin region within a relatively short time. The objective of BusConnects is to deliver a bus system that will enable more people to travel by bus than ever before, and allow bus commuting to become a viable and attractive choice for employees, students, shoppers and visitors. BusConnects will include continuous bus lanes as far as is practicable along the busiest bus corridors, along with a network of park and ride facilities at key locations. It will also involve 11 orbital routes that will operate on a 15-minute frequency or better, in the north, south and west of the network area. Enhanced and expanded services will deliver 27% more capacity. As far as customers are concerned, this can only be a good thing, and likewise for transport workers. There will also be major improvements to deliver next generation ticketing and passenger information systems, a simpler route identification system and fare structure and a fleet transition to lower emissions. All that means the number of people living within 400 m of a bus service that operates every ten minutes or still more frequently will increase by 35%, from 480,000 to 650,000. There will be an increase of 10% in fleet serving the greater Dublin area with significant increases in weekend and post-peak services.
BusConnects is not just about buses, as this plan will provide much needed cycling facilities and make it easier and more attractive to cycle around the city region. Given the increasing number of cyclists across Dublin there is an imperative to provide safe and segregated cycling facilities where possible. The NTA has calculated that more than 200 km of cycle tracks or lanes will be built or current lanes improved upon. A better cycling network is good for all transport users. It avoids cyclists sharing bus lanes with buses and will remove many of the conflicts between buses, cars and cyclists. The House will be aware that the NTA published its proposals for the core bus corridors project report setting out the outline of 16 radial routes, together with 200 km of cycling lanes, into and out of the city. The NTA expects to publish the detailed and considered proposals for each of the 16 corridors in October. At that stage, a full public consultation process will commence. That will allow people to provide feedback and their thoughts on the proposals and the NTA will fully engage with people along the corridors and surrounding areas.
BusConnects has caused great upset and anxiety in local areas across the Dublin region and communities across the city are in fear of being left behind. Any plan to improve transport services has to connect people with services, work and their local areas. It cannot disconnect communities and that is the worry in many areas of Dublin.
There is a consultation process in train at the moment and that was only extended when the NTA came under pressure to do so. Sinn Féin Deputies, Senators and councillors in Dublin have been doing great work in their localities, engaging with people on the ground and with the consultation process.
It is important to remember that we are talking about public transport. The State funds Dublin Bus and now a private British company to provide public service transport to people in the greater Dublin area. The NTA has a duty to ensure that it fulfils its obligation to the public when new routes are being planned. We accept there is a need to improve services but it needs to be done in an inclusive and community focused way.
Common sense is also needed. People having to get three buses for the sake of saving a few minutes on paper is not a solution. It is unacceptable for any community to be left behind by BusConnects. It must be about providing an excellent bus service for all who need it, including the elderly, people with disabilities and commuters.
At this late stage, we are not calling for the consultation to be scrapped. There is just over a week left of the consultation. Thousands of people have taken the time to engage with the process. However, our amendment calls for further scrutiny after that process has concluded. We want the revised proposals to go before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport for scrutiny. The committee can and should facilitate hearings with representatives of communities where people have objections to the proposals and then take a decision on what parts of the plan, if any, to retain and what parts to change. A further consultation may be required at that stage, depending on the response of the NTA to the objections raised. If the NTA is not willing to listen, the BusConnects project will have to go back to the drawing board. I am sure Fianna Fáil will have no objection to that proposal.
BusConnects is a complex proposal involving a profound reconfiguration of our bus services. For many, it is very difficult to understand. I say that as a daily bus user. There are positives and negatives in the plan and it raises many questions. In much of the public engagement on the issue, the questions are to the fore. I share the concerns of my colleagues regarding the limited nature of the public consultation to date, which is why many of us have felt obliged to organise our own public engagements to ensure that people have the information they need. I have organised nine meetings in my constituency at which I have presented people with the facts. I met representatives of the NTA who explained the plans to me. I am telling people how it will affect their area and letting them give me feedback on the proposals. I am encouraging them to engage with the consultation, to highlight their concerns and to propose possible solutions within the overall plan to the NTA and take it at its word that it will listen to such proposals. We will judge the NTA in that regard when the process is complete.
In terms of the feedback I have received, there is a big concern about the interchanges - will they operate right, will there be sufficient frequency at the change points, will there be sufficient shelter etc. There is concern about a loss of direct routes to hospitals. St. James's Hospital and Stewarts Care in Palmerstown, which are used by many in my constituency, have been widely mentioned in that regard. There is concern and a lack of confidence in the promised level of investment. We are not mischievously raising the issue of privatisation. At every public meeting I have attended, people have raised it as a concern. The best way to put that concern to bed would be for the Government to make clear that privatisation is not on the agenda.
I share the concerns of my constituency colleagues regarding, for example, the rerouting of the No. 13 bus and the lack of increased frequency of the No. 25. I mentioned Stewarts Care in Palmerstown. Later this week, I will attend meetings in Newcastle, Rathcoole and Saggart, communities which have very real concerns about the proposals as they are on the periphery of the city.
We are engaging in this process in good faith and urge the NTA to listen to bus users as well as bus drivers and their representatives. That it should go for a second round of consultation following scrutiny by the Oireachtas committee is an eminently sensible idea which I am sure even the Minister, Deputy Ross, can support.
The project is named BusConnects but many people who have looked at the plans that have been presented thus far consider that BusDisconnects would be more apt. For example, under BusConnects no buses will go through the heart of Drimnagh. It is very easy for a person to sit in the United States and draw lines on a map and say that everybody will be within 450 yards of a public bus or transport service but that will not be the case in Drimnagh or Chapelizod. Five bus routes currently serve Chapelizod, which causes its own problems, but that service will be reduced to one bus every 30 minutes. Elderly persons who use the shops in Ballyfermot, the closest shopping area to Chapelizod, will have to walk up the hill to do so as there will be no bus service between those areas. The points which have been raised in regard to senior citizens' complexes, for example, are being ignored because there is a presumption by the consultant who drew up the plan that everybody is equal. Those with a disability, senior citizens and those who have no alternative but to walk everywhere as they do not have a car or easy access to public transport are being ignored by the proposals. It is obvious that such people believe there is something wrong with the proposals or that there is an ulterior motive behind them.
Like Deputy Ó Broin, the public meetings I have organised and attended on the issue have been information meetings, rather than intended to whip up a frenzy. I met the NTA and encouraged it to hold more information meetings. One such meeting is currently taking place in Ballyfermot at my encouragement. It is a pity there were not more such meetings which would have better informed the public.
The BusConnects plan seems to be at odds with much of the planning process in the city. For many years, there has been a policy of discouraging car use in the city and car parking in its environs and suburbs, which means that people have to rely on public transport. If the public transport is no longer available, people will be disconnected. I urge the Minister to look again at the proposal, as our amendment suggests.
The BusConnects proposals affecting north Wicklow are a mixed bag. I know the Minister is familiar with some of the issues which BusConnects presents for the public transport users of County Wicklow because I saw a tweet he sent in 2017 when he used the No. 44 bus. I am unsure whether he has used it again since then. The proposals will impact severely on some of the most vulnerable people in north Wicklow. The Minister has met some people in the Enniskerry area on the issue because the 185 is one of the routes which will be decimated if the proposals come to fruition. That would affect areas of Enniskerry such as Shop River and Kilgarron, which is made up of a very elderly community who rely heavily on the 185 bus to ascend a very steep hill. What makes it doubly troublesome is that the local post office is at the top of that steep hill. Elderly people will not be able to walk up the hill. The proposal to remove the 185 and replace it with a new route, the 213, which will completely cut out the service to that community is unacceptable. The changes will make routes more direct and remove services from communities such as the Palermo area of Bray which is currently served by the 185. The community in that area is up in arms over the proposals.
