Seanad debates

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009: Committee Stage (Resumed)

 

Section 28, as amended, agreed to.

Amendment No. 20 not moved.

Sections 29 to 37, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 38.

Government amendment No. 21:

In page 23, subsection (6), line 40, after "Commission" to insert the following:

", including previous reckonable service within the Civil and Public Service".

11:00 am

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Minister of State with special responsibility for Children and Young People, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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Section 38 sets out the arrangements for the transfer of the staff of the Commission for Taxi Regulation to the authority. The provisions of the section will support the continuation of the existing terms and conditions of employment held by the transferred staff. These include superannuation benefits which, under subsection (6) will not be less favourable than those to which they were entitled before the dissolution day for the Commission for Taxi Regulation.

The purpose of the proposed amendment to the definition of "previous services" is to make it clear that other services within the public sector will be reckonable for superannuation purposes. This allows the staff of the commission with previous service in the civil or public service to have this service taken into account or transferred for superannuation purposes.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 38, as amended, agreed to.

Sections 39 to 42, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 43.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Amendments Nos. 22 to 25, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 22:

In page 26, lines 8 and 9, to delete all words from and including "(other" in line 8 down to and including "GDA)" in line 9.

Members will agree that the general intent behind this legislation is twofold, namely, to establish the public transport needs of the entire country and to address and provide solutions in respect of those needs. The thrust of the amendments is to try to ensure the research process relating to establishing the public transport needs to which I refer will be successful and that it will involve regional and local authorities, including county and town councils.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who researches town planning and town developments throughout Europe. He always has been fascinated by what happens in other countries, particularly Germany and the Netherlands, where towns are built on the basis that the infrastructure needed to service such towns is put in place first. I recall seeing some photographs he had taken of a new town being built in Germany, that had been designed to accommodate 3,000 to 4,000 people, in which the streets, public transport system, lighting, sewerage and water all were in place before the erection of solitary apartment block anywhere in that town. In Ireland, we have never subscribed to that particular method of planning and perhaps it now is somewhat too late to so do. However, this is an instance in which we should try to take into account the best possible aspects of international practice when drafting this legislation. As for the proposed inclusion in the 2000 Act of the new section 25(3B) in particular, I question why the legislation seeks to exclude the authorities within the greater Dublin area, GDA, from this process. Although the GDA has had its own process up and running since the passage of the most recent legislation, given that Ireland is a country of only 4 million people, I wonder why the research process between the greater Dublin area and the rest of the country is not integrated. The second amendment seeks to include in the drawing up of regional planning strategies both regional and local authorities, to include county, city and local area plans. This is the thrust of the amendments that have been tabled and I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Clearly, it is highly important to have provision for the consideration of integration of transport in land use planning in any regional planning guidelines. As Senator Cannon has noted, all Members support that concept. However, there also is room within the development of such guidelines for provision for greater consultation with members of the public and in particular for provision for a public right to participate. I would be grateful for the Minister of State's assistance in ascertaining whether this is envisaged in this provision or in the original 2000 Act, which is to be amended. Similarly, I seek to ascertain whether there is provision for a complaints procedure when a member of the public believes an issue has arisen, perhaps regarding health and safety, in the development of such guidelines. I seek the Minister of State's assistance in this regard.

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Minister of State with special responsibility for Children and Young People, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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The amendments under discussion propose that the national transport authority's involvement in the planning process should be the same in all areas of the country and would be based on the arrangements already in place under the 2008 Act for the greater Dublin area. Implicit in these amendments is that the authority would produce a national transport strategy. The Minister's view is that it would be premature at present to give the national transport authority, NTA, the full powers of a national strategic land use and transport body. Members are aware that the Department of Transport publishes its own strategy statement every five years and produces other national policy documents such as Transport 21. Consequently, there is no deficiency in this regard. The NTA therefore will follow the policies of the Government in the implementation strategies.

