Wednesday, 10 April 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Public Transport Provision
I thank the Minister, Deputy Ross, for coming to the House to respond to the issue I raise. As the Ceann Comhairle said, I wish to deal with issues concerning public transport, in particular in north Kildare. Public transport is socially inclusive. Negotiating traffic in Dublin for car users is becoming increasingly impossible. We need a service that is regular and reliable for the public to engage with and to use. We need sustainable modes of transport. The Government should highlight the environmental benefit of public transport. If we have a regular and reliable service, people will use it. Greater tax relief must be provided through the taxsaver commuter ticket scheme. Dublin fares poorly in terms of traffic congestion when it comes to our European counterparts. It was rated among the worst in a new global report. Improving public transport is the best way to address the issue as, currently, Dublin is an unfriendly place to drive due to congestion.
The commuter belts need better public transport. That includes Kildare North, which I represent, and the need for facilities such as park and ride services. We fought hard to get a park and ride service in Kilcock, which is working very well. I was instrumental in delivering that. However, Kilcock needs a better bus and rail service. It does not have a reliable bus and rail service and the town is expanding. We need greater focus on that and there must be improvements in that area.
Maynooth and Kildare rail services, which service Hazelhatch and Sallins, also need extra capacity. There is a growing requirement for extra capacity, and with the current housing developments and future planned housing, extra capacity must be provided. Currently, those trains are leaving people on the platforms in the morning.
The need for orbital bus routes linking villages such as Straffan, Ardclough and Clane to Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail services is critical. About a year ago, I was involved in implementing and advocating for the 139 orbital service, which connects Naas all the way to Blanchardstown via Sallins, Clane, Rathcoffey, Maynooth and Leixlip. That service is working exceptionally well and has proven to be a success. That is the reason we need more of those type of services connecting to the main services.
The BusConnects proposal is generally acceptable. However, it is proposed that Riverforest in Leixlip will lose a direct service to Dublin. That is not the way to encourage people to use public transport. BusConnects should be about adding to the current services to supplement and complement them, not removing existing services. For example, the BusConnects proposal on the W8 route, which connects Maynooth, a university town, and Celbridge, which together have a population of more than 50,000 people, to Tallaght, needs to be implemented as a priority. That route connects important services such as hospitals, colleges and the Luas lines. We need those services as quickly as possible. The 259 service connects Celbridge and Leixlip, another populated area of more than 40,000 people.
Celbridge has a population of 22,000. It does not have a direct service to Dublin. The 67X service runs in the morning and in the afternoon. All of those are at capacity. I have met Dublin Bus representatives on that and what is needed is two additional services to the morning and evening 67X service. Currently, people are being left behind. The last 67X going to Celbridge leaves Dublin at 5.50 in the evening, which is far too early. The 67, which services Celbridge, also services Lucan and Chapelizod. The problem that arises in that respect is that when the buses are leaving town, the people from Celbridge cannot get on them, and when they leave Chapelizod and Lucan they are only half full. They are serviced by other bus services but, unfortunately, the Celbridge people are left on the footpath at the bus stops because they cannot get on those buses. When they are leaving Lucan, they have capacity but that is no good to the people who are left behind. As a result, people are late for appointments, whether it be college, work, medical appointments or whatever, and it is causing major issues.
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter, which I know is very important. I acknowledge the fact that he is a superb advocate for the Celbridge area. He has constantly been making representations, not just about transport but about other requirements for his area, which have been effective. I propose to outline some of the benefits that have arisen recently for the Celbridge area, particularly in terms of BusConnects.
As the Deputy will be aware, the National Transport Authority, NTA, has statutory responsibility for the planning and delivery of transport infrastructure and services in the greater Dublin area including Kildare. The NTA’s Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy 2016-2035 provides the overarching framework for the planning and delivery of transport infrastructure and services in the greater Dublin area, GDA, over the next two decades. The strategy sets out an ambitious range of improvements across the area of bus and heavy rail. These improvements include the establishment of a combined core bus network, new bus station facilities to provide for intercity and regional buses which serve Dublin city centre, continual replacement and upgrading of the bus fleet, the DART expansion programme which will see the DART system expanded providing fast, high-frequency electrified services to Hazelhatch on the Kildare line and Maynooth on the Maynooth-Sligo line, and the Phoenix Park tunnel link, which connects to the Maynooth line and links Heuston and Connolly stations. We are now trying to implement that strategy. That is the reason I secured the funding allocations under Project Ireland 2040 to allow for its implementation over the next ten years. For 2019, the capital allocation has increased by €1.325 billion or just over 22% above the 2018 allocation.