It seems that it has been left to public representatives to carry out the public consultation, rather than it being done by the NTA or those behind BusConnects. I take issue with meetings being held outside supermarkets and dressed up as some sort of public consultation meetings. That is a disgrace. More than 150 people turned up to a public meeting on the issue which I held in Bray. Many of them were completely in the dark on the project. Public representatives are doing the work of BusConnects.
There are major issues in regard to the project. Many people in Wicklow have made submissions on the proposals. Ultimately, it is for the Minister, Deputy Ross, to sign off on this plan. I urge him not to do so.
I am sure all present agree that the bus network needs serious investment. The best way to reduce congestion in our city is for more people to use public transport. That will mean less emissions and help us to reach our 2020 targets. More people will use public transport if it is high frequency, competitively priced and quicker than using one's car. I agree that the bus network in Dublin and public transport in general badly needs to be upgraded. Dublin is growing but the current public transport offering does not meet the needs of the city.
However, I have serious concerns about this BusConnects plan. I attended many of the public consultations in my constituency of Dublin Bay North and spoke to many constituents. Those people have genuine concerns regarding the changes to their bus route. Many will now have to take two buses to get to their destination. For example, residents in Howth who want to go into town will now have to either get off in Raheny to connect with the DART or travel on to Artane where they will change to a different bus. In parts of the constituency, many schoolchildren will find they have lost their direct bus route to local schools and they, too, will have to take two buses. That will mean possible delays and longer journey times. Another example is that one of the new proposed bus routes will no longer serve our local hospital. There are many issues of concern throughout the entire constituency of Dublin Bay North.
We need to be mindful of our older citizens and people with disabilities and ensure they are catered for. We need to listen to our local communities and make sure that no community is left behind.
The use of public transport has been growing and has substantially increased. Existing routes in Ballymun, Santry, Whitehall, Glasnevin and Finglas were hard fought for by residents and are now under threat. Transport services should serve all the community, particularly those on disability payments, the elderly and the most vulnerable. Some of the major concerns I have are that it appears from these proposals that bus services are being rerouted and changed and will involve a hop on-hop off service.
Under these proposals, it appears Finglas village will no longer have a direct service. That could have catastrophic effects for the community, local businesses, the post office and employment. If someone is elderly, infirm or dependent on public transport, these proposals will severely impact on their ability to access local businesses and services. I do not want to see Finglas village turned into a ghost town.
In Ballymun, I am concerned that people will have to take more than one journey to access the city centre. The hop on-hop off approach in Ballymun will impact greatly on the elderly, those on disability payments, families with children and wheelchair users.
We have not seen any plans for the lands that are to be subject to compulsory purchase orders, CPOs. We do not know what those are or their location. A further concern is that this will also result in redundancies, not just in Dublin Bus but in other transport services.
I believe there is a privatisation agenda behind these proposals.
Our amendment proposing that the revised plans should come before the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport for examination by residents and representatives of different transport groups is a fair one and should be considered. It would give people an opportunity to raise their concerns.
I will share time with Deputy Burton.
There is no doubt that the public consultation for BusConnects has been a fraught affair, but I believe the responsibility for ratcheting up the concerns to anxiety and worry levels rests with some political parties which have used this consultation for political gain.
There are concerns throughout Dublin city and county. In my constituency, there are fears over the Xpress bus services from Balbriggan, Skerries, Rush and Lusk, but I understand those worries are being addressed through the consultation process. There are concerns about the 43 bus service, which is a major school transport route from Swords along the Malahide Road. There are also concerns about the 42 route through Malahide. Those are real concerns and they need to be addressed through the public consultation process.
This is one of the most important public consultation processes that I can remember as the plan before us is a radical shake-up of our traditional bus service and routes. It needs to be handled carefully, diligently and with a measured approach to ensure any change is an improvement and protects citizens through increased, not decreased, connectivity.
As for the plan itself, there are elements of it I like. I like the idea of greater connectivity to get to more places with greater frequency. That is the core requirement of public transport.
The naming of the spine system on alphabetical lines would bring greater clarity of routes, and I believe it would be an improvement on the current system. I use the bus and I know how to get from my area into Dublin city and I know other bus routes in my own constituency. Beyond that, I have very little idea which bus goes to Rathfarnham, Blanchardstown, Shankill or elsewhere. The proposed naming makes sense, and I welcome that.
The identification of transport hubs needs to be very carefully carried out. The hubs need to be in pedestrianised areas with enough traffic and passive surveillance to ensure people feel safe and secure. They cannot be in industrial estates or retail parks which will become ghost towns after close of business every day.
We are at an acute point in terms of infrastructural development in Dublin. The housing crisis is the most visible manifestation of this pressure, but we have it across the board. We do not have enough water or wastewater treatment capacity to deal with the growth needed to solve the housing crisis, and we do not have the transport infrastructure either.
We have a great company in Dublin Bus, which I liken to Dublin Fire Brigade as one of the few public bodies which enjoys the faith and good favour of the public. Dublin Bus is creaking under the strain of existing growth and is under pressure from private operators and from people choosing cars above public transport. They see public bus as being the lower level option, particularly if they live near a train line or at the outer edges of the city.
Dublin Bus needs a new plan and it has been involved with the National Transport Authority, NTA, in helping to develop this initial proposal. If we do not do something radical with our bus service to make journeys quicker and to improve connectivity, Dublin Bus will suffer. We cannot continue to expand the service in a piecemeal fashion. There needs to be radical change. We want to be in a position were young Dubliners in particular keep their Leap card for longer than they currently do before feeling a need to get a car. This requires integration of transport modes and investment. I also believe strongly that it requires the State to retain control of these critical transport modes. The State needs to lead on this issue and to stand strong. It is also a big part of leading on climate change.
What this motion boils down to is an attack on the process of public consultation itself. This is the first phase of public consultation. At the very outset, it was extended until the end of September. Extra information meetings were arranged in communities throughout the city and county. This is a proposal for consultation, not a plan for implementation, so people should engage with the process. It will come back for further public consultation and if the plan that comes back is egregious and awful, then we will all ensure it is not implemented. I guarantee, however, that if we asked the people of Dublin four months ago if the bus service needed to be improved or changed in their area, the vast majority would have said "Yes".
We now have a draft plan. I believe it will be changed a great deal as this phase of public consultation concludes, but I worry that the die has been cast and the plan will be scrapped. This morning, on Leaders' Questions, we heard Members who have never delivered anything to anyone calling for BusConnects to be scrapped.
This motion has been tabled by Fianna Fáil, which will be involved in the negotiations for the next programme for Government that are due to begin either in a couple of weeks or after the next election. Either way, I imagine the party will call for this plan to be scrapped. It has used this process as an opportunity to get posters on poles and leaflets in doors and to tap into people's fear of change.
The consultation itself must be genuine and responsive. While I believe that will be the case, there are problems. The Lower Kimmage Road, Santry village, Terenure and Dublin 15 are areas which need focus through this process.
I mentioned the issues in my own constituency which need to be addressed. I believe there is scope for another A spine from Balbriggan to travel straight onto the M1 and into the city. Balbriggan is the second largest town by population in Fingal and has further zoned land which will see its population increase to the west by thousands. With a direct spine service, those people could reach Whitehall on a bus in the time it would take to get to Balbriggan train station.
