Dáil debates

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)


Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

1:55 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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We return to Sinn Féin. This is a 20-minute slot with only Deputy Andrews due to speak.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Leas-Chean Comhairle. I welcome this Bill and the regulation of e-scooters. It is really important. We need some kind of structure and guidelines for users of e-scooters. The public is ahead of Government on this. Travelling through Dublin city, people are on scooters every day. They have decided they are using scooters so it is important Government regulates them and legislates for their use.

I have seen presentations from some companies in this area. There are big, glossy leaflets and the companies are making commitments and saying how much is in their bank balances. It is important that when these companies come to Ireland, they are not allowed to cherry-pick. They must commit to delivering nationwide and not just for Dublin. It was said to me that if one of these companies does not get Dublin, they will probably just leave the market. They will have no interest in the rest of the country. They have no intention of going to Limerick, Galway or Waterford. It is important the local authorities work together and ensure the companies are not allowed do that. They must commit to this project and ensure they deliver a service in all the urban settings across the country.

The NCBI, the Irish Wheelchair Association and Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind recently issued a paper outlining their concerns. They identified the parking of e-scooters as an issue. That will be a huge challenge. Deputy Hourigan mentioned it earlier. She spoke much more eloquently than me. This is going to be a key make-or-break part of the project. If the parking methodology is not done right it will not work. It is very important the e-scooters are not allowed to become trip hazards and obstacles for those with disabilities. Navigating the city can be challenging enough for visually-impaired people without also throwing a load of scooters all over the city. Last October, Copenhagen made the decision to ban e-scooters from its streets after disabilities groups voiced concern. That came into effect in January. Copenhagen is a city that is open to different modes of transport and e-mobility, yet it has decided to knock this on the head. Thus there is a concern here. There is a view scooters are great, that they are exciting and that they are going to offer a great alternative. However, there is evidence enough there to suggest that may not be the case and we must introduce them very carefully. Local authorities will have to introduce their schemes cautiously. Dockless scooters and possibly dockless bikes tend to face more vandalism. They have been thrown into rivers and canals in other cities where they were introduced.

We know that in different cities there were issues with scooters and e-bikes all being thrown into various rivers, if there was no docking space. We do not want to see the River Liffey or the Grand Canal become a place for e-scooters and e-bikes. I understand that a company in Manchester faced so much vandalism, it decided it had to pull out of the scheme. It is important, when big companies come into the market promising the sun, moon and stars, that local authorities are not overly dazzled by the size of some of them. As I said, I have attended a few presentations, and it all sounds fantastic and looks as if every angle has been covered, but the reality is international evidence suggests that sharing schemes may not work here. That is something local authorities will have to take on and do so very carefully because it is important that these companies have a strong local connection. Many of these big companies will tender for various contracts to deliver the e-mobility schemes across the cities, but if they do not have a local connection it will impact on how they deliver the service and how they respond to difficulties that may arise with the scheme.

I strongly agree that e-scooters should not be allowed on footpaths. This legislation will not allow that to happen. Footpaths should be safe from e-scooters because it can be very frightening for older people to see someone on a scooter flying towards them. They are also concerned that if they go around a corner they will get knocked over by a scooter that is going at 15 km/h or 20 km/h on a footpath. It is very dangerous. Many older people have said to me that they do not have any serious objection to e-scooters, but they are nervous about the idea of scooters on footpaths, breaking traffic lights and so on. There has to be regulation and a system of fines in place to ensure there is a consequence if the rules are not adhered to. There must be fines for those on e-scooters who use footpaths. If they use footpaths, they have to face the consequences because it is not acceptable, just as it is not acceptable that adults cycle bikes on footpaths. Some regulation has to be in order.

There are areas that should be geofenced from e-scooters. A previous speaker mentioned that shared space does not work and I fully agree with this. There are areas, for example, in Dublin city, that will have to be geofenced to ensure e-scooters cannot be used in those shared spaces. Grand Canal Dock is one such area that should not have e-scooters in it. I have received a number of reports about e-scooter users racing through Grand Canal Dock, taking a shortcut or looking to fly through it, causing accidents, worrying residents living there and people who are just walking around enjoying the atmosphere. Sharing that space is not going to work with a scooter travelling at 15 km/h, 20 km/h or 25 km/h. It just will not work. Certain pedestrianised areas, such as Grafton Street and Grand Canal Dock, should be geofenced to ensure that e-scooters cannot fly up and down them.

I have previously raised the issue of cyclists with Dublin City Council. Cyclists should not be allowed to use Grand Canal Dock either as there are such a large number of them and they cause a major amount of stress and injuries to residents and people socialising in the area. If we introduce scooters, it will become an area that will almost be not welcoming to pedestrians. E-scooters do not work in shared spaces and, in certain settings and neither do bicycles. We have to ensure that the new sharing scheme geofences certain areas so e-scooter users and cyclists are not allowed terrorise people in areas such as Grand Canal Dock. Adding e-scooters to that environment is of no benefit to anyone. It is not a huge area and people can move around the Grand Canal Dock area legally and safely, if that is what they wish to do.

