Wednesday, 17 April 2019
Public Transport: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann:notes that:— 92 per cent of the members of the Citizens' Assembly recommended that the State should prioritise the expansion of public transport spending over new road infrastructure spending at a ratio of no less than 2:1 to facilitate the broader availability and uptake of public transport options with attention to rural areas;
— vitally important public transport projects such as the Western Rail Corridor, the Dublin-Navan railway line and the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) Interconnector, which a decade ago were close to being implemented, were stopped by the Government;
— the National Development Plan 2018-2020 envisages total expenditure on land transport infrastructure of €20.6 billion up to 2027, with €8.6 billion of that going to public transport, and when non-national roads are taken into account, the anticipated ratio of public transport spending to new roads infrastructure is significantly lower than 1:2;
— in some jurisdictions, towns or villages which meet population thresholds are entitled to guaranteed public transport service based on population size, linking them into the overall public transport network, e.g. in the Canton of Zurich, every village with 300 residents, jobs or educational places is entitled to a service connecting to the network on an hourly basis;
— the rail network in Ireland is less than half of its historic greatest extent, with some counties now having no rail service at all;
— Ireland has the lowest percentage of its rail network electrified of any European country, with 3 per cent electrified compared to an European Union average of 54 per cent;
— underinvestment in rail infrastructure is continuing, reducing the quality of service on all lines and undermining the viability of some;
— the Dáil, on 17th January last, called on the Government to ensure that 10 per cent of transport funding is allocated to cycling;
— there is an inherent complementarity between providing good public transport and making good provision for walking and cycling at each end of the public transport trip, including providing cycle parking;
— the annual cost of congestion in the Greater Dublin Area has been estimated at €358 million in 2012, predicted to rise to €2 billion per annum in 2033;
— attempts to address congestion by increasing road capacity are futile because they induce more traffic;
— the average distance to work has increased from 11 kilometres to 18 kilometres between 1991 and 2016;
— over 10 per cent of trips to work, school or college are in excess of one hour in length;
— the extension and improvement of public transport in both urban and rural areas improves social equity and enables people on low incomes to avail of economic, social and environmental opportunities;
— extending and improving public transport enables and encourages reduction in private car use, with consequent benefits for air quality and greenhouse gas emissions;
— greenhouse gas emissions from road transport increased by 140 per cent between 1990 and 2017;
— greenhouse gas emissions from transport continue to increase rapidly and are projected to grow by 18 per cent over the period 2017-2020 and by 20 per cent over the period 2017-2030;
— the impact of Project Ireland 2040 on greenhouse gas emissions from transport has not been assessed;
— climate modelling of the National Development Plan 2018-2027 shows that we are only on track to achieve one third of the emissions reductions we have committed to make by 2030;
— the inherent spatial efficiency of public transport means that transferring trips from cars to public transport frees space to be allocated for other uses, improving the liveability of cities and towns; and
— due to the increased physical activity involved with using public transport compared to private motor vehicles, improved public transport has a significant positive impact on public health;
adopts the recommendation of the Citizens’ Assembly in this regard;
and calls on the Government to:
— prioritise the expansion of public transport spending over new road infrastructure spending at a ratio of no less than 2:1 to facilitate the broader availability and uptake of public transport options with special attention to rural areas;
— ensure that all public transport routes operate as part of an integrated, interconnected national public transport system;
— ensure that all public transport services are accessible and useable by all;
— establish specifications for rural public transport to connect populations to the national public transport system based on population size;
— investigate innovative rural public transport options, including combining public transport services with the transport needed to deliver other public services, and learn from existing rural transport pilot projects;
— include the assessment of implications for greenhouse gas emissions in all assessments and evaluations of transport expenditure;
— revise Project Ireland 2040 accordingly;
— ask the National Transport Authority to revise the Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy accordingly;
— consider the following for inclusion in the National Development Plan 2018-2027:
— completion of the restoration of the Western Rail Corridor;
— Cork Luas, reopening of suburban rail stations in Cork, river buses, and a more extensive bus and cycleway network than currently envisaged;
— Galway Light Rail and a more extensive bus network in Galway;
— development of a local rail service on the four railway lines serving Limerick;
— a comprehensive local bus network for Waterford;
— completion of the restoration of the Dublin-Navan railway line;
— the DART Interconnector;
— Metro West; and
— a national greenway network;
— consider the restoration or opening of other rail lines for inclusion in the National Development Plan 2018-2027;
— bring forward a plan for large-scale investment in urban, interurban and rural bus systems;
— bring forward a plan for major modernisation and improvement of the rail network, including electrification of main lines, with goals of modernisation of all lines, increasing frequencies and reducing journey times below two hours for trips between Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Waterford, Sligo and Dublin, and below one hour and thirty minutes between Galway and Dublin;
— ensure good quality access to public transport by foot and bicycle; and
— expand the bicycle sharing systems in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick, and establish new systems in other cities and towns, especially centred on rail and bus stations.
The motive for this motion comes from the deliberations of the Citizens' Assembly on the topic of climate action. Over 90% of the members of the assembly voted in support of a recommendation to switch the transport budget from its current emphasis of 2:1 in favour of roads rather than public transport, to a new ratio of 2:1 in favour of public transport rather than roads. I would like to qualify that by pointing out that our first priority should be to invest in walking. We should allocate at least 10% of the budget to walking and a further 10% to cycling. That would meet the OECD recommendation on what should be spent on active travel by a country such as Ireland. We would split the remainder of the transport budget on the basis of a 2:1 ratio in favour of public transport rather than new road building.
Our second motive for this motion relates to the work of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, which delivered a really good report. It was clear at that committee that the biggest problem we have in the climate area relates to our transport policy. Representatives of every agriculture organisation turned up at the launch the other day, but there was no one there from transport. When the committee had to choose whether to support the recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly, 16 members of the committee voted against doing so. Just four of us voted in favour of the recommendation. I remind the House that emissions in the transport sector increased by 140% between 1990 and 2017 and are continuing to increase. When officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport came before the committee and were asked to set out their emissions projections for 2030, it was shocking to find that they could not answer the question. The Department has no particular plans for meeting our wider target of a 30% reduction in emissions. When it was pointed out that the Environmental Protection Agency has shown that, according to the best analysis available, transport emissions will increase by 20% by 2030, rather than falling, the officials from the Department had no answer. We have a real crisis in our transport sector when it comes to climate.
I would like to say to those who are not concerned about this issue, on the basis that we will develop electric vehicles, hydrogen, biogas and so on, that there is a second reason they should support this motion. The approach we are taking to transport planning is causing gridlock and leading to significant inefficiencies. It is disadvantaging our citizens who are increasingly unable to move because of being stuck in traffic. The statistics are clear. According to the household transport survey, 74% of all trips in Dublin and 80% of all trips outside Dublin are made by car. Just 18% of all trips are made by walking. Public transport accounts for 5% of all trips. Just 3% of trips involve cycling. That goes against everything we have been saying in policy terms for the past 30 years. We understand that this split is not working and is leading to substantial costs, but we are doing absolutely nothing to redress it.
I would like to refer to the international expertise. Mr. David O'Connor of Technological University Dublin spoke at an interesting session in the audiovisual room today. He mentioned that in 2006 - this still applies today - the European Environmental Agency referred to Ireland as the worst case scenario in terms of transport planning. When the new accession countries joined the EU, they were told to avoid making the mistakes that Ireland was continuing to make on transport policy. According to another international survey, Dublin has the second worst morning peak gridlock problem on the planet. The only city to beat Dublin was Mexico City. Belfast was just behind Dublin. The national planning framework addressed this problem by recognising that complete change is needed. It set out the right strategy, which involves bringing development back to the centre, switching away from a road-based transport system and engaging in decarbonisation. However, this strategy was completely and utterly ignored in the national development plan. Under the plan, half of all new housing will be outside urban areas, where the car will again be the only proper option to which people will be able to turn when seeking to get to work, school or sports grounds.
Professor Edgar Morgenroth, who is an economist who works in Dublin City University, was very influential in the drafting of the national planning framework. He has spoken scathingly about the national development plan. He has made the point that if we want to develop our cities, particularly Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway, we have to invest in them. It is not enough to invest in the interconnection points between the cities, as advocated in the national development plan, because all that facilitates is further sprawl. The reality of the national development plan is even worse than that. Various public transport projects are mentioned in the plan. We all know they will be stuck in planning because of the lack of political support for the sorts of actions that are needed. Projects involving 51 motorways or national roads are currently being built or are about to be built. No public transport project is under construction at present. No infrastructural projects of any scale involving public transport or cycling were built last year. Not a single public transport project will be delivered this year or next year, or any time in the immediate future under this Government. It is a disgrace. Our insane transport policy is tying us into high emissions. The social cost of this anti-social system is so real.