Project Ireland 2040 confirmed BusConnects as one of a number of key investment priorities to deliver a comprehensive public transport network over the next decade. BusConnects will improve bus journey times that will benefit many millions of passenger journeys per year, provide a bus service that is easier to use and understand, enable more people to travel by bus than ever before, and provide a network of cycling infrastructure that will enable more people to cycle across the city. As the Deputy is aware, the NTA launched a public consultation last summer on the proposed redesign of the bus network in the GDA. By the time the consultation closed at the end of September, more than 30,000 submissions had been received. The NTA will publish revised proposals later this year taking into account the views expressed in all of those submissions.
The proposals included extensive changes to the routes serving Celbridge, including ten-minute peak time services on the proposed C4 route that would continue into Leixlip, and a peak period route 324 providing a frequent express service from Celbridge to southern parts of the city centre and University College Dublin. Celbridge is a main beneficiary of the new orbital route, W8, from Maynooth to Tallaght, which operates every 30 minutes all day. Finally, outer parts of Celbridge will be served by a new local route to which the Deputy referred, the 259, which would feed every 30 minutes into Hazelhatch-Celbridge station at the south end and Leixlip Confey station at the north end.
The interchange with the rail network will be of huge benefit to Celbridge residents as the enhancements to the heavy rail system provided for in the NTA’s transport strategy will create an integrated rail network which will provide the core high-capacity transit system for the region and will deliver a very substantial increase in peak hour capacity on all lines from Drogheda, Maynooth, Hazelhatch-Celbridge and Greystones. The electrification of the line to Hazelhatch-Celbridge and remaining infrastructure to complete the link of the Kildare commuter route to the city centre will be delivered as part of the DART expansion programme as envisaged in the national development plan, NDP.
I thank the Minister. I acknowledge, as I did in my original contribution, that we agree with much of what is contained in the BusConnects proposal but the problem for a town like Celbridge is that it cannot wait until BusConnects delivers on that. There has to be some intervention in the interim. I have met the NTA and Dublin Bus representatives and the reality is that because Celbridge has a population of 22,000 and there is so much development happening in that area, on the 67X service people are being left at bus stops in the morning. What is needed to deal with that issue now are two additional Xs in the morning and in the evening servicing Celbridge and then leaving Dublin a little later. If we have to wait for BusConnects, which I am aware through public consultation is coming out in June, this problem will get out of control because it is already very difficult for people and, as a result, they are not using public transport because of the problems I have outlined.
The Minister said the 67 service will be replaced by the C4. The problem with that is that it is going into Leixlip and Lucan, therefore reducing the direct service from Celbridge to Dublin. When that bus is returning, unfortunately, Celbridge people cannot get on that bus to come home whereas the buses servicing Lucan and Leixlip have other services available to them. People travelling to Lucan, Chapelizod or Leixlip have three or four options whereas Celbridge has only one, so if a person does not get on that service, he or she does not get there. Our proposals to the NTA and Dublin Bus and through the BusConnects system was that every alternative 67, or C4, would go direct from Celbridge to Dublin and then every second one would go in via Lucan and Chapelizod. That needs to happen to have an immediate impact to try to deal with the problem.
I have acknowledged that the W8 and the 259 the Minister mentioned are positive developments but they need to be implemented as soon as possible. Waiting for that to happen until after the BusConnects proposal is approved, which will be much later this year, is way too late. This is a problem now. We are at capacity, there are major issues, and we would appreciate the Minister's intervention. Is it possible for the Minister to have a meeting with the NTA and Dublin Bus to discuss these issues and come up with practical solutions to try to deal with the current stalemate?
I understand what the Deputy is saying and the fact that he is making a special plea for Celbridge. As he correctly said, there are major problems with congestion in Dublin traffic and Celbridge suffers as a result. However, it should be acknowledged that we are making great strides. We are making enormous commitments to sorting out the problem of traffic in Dublin and the suburbs. While BusConnects might be imperfect in some ways, as it will not suit everybody in every way, it will increase the frequency of public transport coming into the city centre. It is not just the orbital routes that will improve it but also the new bus corridors. In almost all cases that will be accompanied by 200 km of dedicated cycling lanes, which will obviously accommodate some of the people the Deputy mentioned who are currently not able to get onto some of the buses in his area.
It must be acknowledged that there have been great improvements, and not just in rail, Luas cross city, cycling and BusConnects. The Deputy should acknowledge, and I do not take away from the fact that he has been lobbying on its behalf, that there have been great improvements in the routes serving Celbridge. The ten-minute peak times is one. The orbital routes will also benefit Celbridge, as will the interchange with the rail network. In the long term, the electrification of the line to Hazelhatch will benefit the Celbridge area. I understand what the Deputy is saying but, to be honest, the area is not doing badly. The Deputy should claim some of the credit for that as he has been a thorn in my side, or a great asset to his area, for a long period of time. Perhaps he should now sit back and say to people, "Look at what we have got. We are doing quite well".