Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
49. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the steps he is taking to reduce the emissions profile of the public transport fleet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14519/21]
As the Minister will know from looking through the files in his Department, after a long and protracted battle the Government took a decision in January 2019 to not purchase any new fossil fuel buses for public transport. Disappointingly, the first double-decker electric vehicle will not go onto the streets here in Dublin until January 2023. It will be a full five years after I secured that commitment when I was in government.
An efficient and low-emission public transport system forms a key part of this Government's vision for sustainable mobility. As public transport is responsible for less than 5% of our transport emissions, in absolute terms, converting public transport fleets to low-carbon alternatives will have a limited impact on national emission reductions. However, greening the public fleet does fulfil a strong leadership and demonstration role as we shift towards a low-carbon economy. To this end, I am committed to continuing to green the public transport fleet and to making each public transport journey less carbon-intensive. A comprehensive programme of work is already under way, with a strong focus on the pathway to zero emitting vehicles.
The national bus fleet, which carries the majority of public transport passengers, is already moving to lower emission alternatives. During 2020, a total of 280 diesel-electric plug-in hybrid buses were ordered. A number of these vehicles were delivered during December and will enter service over the coming weeks. A total of 100 such vehicles should be operational by May this year, with the remaining 180 vehicles to be delivered during quarters 3 and 4 of this year.
The NTA is tendering for the supply of single-deck, fully electric buses, the first of which will be introduced into town fleets this year. In addition, further such vehicles will be assigned to other urban routes that are capable of being operated with single-deck buses. In respect of the double-deck fleet, the number of manufacturers of right-hand drive double-deck buses is very limited, which has impacted the development of such vehicles. The NTA is satisfied, however, that the available product is now mature enough, and capable of a sufficient range, to allow the purchase of double-deck fully electric fleet for some urban routes. Accordingly, a tender process has commenced for the purchase of double-deck, fully electric buses, with the first order expected to be placed later this year and the first vehicles under that order arriving towards the end of next year.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
In terms of heavy rail, we are expanding electrification through the DART+ programme, which will ultimately mean about 70% of journeys in any given year on the rail network will be on electrified services. In the interim, we are continuing to expand rail capacity through the ongoing construction of the national train control centre and the manufacture of 41 additional carriages for the greater Dublin area commuter rail fleet. I intend to commission a review of the rail network that will consider the potential for high or higher-speed rail, including the potential electrification of the interurban network. As regards our light rail network, we have been expanding the capacity of the Luas green line with the ongoing arrival of 26 tram extensions and eight additional trams, all of which I expect will have entered service by quarter 2 of this year. We will also look at route options for Luas Cork, Luas Lucan and the preliminary design for Luas Finglas. This year, I intend to seek Government approval for MetroLink, a new largely underground electrified metro service in Dublin that is probably the largest public investment project in the history of the State.
Furthermore, in the most recent budget, I was delighted to announce an electric vehicle scrappage scheme to enhance the supports available for taxi and hackney drivers switching to electric vehicles. I hope to see a steady greening of our small public service vehicle fleet over the coming years.
Collectively, these measures will see us progressively modernise and lower the emission profile of our public transport fleets, as well as creating an attractive alternative to the private car. As the Deputy is aware, I am fully committed to a shift to public transport and active travel as a means of reducing transport emissions. There have been some great additions to active travel infrastructure and our public realm in recent months, as local authorities have put in place emergency measures to support local communities and businesses through our current difficulties. We want to build on these types of initiatives and support them through our commitment of €1.8 billion over the lifetime of the Government for active travel. This level of investment, along with our significant investment in greening public transport, will help improve quality of life and reduce the quantity of emissions and air pollutants from the transport sector.
Ours is a small island off the coast of western Europe and beside us is quite a large island which, funnily enough, has had right-hand drive, zero-emission buses for many years in London. The Minister, therefore, should pull the other one in that regard.
In January 2018, the NTA and the Department sought a delay of 18 months on the implementation of the ban on fossil fuel buses, which they got, but the delay was extended for a further six months until the end of 2019. Since then, 380 diesel-hybrid buses have been put onto our roads and into the city of Dublin. In light of the fact that four people a day, many of whom live in the city of Dublin, die because of poor air quality in this country as a direct result of diesel emissions, is there not a responsibility on the Government in regard to its failure to deliver on this?
The Government will develop and deliver a new clean air strategy which recognises exactly that, namely, that this is a matter of life and death in respect of which we need to be really progressive. We have started that with the provisions to end the burning of smoky fuels throughout the country, which is probably the most immediately critical initiative to improve air quality and which I hope the Deputy will support.
Nevertheless, the Deputy is correct. The switch to cleaner public transport vehicles and other measures to improve the flow of traffic in city and town centres throughout the country will be critical. It involves a combination of measures, including the public transport fleet but also supporting the likes of the BusConnects projects. We were talking about it earlier in respect of Galway but the same applies to Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford. While that fleet of diesel-hybrid buses will evolve to being one of fully electric buses, emissions are reduced significantly when they are given priority over a private traffic solution.
There are a variety of ways in which we can address the issue. The Deputy is correct to say there are black spots in Dublin, particularly around the public transport stations such as Heuston Station and on the quays. We need specific solutions for those areas, which will be included in the clean air strategy.
In places such as Heuston Station, buses already have priority. Turning to the Bill the Minister published yesterday, which I welcome, section 6 makes specific reference to cost-effective actions in the context of climate change. This comes back to the fundamental problem with the public sector expenditure code, which I had to spend a long time to get implemented by the Government. Would the Minister not agree that the fundamental problem here is that until now the NTA has chosen to buy buses based on the purchase price of the vehicle rather than its whole-of-life cost? As he said earlier, electric engines require much less maintenance than diesel ones. If we looked at the whole-of-life cost of buses, we would have an awful lot more electric buses in our fleet. The difficulty is this is being replicated throughout the Government.
I accept the NTA's explanation that, to date, the reason we have not purchased large numbers of double-deck electric vehicles is they were not available in models that were properly advanced or had been fully tested in the market. We are at the cutting edge of what is happening. It would be different if we had a bus transport system characterised by low, single-deck buses but we do not. In most of our cities, the large public bus transport fleets are double-deckers and up to now such vehicles were not available. They are becoming available, which is why we are switching to them and will purchase them in large numbers at the same time that we are now purchasing single-deck electric buses for those cities and services where single-deck bus services apply. The issue is changing and evolving quickly, and as soon as electric vehicles become available, we will switch to them.