However, the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area is a different matter that addresses an issue that is specific to a single geographic region. It is intended to be a highly practical document that sets out to solve the current transport issues there. The approach offered in the 2008 Act of a transport strategy is specific to dealing with the transport issue within the greater Dublin area. Amendments Nos. 22, 24 and 25 seek to have the NTA interact with all planning regions in the same way. However, this one-size-fits-all approach is not possible, given the difference between the greater Dublin area and the rest of the country. Section 43, as drafted, recognises the need for a slight difference of approach in respect of the NTA's involvement in the planning process outside the greater Dublin area. Amendment No. 23 seeks to require all planning authorities to include in their development plans and local area plans a statement on steps to be taken to ensure integration of transport and land use planning. However, the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009, which was presented to this House last May, makes provision in respect of these matters by requiring that development plans contain mandatory objectives for the promotion of sustainable settlement and transport strategies. For these reasons, I ask the Senator to withdraw these amendments.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response. From the general thrust of his comments and those of his ministerial colleagues when discussing this legislation, this national transport authority will be toothless and powerless and will not achieve what the legislation sets out to do. I cannot understand the distinction that has been made between the greater Dublin area and the rest of the country. Only 4 million people live here and it does not make sense to propose that the country's transport requirements change utterly when one reaches Leixlip. As a small nation of 4 million people, this is our first opportunity to integrate fully all our public transport systems and to conduct the requisite research, right down to local area plan level, to establish what are these needs. However, to set aside what is happening in the greater Dublin area on the grounds that it is unique and does not have an impact on what is happening elsewhere in the country is unwise and foolish. As I can judge from the Minister of State's response that there will be no change of heart in this regard, that is all I have to say on this matter.

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Minister of State with special responsibility for Children and Young People, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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A point I neglected to make was that under section 29(3) of the Bill before the House, it is envisaged that the intention of the amendment could be considered in the future. Section 29(3) states "Notwithstanding the provisions of section 63 of the Act of 2008, the National Transport Authority shall, at any time at the direction of the Minister, submit a report to the Minister setting out recommendations in relation to the expansion of its functions, functional area and remit". Consequently, it contemplates the point being made by the Senator. An incremental approach is being taken. Obviously, the greater Dublin area has unique issues and it is intended to try to address these head-on first and then to deal with the wider national strategy at a later date. On foot of the progress made last year through the passage of the 2008 Act, with this legislation we will be able to take advantage of what we have learned from the other experiences for the roll-out on a national basis.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Fine Gael)
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This constitutes a postponement of work that needs to be done immediately to some distant point in the future that may never quite be reached.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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During the part of the debate on the 2008 Act that pertained to the consideration of the greater Dublin area and the desirability of looking at Dublin in isolation, I argued there was a problem with leaving out towns and localities such as Drogheda and County Louth, which were not included in the greater Dublin area. Drogheda and its environs, as well as mid-Louth, are very much part of the greater Dublin area, albeit not strictly within the scope of the 2008 Act. The Fine Gael amendments certainly would address this issue, which the Minister then refused to take up on my behalf. Consequently, I support the Fine Gael amendments on the basis that they would address this anomaly.

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Minister of State with special responsibility for Children and Young People, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I repeat that under the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill presented to this House by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government last May, Louth County Council, for example, must have regard to transport issues when drafting its development and local area plans. As I noted in response to Senator Cannon's comments, it is envisaged that a wider national remit will be carried out at a later date. Hopefully, this will address that issue in the short term.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 23 to 25, inclusive, not moved.

Section 43 agreed to.

Section 44 agreed to.

SECTION 45.

Question proposed: "That section 45 stand part of the Bill."

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Fine Gael)
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The changes proposed in section 45 on page 28, lines 24 to 30, to insert new provisions in section 38(9) of the Act of 1994, lead me to believe the authority constituted under this legislation will have some role in establishing speed limits on roads. Currently the power to impose speed limits on our national primary and national secondary roads rests with the NRA, while the power to impose speed limits on roads below that level remains with local authorities. Is it the intention of this legislation to remove these powers from the NRA or local authorities and invest them in their national transport authority?

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Minister of State with special responsibility for Children and Young People, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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Section 45 makes some changes to definitions in road traffic legislation but there is nothing about the transfer of functions from one authority to another.

Question put and agreed to.

SCHEDULE 1.

Government amendment No. 26:

In page 31, between lines 44 and 45, to insert the following:

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Minister of State with special responsibility for Children and Young People, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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The purpose of this amendment to section 64(3) of the Roads Act 1993 is to address a gap in the legislation. It relates to the prosecution of toll offences. By virtue of the way the legislation is worded, in the case of a leasing company that leases a vehicle to another company on a long-term lease, only the first company, which is the registered owner, and the driver of the vehicle can be pursued for non-payment of toll charges. The second company is not specifically listed. This creates a problem for the NRA and all leasing companies. The amendment proposes to make a company that leases a vehicle from a leasing company liable for any unpaid tolls. I hope Senators see the merit in this proposal.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

SCHEDULE 2.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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I move amendment No. 27:

In page 33, line 31, after "drivers", to insert the following:

"and may, if the level of consumer demand so justifies it, make regulations limiting entry to the taxi market by reference to a particular number of new licences to be granted in any particular year, if it is satisfied that such a limit would not have any material adverse impact on the service to consumers".