Dr. Lorraine D'Arcy of Technological University Dublin made the case at today's meeting that the lack of investment in active travel is damaging our society. An open letter that was presented to the Taoiseach today on behalf of the Irish Heart Foundation, cyclist.ieand Irish Doctors for the Environment shows that consistent benefits would accrue if we were to switch away from a roads-based transport system. Dr. Donal O'Shea, who is responsible in the HSE for obesity policy, has lamented the lack of action and joined-up thinking in transport planning. He has stated that the best way to solve the massive explosion in obesity would be to pursue active transport options every day. The average age of the patients who are suffering with obesity with whom he deals is 45, but many of them have the gait speed of an 80 year old. They cannot cross the road. The recommendation from the medical experts is not to go to the gym - it is to integrate into our everyday lives physical activities like walking or cycling to the bus or the train, or walking and cycling in their own right. Cycling and public transport account for just 3% and 5% of all journeys, respectively. We should be using such modes of transport to tackle our health crisis.
Seven out of ten Irish people do not get the recommended daily amount of exercise. Just 20% of primary school students get the correct level of physical exercise. We have an obesity crisis as a result. The climate issue is connected to these dietary issues. It has been suggested that the inflammatory state of the planet is similar to the inflammatory conditions we are creating for human beings. We have been told that 78% of solutions are environmental. It is not just a question of what we eat; it is also a question of how we move around. This Government is driving us into a future in which all we can do is drive. Its failure to invest in or plan for public transport, walking or cycling will mean we have no other options or possible alternatives. Dr. D'Arcy has made the point that the promotion of active travel would have an anti-inflammatory effect because such travel is really good for people's health and is an antidepressant.
All the surveys show that those who do the daily recommended amount of exercise are twice as happy as those who do not. It provides for social interaction. It creates social spaces where people see each other and can stop and talk to each other. The sense one gets on a bus of being with people is not experienced in the traffic gridlock that has been created by Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance, which are running our transport system.
Active travel increases strength and enhances flexibility, endurance and bone density. It is an anti-ageing technique. It decreases the prevalence of dementia. If the Government's only metric is an economic one, it should note that active travel cuts absenteeism by 20%. We live in a society in which one never knows how long it will take to get from A to B. Increasingly, people are spending hours in gridlock. Some 200,000 Irish people spend more than two hours per day on their daily commute. What does that do to the quality of life? Commuting times will increase even further as all the motorways and roads are built and as people live ever further from urban centres. With this trend and with house prices so expensive closer to the centres, we are condemning young people to a commuting hell. When people return from other countries, one of their main dislikes about Ireland is the lack of availability of the transport alternatives that exist in every other developing country.
There is a phenomenon known as peak car. Other countries have reached peak car and have decoupled economic development and housing development from commuting by car. It was interesting that the assistant secretary in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport said when the Department did not have an answer to the questions on where we are going and how things will change that we may be at peak car. We know we are. We know from all the statistics and surveys that Dublin is gridlocked and that Galway, Cork, Limerick and Waterford are even worse. We are not responding by building alternatives. What we are doing is responding by building even more roads.
Dublin is the most egregious example. Transport Infrastructure Ireland representatives attended a Dáil committee a year ago and had to answer the question as to how it would tackle gridlock in Dublin. Their solution was to widen the N7 between Naas and Newbridge and the N11 at Kilmacanogue, in addition to widening the N2, N3, N4 and N6. Pretty much every approach road to Dublin is being widened, and they join an M50 that is completely at capacity. In the city, within the M50, we are planning to take out the gardens and trees to cater for traffic.
This is the insanity of the transport planning in the national development plan. The joint committee members asked whether there was any climate assessment of the plan when it was signed off last June. In a world in which we know we are committing to climate targets, was there any climate modelling of the outcomes? Deputy Thomas Pringle will have heard what occurred. It was incredible. There was not one bit of modelling. It was done after the fact, partly because our committee embarrassed those concerned into doing so. The assessment was that even if we did everything in the national development plan, including all the good stuff, such as retrofitting and developing the metro and BusConnects, we would get only one third of the way towards meeting the emissions reductions targets to which we have committed for 2030. There is a 70% gap, and transport has to change.
Agriculture will change. It is clear that it will be better for farmers. They are starting to realise that. We have choices. We will promote a better type of forestry and we will we re-wet our boglands. We are going to change farming for the better. Energy also has a path. It is clear we have a comparative competitive advantage in renewable power, and we have everything to gain from promoting energy efficiency. Options are becoming available. In the area of transport, there is nothing. There are no plans and there is no ambition. There is no changing of ways and no reassessment of the national development plan. Under the national development plan, projects were assessed according to the flawed model of saying roads would save a certain amount of time in making inter-urban journeys, with no regard to the traffic that would arise and the certain gridlock to come. All the inter-urban motorways to provide for long-distance commuting will result only in motorists getting stuck on the outskirts of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford.
Galway must be the worst example. I refer to the Galway transport plan. We happened to have our convention in Galway last month. I could not believe how bad the plan was. I could not believe how out of date it was. Thirty years ago, I would have said it was out of date. It is now spectacular that any city authority could believe it represents the future of transport. It depicts a road-based system providing for long-distance commutes.
We are going to have a difficult job building public transport but we need it. In my closing remarks, I will set out some of the examples of what we could do. It requires political commitment. To have commitment, one needs projects to get behind. One needs to get behind the BusConnects project in Dublin and change it for the better but we need to create a public transport network that works here. Where are the options for Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway? Cork is a great doughnut, a hollowed-out city. Everyone has left for Douglas, Carrigaline, Ballincollig and beyond. In Galway, everyone is coming from a long distance and getting stuck at the industrial estate roundabouts. In Limerick, only 3% of people live within the historic city. There are four rail lines, unused for most of the day, that we could turn into commuting routes if there were some vision or imagination.
Transport planning needs to change now. The national development plan needs to be completely revised and changed. We would start by setting targets: walking, 10%; cycling, 10%; and the remainder divided two to one in favour of public transport. The AA is stating that this is what we need to do. Businesses know it is what we have to do because the current system is not working. More than anything else, for the health of our people, mental and physical, we need to change. We ask people to support this motion to send a signal of intent in that regard.
Is cúis áthais dúinn an rún seo a chur os comhair na Dála anocht. The Green Party is tabling this motion because the way that we live and travel today is not sustainable for our families, our future, our quality of life or our planet. Recommendation No. 10 of the Citizens' Assembly was that "92% of the Members recommended that the State should prioritise the expansion of public transport spending over new road infrastructure spending at a ratio of no less than 2-to-1 to facilitate the broader availability and uptake of public transport options with attention to rural areas." The need for serious and substantial investment in public transport infrastructure across the country - making public transport a real option for everyone, rural and urban - was recognised by the Citizen's Assembly as necessary to bring down our transport emissions. Emissions from transport make up 20% of our overall greenhouse gas emissions, having risen by 140% between 1990 and 2016. Public transport infrastructure is vital for our planet and there is no time to lose, yet there has been little to no movement by the Government towards investing in it at the scale necessary.
The Government's expenditure on roads still greatly exceeds the public transport budget. Project Ireland 2040, the vaunted national development plan, is primarily focused on roads. As Deputy Eamon Ryan said, no public transport projects were completed last year and none will be completed this year and next year. Investing in public transport is about saving the planet, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and tackling climate change. It is about more than that, however; it is about restoring our quality of life. Public transport is an active mode of transport. To get to and from public transport, no matter how short the trip, requires activity. Walking and cycling are the most active modes of transport. As Dr. Lorraine D'Arcy and David O'Connor of the Technological University Dublin stated earlier in the audiovisual room, when it comes to transport the focus most of the time is on commuting and commuting data. We do not seem to consider, as we should in designing our cities, towns and villages, that travel should be for health, social interaction and a variety of purposes in addition to just getting from A to B and then back to A again.
Yesterday, research released by motor data company INRIX showed that commuters in Dublin spent a total of 246 hours - ten days and six hours - in their cars in 2018. Only in Bogota and Rome, cities many times the size of Dublin, do commuters spend longer in their cars.
It is a cost to our quality of life as time stuck in traffic costs mothers and fathers time with their children and all people time with their families. It isolates and divides and it creates enormous uncertainty and anxiety around travel times for those trying to get to work, school, college, social events, the shops, their places of worship and community. A major investment in public transport infrastructure across the country does not just change how we travel, it changes how we live as a community.
Public transport can connect communities. It can connect communities with other communities, and it can create stronger bonds within communities. By allowing public transport as a viable option and taking cars off the road we make our air cleaner, we make walking and cycling safer for our children, we reduce the amount of time people spend stuck in traffic in their cars, and we allow them to spend more time in their communities, getting to know their neighbours.
Six out of ten primary school children are driven to school, and the statistics are not much better for second level. According to the CSO, more girls are driving to school than are cycling. It is shocking. No wonder there is a crisis in childhood obesity. More investment in public transport would make them more independent. When we say goodbye to our children in the morning, we can know they have the safe option of travelling to school by bus, train or tram. We should know they have the option to walk or cycle to school if we invest in walking and cycling infrastructure, to make it safe and accessible. For many people in rural Ireland public transport simply is not an option. The infrastructure just is not there. This motion is calling for the Government to invest in rural Ireland and to put that infrastructure in place. The Government must give people the option to take a bus. Why should they have to take the car? They must be given the option of real public transport which brings them where they need to go.
