Thursday, 4 October 2007
I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for leave to speak on this issue. It came to light in recent weeks when the imposition of a car parking charge at railway stations led to an increase in the cost of commuting by 40% for some train users. Last week, the cost of commuting at Stamullen, County Meath, increased by €250 per year owing to the imposition of a car parking charge at that rail station. Similar charges are being introduced across the country. Charges have recently been introduced in Mallow and Ennis and one is imminent in Arklow. I accept these car parks have recently been upgraded, paid for in part by a subsidy of €150 million to Iarnród Éireann. My question is not about the concept of car parking charges per se but about the unregulated and arbitrary way in which car park charges can be announced on a Friday, introduced on a Monday and increased a few short months later.
Stamullen is a new commuter village which has little employment. Therefore, people's focus is on travelling to and from Dublin every day. For those who want to use the train, driving to the coastal station of Gormanstown, two miles away, is part of the commute. It is not just about getting the train. It is about getting the car, parking the car and boarding the train.
Last December, the then Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, was asked to provide a 10% increase in CIE fares. He virtually laughed the company out of the office and granted an increase of 2.75%. At the time, his Department said that in reaching his decision, the Minister said he wanted to encourage and support passengers who choose public transport as their commuting option. Clearly his policy was to try to encourage the use of public transport at a reasonable cost. Given that the cost of driving to the railway station and car parking charges at the station form part of the commute, it is clear he wanted that policy implemented and fares kept down.
It is unclear whether car parking charges lie outside the remit of the Minister and if they form part of the fare regulation regime. I seek clarification whether car park charges form part of the fare-setting process. If they are not regulated, there is nothing to stop Iarnród Éireann increasing car parking charges in December by 10% or 20% at railway stations such as Stamullen, Mallow or Ennis. What I seek is a statement from the Minister on car parking charges. Are they part of the fare regulation regime and, if not, does he intend to make them part of that regime to keep the cost of commuting down and encourage the use of public transport?
I thank Senator Hannigan for raising this issue. I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, who is unavoidably absent.
The provision and management of car parks is a day-to-day operational matter for Iarnród Éireann. I can see no value in introducing a new layer of regulation providing for ministerial control in this area. New facilities are being provided to public transport customers at a very reasonable price in line with the Dublin Transportation Office guidelines.
The modest charges recently introduced are significantly lower than that charged by local authorities for on-street parking, for parking at local authority and private facilities adjacent to rail stations or the fee for Luas commuters, which is €4 per day.
It must be borne in mind that in many instances where parking is free, it is abused. People who are not rail users are taking up spaces at railway stations to avoid paying parking fees imposed by local authorities and-or private operators. This gives rise to rail commuters having to park in residential areas some distance from rail stations, causing a nuisance for residents. It can also discourage people from using trains because they cannot park in a safe, secure car park at the station.
Where these new improved services are opened, a minimal charge has been introduced of €2 per day or €5 per week to cover operational and security costs, to discourage non-rail users from taking spaces and to reserve spaces for those who must use a car to access the station. The charges are in line with the guiding principles for the implementation of rail-based park and ride developed by the Dublin Transportation Office. These provide, inter alia, that rail users only should use park and ride spaces and may have to pay to use them. Rail fares generally should not be increased to pay for park and ride. Those who benefit from park and ride should contribute to the cost of it.
As part of its upgrade of the railway system, Iarnród Éireann has embarked, with Exchequer support, on a major programme of upgrading its park and ride facilities to benefit its customers. Park and ride facilities can and do have a positive impact on public transport use and have an important role to play in encouraging people to transfer from private cars to public transport.
In considering whether to impose charges for the use of park and ride facilities, providers are expected to take into account a variety of factors, and these would include consideration of the likely impact of charges on use of the facility and, by extension, on public transport use. Where Iarnród Éireann has provided new parking and introduced modest charges for it, there has been no reduction in usage.
I thank the Minister of State and appreciate he is responding on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey. The issue was not specifically about the concept of charging for parking but how we can ensure that the car parking charges are regulated and do not increase year by year. Will the Minister of State ask the Minister to consider including car parking charges in his remit to control fare levels within inflation levels?
From reading the script, I understand that the provision and management of car parks is a day-to-day operational matter for Iarnród Éireann. Surely Iarnród Éireann, which has the remit of maximising the usage of public transport, should not put a deterrent in the way of customers coming to access its service.
I hope the business concepts will gel and meet together and that maximum use will be made of the public transport facility which has been provided at great cost by taxpayers. There has been a major upgrade of the rail system in recent years. I understand it is a day-to-day matter for Iarnród Éireann. We all want to reduce the layers of bureaucracy and administration rather than adding to them. However, I will take the issue raised by the Senator back to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey.