Wednesday, 22 June 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
We will be moving from Cork to Wicklow. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Josepha Madigan, for coming to the Chamber to take this Topical Issue. I know it is not her area and she will probably be limited in what she can say. It would have been preferable for the Minister for Transport to be here, but I understand that is sometimes not possible.
I want to raise the need for a coastal Local Link service for Wicklow. When I talk about a coastal Local Link service, what I mean is a Local Link service that connects Greystones, Kilcoole, Newcastle, beaches like Brittas Bay and Magheramore, Wicklow town and Arklow. It is a relatively short distance, but no bus service connects these towns and villages at the moment.
This is not the first time I have raised this issue. I raised the need for additional Local Link services in 2017, and the issue has been discussed for a long time. However, I do believe it is critical that we put this in place this year. I will initially call for a seasonal bus service connecting those towns, but there is potential and a need for an all-year service to connect them and provide a much-needed transport link to the DART in Greystones for people in Arklow and Wicklow town.
When I talk about a seasonal service, I am sure many Members are aware of Brittas Bay, which is one of the treasures in Wicklow. It is not just a county treasure when it comes to tourism; it is a treasure for the entire country, in particular the east coast. A lot of people make a day trip every year from Dublin to Brittas Bay and Magheramore to enjoy the fabulous beach.
Brittas Bay is a very small village. It has a couple of car parks and a few shops. Part of its charm is that it does not have a lot of infrastructure. Because of this each year we see increasing numbers of people coming to the village and leaving their cars all over the place to the point where over the past two years, there have been serious health and safety issues. I got stuck in a traffic jam there one day for 20 minutes with an ambulance stuck behind me and all of the other cars. It was trying to get to someone in need of emergency care on the beach. I understand this happened three or four times last summer and this is obviously not acceptable.
Many locals live in fear of a fine sunny day at the weekend because they cannot leave their homes. It is not safe for them to walk on the roads with the amount of car parking on the sides of the roads and the congestion that happens. To be fair, the council has done some remediation work. It has put in double yellow lines. I know some of the locals have opened up temporary car parks. This should be only part of the solution. The answer to this is a public bus service that would go from Greystones to Wicklow town and Arklow to bring people to the beach. There are private operators. I spoke to them last year when they were available to provide a seasonal service but the National Transport Authority, NTA, did not take them up on their offer. It would pay for itself. We speak about climate emergencies, health and safety and using local tourism spots but we have to provide the facilities. We have to provide the services. It is crazy in this day and age that a beach such as Brittas Bay does not have a bus service. Down the road in County Wexford, there is a seasonal Local Link bus service that connects Wexford town to Curracloe. I fail to see how such a service can be provided in Wexford but is not provided for such a popular beach in Wicklow.
I thank Deputy Whitmore for raising this important topic, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. I advise that the Minister for Transport has responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport but it is the National Transport Authority that has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally, including management of the rural transport programme which operates under the Transport for Ireland, TFI, Local Link brand.
Local Link services are an integral part of the public transport offering connecting communities throughout rural Ireland. In recognition of the vital role these services play, there has been a substantial increase in funding for Local Link services over recent years, going from €12.2 million in 2016 to more than €28 million this year. The additional funding has enabled the introduction of 85 new rural regular service routes, as well as improvements to demand responsive door-to-door services and the piloting of evening or night-time services in certain rural areas, which have now been mainstreamed. The new rural regular services operate at least five times per day over a five, six or seven day per week schedule. They are specifically designed to ensure connectivity with other public transport services and better linkage of services between and within towns and villages.
In terms of Local Link services in Wicklow, the NTA has advised that there is a range of services in operation including regular rural services and demand responsive services. These allow passengers to travel from their local village or town for business, shopping, healthcare or to connect with the national bus and train network. An example of such a service is the Carlow to Arklow route 800 service, which was introduced in December 2020 and has seen considerable growth in passenger numbers since it began. Wicklow and Arklow towns are also shortly to benefit from a new Local Link route, the 183 Arklow to Sallins, which is in procurement and will commence service later this year. In addition to the range of TFl Local Link services, Wicklow is also served by a variety of other public transport offerings, including those provided by Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, commercial operators, the DART and other rail services.
I want to highlight the Minister for Transport's commitment to the roll-out of the Connecting Ireland rural mobility plan, which aims to increase connectivity, particularly for people living outside our major cities and towns. In budget 2022, the Minister for Transport secured an allocation of €5.6 million to progress, develop and begin delivery of this important plan. Through Connecting Ireland, additional and improved public transport services are being made available by installing additional stops, modifying routes and delivering more services. These services will ensure better access for all those housed in our rural communities. On the ground, the services will be mainly provided by a mixture of TFI Local Link and Bus Éireann services.
The NTA has advised the Department of Transport that it is in the procurement, planning, and design stage for up to 40 enhanced services nationwide this year. All going well, many of these services are anticipated to be operational by the end of the summer. Connecting Ireland aims to identify these gaps in the public transport network and to develop plans to address them. I understand that all settlements defined as such by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, that line the Wicklow coast along the R750 are connected by public transport. As such, there are no plans for a coastal Local Link bus service in County Wicklow as a requirement for such a service has not been identified. That being said, there are other proposed routes for Wicklow and these can be viewed on the NTA's website. I assure the Deputy that the Minister for Transport, through the provision of existing services and the roll-out of Connecting Ireland, remains committed to ensuring that those living in County Wicklow are provided with a safe, reliable and sustainable public transport network.
I thank the Minister of State. In her response the Minister of State said that all of the settlements defined as such by the CSO are connected. I presume by this she means Greystones, Arklow and the bigger towns. They are connected by a very poor rail service. There are two trains in the morning. This is not sufficient by any stretch of the imagination. Brittas Bay has no public transport available to it. During the summer in particular there is an absolute need. I ask that the Minister and perhaps the NTA visit there on a sunny day to see the demand placed on the village. There is no public transport in the area.
The Minister of State also referred to the Local Link services. I know this is not her area but if an alien were to come down to Ireland and hear all of the eco-spin that comes out of the Government it would think we have public transport sorted and that it is perfect. The Minister of State has spoken about all of the Local Link services available in Wicklow. I did a quick search. There are 30 services, of which four operate Monday to Friday and the other 26 have one bus every week. If anyone in the Government thinks one bus a week is sufficient to cover public transport needs in rural Ireland I suggest they speak to constituents throughout the country because it is not. It is not sufficient from an economic perspective, a community perspective or an environmental and emissions perspective. This mindset needs to change.
The Minister of State also referred to the Connecting Ireland plan. I have been calling for Local Link services in Wicklow since 2017. Each time I raise it I am told there is a plan coming. There is €5.6 million for Connecting Ireland for the entire country for this year when we are in the middle of a climate crisis. This is a paltry amount of money. While it is a pity the Minister for Transport is not present, he should go back to the drawing board and try to understand the transport needs of rural Ireland and invest to ensure they are met.
As the Deputy has pointed out and appreciates, I am not the line Minister for this matter. Nevertheless I have taken into account some of the Deputy's contribution, particularly that there are 30 Local Link services but in essence, they work out at one bus per week. With regard to the composition of a settlement I wonder whether it is based on population, which may not take Brittas Bay into account. I am not au faitwith it but I will pass it on to the line Minister. I heard what the Deputy said about the poor rail service. The Local Link services allocation was €12.2 million in 2016. This has increased to €28 million this year. I appreciate the contribution the Deputy has made and I will pass it on to the line Minister.