We need to guarantee that every village, town or city is entitled to a certain level of public transport infrastructure based on its population size, and everything is linked into the overall public transport network. This is not a fantasy, this is the way public transport operates in countries which take it seriously, like Switzerland. This motion is calling on the Government to be ambitious for our planet and for our communities. Real investment in public transport will make a radical difference to quality of life for many people right across the country and I urge the Government to support the motion before us tonight.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann:” and substitute the following:“notes:
— the ambition of Project Ireland 2040 in, inter alia, supporting compact growth, enhanced regional accessibility, strengthened rural economies and communities, sustainable mobility and the transition to a low carbon economy;
— the integral role of sustainable mobility in both urban and rural areas in supporting that ambition;
— the more strategic and long-term approach toward public transport planning which has evolved in recent years due to improved legislative and policy frameworks;
— the significantly enhanced levels of investment planned in sustainable mobility over the next ten years and the 29 per cent increase in investment between 2017 and 2019 in the major public transport capital investment programmes;
— that the levels of funding now provided toward the maintenance and renewal of the heavy rail network mean it is now funded at the ‘steady state’ level;
— the on-going development of a number of important policies and strategies, including the forthcoming All of Government Plan on Climate Disruption, the draft Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy, the recently commenced Limerick – Shannon
Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy, the impending Waterford Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy and the review of the Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area which is scheduled to commence in 2020; and
— that investment levels will increase further in future years, within overall budgetary parameters, to support the implementation of these finalised policies and strategies; and
calls on the Government to:
— prioritise the implementation of those published projects and programmes as contained within Project Ireland 2040; and
— continue to examine, within the statutory, policy and budgetary frameworks as now established, the potential of other projects and programmes to contribute further toward the continual development of improved public transport networks and services.
My countermotion is short and to the point. First, it seeks to prioritise the implementation of the public transport projects as published in Project Ireland 2040. Second, it calls on the Government to continue examining the potential of other projects which might further improve our public transport system. There should not be a single Deputy in this House who disagrees with either of those statements.
I am surprised that the motion, as put forward by the Green Party, as well as the amendments put forward by Fianna Fáil, fail to explicitly set out wholehearted support for the public transport projects which are detailed within Project Ireland 2040. These projects will transform public transport across the country, benefit hundreds of millions of passenger journeys each year and play an important part in meeting our climate action challenge. I fully support the transformative change this Government is funding across our public transport system. This change will develop segregated bus lanes and dedicated cycle lanes and tracks in all our major cities. Everyone in this House should support that. It will roll out massively expanded commuter rail services across counties Dublin, Kildare, Louth and Wicklow. Everyone in this House should support that. It will deliver a new metro service running from north to south across Dublin and integrating with that expanded commuter rail service at key points. Everyone in this House should support that. We are now able to say that the heavy rail network is funded at the steady state level needed to improve the passengers’ journey experience in both urban and rural areas. Everyone in this House should support that.
I have said before we need to move away from transport project by press release and move forward with proper, long-term and strategic planning of what our transport requirements are and how best to meet them in the short, medium and long terms. We need proper analysis to support well developed policies and strategies which is based on facts not soundbites. I would note that the Swiss Canton of Zurich, as referenced in the Green Party motion, has a population density of over 800 people per square kilometre as compared to Ireland’s 70 and that would acknowledge that the statement “underinvestment in the rail network is continuing” is simply untrue. It would reveal the vast majority of expenditure on roads relates to maintenance and renewal of the existing road network, a network of vital importance for our bus services, particularly in our rural areas where we have been increasing bus services through both public service obligation and LocalLink. It would conclude there already exists a transport authority in the greater Dublin area as called for in the Fianna Fáil amendments.
Over the last decade or so, successive Governments have sought to move towards a more evidence-based approach towards transport planning which is the right approach. In the greater Dublin area, we now have a specific, statutory, long-term approach toward strategic transport planning. The National Transport Authority, NTA, is required by law to develop a 20-year transport strategy. It is required by law to consult widely in the development of that strategy before it is submitted for ministerial approval and to review that strategy every six years to ensure it remains valid or to amend it if required. Importantly, it is also a requirement of law that all relevant land-use planning strategies in the greater Dublin area are consistent with the transport strategy. This is a statutory framework that was long sought and hard fought which represents international best practice but it is a framework that I am afraid this Green Party motion seeks to up-end. I have no problem with next year’s review of the greater Dublin area transport strategy looking at issues such as the Navan rail line, expanded metro or the DART interconnector. In fact, I encourage the Green Party and Fianna Fáil to put forward their analysis supporting the development of any or all of those projects as part of that review. However, I do have an issue with undermining the existing statutory framework, a framework whose very introduction was championed by many as the way forward in ensuring proper and sustainable transport planning.
This plan-led approach towards transport planning is something we are seeking to replicate across the country. That is why the NTA has already worked with the local authorities in Galway in developing the Galway transport strategy and Exchequer funding to support its implementation is available. It is why the NTA is working with local authorities in Cork, Limerick and Waterford to develop metropolitan area transport strategies in each of those cities which will all provide a 20-year horizon to improving public transport in each city.
Each of these transport strategies will provide the evidence base to plan for the future and ensure that we have an appropriate strategic backdrop to the significantly increased levels of funding we have available. At a policy level, we are looking to move forward with reviewing our existing public transport policy. It has been ten years since the publication of Smarter Trave - A Sustainable Transport Future. In those ten years, a lot has changed. It was a policy published just as the country entered a period of economic and financial crisis. A period which meant that successive Governments were not in a position to invest as we all would have liked to. Obviously, that meant some transport projects were not implemented as originally intended ten years ago. However, important progress has been made in areas and that should be recognised as well. Of course, it is always a good idea to look at policy frameworks and refresh them in light of changed circumstances and the passage of time, therefore in coming months I will launch a public consultation on our public and sustainable transport policy. The purpose of this consultation will be to set out what has happened in the last ten years, what has not happened and to seek people’s ideas and views as to what should happen. I look forward to hearing those ideas and views and engaging with Deputies who have a great deal of experience in the last ten years and longer, during that process as we look to shape our future public transport policy.
We are looking to improve things now and improvements are visible on the ground. They are visible in the revamped bus network in Waterford city with an Exchequer funded new fleet and Exchequer funded expanded services.
They are also visible in the expanded PSO bus fleets across the rest of the country and the ongoing steady-state replacement of older, dirtier buses with newer, greener and cleaner ones. They are visible in the bus trials under way in both Dublin and Cork, as we look to see what technology works best for our urban PSO bus fleets when we say goodbye to buying diesel-only buses from this year. They are visible in the ten-minute DART and expanded off-peak services across the GDA rail network. They are visible in the increased Local Link rural services with the introduction of new regular commuter services, improvements to demand responsive services and the piloting of new evening services. They are visible in the increased funding being made available to support improvements in accessibility across bus and rail, such as the new single-deck buses for mid-range regional PSO routes which will enter service this year. They are visible in the increased levels of funding available to support cycling infrastructure and the number of major cycling projects under construction or due to start this year. Improvements are happening on the ground and those improvements are bearing fruit, as can be seen by the increasing numbers of people using sustainable transport options.
We need more, and that is why I reiterate that Government's priority is to deliver upon the ambition of Project Ireland 2040 and see through the implementation of the public transport mega projects - BusConnects, MetroLink and DART expansion. We simply cannot debate public transport, or climate action responses in the public transport sector, without being clear about our support for these projects.
Of course, I recognise that we cannot merely build those three projects and rest on our laurels. We need to continually examine what our transport requirements are and how best to meet them, but that examination must respect the existing statutory and policy frameworks. In the GDA, the review of the transport strategy will allow for other options to be considered. In Cork, Limerick and Waterford, the development of the transport strategies for each will look into their transport needs over the next 20 years.
At a policy level, our review of public transport policy will similarly look to the future to see what our objectives should be. All that work will allow us feed into the mid-term review of the NDP in 2022, which means we can appropriately reflect any additional projects and programmes in the budgetary framework.
That is the core of my countermotion before the House, which calls on Government to deliver on what we have said we would do and deliver these transformative projects which will benefit hundreds of millions of passenger journeys each year, and to keep our minds open as to what future projects and programmes we might need to consider. If Deputies believe in improving public transport, I see no grounds to disagree. I, therefore, commend the Government's countermotion to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is an opportunity to take stock of the transport network in Ireland.
Talk in here is cheap. People listening in to this debate this evening, those who are caught sitting on the M4 every morning coming into town or those who are caught in a congested city, or any of my colleagues, Councillors Cormac Devlin, Kate Feeney or Daithí de Róiste, will speak of standing at bus stops every morning and queues of over-full buses passing by them as they cannot stop to pick up passengers. While I agree with many of the aspirations in the motion put, we need to take stock of where we are, what we can do and what actions are needed in the short term.
When the Minister speaks, he always speaks about long-term plans for what will happen and reassuring commuters that in eight or ten years everything will be all right and their journey time will be reduced. When he talks about policy by press release, that is rich coming from a Minister who contradicted himself so many times regarding the route of the metro, even in here in reply to parliamentary questions and Topical Issue debates.
When we talk about the long-term plans, what is abundantly clear is that the Government needs to establish a national infrastructure committee to ensure that large-scale infrastructural projects are delivered in a cost effective and efficient manner. That is needed more than ever.
When we are talking about long-term projects, we need to ask the Government why it scrapped the DART underground, a project that was identified by the NTA as the key to unlocking the potential of the existing Dublin network. The Minister has never once answered fully why that was scrapped.
