Thursday, 16 September 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
66. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of BusConnects in Dublin; if he has engaged with Dublin Bus management and unions to try to resolve the current dispute over pay and working conditions at the company; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44105/21]
I would like to ask the Minister for an update on BusConnects in Dublin, if he has engaged with Dublin Bus management and unions to try to resolve the current dispute regarding pay and conditions at the company and if he will make a statement on the matter.
I thank the Deputy. BusConnects is a transformative plan to improve and expand bus services in all of our major cities. The programme is initially being rolled out in Dublin, followed by Galway and Cork, and then Limerick and Waterford. Traffic congestion currently costs Dublin city approximately €350 million per annum and this figure is forecast to rise to approximately €2 billion per annum by 2033. It is essential that we tackle that.
It is a key part of the Government’s policy to improve public transport services nationally and to address the impact of climate change. To this end, ambitious targets are included in the National Development Plan 2018–2027, the Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016–2035 and the Climate Action Plan 2019.
BusConnects Dublin includes the network redesign of bus services, the core bus corridors and next generation ticketing. In September 2020, the NTA published the finalised network redesign and the first phase of the new network redesign - the H Spine which is Howth to city centre corridor - was launched at the end of June. The launch went very well, and the feedback has been mostly positive. The customer experience team are continuing to provide support to the public as they familiarise themselves with the new routes. The second phase - the C Spine, which is Lucan to Ringsend via city centre - will be launched by the end of November.
The NTA has also completed a series of public consultations on the 16 core bus corridors proposals in quarter 1, 2020 and quarter 4, 2020. These corridors will make bus journeys faster and more reliable and reduce journey times by 40% to 50% on each corridor.
With regard to the second part of the Deputy’s question, which was relates to pay and working conditions at Dublin Bus, I would like to begin by explaining that industrial relations issues in Dublin Bus are a matter for the company, its employees and trade union groups. Dublin Bus management engages with its trade unions on an ongoing basis on various matters of common interest. While my Department receives regular updates from Dublin Bus on industrial relations issues, neither I nor my Department have a direct role in and nor do we intervene in such operational matters.
Go raibh maith agat. There was a resounding rejection of the proposal that was on the table by workers at Dublin Bus, and for a range of reasons, including the impact it would have on pay and conditions. Is the Minister aware of that and has he heeded it? There was a direct call on him by the workers to intervene and get involved. I ask him to set out his understanding of that process, where it is at now and if he is taking a hands-off approach to it, which is my sense of the situation at this stage, or at what stage he will intervene, if at all, and what his understanding is of the rate of progress in terms of the negotiations and the timeline for resolution to the range of issues that have been legitimately raised.
I am very aware. There was a deputation outside my offices on, I think, 20 August. I was away, unfortunately, but I understand the Deputy was in attendance with the 100 plus drivers from Dublin Bus. My understanding is that Dublin Bus drivers have been outside of a pay agreement dating back to 2018-19 and that this agreement, which was on working conditions and pay, was rejected by, I understand, 98% of the drivers balloted. My understanding from soundings from Dublin Bus, the unions and employees is that there are still mechanisms by which they can go back to further negotiate. We have a good approach here. To my mind, the unions and the company have had a good record of working together. I do not think it is appropriate for me to step into that. I am keeping up on it, but will not take a central role.
From my engagement with workers at Dublin Bus I know they are committed to delivering on BusConnects. It is about it happening in the right way, one that works for everybody.
On the issue of delivering on BusConnects, while I appreciate we have the H line and the C line as early pilots or test cases, the big hurdle is delivering on the quality bus corridors as an essential part of the improvement in the network. Will the Minister outline the approach that will be taken in the time ahead to engage with communities to ensure the services that are provided deliver for communities and for the transport service as well?
I will give the key next steps. We will first have the review of the national development plan, which will come out later this month. That will renew our commitment to the BusConnects projects, not just in Dublin but in the other regional cities as well. Very shortly, I hope, we will then go to Government with a business case for the project. It is a significant investment of several billion euro, which will take some time to implement fully. It is critical we act fast. We are seeing with Covid that car traffic is coming back but public transport is slightly slower. We have climate targets that are challenging and the congestion that comes from all that traffic is going to prevent Dublin from working. There will be a tight budget. The budget line is not an easy one because there are so many public transport projects coming through at the one time. BusConnects can be done on phased basis, including rapid development of some of the key traffic management measures we must put in place. That is something the NTA, the local authorities and the bus companies are going to be charged with and which they must deliver quickly.