This legislation is important. I do not have an e-scooter but I think I will get one. I have no doubt the Acting Chairman would look great flying around on a e-scooter. When he gets too old for his motorbike, he might try an e-scooter. This legislation may not be as good as the hype is building it up to be, but there are many concerns. We have to take into consideration the views of the Irish Wheelchair Association, the NCBI and the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, which I mentioned earlier, and whose members made a very fair and open statement. We need to take their concerns into consideration because it is difficult enough to navigate the city without adding all these obstacles. Where e-scooters will be docked and parked will also be crucial and will make or break the plan.

2:05 pm

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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This wide-ranging legislation is welcome. Numerous constituents have contacted me regarding e-scooters and e-bikes and, therefore, the legislation concerning them is welcome, in addition to the newly installed traffic management system for the M50. That is very important. I understand there will be investment in improving our public transport system, which is very good news.

I was very heartened this week by the great news that a long-awaited bus service for Carlow town has been given the green light, with services expected to begin in the second half of next year. This is wonderful news for Carlow because the overwhelming need for this service has been known about for some time. I have made consistent efforts, including representations to the NTA and the Minister, to get this project up and running. It has always been a top priority and has never been more important, especially since the major announcement a few weeks ago regarding the technological university for the south east. As the Minister will be aware, we have two excellent third-level colleges in Carlow and, therefore, this bus service is timely. I ask him to ensure the service is in place no later than the middle of next year.

This Bill is also part of the Government's efforts to introduce and encourage alternative models for mobility, especially for people who mobility issues. That is very important for anyone who has a disability or needs access. We see it in my town of Carlow where there is a great railway station, but it has no wheelchair accessibility. This is one part of all the issues we need to look at. This Bill aims to reduce our reliance our cars, which is very important because we all need to do our bit on climate action. I recently received several phone calls from people in my area about the traffic in Carlow town being backed up, especially during school times and when people are going to work. We need to examine that issue because more public transport is needed for rural towns. Dublin and our other cities are important but smaller areas, such as mine, which is a rural town in Carlow-Kilkenny, do not have enough public transport. I ask the Minister to look at that as part of the programme as we go forward.

I also very much welcome the provisions, which are being strengthened by this Bill, dealing with the dangerous antisocial use of off-road scramblers, quad bikes and other similar vehicles, and the amendment to strengthen laws on insurance and road traffic enforcement.

These are all things that we need to make sure happen. These measures will help to improve road safety while also helping us to drive down the cost of insurance for law-abiding drivers. We must consider the safety of all our road users as a priority.

I have some concerns relating to those living with disabilities. Tonight, I will be in the Chamber to speak on the motion regarding the report entitled Aligning Disability Funding with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Budget 2022 Pre-Budget Submission. I will talk about policy change to support those with disabilities to live their best lives. We cannot then proceed with legislation that might allow e-scooters to be permitted on footpaths. The Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021 must prohibit the use of e-scooters on footpaths and include such uses as an offence. It is important those who are visually impaired can hear these vehicles. We need to look at the acoustic vehicle alert system, AVAS, on all e-scooters so that they can be heard approaching. This is essential for the safety of pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired. I recently had several phone calls. We have our joint policing committee meeting every few months, like all local authorities, and I am delighted to be part of that. I brought this up at the meeting after having had phone calls from the people of Carlow, where these scooters are on the roads. I have sometimes seen two people on one scooter. The evenings are getting dark and you might find yourself suddenly almost on top of them. I got several phone calls about scooters on footpaths. I cannot highlight enough that in smaller rural towns, our footpaths are small. We have to be careful with this for people with a disability, in wheelchairs, with buggies and older people who are out walking. We cannot allow this type of thing to happen. It would work against us in the long term. The legislation currently allows for a maximum speed limit of 20 km/h but this is far too fast for other road users and should be reduced to 12 km/h in line with other European Union countries. I ask the Minister to continue to do that.

The issue of schools has been raised. Parents have contacted me about speed zones at schools. I ask the Minister to look at reducing speed limits near schools to 6 km/h. I have brought this up on several occasions. When a lot of traffic congregates, even if only for 20 or 30 minutes, we need to look at something like this. These are all important health and safety issues.

EU Regulation 540/2014 mandates all manufacturers to equip their new electric vehicles with AVAS by 1 July 2021 but it does not attach this requirement to e-scooters. I agree with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland that this is our chance to lead others. I know many Deputies have addressed this. Many of us have welcomed this. It is good that we are legislating and we have to progress, so this will happen. I see some good things and people in my area use e-scooters. If we do not find a balance regarding footpaths and speed, and how this is dealt with and policed, whether through the Garda or other agencies, that will be an issue. I ask the Minister to address my concerns. I look forward to hearing from him.

2:15 pm

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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My constituency includes Newcastle West, with 7,000 people, and Abbeyfeale, with more than 2,000 people. They are currently in the throes of having a bypass made for their town. This is welcome for the people who have been in traffic queues from Limerick to Kerry, and from any other part of the country. However, it can be traumatic for an individual owning a house, farm or a business, as I am sure people will agree. People have significant anxiety and more needs to be done to manage people's expectations, given the unrealistic timelines. For example, there might be an announcement that such a project would take six years. People could be given a breakdown of the project. This particular project will take two years to get through the planning stage with An Bord Pleanála, with between six and 12 months for An Bord Pleanála to make its ruling. If planning permission is granted, it will take up to three years for acquisitions of land and houses, and everything else that comes with it. This type of information needs to be brought out into the wider community to help people and to help with future-proofing our country.