He mentioned the number of years in which there was no investment and that it could not happen because of the restrictions on the public finances. I acknowledge there were restrictions in the public finances but there were restrictions on other countries' public finances but they used every opportunity they could through funding from Europe which is something that the Government has failed miserably on.
We need to look at how we can get people out of their cars and onto public transport. The only way we will do that is if we provide a good alternative that is reliable and efficient. Certain things can happen within a six-to-12 month period. We can look at identifying park-and-ride facilities outside the M50 to encourage people to leave their cars there and travel into the city on buses. There is a bus route identified under BusConnects from the N4 into town. Fifteen properties is all that are needed to be engaged with to ensure a continuous route from outside Liffey Valley right into the city centre. If that was done now, not in three or four years, that could release a great deal of traffic from the city centre.
The Minister spoke of BusConnects. There is a great deal of support for BusConnects but there is also a great deal of concern and anxiety about it. That concern and anxiety arises out of the failure by the Department and the NTA to engage meaningfully. I was out with Ms Mary Fitzpatrick the other evening on Botanic Road. There was a public meeting held for the residents of that road, not in the community but in TII headquarters. Ms Deirdre Conroy, a candidate for my party, held a public meeting last night which more than 200 people attended. There is concern and anxiety. If the Minister wants BusConnects to work, he must engage with the public to ensure that it will work.
He referred to cycling. He is the one who reneged on his promise on the minimum passing distant, and reduced expenditure on cycling from the year he first took up office to last year by €7 million or €8 million.
There is no identification in the Minister's countermotion with rural transport, something he stated is key to his belief and what he wants to see delivered. The NTA was before the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport more than three months ago promising the roll-out of an effective night-time rural transport service. We are yet to hear where that goes. I will hand over for my colleagues.
The time for talking is over. The time for action is now.
First, I thank Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin for bringing forward the motion.
I will focus my comments on an aspect the motion pays attention to, namely the "vitally important public transport projects such as ... Dublin-Navan railway line". The Minister will be well aware of my continued references to this vitally important infrastructure. Two weeks ago, I stood on the platform in Navan central where thousands of people should be gathering each morning to allow them to avail of a viable public transport facility between Navan and Dublin. In a town of 40,000 people, I stood there on an empty platform with the pigeons. Three years ago, the Minister promised to come down and stand with me and at least examine the viability of that project. I took him at his word. I am still waiting for him - an hour down the road - to come down and engage with me on that project.
I met the Irish Rail infrastructure team some weeks ago and was glad to do so. The same very professional people were in situten years ago. They informed me that they are in the business of building railway lines and want to see those kinds of projects happen with the Government's help. I ask the Minister, on behalf of the people of Navan, Kilmessan, Dunshaughlin and the wider area, to engage with me in respect of that crucial piece of infrastructure.
The Fianna Fáil plan put forward by Deputy Troy prioritises that Dublin-Navan railway line as a crucial piece of infrastructure from an economic as well as a transport point of view. There are thousands of people who depend on that for easy access to the city. There used to be an advertisement on radio which boasted that Navan was an hour from Dublin. One would be lucky to get from Navan to Dunshaughlin in that time now. That is soul destroying for the people and families involved. I am talking about a county that is home to 200,000 people who need to access the city for jobs. The Fianna Fáil development plan will be published in September and the development of that railway line will be a crucial part of it.
I do not doubt the Minister's sincerity or commitment to the availability of good public transport because I know he believes in that. I ask him for action. He often wrote eloquently in the Sunday Independent on issues pertaining to Bus Éireann, Irish Rail and many other things. I worked for the Independent Group for over a decade and I know the power of words. However, words are one thing; the Minister needs to match his words with action. I ask that he engage with Members from counties Westmeath, Cavan and Cork and, in particular, the people of Navan and Meath. Aside from the motion, I ask that he does me the decency of honouring the commitment he gave me in autumn 2016 and let us deliver that crucial piece of infrastructure for the people of Navan and Meath.
I thank Deputy Eamon Ryan for proposing the motion and I acknowledge the contributions already made by Deputies Troy and Cassells.
The Minister is familiar with my face from across the Chamber. I often raise issues of this type and I am a one of his regular correspondents. I am particularly interested in the Kildare rail line. I wrote to the Minister when he was a Member of the Upper House because, as a Trinity Senator, he represented me. I have been raising these issues with the Minister for at least a decade but now he is in a position to do something about them and I hope he will.
I read the original Green Party motion in detail and also the Government amendment, with which I am disappointed. As the Minister stated, the amendment is simple and brief but it could be summarised as the Government encouraging itself to keep doing what it is doing. Einstein defined insanity as repeating the same experiment and hoping for a different result and that appears to be what is involved here.
The myriad benefits of public transport, and investment therein, need hardly to be restated in the course of this debate but I will briefly recap on some of them. There is an obvious environmental impact in reducing emissions and addressing climate change. We know that heat, energy and transport are the three pillars by which climate change will be addressed. Until recently, Dublin Buss was still buying diesel vehicles for its fleet and that is a part of the problem. Investment in public transport across the board goes some way towards addressing those issues.
There are also quality of life consequences when people are not caught in the traffic congestion my colleagues have already mentioned and people having more reliable, affordable, simple and efficient modes of transport. I would go so far as to say that mental health is improved if one has a reliable system of transport to get to work, employment, or wherever one is going. There are considerable opportunities because public transport, like education, is a social enabler and enabler of opportunity. People can access study, work, travel and more places quickly and affordably without the necessity for private cars and the funds necessary to run them. Many students who have taken up studies in parts of the country other than those from where they come will agree with that. Public transport is an enabler when it is provided and done properly.
The Minister mentioned Project Ireland 2040. I had to do a double take while I was watching the debate on the monitor in my office. The Minister referred to the great rail lines that were to come to Kildare in 2040. I am focusing on Kildare. I printed off the executive summary of Project Ireland 2040 and could not find a reference to those rail lines. I moved on to read different articles in The Irish Timesand on thejournal.ie. I found mention of the long-awaited and long-promised DART expansion. I did not realise that was part of Project Ireland 2040 but many of the projects included have been reheated and carried over from earlier times. That will be welcome, if and when it arrives in the next decade, but it is nowhere near as ambitious or broad as it needs to be and that is only from the perspective of my county. There are many more plans and links missing throughout the country.
I particularly noticed the lack of investment in public transport and the lack of ambitious public transport projects when Project Ireland 2040 was announced and I raised the matter on the Order of Business at the time. The Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, responded to my criticism of the lack of investment in public transport and heavy and light rail by stating that something was being done with Dublin Bus. That typifies the Government's attitude of disinterest and disengagement with specifics.
I will turn to the specifics of the experiences I have every day. I came here on the train from Sallins this morning. Our car parks are oversubscribed and it is impossible to get a space after 7 a.m., as the Minister knows well. Carriages on the train are often full to capacity so even if one manages to get a car parking space, by hook or by crook, one often cannot get onto the train thereafter. The tracks are full in the sense that there is no flexibility or scope for timetabling, scheduling of additional services or complementary services because we only have a twin track line most of the way out. We need investment in track work and park-and-ride facilities, not just around train stations but in places such as Goffs which would help to take cars out of circulation further up the chain. We need to invest in a feeder bus network. It would not take a considerable amount of imagination to run shuttle services around provincial towns without railway stations so people could walk to a stop, get on feeder buses that will take them to a train station and allow them to leave their cars at home. That will free up room in the car parks and provide many other benefits.
I could go on because I have a long list but I am conscious that other colleagues want to comment. When the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government left office in 2011, there was a fine strategy called Transport 21 on the table. It had things like the DART inter-connector, the DART underground, Metro West, circle lines, the Navan rail lines that Deputy Cassells referred to, and many other benefits. It is not a bad plan at all but it has been sitting on a shelf for ten years. It is costed and planned, specifications have been done and it is ready to go. The Minister could do a lot worse than reinstating Transport 21.
I will start by thanking the Minister for his visit to Cavan and Monaghan some months ago. He knows, even though I have only been a Member for a short time, that one of my bugbears is the lack of public transport. The Minister knows from his visit to County Cavan that we have the basic necessary infrastructure in place. There are rail lines which took traffic and carriages from Navan to Kingscourt in their day. That basic infrastructure is there and, like my colleagues, I was disappointed with the Government's Project Ireland 2040. Taking advantage of that infrastructure is not being planned for over the next 20 years and that is a missed opportunity.
I congratulate Deputy Eamon Ryan for bringing forward this motion because we need to be more proactive and vocal about climate change but the basic essence of climate action is to take our cars off the road. I travel from Cavan to Leinster House daily and I know people are stuck in their cars. It reminds me of the days of the Celtic tiger. There is one person in each car and they are stuck in traffic from Clonee all the way to the city centre.
We have a fabulous motorway but it ends at Whitegate on the Cavan-Meath border. Cavan and Monaghan seem to be completely forgotten when it comes to public transport. We have no motorway and the Government does not appear to be planning for that all-important, east-west link corridor. Transport facilities are essential parts of the economic prosperity of my constituency and I implore the Minister not to overlook the area in any investment and planning for 2040. Brexit is looming and the Border counties will, by their nature, be exposed to that. We have not come out of recession. That is the reality for us and for business in Cavan and Monaghan. We really need investment in infrastructure.
I thank the Minister for his visit to Cavan and Monaghan. I hope it will be the first of many as we carry out more research and plan for investment in a rail line to Kingscourt.
I wish to refer specifically to the ongoing issue of rural transport. I know I have been beating this drum for quite so time now. The fact remains that rural Ireland is not serviced by an adequate system not to mention the urgent need for wheelchair-accessible transport or our European and international obligations. Those travelling to Cork city each morning from either the Bantry or the Clonakilty sides of my constituency of Cork South West experience huge volumes of traffic that might be alleviated if we had an adequate transport system, which we do not have.
I have been advised as recently as last Monday that the bus leaving Bantry for the city is full by the time it reaches Bandon. This is only half way. This means those waiting in Bandon have no alternative other than wait for the next scheduled service or get into their cars and drive if they are lucky enough to own a car. A person wishing to travel from Drinagh to Skibbereen would need to take a bus to Bantry and double back. Similarly, a person wishing to travel from Dunmanway to Clonakilty would need to take a bus to Bandon and, again, double back. This makes no sense. It is nonsensical and is simply not fair.
It is imperative that the frequency of buses is increased, particularly at rush hour. Additional routes need to be established to link towns and villages in an appropriate way so that people do not have to double back and often double the length of time it takes to get from one village or town to another in west Cork. We need a significant investment in new buses because there is no point in increasing services if there is no fleet.
I will diverge slightly from the motion to bring to the Minister's attention something that was brought to my attention at a meeting of the joint policing committee in Kerry on Monday. Addressing the meeting, a senior Garda official informed us that there is no legislation gardaí can use to force pedestrians or cyclists on country roads to wear high-visibility jackets. Will the Minister take note of that issue? I do not know whether he is listening to me or reading something on his phone. He is very strong on road safety. It is something he has tried to highlight. Many of the measures he has taken have been very controversial but if there is no legislation gardaí can use to make pedestrians or cyclists wear high-visibility jackets on country roads, that needs to change.
Having in place regulations that are of no use to gardaí will not work. We need something that makes it compulsory for people to be seen. "Be safe, be seen" is our motto and I want the Minister to take that message very seriously.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I welcome all efforts to keep public transport on the political agenda. It is certainly not prioritised by this Government or by the Minister. A good public transport service is a cornerstone of most modern states and cities. Ireland and our cities are way behind in this regard. Our public transport systems are not up to standard and do not provide adequate services in many parts of the State. This is not the fault of those providing the services. I take this opportunity to commend the three CIÉ companies in particular for their long-standing service to public transport.
The problem involves bad planning and, in recent years, an ideological opposition to the notion of transport being a vital public service like health, education or any other public service. We have a Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport who has no respect for public services and no interest in improving public transport. He thinks it has nothing to do with him. This means public transport never receives adequate funding and continues to struggle to keep up with increasing demand. We have the highest levels of public transport use on record but funding has not kept up with demand and services are lacking. This is true for both current public service obligation, PSO, spending and capital spending on badly needed improvements in infrastructure. The NTA is tasked with overseeing public transport but it can work only with the budgets allocated to it by the Minister and it works to implement Government policy.
The main policy that has been in train in recent years is the privatisation of our public bus routes. A total of 10% of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann routes were put out to tender in recent years. A further 10% of Bus Éireann routes are up for grabs. A foreign profit-making company has won most of these tenders. It is questionable what a for-profit company can bring to the table. What existing public transport services need is increased funding. The Government needs to significantly increase funding for CIÉ companies to allow them to expand and improve their services. This will mean more buses and trains and more services. It would also mean safer, more efficient and cheaper services. It would go a long way towards reducing reliance on cars and improve social cohesion. Instead the Government chooses to privatise.
In recent years, two major issues have become very visible, namely, the lack of rural transport and our emissions obligations. The Government has abandoned the people of rural Ireland. That much is very clear. This is not rocket science. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. There is an obvious solution to the problems faced by people in rural areas. We need improved rural bus services. Bus Éireann is perfectly positioned to provide this service but the budget is not there for it to offer increased services and better frequency on existing routes. The same goes for rail services. In Sinn Féin's alternative budget, we increased PSO funding by 25% for 2019. The second issue is transport emissions, which constitute the second biggest source of emissions in this State. This is not surprising given that many people have no option but to use their cars. The best way to ensure a significant reduction in car use and transport emissions is to provide affordable reliable good-quality public transport - both buses and trains. Until this happens, we are failing rural Ireland and our environmental obligations. Fine Gael's record on both matters has been appalling.
Sinn Féin supports the call in this motion for increased spending on public transport. However, we have some concerns about the exact figures quoted in this motion. We had similar concerns at the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action about this particular recommendation from the citizens' assembly. We are 100% behind the concept of increasing spending on public transport and public transport projects. However, when we budget using ratios and percentages, it can be problematic. Having looked at the national development plan figures, we are concerned that the figures quoted in this motion include maintenance and other road budgetary items. This citizens' assembly called for a 2:1 ratio regarding spending on public transport versus new road projects. Spending on new road projects is much lower than the figures quoted in this motion. We should seek a much more ambitious spending target for public transport, starting with PSO spending to quickly and efficiently improve rural transport services in particular.
A number of projects are in the planning phase, all of which cater to Dublin. I hope that BusConnects will be successful.
However, we have concerns about the future accessibility of public transport and the feasibility of some parts of the BusConnects plan. My party and I also support metro north. We continue to call on the Government not to completely abandon the southern part of that project. We need major improvements in transport provision, and metro south should be an important part of that.
I would also caution against privatising new services. Culling projects for political reasons has led us to where we are today, and it does not inspire confidence that it continues to happen. The State should not build new public transport services only to hand them over to foreign businesses to make profit from them. This neoliberal model is ridiculously poor value for money and we need to move away from it.
As a Deputy representing County Louth, the county with the two largest towns in Ireland, and east Meath, I welcome plans to extend the DART to Drogheda. I hope this project can be completed in a timely manner, in particular given the large number of workers living in Louth who have to commute to Dublin every day.
I support the motion's call for increased services, in particular rail services, in other cities. The Government claims to be in favour of balanced regional development, but all evidence shows that in reality this does not happen. All roads lead to Dublin, and this is having a devastating effect on communities across the State, in particular those on the western seaboard.
I also support the call in the motion for increased active travel. We have seen a significant increase in the number of cyclists in our cities in the past ten years. The numbers cycling to work would balloon if cyclists could be assured that they could cycle safely in our cities. This means not having to share space with buses or other traffic. Our cycling infrastructure needs to be upgraded to increase safety for cyclists and to shift the emphasis in our cities from cars, traffic and congestion to a safer, cleaner environment for everyone.
I thank the Green Party and Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin for bringing forward the motion. We welcome it and fully support its provisions. It is another timely and welcome motion covering a large swathe of transport deficiencies. Labour was the first party to propose the Citizens' Assembly and is supportive of both the citizens' recommendations and many of the calls within this motion. I will focus on a number of elements of the motion, in particular the way in which a lack of investment in transport adversely affects rural areas.
I represent a constituency which has a large urban population but I also represent large areas of north County Dublin that are isolated from any bus, rail or other transport alternative. Public transport is not just about commuting; it is also vital to the health and well-being of our rural and urban communities. The environmental cost of our failure to invest in adequate public transport has been well stated, but there are less recognisable social costs that need to be addressed as well. Loneliness and social isolation are an ever-growing epidemic in Ireland. It is estimated that about 400,000 people in Ireland suffer from loneliness, with more than 37% of people aged 50 or over reporting feeling lonely. These figures are particularly pronounced in rural Ireland, where there has been a complete absence of investment in public transport where it should be a priority. In 2013 Labour introduced the rural hackney scheme to serve isolated rural villages. Since then, however, no concrete action has been taken to promote, resource and expand this scheme. A simplified and reinforced version of the scheme would provide subsidies for operators in isolated rural areas and ensure tenders and start-up grants where no service currently exists. These services would combine with Local Link services in rural towns and provide a vital link to a range of public and private services as well as allowing an outlet for socialising.
A school bus guarantee should be also given to every child in Ireland to end the madness of the daily commute by car. We also need to reimagine our provision of services and how they relate to public transport. For instance, 159 post offices are due to close in rural Ireland. This means people must drive longer distances to post a letter or to perform other transactions. This comes not only at a personal cost, but also at a cost to the environment. In Sweden, Germany and Austria successful "post bus" services are in operation, whereby journeys combine rural postal collections and deliveries with a local transport service. Ireland had its own "post bus" in Ennis, County Clare, until 2004 and it served both locals and tourists. It is precisely these kinds of initiatives in which we need to invest if we are to achieve environmental, economic and social objectives.
