Seanad debates

Wednesday, 17 December 2003

Adjournment Matters. - Public Transport.


Mr. Morrissey: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McDaid. I am a great supporter of the plans to open up the bus market in Dublin and introduce private operators by granting licences in certain cases. However, I have been made aware of instances, one of which is the Morton bus service from Celbridge to Dublin city centre, in which impediments and restrictions are being place on newly licensed operators as to where they can or cannot pick up passengers.

The Morton service caters for some estates in the Celbridge area not serviced by Dublin Bus. However, on renewal of its licence, Mortons was told it could not have pick-up points outside several of those estates and that its service must travel to the city via Lucan. As the bus is normally full on leaving Celbridge, it is a major imposition to have to divert into Lucan, exit at the Foxhunter junction, merge with the N4 traffic and then negotiate the obstacle of the M50. While, on the one hand, it is Government policy to assist private operators into the market by issuing licences, significant penalties are also being imposed.

I have also received representations about a similar service operating from Carrickmacross which, subject to correction, is not allowed to pick up passengers in Ardee or perhaps another location along the route. Intending passengers have to get to the next stop further on than their normal pick-up point as the private bus service is only allowed to pick up passengers at certain locations. If we are to have proper deregulation, there must be a wider delivery of bus services. Members of the public do not understand the system whereby passengers can be dropped of at a certain stop but the bus is not allowed to pick up passengers standing at the bus stop. Such impediments to running an efficient transport business must be seriously reviewed. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply.

Minister of State at the Department of Transport

(Dr. McDaid): I thank the Senator for raising this issue. Apart from my immediate reply, should we find it necessary to meet in the new year, this can be arranged.

The Road Transport Act 1932 provides the legislative basis for entry to the public transport market by private bus operators. In accordance with this legislation, private operators are licensed to operate coach and bus services within the State. There are 428 licences held by private bus operators for a range of public bus services, including regular scheduled services, school and college services, occasional bus services for special events such as concerts, city tours and so on.

The Department is required, under section 11(3)(a) of the 1932 Act, to apply a public interest test to applications for licences. The Minister must consider whether the service proposed is in the public interest, having regard to the passenger road services and other forms of passenger transport available to the public on or in the neighbourhood of the route of the proposed service. Generally the "public interest" is interpreted as being best served by enhancing and facilitating an expansion of the range of transport services available to the public, as opposed to allowing unrestricted competition for market share.

Applications for bus services are generally deemed to be in the public interest if there is no existing passenger road service or other form of passenger transport available to the public, or where existing public transport services are not adequate to satisfy demand, particularly by reference to their frequency and capacity. The adequacy or inadequacy of existing services and the net benefit to the public interest of a proposed service are assessed by the Department on the basis of the best evidence available to it, including evidence submitted by the applicant in support of the licence application and information made available by other parties. These would include, for example, public authorities, employers with an interest in the provision of public transport for their employees, school and college authorities in respect of services to educational institutions, official tourism bodies in relation to tour services and so on.

Section 11(3)(b) of the 1932 Act also requires the Minister to consider whether the proposed service is sufficient in regard to its frequency, daily duration and other respects to meet the requirements of the public. The Department examines applications for added value to the public in terms of the route and locations to be served, the timing of services and the days on which services are available, to maximise the availability, regularity and frequency of service. In compliance with the legislation, restrictions are placed on licences from time to time in an effort to avoid direct conflict between operators, while at the same time ensuring the availability of a good range and spread of services to the travelling public. This can be a particular issue in a city like Dublin where there are only a limited number of routes into and through the city and where some degree of shared running is unavoidable.

The operator to which the Senator has referred holds a number of licences from the Department, including one in respect of the route in question – from Nutgrove Avenue to Celbridge, into Dublin city centre and returning to Nutgrove Avenue. This licence was issued on 23 December 2002. The operating times shown in the licence are those sought by the operator and there are no other restrictions on operation of the route.

Earlier this year the operator applied to the Department for approval to operate additional services on this route. Taking account of the increase in population in the Celbridge area and the evidence available of demand for bus services which was not being met by existing operators, the Department duly approved all of the increased services proposed by the operator. My Department understands from the operator concerned that the additional services will be in operation early in the new year.

The Minister has stated publicly on a number of occasions his personal commitment to reform of the regulatory and organisational model for public transport. In November last year he outlined his proposals to the public transport partnership forum. These included the introduction of controlled competition in the form of franchising to the Dublin bus market. The Minister has also stated his view that all public transport outside the greater Dublin area should also be subject to independent economic regulation.

The Department is engaged in detailed discussions with the trade unions and other stakeholders about the reform programme and, in parallel, pressing ahead with the development of the necessary legislation. It is the Minister's intention to enact this legislation during 2004. We will then have in place a modern legislative framework for the procurement and market regulation of public transport.

I hope the foregoing will be of assistance to the Senator. As I indicated, if he requires a more detailed explanation, he will be welcome to meet me in the new year.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 18 December 2003.