Wednesday, 13 February 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I raise the issue of bus services in Limerick which have been an ongoing problem for quite a while. The main issue is with the very busy 304 and 304A bus routes which start in Raheen-Dooradoyle on one side of the city and extend through it as far as the University of Limerick. For the past six months or more buses have been running between ten and 25 minutes late each morning. I have spoken to people who use services on the routes and two weeks ago took the option to travel on a bus with one of them. It was quite an experience. The bus arrived 27 minutes late. It was a single-decker, although normally it is a double-decker, and not suitable, given the number of passengers who use it. At one of the stops in the city there were around 70 people waiting to get on but only half of them were able to do so. One woman said she would be 20 minutes late for work. The bus does not travel as far out as Mungret which is on the outskirts of the city and expanding. When we eventually reached the University of Limerick, the final stop on the route, the journey had taken one hour. A number of the passengers were late for college or work. There are several high technology companies in the area and many people who live on one side of the city and work on the other are constantly late for work. I spoke to two students at the bus stop who were afraid that they would not be allowed on the bus. When people complain, they are given a form to fill in, but I do not know where the forms go as no solutions seem to emerge. People have complained and demanded that something be done but to no avail. I am calling on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to roll something out similar to the BusConnects scheme in Dublin. Limerick is the third largest city in the country but bus services cannot arrive on time. A private bus service which I will not name can bring people from Ennis and Bunratty to the University of Limerick faster than the bus service can bring people from Raheen and Dooradoyle to the university. That is not acceptable. It is frustrating for the commuters who use the service and get no replies to their complaints. I call on the council, Bus Éireann and the National Transport Authority to work together to resolve the issue. Smaller buses and better routes have been mentioned, but that will not happen for a couple of years. I am concerned with what is happening now. People's examinations are coming up.
In addition to the problems I have outlined, the real time app does not always give the correct arrival times of bus services. At the bus stop where I got on, on Barrington Street, there was not even a sign. Tourists do not know it is where the bus stops because there is only a mark on the road to indicate it.I would love the Minister to intervene to resolve this ongoing issue. A couple of hundred people use the service daily. The other morning about 30 people were left behind at one of the stops. Two buses were working the route but one stopped, presumably to allow the driver to take his or her break as he or she is entitled to do. Unfortunately, however, the second bus could not facilitate the number of people waiting at the bus stop. I have given an overview of some of the issues.
I thank the Senator for raising these issues, which I know are very important in the Limerick area. I should point out that she called on the council and the National Transport Authority to remedy this matter in whatever way they can. She will appreciate that I cannot micromanage the routes about which she spoke because I am in charge of policy. However, I would be delighted to relay what she said to both those bodies if she thinks it would be useful and effective.
As the Senator is aware, my priority and that of the Government, over the next few years, is to rapidly increase investment in public and sustainable transport infrastructure and services across the country, including the Limerick metropolitan area to which the Senator referred. We will do this in an integrated and planned manner. That integration is clearly visible as we look across the key policy frameworks and their ambition for Limerick.
The national planning framework states that the provision of a city-wide public transport network, with enhanced accessibility from the city centre to the National Technology Park, the University of Limerick and Shannon Airport is a key growth enabler. It also states that the development of a strategic cycling network is another key growth enabler for the city. That recognition follows through to the commitments found in national strategic outcome No. 5, sustainable mobility, which commit towards expanding public transport generally and developing cycling networks in our major cities.
As the Senator knows, the commitments made in the national planning framework are backed by the indicative allocations provided in the national development plan, which is a ten-year strategy for Exchequer investment. I am delighted to say that the indicative allocations in the national development plan include €8.6 billion to realise national strategic outcome No. 5, sustainable mobility. In realising that national strategic outcome, the Senator can be assured that investment will be provided towards projects and programmes in the Limerick metropolitan area. That investment will be provided under the regional and metropolitan strategies, which are under development.
First, we have the regional spatial and economic strategy, which has been subject to public consultation in recent weeks. Within that strategy there is a requirement to develop a Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy. Work on that strategy is now under way with a public consultation to take place this year. The Senator will welcome, as I do, that the NTA is working in partnership with the local authorities in developing that strategy, a model that has worked well in Galway and Cork already. The strategy will evaluate the potential for a BusConnects-type investment programme for Limerick, which the Senator called for, and it will provide the backdrop to where the increased levels of investment available will be directed. In the meantime, the increased levels of funding being made available to support our public service obligation, PSO, bus and rail services and increased investment in cycling and walking infrastructure will continue to be felt in Limerick. The numbers using the PSO services in the city have increased in recent years. Between 2013 and 2017, for example, they increased by 15%. I do not have the finalised figures for 2018 yet but I expect the increases of recent years will have continued, and that is very welcome.
The increased funding available means the NTA can work with the operators in providing additional and expanding services. Improvements in the allocations towards the NTA's bus purchase programme mean a constant renewal of the bus fleet and a better experience for the passenger. The NTA is also funding a wide range of cycling and walking improvements across the city this year, including the Castletroy greenway, which will be a welcome addition to the city's expanding cycling network.
I share the Senator's ambition for Limerick and look forward to ever increasing numbers of Shannonsiders making the switch to public and sustainable transport.
I welcome that consideration is being given to a BusConnects plan and to the development of the Limerick-Shannon area. However, I raised a current problem. While the plan is great and very welcome and everybody will be in favour of it, it does not resolve current problems. It is soul destroying for those who use the university and staff of companies in the area that they are constantly late for work. The round trip of 6 km that I made took one and a hour hours instead of less than one hour, as scheduled. The position is unsatisfactory and the commuters who use the route are very frustrated because they are constantly late travelling to and from work. I know someone who left the University of Limerick at 4.30 p.m. recently to give a lecture in the city centre at 6 p.m. and arrived 15 minutes late. While I acknowledge that traffic can be heavy sometimes, it is not an issue early in the mornings. It would be a start if commuters were informed and kept in the loop or even replied to properly.
The current position is very frustrating. A survey of bus users in 2018 found that satisfaction with bus services in Limerick, at 72%, was the lowest in the country. While it is welcome news that investment will be made in future, this issue needs to be dealt with now.
The Senator has made a very useful contribution on behalf of people in Limerick, particularly commuters. I urge her to use the complaints procedure if there are timetabling or other problems, which are internal matters for the bus companies. In the meantime, I will convey her comments to the NTA to ensure they reach the right quarters.