This amendment seeks to give the commissioner for taxi regulation, in a qualified way, the power to limit the number of taxi licences. The taxi regulator does not have such powers at present. The following statement is on the website of the Commission for Taxi Regulation, www.taxireg.ie:

The Commission for Taxi Regulation can confirm that it has received advice from the Advisory Council on a number of proposed further reforms for the industry, following the conclusion of a public consultation process on the recommendations of the Goodbody Economic Review.

The Commission will reflect on the advice received and following the conclusion of legal considerations, regulatory impact assessments and administrative arrangements will publish details of new reforms and a timeline for the introduction of reforms later this year. The reforms will cover a number of areas including vehicle and driver licensing, and enforcement.

Information received from the policy section of the Commission for Taxi Regulation is that the advisory council is still considering the review. It is meeting next week and it is expected that it will issue its final recommendations to the regulator at that point. The regulator will then consider the advice and make a decision. What if the advice is to limit the number of taxi licences for a short period? The Commission for Taxi Regulation does not have such powers at present and, if one felt it advisable that the Commission for Taxi Regulation should have such powers, it would require further legislation to do so whereas we could grant those powers today if the Minister of State accepts this amendment. Providing such powers to the regulator is not a stipulation or a recommendation that they be used. The Commission for Taxi Regulation may never wish to use the powers so bestowed. There is a problem with oversupply of taxis in certain areas, particularly at peak times. Some taxi licences are being used at peak times by people who also hold down full-time jobs elsewhere. In any debate on the taxi industry there is always a reference to the bad old times when one could not get a taxi for love nor money. Those days are long gone and they should not be used as a reason for doing nothing now to address the problems that exist. I asked the Minister of State to accept our reasonable amendment.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I support Senator Ryan's amendment. Senator Ryan made reference to the bad old times and none of us wants to see a return to that time, nor would this amendment lead to a return to that. I refer to times when there was clearly an under supply of taxis, particularly in Dublin but also around the country. No one can defend that but this does not aim to return to this. Now we have the opposite situation, with an enormous oversupply of taxis, as anyone can see from walking around St. Stephen's Green. There is a great deal of disquiet about this, not only among taxi drivers and their families. It does not serve any purpose and is not particularly favourable to the consumer. Once there are enough taxis so that people have a choice of taxis, it is unlike other areas where increased competition drives down prices. That is not the issue here because taxi fares are regulated. Consumers do not see a reduction in fares they pay for taxis because there are more taxis on the streets. It is of no benefit to consumer to have masses of taxis queueing around St. Stephen's Green everyday. This shows the difference between taxi supply and other areas. I can anticipate a comparison may be made with retail trade-----

Photo of Fiona O'MalleyFiona O'Malley (Progressive Democrats)
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I hate to be predictable.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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-----but there is a clear benefit to consumers in that case, not only in terms of offering choice, but offering choice in price.

Photo of Fiona O'MalleyFiona O'Malley (Progressive Democrats)
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I will not disappoint Senator Bacik. I do not agree with this amendment. The minute one introduces a cap on the amount of services provided, a monopoly exists. Despite the gentle words, this would return us to the previous position. The majority of the country was glad when the taxi service was deregulated. The Minister of State has pointed out to me that there is an oversupply in many professions at the moment but taxi drivers are visible. If this amendment was to be accepted, we are in danger of going back to where we were, with people trading a limited commodity. It is not in the public interest to go back to this.

Taxi licences are now cheaper and more available and a living can be made from it. Perhaps far too many people have decided this and we must examine the situation but I do not agree with the idea of regulating the number of taxi plates. The market will flush itself out because people cannot conduct business if they are not making money. At least they did not make the massive outlay that was required years ago when taxi plates were traded like pub licences for extortionate amounts. This was completely wrong and I reject any notion of the Minister of State accepting an amendment that returns us to this scenario.