We also need to invest in our rural towns to provide a counterweight to our overwhelmed capital. Dublin is currently the third most congested city in the world after Bogotá and Rome, which is an incredible statistic. Commuters are spending almost 250 hours stuck in cars travelling at less than 10 km/h. This statistic is shocking but we rarely see the person behind it. For example, this may be a parent not making it home to put his or her young child to bed as he or she is stuck in traffic. Again, this is not only a transport issue, it is also a social issue. What are we doing to resolve these issues? Rather than reducing the need to commute to the city for work by creating other regional employment hubs across Ireland, we are spending billions on widening access routes onto an already clogged M50. We therefore support the call in the motion to establish specifications for rural public transport to connect populations to the national public transport system based on population size. Labour's restoration of town councils Bill would be a necessary step in the right direction. Our proposal aims to restore town councils to at least 80 towns across the country which have 1,000 or more dwellings occupied by at least 5,000 residents, therefore having a clearly defined urban centre. This would give real power and autonomy back to towns around the country and could be also combined with a rural transport guarantee. This would allow councils to provide local transport services - pedestrianised streets, biking infrastructure and local bus and hackney services - which would enhance the prosperity and well-being of their towns and the surrounding areas.
Urban planning measures are needed to deliver what we need to do in this city and every other city and town throughout the country. I refer to dedicated and segregated cycle lanes, particularly on the main arteries into and out of our urban centres. This may involve difficult decisions, and while the motion calls for these segregated lanes, its proposers and supporters need to follow up this when politically unpopular decisions may need to be made. Progress in the delivery of cycle lanes requires politically difficult planning choices. Segregated lanes need land, so parks, paths, gardens and roads may all come into play. Labour fully supports the provision of cycling infrastructure. We led on the delivery of the Dublinbikes scheme, which continues to go from strength to strength. A bike sharing scheme has been piloted in Fingal and will, I hope, also be expanded. We need to see such a scheme expanded to all Irish cities, big towns and major suburbs. In Labour's alternative budget we proposed a 20 cent subvention for every journey on the public bike schemes to help finance further expansion. We believe in investing, building and delivering. A revised and improved bike-to-work scheme with further political impetus and pressure would be of great benefit and I believe uptake of it would be very strong. There are currently considerable risks to cyclists who use shared roads due to the interaction between cyclists and motor vehicles. In 2017, 15 people died as a result of collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles and hundreds more were injured. This was a 50% increase on the figure for 2016. Future deaths can be prevented if we invest more in cycling. Currently, less than 1% of our transport budget, or around €3 million, is spent on promoting cycling and cycling infrastructure. If we invested more money in certain cycling projects, we could hope to prevent more accidents as well as promoting cycling among Irish citizens. One thing in which we can invest is better cycling infrastructure such as more dedicated cycle tracks that are physically segregated from other road users. Additionally, there is a great need for legislation specifying the minimum distance motor vehicles must maintain when passing cyclists. This is another measure that could help prevent future injuries and deaths caused by collisions between cyclists and motor vehicles.
I fully support the Stayin' Alive at 1.5 campaign and am very proud of the Labour group on Fingal County Council which led the way in delivering a pilot Stayin' Alive at 1.5 scheme in Fingal. Now every large council vehicle has a Stayin' Alive at 1.5 sticker on it and there are popular cycling routes with dedicated 1.5 m signage. This makes a difference and can save lives.
I support the motion and look forward to the remainder of the debate.
Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an gComhaontas Ghlas as ucht an rúin seo a chur os comhair na Dála. Sílim gur fear stuama é an Aire a thuigeann rudaí nuair a dhíríonn sé isteach orthu. Tá sé soiléir go bhfuil easpa tuiscine i measc lucht an Rialtais ó thaobh cé chomh práinneach is atá sé go ndéanfaidís beart de réir a mbriathar ó thaobh athrú aeráide de. Before the Minister leaves, he might remember that I raised the issue of light rail with him in 2017. I have written to him about this matter and I will be in contact again with him. He was very open to the concept of light rail at the time but he said there was no demand. We have shown since that there is demand. Almost 23,000 signatures, 22,500 to be precise, have been collected. The Gluas team also published a report on this issue last month. We are seeking an opportunity to present to the Minister and show him there is a sustainable way to deal with traffic congestion in Galway city. Our plan would also enable the Minister to comply with his obligations regarding climate mitigation and climate change objectives.
Regarding this motion, I am going to focus on Galway not for any parochial reasons but because the city is a microcosm of what is happening in the country. It is a city thriving on one level. It has employment, three hospitals and two universities. I could go on but I have less than four minutes. The point is that the city should not have problems. We should not have a housing problem because we have plenty of land and we should not have a traffic problem because public transport is the solution, or a major part of the solution. In the 20 years since I was elected in 1999, I have seen more reports than I can count. The latest one was the Galway transport strategy in 2016. Not one of those reports have been implemented in any reasonable way because of the utter reliance on an outer bypass. The first outer bypass ended up as a cul-de-sac and the second one is going to be the most expensive piece of road in the history of road making. It will cost some €600 million, and that is a conservative estimate, for 17 km or over €30 million per kilometre.
The transport strategy in Galway city is utterly premised on that road. A programme to roll it out is still being worked on with the National Transport Authority three years later. As Deputy Eamon Ryan stated, it is already out of date, as is the business plan on which it is based. There is also no mention of climate change in it. It is equally worrying that it will not solve traffic congestion. The strategy is at odds with the national planning framework which contains sustainability goals throughout, the Citizens' Assembly's 13 recommendations, all of the reports that have been written and with what the people of the country want.
There is a golden opportunity now that fits in with the Minister's Project Ireland 2040 plan. Galway is one of five cities destined to grow within its existing footprint. It makes absolute sense to build up an integrated public transport system. Practical steps can be taken immediately. The frequency of rail services can be increased from the existing stations at Oranmore, Athenry and Ballinasloe. Bus services from Galway to Connemara can be extended and increased. Park-and-ride is in our city development plan since 2005 but nothing has happened. It could be rolled out. Cycleways and greenways can also be rolled out and that will remove school traffic from our roads. Those are just some of the practical, positive suggestions that would allow this Government to comply with sustainable development and, most importantly, deal with climate change.
The motion before us today is very much focused on Dublin. It is designed to address concentrated urban areas but fails to target towns and villages in rural Ireland. Donegal has no motorways, no railways and no county-wide public transport options for people. The rural link service is starting to address some of these challenges but it needs to be rolled out much more significantly to make a real difference. The truth is that Donegal's transport needs have never been met. The county became largely car-dependent due to chronic underinvestment in the rural transport structure by the current Government as well as past Governments. There are many consequences of this underinvestment.
An effective public transport system would benefit those physically or socially isolated in rural parts of the county and also people with disabilities, if such public transport were wheelchair-friendly. Ms Vicki Matthews was successful last week in her campaign for a wheelchair-friendly bus seat on route 480 from Donegal to Sligo, which is an Expressway route and not a local route. Ms Matthews gathered more than 8,000 signatures to highlight the restrictions the lack of access to public transport in rural areas places on people with disabilities. Bus Éireann, thankfully, responded and set a precedent for other companies to get on board. An activist should not, however, have had to campaign for what is a fundamental need. Ms Matthews required the wheelchair-friendly transport so that she could access IT Sligo from where she lives in Ballyshannon.
The lack of rural transport also means economic growth is consistently stifled. Towns and villages which are better connected experience greater growth, new sustainable jobs and better retention of public services. The Government has neglected rural Ireland and this has resulted in the closure of post offices and Garda stations, the retreat of general practitioners and even the withdrawal of banking facilities. Rural villages were already under pressure without effective transport connectivity before experiencing the effects of these Fine Gael policies directly attacking rural services. The lack of a proper and effective transport system will hinder Donegal's transition to a low-carbon economy and will also jeopardise a just transition for people living in other parts of rural Ireland. Vast amounts of money will be required for Donegal to mitigate climate change and catch up with Dublin and other urban centres across Ireland on climate action. I am not sure the Government is willing to provide that money.
Let us not forget that a just transition for rural Ireland in respect of climate action does not just mean a sustainable future. It is a model that, if properly implemented, could revitalise rural towns and villages in Donegal and elsewhere as sustainable mobility, interconnectivity and local sustainable jobs are created. I pushed very hard in the Joint Committee on Climate Action to have my proposal on rural transport inserted in the final report for that very reason. Thanks to my proposal, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport now has to undertake a review of policy. That review will have to examine ways to expand the rural transport programme to include all transport modes and provide integrated public transport and shared mobility solutions for all rural areas. It will have to be done in conjunction with local authorities.
If the Government commits to its implementation, this proposal will see an integrated public transport network including Local Link, Bus Éireann and private operators. All ancillary services, such as park-and-ride, bicycle sharing, electric vehicle charging and lift sharing are to be completed no later than 2030. There will also be a review to examine how to provide comprehensive link services for all rural areas. Alternative transport options are not available to be people in Donegal and we need to wake up to this fact. We need to stop treating Donegal as if it is on the moon. It is right here in the Republic and it is owed an equal share in Project Ireland 2040. It is a disgrace that funding for the A5 upgrades have been delayed to facilitate Government overspending on the national children's hospital. The Government cannot manage money to save itself. I have repeatedly said that we will see no improvement in rural Ireland as long as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael remain in power or in a partnership Government. Change will be delivered when that is no longer the case.
