Dáil debates

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Public Transport Provision

1:00 pm

Photo of Colm BrophyColm Brophy (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
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I raise this topic as it is one that will have most impact on people living in Dublin in the coming years and decades. There are two aspects and I will speak both to the local and the general elements. If the Minister bears with me, I will begin by speaking specifically about my local area of Dublin South-West, particularly Templeogue. Some people may be aware, as it has been mentioned in the House already this week, that there have been public meetings in the constituency, with hundreds of people attending them. These people live in the area on the affected roads or surrounding roads.

The principal argument about what the National Transport Authority, NTA, and BusConnects are doing is that they are addressing the issue, as they should, of people who commute through the area. Is the NTA taking account of communities in the area through which the commuting takes place? I am in favour of public transport and an enhanced bus service. I am in favour of enhanced cycle lanes and allowing for the development of our city for environmental as well as good commuting reasons, facilitating the taking of people out of cars and providing them with proper public transport. I am not in favour of a system that BusConnects reflects currently, which has basically no regard of the impact on existing communities through which it would go.

At Templeogue village, the inward-bound lane would be closed at Terenure so people would not be able to drive towards the city centre. That is not just at peak times but 24-7, as there is a real necessity at 3 a.m. to have that rule in place. Parking is to be reduced substantially in the village but there has been no consultation with local businesses, which exist on the basis of people being able to park for a few minutes to go into a shop to buy a local product from a local person running a local business. Those businesses will not survive and plonking some big car park down the back of the village will not enable them to survive either. They need to have access to local parking.

This route through Templeogue village is a local road for the people living on it, although it may be a main road to some people. It is proposed to have what amounts to a "hyperlane", consisting of two car lanes, two bus lanes and two cycle lanes, running through the village. How are people supposed to cross from one side of the village to the other with that type of structure in place? There is currently one lane in either direction and a cycle lane interacts with the footpath. The other joke is they say it is a necessity because the proposal is for full continuous lanes; in the middle of Templeogue village, however, we can see the insanity of what is proposed because the lane just stops and vanishes without a trace. The route reverts to a regular road, with the cyclists having to leave the cycle lane and the buses having to leave the bus lane. Everybody gets to a point in the middle of the road because there is no more bus or cycle lane. If that does not undermine the logic of the project by itself, I do not know what would.

I will come back to the general principle as the NTA must look again at how it is doing this and particularly the public consultation. This is where we get to the general point for all of Dublin. We need to be honest and upright with people. The NTA needs to say it is either the needs of the commuter that outweighs the need of the community or there can be a balance between them. The feeling is overwhelmingly that in the communities through which BusConnects plans to plough, they will be the sacrificed so we can have an enhanced bus service in the city. I ask the Minister to reconsider this as it is possible to devise a system that is fair to both.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. I sympathise with much of what he said but the remedy is in our hands. Let me make two statements which all sides of this House can agree upon. We need to transform public transport in Dublin, and we need to consult with communities as we embark upon that transformation. I understand the clash portrayed between communities and commuters and, although I do not accept the point, I understand the argument that there is a conflict between them and their interests at certain hours of the day. I sincerely hope those are not the only two points of agreement today but if they are to be, at least they are fundamental to our discussion.

BusConnects is designed to transform our bus system and our cycling network, as the Deputy referred to. It will radically increase the number of bus services available and radically improve the journey times for passengers on those services. It will deliver approximately 200 km of largely segregated cycling tracks and lanes. BusConnects will transform the lives of Dubliners and the city itself, and that transformation will be for the better. That is the ambition of this project, and that ambition forms an integral part of Project Ireland 2040. Everyone in this House knows we need to transform public transport.

If we are going to make Dublin the type of sustainable, liveable city we all want it to be, then better public transport and better cycling and walking infrastructure need to be at the heart of the city. As I said in the House just last week on another matter, this type of major transformative project will always cause an impact. The ambition - indeed the stated intention - is that this impact will ultimately be positive, but along the way there will be temporary disruptions and inconveniences. That is why we need to engage with communities and citizens throughout the process. We must hear their views and listen to their concerns, and that is exactly what the NTA has been doing all along as it develops BusConnects.

The NTA first consulted with citizens on these proposals way back in 2015 as it drafted the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area. That strategy first set out the ambition to overhaul our bus network and ensure more Dubliners have greater access to better bus services than ever before. Since the launch of BusConnects, the NTA has engaged in an extensive consultation process with citizens and community groups across the city. I know there are some who allege this consultation has not been sufficient but it has been a significant in terms of its scale, reach and the depth of engagement. A wealth of information has been published online and in the press for each and every one of the 16 corridors, as well as a significant volume of detail provided last summer on the proposed new network as it was first published.

Even more importantly from my perspective, there has been active and sustained personal engagement with communities and citizens across the city to explain the proposals but also, of course, to listen to people's views. The NTA holds local information sessions during each consultation period for each for the corridors, including the ones referred to by the Deputy. In addition, local community forums have been established, or will be established, for each of the corridors, which seek to bring together community groups to discuss issues of common interest. On top of all that, the NTA has written to each and every individual property owner who might be personally impacted by the proposals and has offered a one-to-one meeting to explain, in person and in detail, the implications, the timelines and the process involved. Let me be clear that the NTA is engaging with local communities as it embarks upon this transformation. I reiterate that this is the start of a process. This is why the NTA is seeking people’s views.

I want to see a bus system that connects more Dubliners to more job opportunities and more social and leisure activities and saves Dubliners up to 40% to 50% of their time on their bus journey, time saved that they can spend doing what they want to do and not sitting in traffic.

1:10 pm

Photo of Colm BrophyColm Brophy (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. As he was able to agree with me regarding some aspects of the reply, I am able to agree with him, but the devil is in the detail. I want to put one or two of those details into play. The NTA is engaged in a consultation process but has not yet contacted everybody. A public meeting on Monday night heard that one owner had received no communication from the NTA. The very first interaction the owner had with the NTA was at a public meeting about a compulsory purchase order of land owned by that person. This is a disgrace.

The NTA is making an effort on one level, but on another level it started a consultation on a route process and has not finished. It has moved to the second phase of a consultation about another part of the plan. Many people, and the Minister might think them cynical, might be a bit worried about an organisation that has not even replied to the phase one consultation about the routes but is ploughing on with phase two. Perhaps there is predetermined outcome and we are just being talked to. Are we being listened to? When the NTA comes back, we will have to see how much it has really listened because if it really listens, some of what is being proposed cannot go ahead.

If roads are closed on a 24-7 basis, as currently proposed by the NTA, there will be traffic gridlock in Dublin city. We cannot reverse that overnight. If we destroy communities by building these hyper-lanes down roads that do not need to be built, we cannot reverse that overnight. We have major decisions to make and we need a much greater consultation process and far more involvement from communities. Otherwise, we will have a partial transport solution that does not meet the needs of the commuter and will destroy the communities through which it goes. The NTA needs to slow down and think.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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I understand the Deputy's frustration because a large number of people will be inconvenienced by what happens. To some extent, it is a matter of the greater good because of the chronic traffic situation in Dublin and the need to improve public transport and make journeys by public transport faster and more efficient.

I am surprised that the Deputy can mention a case where the NTA has not informed someone because my understanding is that all property owners who could be impacted by the new bus lanes were notified by registered letter by the NTA immediately before the public launch. That letter explains the proposal, the overview map of the road and the potential impact on their property, and it offers one-to-one meetings with the NTA to discuss the specific implications for property owners. If the Deputy has a specific case in mind, he should give it to me and I will be delighted to refer it to the NTA and ask it about it, but I do not think there is any kind of deliberate decision or effort to bypass people in any way. There may have been a problem or misunderstanding or the registered letter may not have been served properly. There is a commitment by the NTA, which I believe is a firm and genuine commitment, to contact anybody affected.

My understanding is that the take-up of the one-to-one meetings is disappointingly low. I think it is about 12%, which is low, but the NTA is open to that. The Deputy must acknowledge that there was a very wide consultation about the BusConnects routes and network last summer. The NTA received 30,000 submissions from the Dublin area, which it is looking at. The Deputy said that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating and I agree with him. The NTA will come back in the next few months with a new plan for a further public consultation and we will see where we go from there and what changes are being made. It is probably unfair and certainly premature to say that the NTA is not serious about public consultation. It is engaging in a series of public consultations and we will see what the results will be.