Large population centres such as Malahide and Swords need to be considered carefully in terms of the spine routes. Swords is under-resourced in the current plan and much work needs to be done to ensure there is coverage for such a large town.
It is incumbent on us all as politicians to give public consultations a chance to ensure they are strong and robust. I believe "save our bus service" messages are reckless. They foment the belief that public consultations are foregone conclusions and not something with which people should engage positively. Let us see what comes out the other end of this process before coming to judgment and execution. This is also a lesson we can apply to other public consultations, from local area plans to wastewater treatment plants as well as to BusConnects itself.
As somebody who uses Dublin Bus a lot and has done for all my life, I must say there are welcome areas of the proposals, such as the new orbital route, the fare and the 90 minute period. That would bring us into line with other European cities and those positive elements of the plan could go forward almost immediately and would build confidence in the proposals.
I am concerned about the consultation period. Our consultation in Dublin West and the one in Dublin Central has largely been in supermarkets with those tall tables where people have to queue for hours to get the opportunity to meet one of the engineers. That is a way of putting people off rather than bringing them into the consultation. There is no opportunity for people to have a discussion or a meeting. Many politicians have filled that void by having public and private meetings with concerned citizens. Members from all sides of the House have been doing that.
I am concerned that there is an agenda on the part of the Minister to provide subtly for the privatisation of Dublin Bus.
It has great loyalty from customers and, from a commercial point of view, it is a well known and valuable brand. I have no idea why one would ditch a valuable brand in favour of a complete unknown that means nothing to most Dubliners. The development of the app for Dublin Bus, the real-time information at the bus stops and the Leap card, all of which were done some years ago when we were in government, have transformed the reputation of Dublin Bus. Dublin Bus is both necessary and popular. The Minister needs to rethink the plan.
For blind people, getting rid of the yellow buses means that, for people with very little or no sight, the dark blue against the sky is very difficult to see. I note that a lot of those buses have been repainted. Perhaps the engineers now understand that.
The Minister also needs to reconsider what his Government is planning in respect of the 37 and 70 bus routes. It is putting out tens of thousands of consumers in the Dublin 15 and Dublin 7 areas.
I am sharing time with Deputies Boyd Barrett and Coppinger. I want to address the positives first. There are some positives with BusConnects, particularly around the orbital routes, cycling infrastructure, dedicated bus lanes, transferable tickets and so forth. Dublin Bus was once referred to as the workhorse of public transport and it certainly is that. It is probably one of the few bus services, if not the only one, in the world where people say "thank you" to the driver when they are getting on and off. I hope it stays that way with BusConnects.
BusConnects is quite confusing and convoluted. A person would need a degree to work out what is what and where to go. The main thing about public transport is that it is convenient. The NTA says 92% of people will have a direct bus route into the city centre. That leaves 8% of people without a direct bus route. I want to talk about that 8%, especially in Dublin Mid-West. Areas such as Newcastle and Rathcoole, which have growing populations, new housing and so forth, will lose their direct bus service into the city centre. This was mooted in 2010 under Network Direct by Dublin Bus, but the people of Newcastle and Rathcoole, through people power, won their direct bus into the city centre. It does not make sense for commuters in Rathcoole or Newcastle to lose a direct bus service into the city centre. It is proposed that the bus would stop at the Saggart or Red Cow Luas stop and people would switch to the Luas. That does not make sense. It would not save time.
There are positive things with BusConnects but it is highly convoluted. There is a lot of opposition locally to people losing their bus service. I hope there will be consultation over the next 18 months and we will see what happens after that.
Most people would welcome more frequent buses on main bus corridors, cycling infrastructure, orbital routes and so on. In many other areas, however, this plan should not be called BusConnects but "BusDisconnects". We have engaged with people in our communities about this. I have a list of the 2,700 submissions we have so far collected from people who are furious, worried, anxious and angry at plans to remove local bus services in a way that will particularly hit the elderly, the less mobile and working-class areas. Route No. 4, which serves Stradbrook and Blackrock, is gone altogether, leaving that area with a replacement bus service that will not go into the city centre and will be half as frequent. Bus services direct into the city from Ballybrack, Loughlinstown and Sallynoggin are gone altogether. People will have to go to Dún Laoghaire and change to another bus there, which still will not go into O'Connell Street but will stop at Merrion. The No. 63 will be replaced by a less frequent service in the Monkstown Farm area, which has already lost the 46A service, which used to go every ten minutes. Dalkey will lose 50% of its bus service because the 111 and the 59 will be replaced by another service that will be half as frequent. In particular, people who need to get to St. Vincent's Hospital will no longer have a direct bus route from a whole number of inland areas such as Sallynoggin, Loughlinstown, Ballybrack and so on.
This is why we say this is a Trojan horse for privatisation. What the privatisers want is routes that make a lot of money on a high-frequency basis and to cut the public service routes into areas serving high numbers of pensioners and people with mobility issues. That is not acceptable and will be resisted. There have been huge turnouts at meetings, huge numbers signing petitions saying we want to retain our public bus services. Yes, we should have high-frequency and orbital routes, but they should be additional to existing services. There should be no cuts to existing services. We also need to increase public transport subsidies to the level of the European average if we want to improve our bus services. By the way, let us cut bus fares as well to encourage greater use of our public transport system.
Why pay €400,000 to a consultant to create a re-jigging of existing bus routes and dress it up as being something more frequent? The Minister has said this will ease congestion. That means getting people out of cars. Why would people get out of cars to get two buses rather than one? It makes no sense. In the case of my own area, which is obviously a pattern from what others have been saying, we will be losing direct buses such as the 70 from Dunboyne and Littlepace. Corduff and Mulhuddart will lose the 38A route into the city centre and we will also lose the 40D from Tyrrelstown. That is to be re-routed to one of the busiest shopping centres in the entire country, which will be congested on Saturdays, over the Christmas period and so on.
It has been said that it will be more frequent. What has not been said is how many extra buses will be there to cater for all the extra people who are now joining their friends from other communities to fight for the extra spaces at the interchange. People in greater Blanchardstown should not be begging to keep their three direct buses into the city. We should have a light rail system and a Luas from Broombridge. We are a community of 110,000 people with some of the biggest multinational companies bringing about 25,000 people into the area every day, none of whom seem to think there is any onus on them to provide any extra public transport to cater for those workers.
I do not make any apologies for organising meetings. It is amazing that one of the Labour speakers spent time whinging and whining about people organising meetings. The reality is that people made what they thought crystal clear to us. They are not stupid. They know they are losing buses and are not going to put up with it. We will not wait for a few months. We are directing people to engage in the consultation to make their views very clear but we need a strong community campaign to send a clear message to the NTA that this will not be acceptable.
I agree that this is about privatisation - be it of the spine or orbital routes or cutting Dublin Bus off from even having local routes - but either way, it has increased isolation for many communities. People do not want to get off a bus once they are on one. Nobody wants to do that, particularly if they have impaired mobility or are older. Why would anyone want to do so in weather such as ours? We know that there are people, in Fianna Fáil in particular, organising meetings to put their faces on posters but they are the architects of privatisation. This is definitely linked with the Minister's plan for privatisation. Only this week, 10% of buses were taken off Dublin Bus and given to Go-Ahead Ireland. Workers' salaries and conditions are far worse. It is a Fine Gael agenda. None of the lessons from Great Britain has been learned. A very similar policy was pursued there under the Thatcher government that opened up the bus market to competition and privatised the national bus company. It has resulted in unprofitable services being run down. We must subsidise public transport. It cannot just make a profit: otherwise communities will be left bereft. Many people have been left without transport in London as a result and fares have skyrocketed so the idea that this is not linked with privatisation is very hard to believe since the Minister is such an admirer of the Ryanair model.