That is correct. I echo the comments of Deputy Pringle on Donegal. I have the same issues in west Cork from one peninsula into another. The difficulty is to have a proper transport service. Last week on Leaders' Questions with the Taoiseach I raised the possibility of a park-and-ride system that would run from Clonakilty to Cork train station and Cork Airport and on to Cork city to alleviate the massive use of cars. This park-and-ride system could have buses running from Mizen Head through to Skibbereen from the Sheep's Head, Beara Peninsula and Bantry and on to the park-and-ride facility in Clonakilty.
Cork, Bandon, Innishannon and surrounding areas could be catered for en route. Some 30 cars could be taken off of the roads for every 40 people who could use the service. It would give great relief to the hard-pressed families with no choice but to have a second vehicle. I appreciate that the Taoiseach acknowledged this as a possibility and that the scheme might work. He stated he would examine it and, in fairness, we have to give everybody a bit of time. I am looking forward to his response in the near future.
It is unbelievable to recall that we had rail services to Schull, Bantry and west Cork in the late 1800s but we have no public transport services linking west Cork to the train station in Cork city in 2019. It is vital that this Government invests and delivers on projects which were close to being implemented a decade ago but are now on hold. An example in Bandon is the proposed northern bypass for the town. It is now proposed to make this a two-phase project and that will bring the bypass into the town and down Kilbroghan Hill which is already a congested bottleneck at the best of times. The solution suggested for this is banning on-street parking in the town.
This will cause carnage for businesses and residents. I cannot understand for the life of me how anyone could sign off the change to the plan to allow a bypass to filter cars into an existing bottleneck, adding insult to injury with regard to the unfinished southern bypass, for which money is promised prior to every general election. They have tried to cod the people of Bandon, but they will not cod them forever. Nothing has happened either on the promised Innishannon bypass. West Cork is at a standstill on funds. Little or no money has been spent on the N71, R586 or R585. Simple passing bays could open up roads from Bandon to Clonakilty to Skibbereen or from Bandon on the northern side to Ballineen, Dunmanway and Drimoleague. The only money the Department has spent has been to repair damaged roads.
It is unfortunate the Minister ran out, but I suppose he saw a few of us across the floor. He does not usually spend much time discussing issues with us here but these issues are very important ones for the people who need proper public transport services, including for people with disabilities. I mentioned Sarah Dullea, who has been fighting for a disabled-access bus from Dunmanway but is unable to get one to enable her to work in Cork city. We are at crisis point. The Local Link service is the only light in a very dark tunnel. We were promised an evening service and an Uber service. We were promised everything but nothing is happening. There is perhaps one service in County Cork. We were promised an Uber service by the Minister of State in west Cork, but absolutely nothing is in place. We find out now that there will be one service or two at most in the whole county of Cork. The Government should stop codding people and invest in transport services and in west Cork. People will then be able to take their vehicles off the road. Until they can, they will have no choice but to use the ones they have now.
I cannot support the motion. While I have the height of regard and respect for Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin of the Green Party, I do not agree with the motion they have put forward. It focuses on Dublin and touches on Galway, Cork and Limerick but there is a lot of territory beyond Limerick and Cork where people need their cars for transport. I agree with having more public transport but it cannot be at the expense of road projects for which we have waited half a century at least in some places. There are bridges and sections of road on the Ring of Kerry on which buses travel perilously every day. We need those buses to take our tourists around the Ring of Kerry, which is one of the products of which we are proud and which brings people to the county. It is one of the things that keeps the county going. What the Green Party is saying is "Save the planet and to hell with the people." It says we should get rid of the cars and let people walk, cycle or manage however they can. They say we should not be let cut the hedges either and that we should close the roads, never mind improve them. We are not to be allowed to cut the hedges or to travel safely. We know what we went through at the heritage committee to get an extension for the month of August for hedge cutting.
The Green Party says children should not be transported to school. There are long journeys for which it is not possible for children to take safely on foot to get to school. They have to be driven there. In 2007, we were advised to change to diesel cars and it has been proven that these cars cause no harm to the environment in rural areas. There has been a great deal of talk about battery-powered electric vehicles. Where are the charging points? There is no place to get rid of the batteries after six or seven years. They cost more to dispose of than to replace, which is €6,000 or €7,000. Even if Ireland were completely emissions free, it would mean only 1.13% of 1% of total global emissions. It is also suggested that we should charge people more carbon tax.
I am sorry the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has left because I wanted to remind him about Rural Link. He introduced the legislation which the Minister of State opposite, Deputy John Paul Phelan, supported and which Deputy Brassil supported by abstaining from the vote on it. Deputy Brassil attempted to confront the Minister by saying he brought those measures in "controversially" but although I begged the Deputy and everyone else not to support the Minister's Bill, they did. We were promised Rural Link when the Act was passed but where is it when it comes to Cloghera More and the Black Valley and one has to come out via Cloghernoosh and Cockow? Where is the transport that was promised? There is no account of it. It was only a case of "live horse until you get grass". There is talk of more public transport but we are talking about the road from Blackwater Bridge to Sneem where it is not safe for a car to meet a lorry or a bus. There will be a serious accident there. The motion proposes more public transport for Dublin and Galway, while letting the people in Kerry go to hell. That is not good enough for me and I will not subscribe to it.
He cannot speak twice during a debate and I am responding on his behalf. I thank the Deputies who have contributed. Notwithstanding some contributions, there has been a great deal of agreement on certain issues among the Members who have spoken and that broad agreement should be mirrored in support for the Government's counter-motion. We have heard differing views on the detail of particular projects and whether one should be prioritised over another. The last two speakers named some of the projects in their own areas. Some have referred to new projects which should be added to those already listed in Project Ireland 2040. Leaving aside differences on detail, we all agree on the need to increase investment in public transport, whether in rural areas or large urban centres. We all agree that an improved, accessible and integrated transport system has an important role to play in helping us to address our climate action challenge. We all agree that improvements to our public transport system must be delivered in a timely fashion and, importantly, the Government is seeking to deliver on each of those points of agreement.
Funding for public transport has increased in recent years under the main public transport capital expenditure programmes and by almost 30% in the last two years. That has meant increased numbers of PSO buses nationally, continued planning and design for a number of important projects and the closing of the funding gap in respect of the steady-state maintenance and renewal of the heavy rail network. Total expenditure under the PSO programme has increased by approximately 37% in the last three years allowing the National Transport Authority and bus operators to introduce new and expanded PSO bus services nationally while we have seen improvements in commuter rail services also. Funding for Local Link services in rural areas has increased by over 50% from €12 million just three years ago in 2016 to €21 million this year. As the Minister, Deputy Ross, stated earlier, the increased funding for Local Link has facilitated the introduction of new regular commuter services, improvements to demand-responsive services and the piloting of new evening services. What is more, the increases of recent years will continue to be seen in the coming years with funding for public and sustainable transport investment programmes scheduled to increase by over €500 million by 2021. We are investing in public transport and will continue to do so in the years ahead.
The Green Party motion highlights the need to ensure we have an accessible public transport system. The Government agrees that we need to improve the accessibility of our public transport in certain areas. That is why the Minister, Deputy Ross, has trebled the amount of money available to retrofit the older parts of the system that need to be brought into line with modern requirements and expectations.
That retrofitting programme involves upgrading older infrastructure and facilities, for example, installing accessible bus stops in rural areas, upgrading train stations to make them wheelchair accessible and introducing more wheelchair-accessible vehicles into the taxi fleet. This year, the Exchequer will also fund a number of other initiatives including: the roll-out by Irish Rail of customer service agents on intercity rail services, which will eliminate the need for advance notice and assist passengers generally; the delivery of new accessible buses for regional, medium-distance PSO services; and the roll-out of audiovisual announcements on all rural and regional Bus Éireann services for approximately 6,000 bus stops nationwide. In addition, the disability representatives that the Minister appointed as directors to the five public transport companies are bringing lived experience of accessibility issues to their boards. Progress is being made in this important area. It goes without saying that, as we develop new infrastructure, the issue of accessibility needs to be built in from the start.
In terms of climate action, we face a challenge in reducing our national emissions. We can all agree that public transport has its part to play in meeting that challenge in terms of offering people a viable alternative to the car through improved and expanded services and networks and demonstrating leadership through decarbonising the fleets and moving away from diesel. On both fronts, a range of initiatives are under way that every Deputy will support. The Minister referred to the significant potential of projects like BusConnects, the DART expansion and MetroLink. These can be transformative and offer sustainable alternatives to many people who might otherwise choose the private car. If we are serious about changing how we travel and how we think about transport, these are the types of project that we need to see rolled out and every Deputy should be vociferous in his or her support and timely delivery.
Other Exchequer-funded projects have their role to play in expanding the reach of sustainable transport. As a representative from a rural community, I am well aware of the importance of the Local Link services in providing sustainable transport options in rural areas. I have already referred to the increased funding that has been made available in recent years. It has allowed for the introduction of 66 new regular services to the Local Link network as well as improvements to the demand-responsive services. New and enhanced services are to be introduced across counties Wicklow, Wexford, Limerick, Galway, Clare and Westmeath. During 2019, improved PSO bus services will be provided in Cork city and county and Limerick and Waterford cities and there will be improved connections to cities, for example, from Connemara to Galway and from Navan and Drogheda to Dublin. There are also well developed plans to introduce improved bus services in a number of other urban centres, such as Drogheda, Sligo and Carlow as well as in Kilkenny City, which Deputy Eamon Ryan's colleague, Councillor Malcolm Noonan, and I sought for many years. These new and expanded services are providing sustainable transport options for many people who previously might have relied on the car.