I compliment the Adare-Rathkeale councillors who had the foresight to see that withholding with regard to a section of greenway prevented funds from being wasted later. That decision applied to a section of the greenway which was proposed where the Adare bypass will be. I have a question for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, with regard to the criteria it follows, which relate to the cost ratio, the returning of investment, the least impact on residential homes, biodiversity, cultural impact, and archaeology. I am bothered by how much input the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has had, for example, with regard to the housing list in Newcastle West. In Limerick city and county, there are 2,347 on the housing list. There are currently 343 people waiting for houses in Newcastle West and 139 in Abbeyfeale. My concern is about how planning can be made sustainable for the people of Newcastle West in conjunction with a bypass. This Department deals with heritage and local government as well as housing.

Has TII liaised with the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media? The Newcastle West greenway will be crossed at least twice by the proposed route, which only officially opened two weeks ago, at a cost of €100 million. I met Deputy Brian Leddin at the opening of the greenway. The greenway is fantastic infrastructure. Deputy Leddin told me that he cycled in from Abbeyfeale to Barnagh. I asked Deputy Leddin how he got from Limerick to Abbeyfeale. He was a bit red-faced since he could not answer me because he had to use a form of transport with his bike in the boot. Afterwards, he was heading out to meet the Government at the summit. I asked him how he was going to travel from Barnagh. He had to go to get an antigen test and then to go to the airport, where he had to load his bicycle into the boot of another car to return to where he had to go. I acknowledge the bus routes that are proposed for Limerick but a majority are for west Limerick. The need for them in east Limerick has not been fulfilled. West Limerick is a tourist destination and I welcome everything that comes to it, but we also want infrastructure in east Limerick.

To date, 250,000 people have used the Limerick greenway. I question the joined-up thinking relating to the accountability of these two Departments to future-proof the two market towns, Newcastle West and Abbeyfeale. I have complimented the greenway and walked and cycled it myself. It is a brilliant amenity. With this proposed route, we are now telling the people of Newcastle West that the greenway will be crossed at least twice.

That is a waste of taxpayers' money. I mentioned that the Adare-Rathkeale councillors - I was a member of that council at the time - had the foresight to stop the greenway at a particular section until the bypass was built, and then it could be used alongside it, thus saving money. That money saved went towards the construction of the Newcastle West district greenway. Surely to God, we could have joined-up thinking among Departments. This route did not happen yesterday or today. When this route was being proposed, we could have created many things to allow for that road structure. Now, we have to tell the people of Newcastle West and the users of this greenway that if this road goes ahead, they will have to be stopped from using the greenway at two different sections. That is not right.

From the point of view of forward planning, I would like now that the people, especially of Newcastle West, would be properly informed about the full process and that whatever services are available would be provided to them personally to save them the anxiety of having a bypass coming through their homes or lands. This needs to dealt with. I spoke to one woman in particular whose father came to the house that is on one of the routes. The family has lived there since the 1800s. Her great-grandfather lived there. Her father was born into that house in 1915 and she was born into it 52 years ago. There are fierce memories attached to it. This woman told me of her anxieties in regard to the historical past within her home and that her family had had to rely on online platforms to figure out what was happening on the land around their house and in regard to the proposed route. There was no communication between the family and TII.

I want now to speak about e-scooters. I welcome regulation around motorised vehicles, be that an e-scooter, a motorcycle or other vehicle. There are laws in place and we all have to respect them. I would welcome any measure around scooters from the point of view of safety. In this debate, I have heard Members speak about scramblers, quads and so on. I grew up in an area where quads, scooters and scramblers have always been in use. The Government keeps taking away from people, telling them that they cannot drive this or that here or there. Why not invest in places where they can drive them? People who want to engage in motor sports can do so in places like Mondello Park. Likewise, people who want to go horse riding can do so at horse riding tracks. In terms of my culture, when I was growing up I was considered to be what was known as a petrol head. I am interested in vintage vehicles. I support our heritage, from the basic steam engine to the tractor and the horse to everything we have today. That is my culture. It was my heritage. Along with other people in the vintage societies, I use that to recognise our heritage. We also use it to raise much-needed funding for charities and other services who need it in a hurry.

I watch motor sport, from motorbikes to everything else. I love watching it. If the Government is taking something away from people, in particular if it is in a city or large town, it should give them an alternative. We can educate people when it is in a controlled environment. Let us give them something in terms of their culture. E-scooters were mentioned. I agree they should be regulated within built up areas and where people's safety is involved. Where there are people with disabilities, there should be investment. This goes back to the point I made earlier about the opening of the greenway and Deputy Leddin. There was no infrastructure to take the Deputy to the greenway. As I have been saying since I was first elected to the Dáil, we all support the green agenda and we want to lower our carbon footprint, but to do that we need infrastructure. As I see it, up to now, we have put the cart before the horse. There are many students in my area who cannot get to college using bus transport because the bus would not get them there on time. Those who live outside of the town cannot drive to the local town because there is no adequate area where they can park a vehicle to then get a bus to go to college. This is the reason I am always raising the issue of infrastructure.

