Tuesday, 26 April 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
102. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if a reduction in Expressway bus fares, such as on route 40, Tralee to Cork, and route 51, Limerick to Cork, can be considered as part of the cost-of-living package to facilitate the large population of students that commute along these routes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21070/22]
The 20% reduction in the cost of bus fares made a meaningful difference to the cost of living for many travelling daily to college or work. However, it is not available on every bus service. Some communities have only the express bus available to them. Is there a way in which communities served only by express buses will have an opportunity to avail of the cost-of-living measures?
The Government is strongly committed to helping to combat the cost-of-living rises experienced throughout the country. As part of the suite of new measures being introduced, a 20% average fare reduction on all PSO public transport services is being made available nationwide until the end of the year. The discounted fares will benefit the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who use PSO public transport every day. The Government allocated €54 million in Exchequer funding to provide this measure; however, this funding does not include an extension of the scheme to commercial operators, such as the Expressway services from Cork to Tralee and Cork to Limerick referred to in the Deputy's question.
Bus Éireann Expressway is a commercially run business that operates in competition with private, commercial operators in the licensed bus market. As such, decisions related to fares are made directly by the company itself. However, in recognition of the importance of incentivising young people to use public transport, I was delighted as part of budget 2022 to secure funding to provide for the introduction of a young adult card, YAC, on both PSO and commercial services. This exciting initiative will entitle anyone between the ages of 19 and 23 to discounted travel costs and to increase the level of discount over and above the current student discount level to an average of 50% across all services, including city, intercity and rural services. The discount will initially be made available on all subsidised PSO bus, rail and Luas services next month. It will then be broadened to include commercial operators, such as Expressway, later this year. Intensive work is under way with representatives from the commercial bus sector, the National Transport Authority and the Department to devise a mechanism to implement and expedite the deployment of the YAC in the commercial bus sector. I hope to have arrangements in place before students return to third level education after the summer break to ensure they can avail of the initiative. It is important to establish sustainable travel habits if we are to meaningfully reduce our transport emissions and reach our climate objectives.
Reducing the fare is a huge help in making public transport more attractive. Establishing a pattern of using public transport from a young age is so significant. It really adds to the benefit.
I acknowledge the 50% reduction. It is very significant, much ahead of the 20% reduction. It is important that it be available to students as soon as possible. Many of them are finishing up college at the minute. It is important that the ticket be available to them when they return, or at least before the summer. What steps are being taken to have the 50% reduction in place, especially for those who have not been able to avail of any reduction? The 20% has been available to some students but not others. Can the latter be prioritised in the roll-out of the 50% reduction?
The key is to deliver it before next September to benefit those going to college. It is equally important that young people travelling to work benefit. However, the return of college is the deadline by which we have to have the reduction in place for the commercial operators. Included in this is Bus Éireann.
It is a matter of differentiation. Ideally, we would prefer to apply the reduction to every bus service straightaway but there are characteristics of commercial operations to be considered. We do not set the fares. We do not monitor, regulate or check in respect of cash and other fares of private operators, so it is not as easy to apply the reduction. We can and will do it with regard to the youth travel card, however. It will be done in the September timeframe to allow those going to college at that time and young workers to avail of it. There is a working group established with the commercial operators to deliver it in a timely manner.
Is mór an ní é go mbeidh laghdú 20% ar na ticéidí bus, go háirithe ar cheantair cosúil le Baile Bhuirne, Baile Mhic Íre, Gleann Fleisce agus a leithéid, áiteanna nach bhfuil an bus eile ar fáil dóibh agus nach bhfuil ach an express bus ann.
Molaim é sin agus is maith an ní é. Bheadh sé tábhachtach é sin a thabhairt ar aghaidh chun cinn go tapa, go háirithe nuair a bheidh na daltaí ag filleadh ar an gcoláiste i dtreo deireadh an samhradh.
Can the Minister outline who will be involved in that consultation group, how quickly it will be up and running and how will he ensure that services such as the No. 40 Ballyvourney and Ballymakeery service is in place as well as the Cork to Limerick service? As the Minister knows, these areas do not have alternative services for which people can avail of a discount.
The working group includes three representatives from the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland, two further representatives from the commercial sector and a representative from my Department. It is up and running. I appreciate the Deputy's support. We are make sure that, in particular in areas like Ballyvourney, where there is nothing but a Bus Éireann service, that people can avail of lower fares.