Thursday, 30 November 2006
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, and thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment. The agreed programme for Government includes a commitment to replace the Road Transport Act 1932 with modernised legislation to allow, inter alia, for new services in the bus market. There have been some reforms in the Dublin Bus market and the establishment of the Dublin Transport Authority should facilitate further reform. Commuters should be able to enjoy the choices afforded by competition in the bus market. However, I note from the legislative programme that the heads of the Bill are still awaiting approval by the Government. This inertia in a vital aspect of the programme for Government is unacceptable.
The bus licensing system is not delivering for commuters but for the bus provider, namely, Bus Éireann. It reflects poorly on the Department of Transport that it is the main shareholder of Bus Éireann and also the licensing authority for new bus routes. Some 700 licences are awaiting approval by the Department. When a licence is eventually approved, usually 12 months after application, it is valid only for one year and must be reapplied for when it expiries. For any operator such as Morton's, applying for a licence involves a large investment and commitment. The licensing system must be amended to allow for a minimum period of three years, up to five years. This would allow proper investment to take place.
When applying for a licence, operators must prove they will not affect a current operator. Ridiculous attachments are made such as prohibitions on picking up passengers at certain points and extensions to routes. Overall, this makes the route system highly inefficient for users. Bus Éireann may have a bus stop at one point and within one foot of it another bus stop must be provided at enormous cost to a private operator. Bus stops must become part of the infrastructure and be owned by an authority other than Bus Éireann. Proper bus shelters and hard-stands must be provided at every bus stop to make it comfortable and accessible for commuters to use public transport. It is unacceptable that the Road Transport Act 1932 has not been addressed in An Agreed Programme for Government.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I am taking the place of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, who is abroad.
The Minister for Transport is fully committed to the introduction of a modernised regulatory framework for public transport at a national level and will continue to advance the regulatory reform agenda. The programme for Government contains several related commitments which form the future policy framework for public bus transport operations. These include the replacement of the Road Transport Act 1932 with modernised legislation to allow, inter alia, for new services in the bus market and further progress on upgrading the bus fleet, providing for bus priority both in Dublin and other cities. They also include increasing the level and frequency of services and the inter-changeability of commuter tickets on bus and rail services, as well as the introduction of new services to new housing developments and existing poorly served communities. In line with these commitments, the Government has made several significant decisions in recent times that will provide a solid basis for expanded and improved bus services, while ensuring better value for money for both passengers and taxpayers.
The Government has decided that the regulation of the bus market and future decisions on the allocation of all public subsidies for bus services in the greater Dublin area will be taken by the new Dublin Transport Authority, DTA, which is being established under legislation which is now at an advanced stage of preparation. In line with the commitment in Towards 2016, the Minister has been engaging in consultations with the trade unions and the other interested parties on the report of the DTA establishment team. On 9 November last the Minister published the report of the team which had been established to finalise the remit, structures and human resource requirements of the proposed authority. The Minister has set aside the period until the beginning of December for consultation. Once he has had an opportunity to consider the views received, he will finalise his proposals with a view to publishing a Dublin Transport Authority Bill before Christmas. He also proposes to establish an interim authority, charged with putting in place the necessary organisational arrangements, including the recruitment of a chief executive officer and other senior management personnel, pending the passage of the final legislation.
In addition to establishing the authority, the Government is determined to reform the public bus market, as announced by the Minister on 28 September last. This provides that the DTA will have responsibility for contracting with all operators in the Dublin market, including Dublin Bus. It will also be responsible for monitoring the quality and cost of service by all operators and ensuring value for money on all routes.
Under Transport 21, it is anticipated that there will be a requirement in the greater Dublin area for an expansion of the number of buses providing scheduled services. This will necessitate an increase in the total number of buses to around 1,800, with a requirement for at least 200 extra buses in the next two years. To meet this number, the Government has provided up to €30 million in necessary funding to enable Dublin Bus to buy 100 additional buses which are being delivered. The DTA will also be mandated to procure an additional 100 buses from the private sector to provide services on new routes by way of competitive tendering. The 100 buses procured from the private sector will form part of an initiative to facilitate the entry of new, private operators by awarding franchises to operate routes accounting for 15%, approximately 200 buses, exclusively to such operators by way of competitive tendering. Thereafter, all new routes will be subject to competitive tendering open to all operators. The precise arrangements will be approved by the Government on the basis of proposals from the DTA. In the interests of stability and integration of the bus network, the legislation establishing the DTA will allow it to enter into a direct contract with Dublin Bus, in accordance with EU law, on the basis of it continuing to operate without a diminution in the size of its current bus fleet.
The integrated nature of the Dublin bus market will be underpinned through the DTA having responsibility for traffic management strategy which will prioritise public transport, as well as for integrated ticketing, fares and information systems. It will also be empowered to organise the allocation of routes to operators in such a way as to maximise their prospect of efficient operation and the coherent development of the bus network. The Government is also investing up to €50 million for the procurement by Bus Éireann of up to 160 buses commencing in 2007 for non-commercial services outside of Dublin. Orders for these buses have beenplaced.
New legislation is being prepared to replace the existing licensing regime under the Road Transport Act 1932, as it has long been recognised that it is in need of reform. The provisions will better reflect the realities and complex requirements of 21st century public transport services. The new legislation will address a range of issues, including improved enforcement arrangements and the introduction of a single licensing code for all bus operators. The DTA will take over the Minister's licensing functions in respect of the greater Dublin area. The aim is to ensure a level playing field for all bus operators, both for public bus service providers such as Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann and for private bus service operators. The new legislation will also be designed in a manner consistent with state aids and EU law on public service obligations, including a draft new EU regulation being developed. It will create new opportunities for private operator involvement in the bus market.
The forthcoming Bill to establish the DTA will include measures for reform in the bus market in the greater Dublin area, in line with the Minister's statement of 28 September last. These proposals represent a significant step forward in reform. The combination of investment in new bus capacity and structural reform to introduce competition and enhance incentives for efficiency represents a balanced strategy to benefit bus passengers and taxpayers alike and secure progress on delivery of the programme for Government commitments.