This is about political pressure because the Minister does have the legal power to direct the NTA in legislation to stop a proposal. This proposal does not serve communities in any way. There have been meetings attended by 400 or 500 people in Greenhills and many other areas. People have a right to have their say.
BusConnects plans to increase reliability and build out 16 core bus corridors to form a continuous bus lane in each direction. In principle, it is a laudable aim but the proposed interchanges or breaking of journeys on long-established routes direct to Dublin city centre pose insuperable problems for many of my constituents. I met the deputy chief executive of the NTA, Mr. Hugh Creegan, in this House. Many people also ask whether the NTA is putting the cart before the horse. If it was serious about this plan, why did it not move on the core routes first and build them out - it will only start that consultation next month - rather than causing the extreme anxiety it has caused across Dublin Bay North?
My constituents in Howth, Sutton, Bayside and Raheny are desolate and very upset at the proposed changes to the 31, 31A, 31B and 32. Those who live in Howth and Sutton will now have take the N6, which will run between Howth and DCU, and will have to connect to the city centre via Raheny DART station or the Artane roundabout on the D or A spine. There seems to be an emphasis on the fact that we also have a DART station but early morning and evening DART services are already at capacity and anyone who commutes every morning in particular will speak of the cramped conditions. BusConnects is also ignoring the huge numbers of weekly visitors to Howth from all across the north side and many thousands of foreign visitors. It has been estimated that 1 million visitors travel to the peninsula every year. Obviously, we need both a bus and a fixed rail transport system to deal with that.
There is also uproar all across Ayrfield, Edenmore, north and south Coolock and Artane at the changes to the 27, 27A and 27B. The 27A will no longer have a direct route to the city centre for residents of Blunden Drive through to Edenmore and on to Artane. Many residents living in areas for 40 or 50 years are desolate that they might have to walk a mile on a cold and wet morning to one of these spines to catch the bus to town. There was uproar among commuters in Artane, Beaumont, Ayrfield and Edenmore at a meeting I attended organised by my colleague, Councillor Paddy Bourke, in the Artane Beaumont Family Resource Centre where many older speakers asked whether BusConnects was a plot to get older people with bus passes off the buses because they could not see any other sense in it.
We received a lot of documentation and have huge files on this. The other thing that has been ignored in all the documents we received is a disability impact assessment. There is no mention of universal design. These are fatal flaws. Ms Graham, Mr. Creegan and the rest of the NTA should go back to the drawing board.
In spite of current criticisms of Dublin Bus, for example, people getting on in the outer suburbs and there being not enough room on the buses by the time they come to the inner suburbs, I think Dublin Bus has been providing a very good service. Its staff have been very courteous and helpful. Obviously, there is a need for some changes. I would highlight the cross-city routes that have been introduced, which have been of great benefit. The one I know best is the 151, which covers the north side, docklands and St. James's Hospital, the Coombe and Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin.
We know Dublin is growing and that this growth means that changes are needed. I understand the need to tackle the duplication of routes and the need for more orbital routes so some change was needed. However, it is the way in which change and proposals for change are handled that is the issue. Commuters do not want to lose what they have become used to, particularly something that has served them well over the years, so any mention of change must be handled in a very sensitive way. It must be handled carefully with the commuter in mind.
Many of venues for this consultation have been hotels and shopping centres. There could have been a better use of community centres and places within communities that would be more accessible to the people. From talking to people who went into some of the hotels, at times there were more staff there than there were members of the public coming in to find out. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection said earlier that the end game may be different but the consternation, dismay and protests could have been prevented if all of this had been handled properly because, no doubt, it is being seen as a fait accompli. Surely the first exercise should have been with the commuters and staff about what is and is not working and how to improve things so that the proposal becomes a collaborative effort. One will not get 100% agreement but people can work through consensus building.
These proposals are presenting real difficulties. For example, those people who get on one bus and stay on it for a 45 or 50 minute journey must now get on a bus, get off it, get on a bus and get off it. How is that supposed to be age-friendly, not to mention people with a disability? The blurb from BusConnects talks about employers, employees, visitors, tourists and cyclists. This is all very well; they need transport but what about those who are older or who have disabilities? They do not need multiple journeys.
There are positives that people have acknowledged such as low-emission vehicles, a 5 minute service along the spinal route and a 7.5 minute service along the orbital route. Like so many other Deputies, the two buses in my area will be replaced with one and it does not appear as if the service will be much better. We saw the debacle with MetroLink. I thought the NTA would have learned from that to do a bit more thinking outside the box beforehand and to do the thinking away from the office and away from just paper plans by getting out and talking to people. One good thing is that the Government's amendment recognises the need for more to be done on this. We need real consultation, not just presenting it the way it has been presented, namely, as a fait accompli.
Deputy Joan Collins:This is one of the most radical plans ever put to the people of this city. While it has been said that there is ongoing consultation, one must really drill down into these proposals because when one looks at the map, the first thing one will see is that the east side of the city is fairly well served but as one goes west into the working-class communities, the buses are being taken out of those estates.
Those bus routes grew from the needs of the people living in those estates, including older people and people with disabilities, in seeking access to shopping centres and so on. That is why I have called for this proposal to be scrapped. As the word "disability" is not mentioned once in the 58-page document on BusConnects, it was not disability proofed. Jarrett Walker has admitted that he is not qualified to talk about these bus routes and that he fell into the consultancy game, which is an important point. What should have happened is that bus drivers and many more passengers should have been consulted. Those involved should have gone into communities to talk to people about what they needed. The bus drivers know exactly what is going on and the way routes work.
More resources are needed for orbital routes. Those resources should be provided straightaway to provide more bus services on orbital routes. This option could be tested for a year and we could then come back to the drawing board.
The National Transport Authority has been set up, but it is a law unto itself. Like the HSE, it is not accountable. It has a huge amount of money to be put into bus services and done some good work in the provision of real-time information. However, the fact is it is operating by stating, "We are putting this to you and you either accept it or you do not. We will listen to you, but we do not know how much we are going to take from it." Jarrett Walker has said that if 15% of the plan was changed, it would have to be scrapped. I think of all of the areas in which I am involved and all jof the meetings I have attended, from Bluebell to Inchicore. Services on the 68, 69 and 13 bus routes are to be diverted down the Crumlin Road, which means that the 68 and 69 bus routes will be removed for local people who will be able to use the 63 bus service every hour. Most older people are able to get around, but if they have an issue with a knee, a hip, their heart, a lung or their vision or a disability, that is when they will have problems.
The plan should be scrapped and there should be proper and real consultation with communities. The plan could be used as a basis for discussing what we might do, given that there are some ideas in it. It has to be done in that way. This is a big issue and people in communities will rise up and come out onto the streets. I encourage them to come out to have the plan scrapped.
I note that the motion condemns those involved for the unnecessary anxiety and anger experienced by the public in the past eight weeks since the BusConnects, or bus disconnects, as it has been appropriately described, consultation process commenced. The motion also proposes reversing the culling of bus routes across the Dublin greater area. It is interesting that it is happening in Dublin where there is normally no room for buses on the streets. With the new Luas line, people were not able to cross O'Connell Bridge because it had been measured wrong. As a rural Deputy, I can understand the anxiety caused. People living in rural Ireland have been living with it on a daily basis. I am not one bit anti-Dublin; I am for fair play for ordinary consumers, taxpayers and people who want a decent transport service. We hear so much about emissions and pollution and are told to change our ways. Where are we going?