I would like to speak about the roll-out of bus services throughout the country. When it comes to the Department allocating bus routes for the schools, the private operators are given a specific amount to operate those routes. If we mirror that with the routes serviced by Bus Éireann, I can guarantee you the private bus provider is getting a lot less than the subsidies being paid to those who operate bus services on behalf of the Department. That is wrong. I am aware that bus providers have offered their services in areas which the Government has not looked at yet. The Department is telling them it is not looking at those areas. It is only looking at proposed routes. Why is that? It is because the Department wants all of the money invested in Government-funded bus services. The Department can come up with a route for which it knows it does not have to have a business in place because it knows it will be 100% funded to run these routes. Why not think outside of the box and look at the private bus operators? These are the people who take my child to school. Even though I have to drive a mile or two up the road to meet the bus, my son gets on the bus and he goes to school. Many people in rural areas would use rural transport if it was available, but is not there. I want the Minister to look at all of Ireland.

In our discussions yesterday on emissions, I said that Ireland is 0.01, or one-tenth of 1%, in terms of carbon in Europe and 0.04 globally. Yet, we are importing products from countries which in one case is responsible for 35% and in the other case 25%. We are increasingly importing more from those countries. As I said, Ireland is 0.04 in terms of carbon globally. Why not look at investing in our own sectors and creating work for our people? We now know that the best produce in the world comes out of Ireland. We have grass-fed animals producing milk and beef. We have the best conditions and soils for growing vegetables, as well as everything else that comes with that. We have the best milk in the country because of the Golden Vale grasslands. Why can the Government not invest in our farming and other businesses that can sustain what we have now and stop importing to the benefit of some other country? When you round it up, we are always only talking about Ireland and the changes we need to make. We need change globally. In terms of the changes we can make, we need to stop importing goods from areas that are killing the planet. That is the answer. We need to stop importing and use our own produce. Whatever it is the Government got tied up in in Europe, it seems to be brainwashed. It is using its statistics for Ireland. Ireland could be self-contained. We could reduce imports into this country. By using our own products, we could bring down prices for everyone living here.

I have mentioned several times to the Minister that 98% of the products coming into this country enter through Dublin Port. How many of the trucks we see on the motorway bringing produce to our doors to feed our families are coming in through Dublin? I have asked the Minister to invest in Shannon-Foynes Port, which he said he is doing. We could halve transport costs throughout the country if we got Foynes up and running immediately. The largest ship in Europe could dock there. It would centralise the distribution of goods leaving from places like Limerick. At the moment, everything is centralised through Dublin. A change in this regard could make a real difference if the investment were given.

I have tried different routes to get from Dublin to where I live. Leaving this building at 4.30 p.m. on a Thursday a few weeks ago, it took me an hour and 32 minutes to get to the Red Cow interchange, which is a distance of 9.6 km. I then travelled the 217 km to my home in 2 hours and seven minutes. I drive a diesel vehicle that does approximately 80 km to the gallon. To get to Dublin by public transport, the nearest train station to me is Charleville. If our business is delayed, like it was last night, I cannot get the train home because the last service to Charleville leaves too early. In that case, I have to use the Dublin Coach service, known as the green bus, which will drop me to Arthur's Quay or Adare. The problem then is I have to get somebody to collect me and take me home. When I work out the carbon footprint of getting myself to Dublin, it is lower when I use my car than it is using all the various forms of transport that are otherwise required. Somebody has to drop me to the train station and go home before coming back to collect me and returning home again. It is the same with the bus. There is no adequate parking for people to leave their cars for a couple of days. Students who want to use bus transport find the same problem of there being no parking infrastructure.

I appreciate what the Minister is trying to do but he is doing so from within the bubble of a city area. Everything I have heard about electric scooters today has been focused on their use in urban areas. It is all about cities. In fact, scooters should not be driven on greenways because they are used by people and families to take a recreational walk or cycle. They are a place for exercising. However, for people with an e-scooter who want to get from A to B, they would have to use it on the greenway because they could not take it out on the main road. You could not use an e-scooter on most of our roads because the circumference of the wheels is too small. With the potholes and rough terrain on the roads, the vehicles would need at least a 100 mm wall of a tyre, like on a car, to sustain all the bumps. The condition of the roads is a result of the lack of investment in rural areas.

I ask the Minister to think outside of city areas, look at Ireland as a whole and plan to bring the country together. He will get an awful lot more with honey than with vinegar. The people who are suffering all the time when the Government makes changes in Dublin are those from rural areas. They have no choice but to use a car and they cannot afford electric vehicles because they are too expensive. Not only that, they do not have the range to sustain the journeys people are making. Will the Minister consider an incentive to offer a 50% subsidy on the purchase of an electric vehicle to every household in Ireland? It might encourage people to make the switch. By doing this now, we could offer further incentives when the infrastructure is put in place.

2:35 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I may share time with Deputy Harkin, who has not yet arrived in the Chamber. I only wish I had some of this time last night to speak during statements on the report of the air accident investigation unit. I had three and a half minutes to contribute to the debate on that 350-page report. Perhaps the House will, at some point, look into priorities for the time allocated to different business. Having said that, this is a very important Bill and I do not mean to diminish its significance. However, it is ironic that I should get 20 minutes to speak in this debate and only three minutes to contribute to the discussion on the very important topic last night.

The Bill consists of 13 Parts and 46 sections and references 53 Acts. It is important legislation but its introduction raises the question as to when we will have a consolidated road traffic Bill. It is not fair to the Garda or the people who will be affected by the legislation that it should be so complex. It is not fair to anybody. The programme for Government includes a commitment to consolidate road traffic legislation and I would like a date for when that will be introduced. I acknowledge that the past year and three quarters have been very difficult because of the Covid crisis, but at some stage there must be a recognition that we need to review legislation to see whether it is functioning and consolidate it where necessary. To proceed as we are doing is intolerable.