In terms of leadership, Deputies will all be aware of the commitment to end the purchase of diesel-only buses for the urban PSO bus fleets from this year on. Low-emission bus trials are continuing in Dublin and Cork. The results of these trials will inform future bus purchasing policy and the choice of technology for the medium term. For next year, the NTA has indicated that it will purchase hybrids for the urban PSO bus fleet.
Regarding rail, Iarnród Éireann will this year commence an Exchequer-funded trial of hybrid packs on some diesel trains on the intercity fleet that, if successful, could be rolled out across the rest of the country's intercity fleet in due course. Under the DART expansion programme, the electrified network around the greater Dublin area will be significantly extended and an expanded fleet of approximately 300 diesel electric carriages will be ordered shortly.
Since public transport is not always a viable travel option, a generous range of incentives, supports and measures are making the transition to electric vehicles more affordable and attractive. This is being reflected in strongly increased uptake and demand.
I made reference at the outset to what I believed was another point of agreement between all sides. We all want to see improvements made to our public transport system in a timely fashion. The Minister has referred to the statutory and policy frameworks in place. These are designed to ensure that we have a plan-led, strategic approach to the evaluation of transport needs and the response to same. This approach is reflected in Project Ireland 2040, with the national strategic outcomes supported by strategic investment priorities.
Just as the Government's amendment states, we need to ensure delivery of the priorities contained in Project Ireland 2040. That is No. 1, and every Deputy who believes in improving public transport will recognise that those big projects must be delivered. However, Project Ireland is not just about big projects. It contains a wide range of other public transport initiatives, some of which I have listed. The potential of the western rail corridor's phases 2 and 3 are being re-examined and Iarnród Éireann has recently appointed consultants to carry out an evaluation of that proposal. We are also committed to examining the benefits of high-speed rail on our mainline rail network. As stated in Project Ireland 2040, that examination will commence next year. We are funding projects like a new national train control centre, construction of which should commence toward the end of the year. We are increasing investment in our cycling and walking infrastructure, with projects under construction or scheduled to start in urban and rural areas this year.
I reiterate my view that the House broadly agrees on this important topic. That agreement can be reflected in support for the Government's amendment. We need to deliver the multibillion euro investment package outlined in Project Ireland 2040, which will benefit hundreds of millions of passenger journeys every year across this country. We need to plan continually for the future so as to ensure that we are always improving our public transport system. However, it is important that we plan in a structured and strategic way in order to ensure that the right projects are brought forward at the right time and we deliver value for money for the taxpayer. That is the essence of the amendment, which I commend to the House.
We have set out a vision of what might be possible had we the budget and a sense of ambition. Our first priority should be providing rural public transport services. The Minister has stated that the Government cannot take up our suggestion of following the Swiss model, where villages of a certain size are guaranteed a public transport system. I will make two points in response. First, the Swiss manage to meet that commitment in certain cantons where the population density is low. Second, perhaps one of the reasons we have such a dispersed population and a dominant dependence on the car is that we do not have a public transport service. It is a chicken and egg situation.
I will give an example from Deputy Michael Collins's neck of the woods, which I know well. Let us start at its farthest reach in Barleycove or Crookhaven. There is a sweet spot in cycling distances that everyone who cycles knows works efficiently. It is 6 km, 7 km or 8 km. That is an effective bike journey. Let us cycle from Crookhaven or Barleycove to Goleen. Were it a Swiss village, Goleen would have a guaranteed 12 bus services per day under the Swiss canton system. Going from memory, the 237 route in Goleen has two bus services per day, which does not constitute a quality public transport service. If we provided 12 services and people connected to them from the surrounding area, the towns and villages at every stop from there to Skibbereen - Toormore, Schull, Ballydehob, Lisheen and onwards - would be transformed. I am told by friends in Schull that there is no one left living on its main street. Schull is a stunning town with a brilliant school. It is a great place to live. Are we going to let our towns and villages, with their lovely 19th century architecture, close down and die? We should do what places like Callan in the Minister of State's constituency are starting to do and revive our 19th century market villages and towns by having people live in their centres, retrofitting them, installing broadband and insulation. More than anything else, providing them with public transport that was centred around high-quality bus routes would turn rural Ireland around. People would then know that they would be able to get all the way to Skibbereen and Cork. The number of services would increase with ever greater frequency as someone travelled to each larger town. Doing that everywhere in every single county is the way to revive rural Ireland. It would allow people to raise families in those towns.
We must consider the economics for the taxpayer. Currently, we are following a sprawl model, where we keep going farther out. That means we must build more and more schools, hospitals, primary care centres and road-based public transport services even though there are already public transport services close to the town centres.
If one lives in Schull, one can walk to school. There was even a small hospital which we could return to being a high quality primary care centre. If density in the town or village starts to increase, it will be successful. That can be done by starting to provide the services that are available in other European countries and that are based on public transport rather than everyone having to drive. One of the reasons to do it is that 25% of the people do not own a car, typically due to being older, less well off, disabled or for a variety of other reasons. Will we leave them behind as we continue the car dominated transport system? Do we have no sense of social justice in respect of transport?
A revolution is taking place, yet I have heard no one in the Chamber answer the fundamental question I am putting, namely, how we will close the 70% gap to meet our 2030 targets, not to mention the larger ambition that by 2050, this will be a net zero carbon economy? That is what the Committee on Climate Action agreed to last week and I am sure the Government will take it up. We cannot set it as a target and not do anything about it. We must make it make it real and think long term. We are going to electrify the transport system, but that should not mean that we just replace 2.5 million fossil fuel cars with 2.5 million electric cars. We must use our brains. We do not make cars and do not necessarily need to buy as many as possible. As we completely redesign the car transport system, could we not switch to a car sharing model? Most cars are parked 95% of the time. If we were to move to a car-sharing model, we would not have to pay tax. for insurance or maintenance, or to have so many car parking spaces. BusConnects would be easier to implement because we would not need as much space. Given that everyone knows the current model is not working, do we have to stick to it?
At the same time as we electrify the transport system, we should electrify the rail network. This is the country with the least electrified rail network by a country mile. I hate to say that because we always seem to be the worst, although we are not and this is a bloody good country. We need to electrify the rail system if we are to move to a zero carbon transport system and a zero carbon economy. While we are doing that, could we follow not just the Swiss but also the Dutch? Trains from Utrecht to Amsterdam depart every ten minutes and the journey times are nothing. People love being on the train. If we want to decarbonise the transport system, we need to electrify the rail line from Galway to Dublin, double the number of tracks and bring the journey times right down. Let us reduce the journey time from Galway to Dublin to one hour, one hour and a half or whatever is possible if there is ambition, rather than planning for roads, which is what we are doing. That is not impossible and if we were to do it, it would help to develop Galway more than all of the roads which, ultimately, lead to Dublin, resulting in it growing ahead of all other cities.
It should not just be a rail network to Galway. I agree that we should consider a light rail system for Galway and Cork, where the volume of traffic is increasing at a rate of 10% per annum, according to the latest figures. The Jack Lynch Tunnel, the Dunkettle roundabout and the South Ring Road suffer from the same problems as the M50. Our solution, however, is the same as in Dublin, namely, build more roads. That is what is happening, but it will never work. Will the Government wake up and realise that trying to tackle gridlock with more roads is a road to nowhere, a cul-de-sac, that will kill the country? We will be less efficient, less healthy and less happy and will never meet our climate targets because the road based system forces us to continue building outwards, letting the existing housing stock in those rural towns and cities fall to rack and ruin. Is it not possible to consider doing it a different way?
Last but not least, I return to my central point that active travel is one of the ways to make it happen. We must promote walking and cycling. The hierarchy of transport should start with walking and cycling, then bus and rail services and, finally, the car. We are the exact opposite, however, and have all of the statistics to prove it. Representatives of the Irish pedestrian network spoke in Buswells Hotel and said it was about simple measures such as having a flat pavement in order that an older person would not be fearful of tripping when walking on it, or providing enough time for pedestrians to cross the road in order that an older person would not be terrified that he or she might not get across, unlike the current system which creates spaces dominated by the car. "Carchitecture" was the word I heard today. It is not an attractive environment and does not make the country a beautiful place. It fills our lungs with air pollution and is killing the planet. The planet is on fire and we have to respond. There is such anger at Fine Gael in the environmental community because the party is all talk about wanting to do something about climate change and all of its members now claim to be interested in it. In dealing with the fundamental, most important, largest problem, with the fastest growing emissions, however, Fine Gael is going entirely in the wrong direction and does not seem to have the imagination, urgency or real intent to tackle climate change in a different way. If it did, it would turn around the Goleens, Tramores, Schulls and Skibbereens of this world. As for sense of place and how space is provided, let us consider and celebrate what is working. Urban space was created in Clonakilty, where a good town architect advised that the town should not be dominated by the car and it is thriving as a business place, a tourist venue and a place in which to live, with a strong community. That is what will happen if we move away from the car dominated system which Fine Gael is encouraging and move towards a people-centred, environmentally conscious, walking and cycling world with efficient public transport. That is what we need.