Dáil debates

Thursday, 22 September 2022

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Public Transport

10:10 am

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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12. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will adjust the eligibility for the 19 to 24-year-old Leap card to include third-level students who are 18 years old given that many private operators now charge more for a child ticket than a young adult ticket under the newly introduced scheme, resulting in 18-year-old college students who use private operators not being eligible to avail of the intended saving for third level students; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46187/22]

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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76. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if consideration will be given to including 17- and 18-year-olds on the youth travel card scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45718/22]

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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187. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the reason that 17 and 18-year-old students have been left out of the young adult card and student Leap card initiative announced on 5 September 2022; if he will include this age group in the initiative as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46403/22]

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister consider adjusting the eligibility for the Leap card for 19- to 24-year-olds to include third level students who are 18? There is an unforeseen knock-on effect here where, ironically, private operators now charge more for a child ticket than a young adult ticket under the new scheme the Minister introduced, which has been a huge success throughout the country. This means that 18-year-old college students who use private bus operators cannot avail of the intended savings for third level students and, in some cases, are paying double the fee.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 76 and 187 together.

I thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to clarify this important issue. As Deputies are aware, as part of budget 2022, I secured €25 million in funding for the introduction of a young adult card. It is my firm view that the young adult card will be of great benefit to young adults and will not only promote modal shift among that cohort of the population, but also contribute towards a reduced reliance on private transport with the associated benefit of transport emission savings.

The young adult card was initially introduced on public service obligation services in May. Since then there has been extensive engagement between my Department, the National Transport Authority, NTA, and representatives from the commercial bus sector to agree upon extending the initiative to commercial bus operators as well. That extension has now been agreed and has been in place since 4 September, so the 50% fare discount for holders of a young adult - those aged 19 to 23 - or student Leap card is now available on bus services provided by participating commercial bus operators.

On the Deputy's question on the eligibility requirements for the young adult card, I am happy to clarify that the NTA is widening the age rules of the scheme to allow 16-, 17-, and 18-year-old students in third level education to apply for the student leap card so that they can also avail of the discount. This is in line with the approach that has been taken with mature students who are in full-time third level education.

I am pleased to advise that the NTA has already commenced the technical work on this matter, which is scheduled to be completed in the coming weeks, at which point those third level students aged 16, 17, and 18 will be able to order a student Leap card and avail of the discount.

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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That is fantastic news. I am very pleased to hear that. I thank the Minister for that positive response. I agree with him that this has been a very positive scheme. It is fantastic that it is being improved, expanded and extended all the time. Right now, 18-year-old students are not eligible for either the Leap card for 19- to 24-year-olds or the student Leap card. Therefore, they have to get a child ticket. If they are, for example, travelling from Drogheda to Dublin to attend college, then they are paying double the fee of their 19-year-old classmate because a child's single fare on that route is €10 versus €5 under the new discounted Leap card for 19- to 24-year-olds. That is double the price. It is an anomaly, it is not fair and it is not in the spirit of what the Minister introduced in order to reduce the dependency on cars, to change people's behaviours and to help students deal with the cost of living.

I welcome the Minister's answer that this is an anomaly he and the NTA are committed to fixing. Can the Minister give any more clarity on the timeframe and what the next steps are? That would be very helpful.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Everybody was in support of this particular move. We all see that it is an action related to the cost of living but it is also to make sure that more people use public transport. It continues the conversation we had earlier.

We had got a response from the NTA previously on this. Again, we would like it to move as quickly as possible on 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds being able to avail of the Leap card. Does this mean they will get the exact same as a 19-year-old would get, from a financial point of view, from the young adult card? Beyond that, there is an anomaly here in that this Leap card is only available to people in third level education. I assume people aged 16, 17 and 18 who are working or in apprenticeships cannot avail of it. Is that something we will also look at?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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We will look at that as well. In response to Deputy Higgins's question on the timeframe, it will be within weeks. This has to be done quickly. It took a lot of work to get this done, especially to incorporate private bus operators. That was not a small project because of all the management and co-ordination involved. To have the ability to regulate, in effect, or monitor fares in a way we previously did not took time. I do not expect this to take a similar length of time because much of that work has already been done.

There is one slight complication relating to the matter raised by Deputy Ó Murchú. My understanding is that an under-18-year-old on public transport services is entitled to a child fare. The concern about those fares does not apply. There are a limited number of other services where those fares would not apply, if young people are working and are not students, but those are very limited and specific circumstances. I will look at those to see if there are other ways of closing that final gap, but the vast majority of those aged under 18 on the vast majority of public transport services are entitled to a child fare.

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I commend the Minister and his Department on all the work that has been done to make public transport more affordable and accessible. It is just so important at present when we consider the two crises we are in, namely, the cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis. We know both these issues are having a massive effect on our young people and that they are very passionate about them. That is why it is so important to ensure that all young people availing of public and private transport alike can avail of these intended savings. I am very pleased that this will be done so quickly. I thank the Minister for that. This issue was raised with me by a constituent who works in the Students' Union office in University College Dublin, UCD. I will let those students know about this because it is something that comes up time and time again. I very much thank the Minister for being a step ahead on this one.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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If we ensure this happens as quickly as possible, we will all be happy, particularly those students who have made contact with all of us.

I have a question in respect of the commercial bus operators. Are there a significant number of them that will operate this scheme? Does the Minister have any information on that? Will the approximate fare reduction of 20% be continued post budget?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I will announce that on budget day, but I will be very much arguing for it because it is a very direct way of addressing the cost of living, especially for many students and younger people who face very high rents and difficulties in that sort of area. It is important we give them options around public transport. As I said, this measure can and will be introduced quickly. I am very glad it will assist the Students' Union in UCD, with which I am very familiar, in addition to other colleges throughout the country.

To answer Deputy Ó Murchú's question, I expect the involvement of commercial bus operators to be very significant. Looking at the budget implications, it is a very significant funding commitment. It is not cheap but it is appropriate and right for us to extend the scheme to them. That has been a very positive development.