There is an urgency to this Bill because we have a situation whereby users of e-scooters are currently functioning outside the law. However, there has been an attempt to put so much into this Bill that it makes it difficult to scrutinise. There are very good provisions in the Bill, which I support, although there are also one or two measures in respect of which I have concerns. I am not a member of the relevant committee but I understand from its Chairman that members will be going through the Bill line by line and teasing out its provisions. That is very important because, for the first time, we are going into a private space in terms of following up a perceived offence. Up to now, driving was in public; now we are looking at a private space. That needs to be teased out, as does the judicial review section, and there are one or two other provisions that give rise to concern.

I pay tribute, as I do every time we debate new legislation, to the Library and Research Service for the Bill digest it has produced. It is stated on page 2 of the document:

A Bill Briefing page is available which is being updated ... There is no usual table of provisions and the Bill is examined thematically. Not every topic in the Bill is examined because of a lack of time.

For the second time this week, I am highlighting that this fantastic service is under extreme pressure. There has been no such statement by the service but it is my interpretation of the situation each time I read a Bill digest. In this instance, the document goes through the provisions thematically rather than individually for the stated reason of a lack of time.

The digest, the briefing information and the explanatory memorandum explain that the Bill aims to provide for the regulation of a new class of vehicles called powered personal transporters. I will not go through the details as they have been outlined by other speakers. It also seeks to regulate scramblers, quad bikes and similar vehicles. I support Deputy O'Donoghue in his comments about looking at the issues positively and seeking to provide alternative places for the use of quad bikes. It is a good suggestion, which the Minister might consider.

It is important to consider the context of the number of deaths and injuries arising from the use of these vehicles. In October 2020, the Road Safety Authority and the Garda Síochána urged parents not to buy scramblers or quad bikes for children as Christmas presents. Christmas is coming again and the same concerns arise. The RSA's provisional statistics show that in the period from 2014 to 2019, three of the six people who died in Ireland as a result of an incident involving a quad bike or scrambler were aged 18 or under. The statistics also show that in the same period, 60 people were involved in collisions involving a quad bike or scrambler on a public road. Of those killed or injured between 2014 and 2019, 41% of casualties were aged 18 or under. That is the serious context in which we are debating this legislation.

The Bill provides for many new powers and an alignment of matters of law in Ireland with European law in terms of medical fitness and so on. I welcome all of that. I also welcome the enabling provisions for the M50.

I also welcome the linkage between the driving licence and the vehicle ownership records, and the extension to traffic wardens of the powers available to gardaí in terms of paying fixed fines. There will be three stages, or a trinity of attempts, albeit the fine more than doubles on the third occasion.

I also pay tribute to the traffic and community wardens. I remember when the post of community warden was introduced at local level in Galway, it had an unbelievable job description and they should have been paid 20 times what they were being paid. They were to be the eyes and ears of the community on the ground and to deal with just about everything. It was rolled out as a pilot project, but was never quite rolled out properly after that in terms of the number of wardens we need on the ground. Our city would be much better for having more wardens. That is something else I suggest we look at.

The Minister of State talked in here about the challenge and said we were attached to our cars. That is not true. Motorists have been left with absolutely no choice but to use their cars. I put my hands up and say I am back using a car. I drive to Dublin every week. I am somebody who used public transport, while realising other people could not. I am not into a blaming game. I am into recognising the climate change challenge leaves us with little option but to have a fundamental change. I have gone backwards and am driving to Dublin every week. I try to leave the car untouched from when I drive up on a Monday until Thursday and I resume my use of the bike at the weekend. However, this is not about me. It is about what has happened as a result of Covid and it does not suit my own life. There is no public transport for me to get home late on the evenings when I go home.

We have a legacy of inadequate public transport and now we have Covid on top of that, where we do not use public transport anymore. That is a huge challenge for the Minister, on which I would happily work with him, because we need 100% use of public transport. That is not happening.

The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, said many things in her speech. I listened to and reread it. The other thing that attracted my attention was her statement that the main challenge before her as Minister of State at the Department of Transport is to ensure the establishment of a sustainable transport system. She then went on to talk about active travel. I absolutely endorse the statement that the main challenge is public transport. Without that, we cannot even pretend we are going any way towards meeting our climate challenges.

I am being a little parochial by referring to Galway, but I do so to make general points. I do not want to sound like a broken record when I mention again that I had the privilege of being mayor of Galway some years ago. The only reason I mention it is that my colleagues and I forced the inclusion of park and ride facilities in the then city development plan, which became law on 1 February 2005. Some 16 years later, we have no park and ride in Galway. It was one of the occasions on which the councillors did their job against management advice, forced the situation, put in park and ride services in the east and west of the city, and left it up to management to roll that out with our encouragement. It has simply never happened. Can one imagine that we have no park and ride in Galway, which is one of the four or five designated gateway cities? We now have a situation in which it will be very difficult to get enough space for park and ride, other than the successful but limited service provided at Christmas. We were told in one of the last statements from management, of which there were a few before I left to come up to this august building, that it was premature to roll out park and ride. That was 2016. Here we are in 2021 with no park and ride.

