Wednesday, 19 September 2018
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
7. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to ensure the proposed revision of bus services affecting the main towns in north County Kildare will be carried out in such a way so as to ensure existing services are not interfered with, that the convenience for commuters and passengers remains paramount and that particular attention will given to meeting the needs of persons with mobility issues who find it difficult to avail of some of the revised services and schedules, as proposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37851/18]
This question relates to the ongoing BusConnects review of services which is intended to improve and expand the efficiency and availability of services. In some cases, however, it has a negative effect on existing services; hence the reason I am asking the question.
Last month the National Transport Authority, NTA, published the Dublin area bus network redesign public consultation report. The report notes that the existing bus network in Dublin and the main towns in north County Kildare is very complex and that it has been designed primarily around overlapping and long radial routes from the city's suburbs taking people into the city centre but with very few orbital routes. Also, recent and proposed improvements to the rail and tram networks require changes to bus services in order to gain the full potential from the improvements. As the Deputy is aware, the city and the greater Dublin area, including its main towns such as Maynooth and Celbridge, are growing and changing, as are the bus journeys people are taking. The report identifies four key strategies to address the issues with the current network: standardise service categories; simplify radial services; build frequent orbitals; and grow suburban feeder networks.
BusConnects Dublin aims to overhaul the current bus system in the wider Dublin region by building a network of new bus corridors on the busiest bus routes to make passenger bus journeys faster, predictable and reliable; completely redesigning the network of bus routes to provide passengers with a more efficient network, connecting more places and carrying more people; developing a state-of-the-art ticketing system using credit and debit cards or mobile phones to link with payment accounts and making payment much more convenient for the travelling public; implementing a cashless payment system to vastly speed up passenger boarding times; revamping the fare system to provide a simpler fare structure; allowing seamless movement of passengers between different public transport services without financial penalty; implementing a new bus livery providing a modern look and feel to the new bus system; rolling out new bus stops with better signage and passenger information and increasing the provision of additional bus shelters; and transitioning - starting now - to a new bus fleet using low-emission vehicle technologies
Against this context, the NTA is progressing the roll-out of BusConnects, commencing in Dublin. BusConnects Dublin provides the foundation for this overall transport system, with the revised bus system projected to carry the majority of passengers across the region and provide key linkages to serve the needs of Dublin into the future.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
While there will be concerns about any change, these strategies will deliver many benefits for the customer: much simpler city services; a much simpler fare structure and provide more frequent all-day services through new and frequent orbital services, interchanging with local services and high frequency radial spines. Under the proposals, an overall increase in services of 27% is expected, which, as far as customers are concerned, can only be good. The NTA estimates that, of people who currently have a direct service to the city centre, 92% will continue to have such a service under the new bus network proposals.
As the Deputy is aware, the NTA, supported by Dublin Bus, has embarked on a process of full public consultation on these bus proposals involving local brochures, local face to face events organised at various locations around the city and the surrounding region, digital imaging of the network, online surveys and consultation with user groups. They are both listening to people who have suggestions to make on how these plans can be made even better. The public consultation process will run until 28 September and presents a great opportunity for people to have their say before the plans are finalised by the NTA. The NTA expects to publish the findings of the public consultation phase before year end.
The NTA understands the issue of interchange is more difficult for elderly people and people with disabilities. Accordingly, it intends to make changes between services as seamless as possible. It is planning that each key interchange location will have a bus shelter, seating, lighting and passenger information. Where bus routes intersect at a junction, the bus stops will be moved as close as possible to the junction to minimise any walking required during the bus interchange and pedestrian crossings will be added, where necessary.
It is envisaged that BusConnects will 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 travelling between the city and surrounding regions.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. The presumption is that the target is to improve the quality, frequency and efficiency of services in moving people from A to B as quickly and effectively as possible. Unfortunately, it also involves interference with some of the existing services in a way that might be difficult for people with mobility issues and who have already become accustomed to certain services. Will the Minister make a particular effort to ensure people who are generally in the middle of the towns or close-by will continue to have available to them the services to which they have become accustomed? I ask this for the very obvious reason that if one takes something away from people who have become accustomed to it during the years, it creates a problem.
I can understand the Deputy is concerned. There are always significant concerns when something as major as this happens, particularly among those who have travelled on the same bus route at the same time for many years, particularly senior citizens, who find the changes difficult to cope with. However, the changes are necessary and people will come to accept them because they will get them from one place to another much more quickly.
On mobility concerns which the Deputy addressed specifically, at the interchange points being introduced as part of the BusConnects project special efforts will be made to ensure changes are close to each other in order that people with mobility concerns will not have to move very far, particularly at junctions. There will also be special information available to accommodate them, in addition to special shelters. The Deputy will be aware that I have appointed to all of the transport companies directors with experience of dealing with people with disabilities or who have been disability service advocates. I believe they will look after mobility concerns particularly well in this project.
I thank the Minister for his reply. The only thing that worries me is that I saw a reply to a letter I sent to the Department recently, in which it was indicated that one bus stop was close to another. I assure the Minister that, for people with mobility issues, it was not. The reality is that the stops were at least 300 m or 400 m apart. To an able-bodied person, that is nothing, but to a person with a mobility issue, it is a long distance. Insofar as it is possible to do so, the Minister should do his best to ensure services to which people have become accustomed will be retained. Incidentally, there was no bus service between Maynooth and Celbridge when I first became involved in this business. There was also no bus service to Captain's Hill in Leixlip. I would certainly like to see the services continue uninterrupted and to see them enhanced, rather than interfered with, to deal with the wider issues that need to be dealt with. It is a matter of doing the two together, if possible.
I sympathise with the Deputy in what he is saying. Some of the changes, as portrayed, will not be suitable. Every Deputy should take seriously the point that there has been widespread consultation. A large number of meetings have been held throughout the Dublin region to accommodate people who have difficulties. Some of the concerns being expressed are totally justified and some will be considered by the NTA sympathetically, particularly where communities are being cut off or inconvenienced unacceptably. From my conversations with the NTA when it made the presentations and the feedback I am getting at the consultations, there is real dialogue on BusConnects, with the result that where there are real difficulties and a large number of people encountering problems, there will be some adjustments made.