12:00 pm

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Minister of State with special responsibility for Children and Young People, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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The suggested amendment would, if accepted, empower the Commission for Taxi Regulation to set a quantitative limit on the number of taxi licences to be issued in a particular year. While the amendment is an enabling provision, it clearly envisages quantitative control of taxi numbers. Such an approach would be contrary to the policy principles underpinning the Taxi Regulation Act 2003, which followed the court judgment in 2000 finding that the limitation in licences in the interests of licence holders could not be sustained. The current system is based on open market entry subject to high quality standards. The amendment could also have the result of a return to the days when taxi licences were traded for high prices. The number of taxis increased from approximately 3,000 in 2000 to approximately 27,500 in 2008. The demand for a taxi service has also grown; the recent economic review of the sector reported that demand had grown by 25% since 2005. The number of new licences is running at the lowest monthly level since liberalisation, with 78 being issued in August.

It is considered that the optimal approach to regulation is quality based. The CTR is finalising measures for the further development of the taxi industry and the standards to which it operates. It is expected that the commission, taking account of all the submissions it has received in response to its public consultation and in consultation with its advisory council, will implement measures to further improve taxi services and strengthen the regulation of the industry. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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The Minister of State rightly states the amendment would empower the regulator to limit numbers if he or she so wished. Surely the Government and the State can trust the regulator to live up to his or her obligations under the legislation under which the office was established to decide whether such power should be used. The argument we heard against this was based on a return to the bad old days. That is not what we are discussing. This would give a power to the regulator which he or she may never wish to use.

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Minister of State with special responsibility for Children and Young People, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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Reference was made to the Goodbody report. I am assured no legal advice would call on the commission to do something which it was not empowered to do or which it would be illegal for it to do. It would be very surprising if advice were given along those lines. As a Dublin person, I walked along the N11 many nights in the bad old days and agree that nobody wants to go back. I am sure some Senators also had that experience.

One can consider this issue in the light of whether there are too many taxis or whether there are too few customers. It says much about Senator Ryan's outlook that he thinks there are too many taxis. Many consider there are not enough customers and that the question is how to provide more. There is a regulation on the maximum fare that can be charged but there is no minimum fare. Taxi drivers could charge various rates and perhaps consider a Michael O'Leary approach to try to increase volume to create business and activity. Certain taxi drivers are beginning to see the benefit of working together and are offering discounts, improving standards and providing additional services. This is the way to go. There are no limits on other parts of the economy, for instance, the number of hauliers carrying goods. Senator O'Malley made the point that it was psychologically irritating for other drivers to see so many empty taxis and I agree with her. However, one must consider the number of carpenters, architects and, as Senator O'Donovan stated, solicitors who are out of work and the order books that are empty. Quality is the way to go and various business models must be examined. We have not limited entry into other sections of the economy and it would be wrong to do so. I am disinclined to accept the amendment.

Amendment put.

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 7 (Ivana Bacik, Dominic Hannigan, Michael McCarthy, David Norris, Joe O'Toole, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan)

Against the motion: 25 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)

Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and Brendan Ryan; Níl, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson.

Amendment declared lost.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 are related and will be discussed together with the agreement of the House.

Government amendment No. 28:

In page 35, item 8, column (3), line 48, to delete "(a)(iii)" and substitute "(a) (iii) and (iv)".

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Minister of State with special responsibility for Children and Young People, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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The purpose of item 8 of Schedule 2 is to amend section 55 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 to give the newly named advisory committee on small public service vehicles, formerly the advising council to the Commission for Taxi regulation, a role in advising the authority on the preparation and review of the newly named strategy plan under section 28 of the 2003 Act and the draft transport strategy and draft integrated implementation plan provided for under sections 12 and 13 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008. This will facilitate integration between the advisory committee on small public service vehicles and the authority. The proposed related amendments Nos. 28 and 29 are purely technical to correct a drafting error in the Bill in the manner in which the new paragraphs were being inserted into the Taxi Regulation Act 2003.

Amendment agreed to.

Government amendment No. 29:

In page 35, item 8, column (3), line 56, to delete ", and"." and substitute the following:

(v) any other matters related to the functions of the Authority or which the Authority submits to the Advisory Committee for advice, other than matters related to decisions of the Authority in individual cases,".".

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported with amendments.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Next Wednesday.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Report Stage ordered for Wednesday, 14 October 2009.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Next Tuesday, 13 Oct 2009.