I hope some Minister will stand up and tell me I am totally wrong when I say there is no master plan for Galway city, based on the common good. There are plans, but no master plan led by the public service. I am a great fan of the public service, while being constructively critical. We have no master plan for a city destined to increase its population by 50%. Instead, we have developer-led development. The Minister's colleague, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, agreed with me on more than one occasion, on the Dáil record, when I said we were back to developer-led development in Galway city. I do not know how many times I have to repeat it, but that is what we are at. We have a significant amount of land. A major strategic centre in Ceannt Station in the middle of Galway is being led by the station and an interested party. The docklands, under a limited company, is developing its land in the sense that it is seeking to sell off the available land to fund the development of the docks sometime in the future, in a city where the housing crisis is worse than Dublin, with no exaggeration. The Minister knows this.

I could go on a rant, but I do not want to. I want to set out the facts. I hope, at some stage, sense will prevail and we will get a public servant who produces, with the help of expertise, a master plan for Galway to face its challenges in climate change and biodiversity, not to mention traffic congestion. As I have the time, I will use it. I will go so far as to say that traffic congestion has been allowed to build up unsustainably and deliberately. There is no park and ride or comprehensive school programme to lift the school traffic off the road. It is impossible at peak times. All our eggs went into an outer bypass from 1999 onwards, which the Minister knows, because one of his colleagues was there at the time. From 1999, an outer bypass was the only solution put forward, regardless of my opinion. I am clearly on the record for my opinion on this. No other sustainable steps were taken apart from those which were piecemeal, reactive and forced. We are back again with the N6 project and waiting for An Bord Pleanála to come up with its decision, which has been adjourned many times. I will not pre-empt that decision, but I will wait and see.

It seems to me that if we are seriously interested in climate change, we should be looking at Galway as a pilot city. The selection of Galway was debated at the climate change committee. It is one of the cities destined to grow and increase its population by 50%. It has two public and two private hospitals, two universities and many schools. The vast majority of people, as the Minister well knows, want to come into Galway. I understand, even from the figures from the engineers brought in for the N6, that more than 90% of people want to come into Galway. Therefore, it is crying out for an urgent master plan. It is crying out for sustainable development within the footprint, which is in keeping with the national planning framework and the plan. However, that is not happening and cannot happen if it is developer-led. I implore the Minister, as I have done on many occasions, to bring forward the proposal to have a feasibility study for light rail. I ask him to prove me wrong that light rail is part of the answer to the traffic congestion in Galway. I ask him to choose Galway as a pilot project, with all the advantages it has, such as the natural beauty and fantastic employment record. The city is going under because of a housing and traffic crisis. Let us bring forward a feasibility study for light rail. Let us get a sustainable master plan for Galway city. Let us look at the infrastructure that is stopping proper development on the east side of the city. Deputy Canney has mentioned the lack of infrastructure and sewerage facilities there many times. If we go out to the county, raw sewage is going from Carraroe straight into the bay and Clifden has a problem. We need basic problems sorted out in order to have sustainable development.

The Minister might ask what all of that has to do with the Second Stage of this Bill. It has everything to do with it. The Minister of State said the biggest challenge is in sustainable development, which is not happening, despite the sweet words. Last night, I read out words from a psychologist, with regard to the Air Accident Investigation Unit, who talked about words meaning nothing. That is the most dangerous thing happening in politics. Words do not mean what they are supposed to and people are losing trust. There is a huge danger that we are encouraging people on the right to look on us as all the same and without difference. That is a very frightening prospect.

Returning specifically to the Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021, I think it was the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, who spoke about active travel, walking and cycling.

I do both of those. I spend my time on a bike when I am not driving to Dublin and I can tell the House that it is positively dangerous. I have reached the point where I watch out all the time. I have that experience. I have a small amount of wisdom about it from burnt experience. Mar a deirtear i nGaeilge, tá ciall ceannaithe agam. I watch out all the time. Most people cannot do that. They are nervous on the road. During the pandemic we had a fantastic cycle lane system in Salthill in Galway. It is now gone, but it is under review again. It was a majority of councillors, led by the mayor - I declare an interest here because the mayor is my sister – who forced a situation to get this back on the agenda. They did that with maximum consultation with businesses. At some stage there has to be a realisation that cycling must be made safe. I listened carefully to what Deputy Hourigan said in that regard. I echo what she said.

I refer to Galway with a general meaning behind it. Twenty years ago, we introduced the Barcelona declaration, which deals with universal access and demands that buildings and roads should be designed to be universally accessible, to do away with the distinction between abled and disabled. However, the idea that there should not be a distinction between abled people and people with a disability went by the board during the pandemic. The Government's message in this regard was inadvertent at first, but it failed to learn. We cannot give a message that allows for the extension of alcohol consumption facilities out onto the public way without examining the rights of others, such as residents, people with disabilities, and so on. That examination did not happen. I do not blame the Government for failing to do that initially. I agreed with it. However, at some stage the Government has to say "oh good lord, this is not working" It should get a report back from the local authority on whose rights have been affected by this policy. Deputies and councillors in Galway have been inundated with residents telling us that they just cannot sleep because things are happening in their back gardens and that various obstacles are being thrown in the way of people with a disability as they try to negotiate the streets of Galway.