This is typical of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. With no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, cá bhfuil an t-Aire? Where is the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross? Every time any of the Rural Independent Group Deputies comes into the House, he flies like snow off a ditch - he is that scared. This is another appalling mess he is presiding over. This is the man who was able to write in the Sunday newspapers ad infinitumabout what he could do. He could do everything he was nearly infallible, but when he became Minister, he was able to do sweet damn all, only cause confusion and destruction. He has allowed people like these run riot in TII and the National Transport Authority and God knows who else - the quango queens, the quangos about which he wrote and railed against for decades. Now, he is promoting them, patting them on the back, siding with them and letting them run riot, which is what they are doing.
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport found €2.3 million for consultants, while for the rural bus service proposal there is a mere €450,000. This issue arose during the debate on the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill when he threw €450,000 at us as a sop. The money would be welcome even if it was only €45,000, but it would not fund the administration system for a rural bus service. However, he had €2.3 million to give to outside consultants. As I said, I received confirmation that the Department had paid €2.3 million to private consultancy firms in 2017. This has generated considerable anger and frustration, particularly in the light of the fact that the Department is proposing to spend five times less than that figure to fund a rural bus service for 50 communities in 2018. Who is codding who? How can the Minister continue to maintain that his plan to tackle the issue of rural isolation has even a shred of credibility when we now know that the entire budget of €450,000 for the rural bus link scheme pales into insignificance when compared to the millions he was paying private consultancy firms? It is all spin and about consultancy firms. I hope the consultation process will be meaningful, but I fear all of the consultation is meaningless because, as in the case of An Post where there is an independent review, it is being dictated to by the terms of reference. Consultants are being paid to give us the answers we want or that the Government wants and to hell with the people and their views, including the people of Dublin. I support the Members who are railing against this.
What will be even more galling for people living in rural communities is the confirmation that more half of the €2.3 million was given to AECOM, a US firm that describes itself - wait for it - as a global network of experts who aim to deliver transformative outcomes. I knew that the Minister's vocabulary was good, but he should receive a medal for this. How could it have happened under his watch? He wrote about this issue day in and day out. He railed about it from the back benches when I was a member of the Technical Group with him. He also spoke about it for a lifetime in the Seanad, but he has retired and moved into the palatial palace that is his ministerial office across the road. He was going to transform the place, but he goes into hiding when anyone stands up to challenge him.
He answered the wrong question this morning when he read the wrong answer. When a sportsperson returned to Ireland, he did not know what game she had played, what planet she was on or what medal she had won; it was a case of wrong name, wrong person, sorry. He tweets about something he sees on the RTÉ website. That is wrong; he is wrong.
When friends fall out, they fall out big-time, but he chose to fall out with me. I am just saying this is a farce that he is presiding over. He had the new Luas line and was sulking when the Taoiseach and others decided to open it down the road.
The cross-city service could not get across O'Connell Bridge. It blocked the traffic because it was too long. These fellows designed it and, I suppose, they never measured the bridge. They did not care. Giving this amount money to consultants, against which the Minister railed for decades, is anathema to ordinary taxpayers. It is outrageous. The Minister's Department paid AECOM €1.3 million in 2017 for - wait for it - an evaluation of sustainable transport areas. It might do in the Bronx or Washington, but it is not fit for Dublin. That is for what we are paying the money of hard-pressed taxpayers. As we have no figures for what the Minister is giving to these whizz kids in 2018, we do not know what they are getting. We have no idea what he will pay them in 2018 as that detail has not been provided. This is unbelievable stuff and he then runs out of the Chamber when he expects someone to come into it to challenge him.
On the face of it, there is one clear winner in all of this and it is not rural Ireland. It is not Dublin either, the capital city. However, even if we leave aside the private consultancy fees paid, it has also been confirmed to me that the Department paid a separate sum of €544,000 in 2017 in "incidental expenses". I wonder if it was for camera footage after taking pictures of Deputy Danny Healy-Rae at the all-Ireland final. The Minister did not know where Croke Park was two years ago; I had to show him where it was. I also had to show him where Jones Road was. That is the kind of man we have, but Government Members are happy to sit with him and make excuses for him when he disappears. That is with what we are dealing. As I said, the figure is €544,000 in incidental expenses. He would have written such an article on the back page of the Sunday Independentand if he was still in opposition, it would not fit on the back page. It is spend, spend, spend and get me here, get me there, get me anywhere. They - the Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, and the others - were going to go to meet Kim Jong-un, but the Minister did not go and stay there. Again, it is €100,000 more than the entire budget for the rural bus link scheme.
The figure for incidental expenses in the Department was €544,000, whereas the peasants can go back to their caves as far as the Minister is concerned, with a sum of €450,000 provided for services in the country as a whole. That is the insulting way he talks to all of us. It demonstrates that when it comes to addressing the issue of rural isolation, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is reluctant to spend what is needed. However, when it comes to paying fees, private consultancy costs and expenses, money will always be found. It is available for tickets for the World Cup and everything else. I knew that he had played hockey, but I did not realise he was so into some other sports. We saw the unfavourable way he treated rural communities when he got his own through the sports capital grants scheme, with which he said he had nothing to do. He said he would not be involved and was above all of that stuff. I do not know what he is at, but I hope he will go back to engaging in meaningful consultation.
Consultation on the ground on the basis of the terms of reference the Minister has brought up should not be accepted. It will result in a desired answer, while the consultants will get more money. It will be a matter of "Let them eat cake." The people are sick and tired of this and, as a public representative, I am tired of dealing with it. The system does not care about the people. Members are public servants; representatives who have been elected to look after the people and not waste money. It would be a lot easier to meet the Pope than to arrange a meeting with TII representatives. They will not meet anyone and someone cannot discuss a speed limit of which they have made a hames, for example. They are untouchable. We got rid of the NRA. As I have said several times, we had the IRA and decommissioned it only to be left with the NRA. We now have the TII, but it is only a different name. The way it treats people and the House is an insult to our intelligence. It is a merry-go-round of money, spin and consultants. It is a waste of money. I am not anti-American, but I wonder why we could not get consultants from Ireland. If we were to get an ordinary group together from a secondary school, it could come up with a concept to improve transport services in Dublin, rather than firing out millions to a US company to give us a diatribe at the end of it.
I represent the constituency of Dublin North-West which has the distinction of being the only constituency in the Dublin area which is entirely dependent on bus services. We have no other transport options. I am a very big fan of Dublin Bus which provides, in the main, excellent services in the constituency. There is very good frequency and we have service choices on the main routes. Many bus routes also extend right into housing estates and serve a predominantly older profile of constituent very well. Our big problem in recent times has been a lack of capacity, with more people at work and a larger population in the area. As such, there is a need for better capacity. While we have good orbital services, there is a need for more of them also.
Many of the problems associated with Dublin Bus are the result of underinvestment by the Government. We all travel abroad and marvel at the public transport systems in other European capitals, but the reality is that, in the main, those services are highly subsidised. There is a recognition in these countries that if one wants capital cities to work, one has to subsidise public transport and ensure one gets commuter car traffic out of cities. Unfortunately, the Government does not recognise the need to do this and Dublin Bus remains well starved of funding relative to services in other European capitals.
On the surface, the BusConnects proposals appear positive. They refer to greater frequency, greater clarity, priority for bus services and safer cycling infrastructure in conjunction with the proposed new bus infrastructure. The difficulty is that the proposed infrastructure changes are separate from the network changes. The consultations on both elements have been separated completely, with the result that there has been no consultation as yet on infrastructure and the discussion has been focused on network changes. The problem with the network changes is that it has been extraordinarily difficult for people to find out what is being proposed. The quality of the maps and the consultation has been extremely poor. Most of us spent the summer trying to figure out exactly what BusConnects proposed.