I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that little or no progress has been made on the Bearna greenway. I left Galway in 2016 when I got the privilege of coming here to the Dáil. In January or February of that year, just before I came here, my last meeting was with the private consultants who were engaged with the local authority to progress the Galway to Bearna greenway. It took me a year and a half, or longer, to get copies of the reports that were done on it. I was then told that they remained as draft reports. As such, they were never discussed at council level. That was the management response to those reports. I do not expect the Minister to be a god or to work miracles, but at some stage there must be consequences for the lack of progression of the Bearna greenway. Little progress has been made on the other side of Galway, at Oughterard. However, progress was made beyond Oughterard on the Clifden side. I welcome that.

Much more can be made of the school transport scheme. Any time a Member asks a question about school transport, they get a stock answer about the hundreds of thousands of students that the school transport scheme is providing for. We need an urgent review of the school transport scheme to make it open to everybody. Obviously, the schools have to be prioritised. However, if there are available buses, they have to be looked at. I do not personally think that BusConnects is the answer for Galway. The Minister talks about facilitating BusConnects. The revolutionary change of which Deputies speak will come when we move people into Luas-type transport, rather than into buses. I am, however, open to other views. My preference is for light rail, and to get a feasibility study on it as soon as we can.

I have nearly used all my time, but the last thing I would like to draw to the attention of the Minister is Bus Éireann, specifically the number of buses that remain parked and unused in its parking area in Galway city. My understanding is that the figure amounts to hundreds. I could be exaggerating, although I always try to understate, rather than overstate. It has been brought to my attention that the buses are sitting there with a view to being sold off a different auction. This is because there are certain regulations about not using a bus after a certain time. I understand the vast majority of those buses are not within that time. Even though there is massive traffic congestion in Galway, there is a substantial number of buses just sitting there when they could be used as part of the solution, even on a temporary basis.

2:55 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The Sinn Féin slot will not be taken. I call on the Minister to reply.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I thank all of those who have contributed to the debate. I appreciate the broad support for the principle of the Bill, as well as the constructive approach that was in evidence through the debate. This legislation has the improvement of public safety at its heart. We may disagree on the best way to provide that. However, these are disagreements we can work on in practice, rather than disagreements in principle. I would like to address a number of points which were raised throughout the debate, which I hope will reflect back on some of the contributions.

Many Deputies referred to our proposals on e-scooters and powered personal transporters, PPTs, in general. I appreciate the broad agreement that we need to legislate in this area. The issues raised about PPTs are all important, such as where and when they can be used; whether we should require helmets and high-visibility clothing; issues regarding liability; the need for lighting and audio warning devices on scooters; and the regulation of PPT rental schemes. We need to discuss these issues and we need to be sure we get them right. At same time, it is important to be clear on what kind of legislation we are dealing with at this time. The Road Traffic Acts set out definitions for classes of vehicle. For example, they define mechanically propelled vehicles. They also define bicycles. The details of specifications for vehicles, rules on safety equipment and rules for when and where they can be used are set out in the regulations. The Bill will add a new class of vehicles, PPTs, to the Road Traffic Acts. This will enable existing regulatory powers to be used to provide for the standards PPTs will have to meet, as well as where they can be used safely. This will allow us to respond promptly to changes of circumstance. In the case of PPTs in particular, it allows us respond quickly to what is an area of rapidly developing technology.

Deputy Carey referred to forms of micro-mobility other than electric scooters. I assure him that intention in defining PPTs is to cover all vehicles of these types. I will, of course, take all views into account in making these regulations. My Department has conducted two public consultations on PPTs and has received great deal of feedback which will be useful in framing the regulations. We remain open to good ideas.

The issue of insurance is a matter for the Road Traffic Acts, which require mandatory insurance for mechanically propelled vehicles, but not for bicycles. In my view, in this respect, PPTs should be considered as closer to bicycles. I will not, therefore, propose mandatory insurance. A PPT is, in fact, a lighter vehicle than a bicycle and unlikely to cause more damage on impact than a bicycle would. On the same principle, we do not intend to require tax or insurance on PPTs.

I have listened to the debate on the issue of the power rating of electric scooters. I am inclined to agree with those who say this is an area that needs flexibility. I will therefore propose an amendment so that the weight, power and design speed limits in the definition of PPTs can be varied in regulations to respond to this rapidly evolving technology.

I also note concerns raised about an age limit for PPT users. This is a matter we are considering. It will be dealt with in regulations, if necessary. On the matter of supply to a minor, further examination suggests that the provision in section 34 of the Bill would not be enforceable. I will be proposing to remove it.

The rules around e-scooter rental schemes will be important to get right. This will include safe parking, as several Deputies have observed. However, the Road Traffic Acts do not deal with existing rental schemes, such as those for cars or bicycles. The appropriate place for dealing with PPT rental schemes is in the context of sustainable travel. This will need to be discussed with the local authorities and the National Transport Authority, NTA.

Several Deputies raised issues of enforcement. The enforcement of this legislation, like that all road traffic legislation, will be for An Garda Síochána. Some Deputies have raised queries about Garda resources in relation to PPTs, scramblers and other issues. I understand that An Garda Síochána has the necessary resources, but any detailed queries on this are a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee.

Deputy Fitzpatrick referred to the important work done in prelegislative scrutiny by the Oireachtas committee on transport. This has informed our work here. I agree with him on the importance of raising public awareness before the new traffic management measures come into force on the M50.

I also share the views expressed by others that careful analysis will have to be undertaken before any decision to apply similar measures on other roads. In addition, I assure Deputy Fitzpatrick that the Bill makes clear who will have access to information on the motor insurance database and for what purposes.

Deputy Carey also mentioned data security in connection with driver licences and vehicle data. In this case we are not creating a new database but a linkage between data held by the Department on driver licences and on vehicle ownership. Software systems containing State records have always been a target for hostile actors. Although no system is 100% safe, the Department takes database security seriously and constantly reviews, updates and monitors all software security systems to ensure the systems are as secure as possible.

The question of people submitting video evidence to An Garda Síochána for certain traffic offences was also raised during the debate. This is an important point but it is part of a wider discussion of evidence submitted to the Garda by the public and it would be premature to address it in law at this time.

We have committed in the programme for Government to improve conditions for asylum seekers. I am happy to confirm I will be bringing forward an amendment to ensure asylum seekers will be eligible to apply for driver licences.

I appreciate the supportive comments from Deputies on the need for legislation to address the antisocial use of scramblers and quad bikes. Action in this area is essential and, as was pointed out, so are enforcement and community engagement. I confirm there has been detailed discussion between my Department, the Department of Justice and the Garda on the issue. I thank Deputy Lahart for his interesting and carefully considered comments on scramblers, as well as on a number of other issues. I agree with him that the legislation on scramblers is only one part of the solution to the problem. Community initiatives and public awareness of the dangers are also essential.

The question of incentives for e-bikes is one for my colleague, the Minister for Finance, but I am happy to support ways to promote their uptake. I can see the arguments for a stand-alone Bill on e-scooters but in the long run these are a type of vehicle used in public and they do belong in the setting of wider road traffic legislation. Deputy Lahart also suggested we have a choice between private ownership or shared rental schemes for e-scooters. I do not believe we need to make this choice and we can and will have both. I appreciate his concerns about the possibility of all types of unregulated machines being used but this is precisely why we are introducing the proposals we have in the Bill to ensure powered personal transporters, which can be used legally, are safe vehicles and must be used in a safe way.

Deputies Sherlock and Murphy raised questions on the proposed changes to planning laws to facilitate the BusConnects project. The Bill will provide for specific and limited circumstances under which An Bord Pleanála can approve a scheme or road development that materially contravenes a development plan or local area plan. This is not a new procedure. The board already has the power to grant certain permissions that contravene a development plan in specific circumstances.

The proposed new rules on fit and proper persons to be a driving instructor were raised by Deputies McNamara and Carey. The principles of excluding persons with certain types of convictions from certain professions, either temporarily or permanently, is well established, for example, the law on taxi regulation. Deputy McNamara's suggestion of considering additional offences has been noted and will be considered prior to Committee Stage. Deputy Carey suggested removing the provision relating to penalties for people whose driver licences have recently expired. I take his point given the situation with Covid. I believe that in the long term it is a good amendment and I intend to keep it in the Bill. However, commencement of the provision will be considered only when we have a certain and more normal situation after the pandemic.

Deputy Carey also mentioned publication of collision reports. The Road Safety Authority does publish analysis of factors involved in collisions but this can take some years due to the need for detailed examination and coroners' inquests.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh raised the issue of the proposed horse-drawn carriages legislation. Following delays as a result of the pandemic, I can confirm that work on horse-drawn carriage legislation has now been recommenced. It is complex and technical and due care needs to be taken to get it right but I expect to see it published as a stand-alone Bill.

A number of Deputies raised the question of backlogs in the driver testing service. Although it is not directly relevant to the legislation I would like to make a comment on this. Covid has, of course, caused delays and a backlog in the service. The Road Safety Authority had taken on additional testers to deal with this. Deputy O'Rourke asked a question on this and I will answer it. I am happy to say the ten testers whose contracts were due to expire in December and the seven whose contracts were due to expire in March are all being offered extensions by the Road Safety Authority. This will maintain capacity for the time being. I understand the new testers whose contracts are due to expire will not reach the end of their contracts until May. In the first quarter of next year, the Road Safety Authority will conduct a detailed review of the evolving situation with the test and resource needs, and we will see where we go from there.

I reiterate that after the Bill has passed we will turn to examination of the consolidation of the Road Traffic Acts, as Deputy Connolly requested in her contribution. It is something that is important. I agree fully with her that our legislation is often very complex to administer and understand due to a lack of consolidation. Despite the complexity of the Acts, the Department knows of no case of a prosecution that has failed due to a lack of consolidation. However, that does not take from the argument the Deputy rightly made.

My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, indicated in her opening speech we would bring forward amendments on Committee Stage and I also mention this today. Some of these will relate to the BusConnects projects to make sure there is flexibility. To answer Deputy Leddin's question, that will also include provision for us to put in place experimental traffic management systems whereby local authorities will have to take real ownership of these new, innovative measures in a way that allows us to trial them for a period and afterwards to withdraw or retain them. This will give it real legislative strength. We need to do so after a recent decision on the Strand Road in Dublin as there is a risk it could have a chilling effect on all new innovation and development of traffic management for decarbonisation and improving the public realm. I am looking forward to developing those and explaining and introducing the amendments on Committee Stage, as well as other amendments on giving greater certainly to the legislative underpinning of BusConnects. I look forward to a constructive debate on Committee Stage and I thank all of the Deputies for their contributions on Second Stage.

Question put and agreed to.