When one looks at the detail and how it affects my constituency, one notes that several local services which currently extebd into housing estates are proposed to be removed entirely. That will result in a lot of people having to walk much further to access bus services. I asked about this at the launch of BusConnects, but I did not receive a satisfactory answer. There was very little, if any, consideration given to the needs of older people and people with disabilities. There is and was no emphasis on their needs whatsoever in the report or at the launch. That is borne out by the fact that so many of the local services which currently extend into housing estates are proposed to be removed completely.
It will be said that while one may lose out in some regards, there are benefits in other ways. One then looks at those other ways and the spines. The theory on the spines sounds fine. We have very good bus services running along all of the main thoroughfares in Dublin North-West. The implication of BusConnects for the eastern side of the constituency, however, is the withdrawal of what is currently a great service which takes people to Dorset Street, Parnell Street, O'Connell Street and the main shopping area for people on the northside and a number of entertainment locations. This main road service which takes people right to the centre of town is being withdrawn entirely. That will have huge implications. There are winners and losers, but when one looks at the detail, there are more losers than winners. For that reason, we need to go back to the drawing board.
The Green Party is broadly in favour of BusConnects. However, while I do not agree with the motion to throw the baby out with the bath water, I have a few specific observations from my constituency of Dublin Rathdown. Churchtown, Nutgrove and Ballinteer have been massively underserved by public transport services in recent years. With the elimination of the 48A, 14A and 16A bus routes, the 14 bus route is the only one which serves Churchtown, Nutgrove and the north end of Ballinteer in the direction of town, with the 17 and 75 bus routes running east-west. There is a presumption that everyone in this area can use the Luas, but that is not the case, given the distances involved, in particular for the elderly and those with impaired mobility. With the revised BusConnect routes, the area will still only be served by the east-west S6-S7 route and a new 14 bus route which cuts out Churchtown and Ballinteer south of the Barton Road East roundabout at Nutgrove, as far as the roundabout at the junction of Broadford Road and Stone Masons Way. The residents of Hillview, Llewellyn, Marley Court, Meadow Mount, Meadowbrook, Beaumont Avenue, Holylands, Landscape, Whitehall and Whitebarn have again been forgotten. At the very least, services on the 14 bus route must be more frequent and further and alternative options should be considered, in particular between the roundabout at Broadford Road and the roundabout at Barton Road East.
Residents in Sandyford village have concerns about the proposed new routes, as does the community in Kilternan which is currently served by the 44 bus route which allows access to town through Dundrum. The 44 bus service will be replaced by the 213 bus service from Kilternan to UCD. Given the importance of Dundrum as a hub for people throughout the area, it is surely the case that the people of Kilternan should continue to have a service to Dundrum. To that end, I recommend extending the 12 bus route all the way to Kilternan. It makes no sense for the proposed A3 route to extend to Balally Luas stop and then turn down Dundrum main street. No one lives along this stretch and the buses will further clog up the narrow street. Retaining the old 14 bus route from Wyckham roundabout along the Ballinteer Road would continue an important service for the people of Lynwood, Ludford, Ailesbury Lawn, Wyckham Park Road and the areas around the Willows.
The last issue I raise is a vital one for many in the area. There is still no direct service for people living in any residential part of Dublin Rathdown to St. Vincent's University Hospital. I suggest rerouting the S6-S7 service from Tallaght to Blackrock to St. Vincent's University Hospital instead.
I have attended several of the BusConnects public consultation meetings and been glad that the engineers and planners have been willing to change. They have listened to people and recognised that where particular routes were not being served, there was a need to change. I commend them for the ability to flexible in thinking about how the plan might evolve. Unlike Fianna Fáil, I do not want to throw it out, reverse and start all over again.
That is what I read in it. I wish the Minister was here in the same way that the engineers and planners stayed at the meetings.
I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, but the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should be here to do exactly what he expects his engineers and planners to do at those public meetings. The fact that he is not here speaks volumes about his lack of engagement on the issue.
Another big problem we have is that we have yet to see the next tier, which is the key element in this critical plan. I refer to the infrastructural element in terms of what will happen on the street. My fear is that it might be a roads engineer approach rather than an urban planning approach, whereby we might get the kind of bus priority we need through the use of bus gates, traffic light sequencing and very clever design of the road network rather than the mere addition of lanes on every occasion.
We need to address radically our public transport system and our cycling infrastructure in this city as a fundamental matter, and this project, which has been many years in the making, is the way we will have to do it. There are other things we need to do on top of it, but throwing it out and starting again would not be the right approach. We need to get it right, ensure we do not leave anyone behind and ensure there are more winners than losers. We need to do this collectively and support and work with our planners and engineers to make it happen but we cannot go back to the status quo. The status quois gridlock. This city is grinding to a halt. We must make it a cycling city and a bus city, and that change needs to happen now. It cannot wait any more years.
I will go first. I wish to start by acknowledging the very good service Dublin Bus provides to the people of Dublin. That is not said frequently enough. Dublin Bus has a very loyal customer base. It provides an efficient and reliable service. The one issue with Dublin Bus at present that anyone travelling around the city in the evening or morning can see is that there are huge numbers of people at bus stops waiting for buses. If anything, the service is so popular that more buses are required.
It is also important to point out that there are very many good aspects to the BusConnects proposal. We are not about trying to throw out the whole proposal, but it is important that we as public representatives can debate in this House and communicate to the Minister the concerns that very many communities around Dublin have about the proposals.
On a broad level, my concern is that the proposal seems to have as its primary objective the transport of people from the outskirts of Dublin into the centre of Dublin as quickly as possible. This may be a commendable purpose but it ignores the fact that there are whole swathes of communities on the way into the centre that use Dublin Bus and live in those areas. It is very important that we ensure that the people who are served well by the Dublin Bus system on those routes into town continue to be well served. Part of people's strong concern that I have seen at meetings relates to the fact that certain areas will no longer be serviced by buses. For instance, there was great concern that the No. 1 bus would no longer go into Sandymount village and would avoid it, thereby damaging businesses in the area and upsetting individuals, including older people, who used it to get there. I am pleased to say that the NTA has indicated that this will be reversed and that the No. 1 will go through the village. The No. 47, however, will no longer be able to service St. Vincent's University Hospital for people coming from Ringsend and Sandymount, and the No. 15A will be removed from Terenure Road West, which will be a great inconvenience to the people in that area. I hope the individuals behind the BusConnects project will listen carefully to the submissions being made as people have legitimate concerns about it.
There is also the separate but related issue of the bus corridors. One area of my constituency has been told it will be grievously affected by the bus corridors, and that is the Lower Kimmage Road. The Lower Kimmage Road is a busy residential, two-lane road with bicycle lanes. The individuals on the Lower Kimmage Road have learned from the proposal that has been put out there that it is proposed to convert the road into a three or four-lane high-speed bus corridor. The people who live on the Lower Kimmage Road have done exemplary work in being able to identify from the documents what is being proposed, but no one has gone there and given them full information about it. They are aware, however, and there are general indications that they will lose parts of their gardens, even as far as up to the front doors of their houses. That is no way for any statutory body to treat people who live on such a road. People have invested huge sums of money in their homes and lived there for many years. They are entitled to be treated with respect. It is not acceptable for it just to be left within a statutory document that people will lose their gardens or have a three or four-lane high-speed bus corridor through them. That is not a suitable way to treat people.
It is wrong to state that these issues are being led by politicians. They are not. They are being led by the local community. There was a meeting on Sunday at 7 p.m. - one could not have picked a worse time to have a meeting - about the impact the bus corridors would have on the Lower Kimmage Road. I would say there were more than 200 people at the meeting. The intensity of feeling there was very significant. Many people were very fearful about what is being proposed. We need to respect the fact that people are entitled to be informed about this. This is a major infrastructural project. There is a total lack of awareness that the Poddle river flows underneath the road and that people on the road use bicycles and want to continue to be able to do so. There is a concern throughout the Dublin community that the people putting forward these proposals are not aware of the reality of what is happening on the ground. If those putting forward this proposal had gone out to the Lower Kimmage Road, which is a narrow, winding road at the end, they would realise it is simply madness to put forward a proposal that there be a three or four-lane high-speed bus corridor there, particularly when we have Harold's Cross Road, which has a quality bus corridor.
I could go on but I am conscious that my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, wants to have his say as well.
I wish to start by thanking my colleague, Deputy Troy, for tabling this motion on the BusConnects proposal. I wish to speak to the Minister of State about how the proposal affects my constituency of Kildare North, especially the areas of Celbridge, Leixlip and Maynooth. Before getting into discussion of the proposal, I acknowledge the positive engagement I have had with both the NTA and Dublin Bus, which have been very helpful in explaining the document, saying what the proposed changes are and listening to the feedback I am giving them based on the reaction of the people in those three towns. I should say the population of the three towns combined is in the region of 65,000. They are very heavy users of the public transport system that is there but it needs to be expanded and improved upon.
I wish to identify positives in the additional bus services and routes proposed in the BusConnects proposal. I have been campaigning for some of these routes for some time as both a councillor and now as a national politician, and it is nice to see them included. One is the proposed W8 route, which would connect Celbridge, Maynooth and Tallaght. This would have a massively positive impact because it would connect two colleges, one being a university, a hospital, the Luas and a number of train stations along the route. There is also the proposed 259 service, which would connect Celbridge and Leixlip, two towns with a combined population of 40,000 that have never had a public transport service connecting them directly before. What is important is that when this process in respect of the positive additional routes suggested in BusConnects is completed, the Department, the Minister and the NTA would act immediately to implement those routes, connecting up locations with services that they have never had. This would be a positive outcome. It should be remembered that Dublin at present is really a no-go zone to bring a car into. What we are trying to do is encourage people to use public transport, but they are not able to use buses or trains if the capacity or the service is not there. Right now all those modes of transport are at capacity.
One of the negatives I wish to touch on briefly is the proposed removal of the direct services to Dublin from Celbridge, which has a population of nearly 22,500, from Leixlip, which has a population of 15,000, and from Maynooth, which has a population of 15,000 and a further university population of 12,000. Those are the kinds of figures we are dealing with. I will pick just two examples as I am conscious of my time. The current 67X services Celbridge to Dublin, and there are nine express services from Celbridge to Dublin at peak times from 7 a.m. It is now proposed to reduce this to three services. If one looks at the statistics of each of those buses in the morning, one will see they are all at capacity. Four of the nine buses most mornings are three-axle buses, so, to get technical about it, they have 30% more capacity, which can bring 125 people, and they are all full. They are driving by bus stops leaving people behind them. The other buses carry approximately 90 passengers and are also all full at that time.
What we need is to maintain the services we have and to support them by increasing capacity because the figures, which Dublin Bus can give the Minister any day of the week he wants, show that these buses are at full capacity, can take no more and are leaving people behind them. We need additional services and additional capacity to help people commute from Celbridge, Maynooth and Leixlip for work, college or whatever. That is not currently the case. We need to address that now. A way of dealing with that would be to put on extra buses.
If we were to look at Leixlip as an example, River Forest is an estate of nearly 725 houses in the Captain's Hill area. There is one direct service hourly from that location to Dublin. It is now being proposed to remove that completely and to replace with it one direct service a day and to bring in orbital services, which will obviously not work in that particular area. The engagement and feedback I am getting from Dublin Bus, and from the NTA in particular, is that they are going to take this on board. I hope when that when they redraft this proposal, they will include the positives and will listen to us as public representatives and, more importantly, listen to the public transport users. I hope they will maintain the existing services and put on additional services to complement them. That is what we need. We cannot afford to lose any of the direct services we have coming in from satellite towns on the periphery of Dublin, such as Celbridge, Leixlip and Maynooth.
This draft plan needs severe reworking and I am confident it will get it. I represent the Dublin North-West quadrant of the city. As my colleague, Deputy Shortall, said earlier, it is somewhat unique in that it is singularly served by the bus. It is the only form of public transport we have. We do not have a Luas or DART in that quadrant of the city. We depend on the bus. There are many elderly people and disabled people in my constituency. They depend on the bus. I use Dublin Bus every single day to get in here. I am aware of the positives of Dublin Bus and I am glad to see Deputy O'Callaghan highlighting them, but I am also aware that it can be improved. It can be improved. Orbital routes are a potential improvement. Improvements in frequency are a potential improvement. Every day we see potential improvements being rolled out across the Dublin Bus fleet, such as the introduction of WiFi, Leap cards, etc.
The BusConnects proposals, however, are causing great and grave concern for people. Accordingly, I would advise such people to get involved, to play their role and part in the public consultation, and to make sure that their voices are heard in it. The public consultation only lasts one more week, until 28 September. It is vitally important not only that we have the debate ourselves as public representatives but that the people get to have their say, get their voices heard, and let the NTA, Jarrett Walker and the powers that be know that this plan could do with improvement, that the edges could be knocked off it, and that a better plan can be put forward in the future. That is why public consultations exist and I am confident that, when the public has its say, this plan will be changed and amended accordingly. I would love to speak more but my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, has a great deal more to say.
I thank all contributors to this debate. I have listened carefully to what has been said. The first fact to mention is that this is a consultation process document and not an implementation plan. It is also a matter of fact that Dublin city and its environs are growing, the economy is growing, employment is growing, and we need to plan the bus network to cater for that growth and, indeed, for all existing and prospective passengers.
Some 70% of people travelling into Dublin city each morning do so by sustainable transport. Some 57% of all public transport trips, or 136 million passenger journeys annually, are made by bus. As those numbers grow and as congestion worsens, it is obvious that we need a reliable bus system with sufficient capacity to cater for the needs of the region. The current bus network is complex which makes it hard to use easily. We acknowledge that there are few orbital routes, which makes it hard to move around the outer parts of the city. There are also many overlapping routes. There is a need to better integrate our networks of bus, tram and DART transport.
BusConnects Dublin aims to build a network of new bus corridors on the busiest bus routes to make bus journeys for passengers faster, predictable and reliable. It is redesigning the network of bus routes to provide passengers with a more efficient network which connects more places and carries more people. Dublin Bus is developing a state-of-the-art ticketing system and implementing a cashless payment system to vastly speed up passenger boarding times. It is revamping the fare system to provide a simpler fare structure for passengers. Dublin Bus is allowing seamless movement for passengers between different public transport services without financial penalty. It is rolling out new bus stops with better signage and passenger information, and it is increasing the provision of bus shelters. Starting now, it is also transitioning to a new bus fleet using low-emission vehicle technologies.
There will be many benefits. The revised bus network will see overall service levels increase by over a quarter - 27% - up to 200 million customers. This increased service level includes services on 11 new orbital routes that will operate on a 15 minute frequency or better in the north, south and west of the network area. The number of people living within 400 m of a bus service that operates every ten minutes or better will increase by 35% from 480,000 to 650,000. There will be an increase of 10% in the fleet serving greater Dublin area. Significant increases in weekend and post-peak frequencies will also be evident, and more than 200 km of cycle tracks and lanes will be either built or improved upon. This will allow bus commuting to become a viable and attractive choice with frequent services and better access.
It is important that I acknowledge that, as with any proposed change to public services, the necessary consultation on these proposals has caused some anxiety and worry to some members of the public. I am very aware of the anxiety in my own Dún Laoghaire constituency. I want to mention two specific examples which I know have been raised as part of the consultation process in my own constituency. The first is the proposed removal of the 84 and 84A bus routes which service the Luas stations at Cherrywood and Brides Glen. This removal will mean that older people and people with impaired mobility will have no direct access to the Luas. This is because of the grade difference between the N11 and the Wyattville Link Road. One solution has been put forward but BusConnects welcomes other proposals from residents.
The second issue with BusConnects in my constituency is the proposal to discontinue the No. 4 bus service, which will greatly inconvenience residents in parts of Blackrock, Monkstown and Sallynoggin. Many people who have contacted me on this are very anxious and upset. We understand the anxiety. Under the proposed changes, two buses will be required to make previously simple journeys to places such as Blackrock Clinic, St. Vincent's Hospital, the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, IADT, UCD and Trinity College difficult. This will affect a number of students attending school. The location of the nearest DART and Luas services are not within walking distance for many passengers of the No. 4.
This is a vital transport infrastructure for people living in the area. I also have grave concerns for those living in the upper half of Sallynoggin Road where it joins Rochestown Avenue that they will lose their service entirely. As an elected representative for Dún Laoghaire, I want to ensure constituents who have concerns make proposals. I urge them take part in the public consultation process and to engage with the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Dublin Bus. These submissions will be examined carefully.
The current proposal should be reviewed in the context of all submissions received during the consultation process. Further consultation, including with Oireachtas committees, will be undertaken, if required, on the reconfigured plan. This is a consultation process and not an implementation plan.
Earlier in the summer, the NTA and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, announced the most radical transformation in the history of the State for public transport in Dublin. However, the Minister is not here now. That says it all. Need I say any more?
On this side of the House, we recognise there are eight aspects to BusConnects. We wholeheartedly support seven of them. Colleagues have gone through them, from the simplification of fares and ticketing to improvement to bus stop facilities, etc. Our issue is with the area network redesign. What the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, just said essentially supports our motion. Every Member who contributed, regardless of political hue, mentioned nearly every bus route in Dublin. Our motion speaks to the reversal of the decisions proposed.
Both the Minister of State and Deputy Rock said that this is not an implementation proposal. However, the NTA's consultant said that if 10% of the proposals were removed, then the BusConnects project would be a waste of time. Accordingly, it is an implementation proposal. It is also part of Project Ireland 2040 but there has been no great Government acclamation for this, aside from the Minister, Deputy Ross. I have not heard the communications unit go into overdrive about BusConnects. As one of my colleagues described, instead of connecting people, the evidence coming from public meetings is that people are fearful that it will disconnect them.
This side of the House acknowledges the gridlock facing Dublin city. In my constituency, upwards of 1,200 people have attended the public information meetings I have held. What we have heard at these meetings is that the public will buy into a system of public transport when they are offered segregated bus corridors which would essentially operate like a Luas tramline, get them from A to B and, regardless of whether it is early morning peak or the middle of the afternoon, the time of travel would be the same. They will buy into a system where there is an obstacle-free journey. Accordingly, we buy into the spines proposal where buses arrive on time and there are sufficient numbers of buses. If the infrastructure was created first, then people would buy into it and leave their cars behind because they would know there is a reliable system of bus travel spines going into and across the city.
We support the orbital routes proposal. However, this is really putting the cart before the horse. The NTA is proposing to implement BusConnects without any of the infrastructure being in place. Initially, it said it would be implemented from the third quarter of 2019 but it has now pushed it out to 2020. One cannot implement any of this. Not one driver will be persuaded to leave his or her car behind under this proposal. If they saw proper segregated bus corridors and cycle lanes which allow untrammelled journey from A to B, then people will buy into it.
Several bus drivers came to my public information meetings and spoke about the existing position. The existing bus corridors are not policed which causes bus drivers significant delays. We asked them about the No. 15 route in Knocklyon on which buses are full by the fourth stop. People asked why all buses have to start at the terminus. Why can one bus not start at five stops in on the route? The drivers said the NTA will not allow this as it micromanages the whole process. The No. 54A allows connectivity with Tallaght Hospital, county council and social welfare offices for people in Templeogue and Greenhills. The No. 123 allows connectivity from Templeogue and Greenhills to St. James's Hospital. Those routes are going while other routes will be overloaded.
Two questions the public asked more often than anything else were who is the NTA and is BusConnects a done deal. In all my public consultations, I gave the public all of the NTA's official material. I did not give them an unvarnished or varnished approach to it. The Minister of State claimed it is not a done deal. I told people at my meetings that the NTA is answerable to the Minister and the Minister is answerable to us. However, the Minister is not here. The public may take what it wishes out of that.
It is disappointing that the Minister did not feel the need to wait for the full debate. Several questions were asked of him and he is not here to answer them. How was the consultant, Jarrett Walker, appointed? Were other consultants considered? Why is there a lack of reference in the documentation to people with a disability? Will there be an extra period of public consultation? What is the timeline of how this proposal advances from here? We are no wiser than when we came in.
The Minister was critical of Fianna Fáil for representing the views of Dublin Bus passengers. I do not know where he has been all summer. Does he realise the concerns people have about these proposals? I was supportive of this project at its launch and I still am. However, I said in my press statement that the NTA most engage with local communities which will be impacted by changes to the bus network and must communicate effectively with people from start to finish. This is what this motion is about. This is about ensuring the consultation process is not a box-ticking exercise but that the people's views are heard.
When the Minister was in opposition, he was heavily critical of the NTA. In an article in December 2011 he referred to the NTA as a quango established to protect CIÉ and its political masters and stated the Government had the power under legislation to issue guidelines or policies to the NTA. Was that Shane Ross's opinion? Is he happy now as Minister that the NTA is in a position to protect its political masters?
I acknowledge the work the NTA has done in the past several weeks on the public consultations. However, it must be remembered that this offers an opportunity to get the redesign of the Dublin Bus network right from the beginning. The NTA has already come out and reversed some of the BusConnects proposals.
That in itself is an acknowledgement that the draft was wrong from the start. We do not apologise nor should we apologise for representing the views of the old, the infirm and the disabled. This motion calls for a meaningful consultation.
That includes consultation with Dublin Bus drivers, the people who work at the coalface day in, day out, and who know what network will work. The draft network when reconfigurated must go out for public consultation. The Government has the power to ensure that happens. What we all want is a public bus service that not alone will maintain the current number of people using it but will encourage more people to migrate from their cars to public transport. We need to see additional capacity. That needs to be provided now, not sometime in the next three or four years, because many of our routes and buses are busting at the seams. We also need to see an acceleration in the roll-out of energy efficient hybrid buses. To date, the Government is still standing over a policy of purchasing diesel buses. Most importantly, we want a Dublin Bus service that meets the needs of its service users.
If those parameters are met everybody on this side, and I am sure on the Government side, of the House will be happy. The people in authority who are in a position to make sure those parameters are met are the Minister, Deputy Ross and his Cabinet colleagues. Let us not have Minister Ross say, as he did in December 2011, that the National Transport Authority was established to protect the political masters. Let him ensure the NTA exists to implement Government policies that will ensure a better service for all service users.