Written answers

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport

Public Transport

Photo of Duncan SmithDuncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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12. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when his attention was drawn to the delays to the MetroLink project from the National Transport Authority and Transport Infrastructure Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [62296/21]

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I am aware of media reports regarding internal documents from the MetroLink project team released under Freedom of Information.

And I can obviously appreciate the intense frustration among lots of people with regard to the timing of MetroLink’s delivery. An awful lot of the discussion around delays relates to graphics used back in 2019 which set out an indicative timeline, premised on a Railway Order application to An Bord Pleanála in Q2 2020. That Railway Order application has still not happened and there should not be any surprise that timelines premised on it happening are therefore out of date. That issue has been in the public domain since Q2 2020.

There are three determining factors at this point to MetroLink’s progress –

1. Government approval of the Preliminary Business Case under Decision Gate 1of the Public Spending Code;

2. The completion of all necessary documentation by Transport Infrastructure Ireland to allow it make the Railway Order application to An Bord Pleanála; and

3. The Railway Order process itself and the time it might take.

My attention, and the attention of my Department, has been constantly focused on the first of these factors – securing Government approval of the Preliminary Business case. This is the issue where Ministerial attention is focused as without that Government approval the project cannot proceed.

I understand that a revised draft of the Preliminary Business Case is expected to be submitted very shortly to the Department for review in line with the Public Spending Code. Minister Ryan expects to seek Government approval for MetroLink during Q1 2022, if approved by Government then the project can proceed to the planning system

At a project level, work is continuing to finalise all the necessary documentation needed for a Railway Order application and should be completed by Q2 2022. At that point Transport Infrastructure Ireland will be able to lodge its Railway Order application.

These are the key dates and milestones for MetroLink right now.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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14. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the terms of reference of the upcoming review of the Galway Transport Strategy; the expected timeline for the completion of the review; the timeline for the feasibility study for light rail in Galway, which will be carried out as part of the review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [62326/21]

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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The review of the Galway Transport Strategy will be undertaken next year and will be led by the National Transport Authority (NTA), in cooperation with Galway City Council and Galway County Council.

I believe there is a need to review the Strategy and take stock of developments since its publication in 2016. As I have stated previously, my view is that a feasibility study for light rail in Galway would best be considered within the context of this review rather than carrying out a stand-alone study. This approach allows for a multi-modal perspective and integration within an overall land-use plan.

It’s worth noting that the review will include a comprehensive analysis of changes to population projections, development density, employment forecasts and future travel demand patterns since the finalisation of the current Strategy. This analysis will be utilised to reassess the public transport needs across Galway city and the potential role all modes of transport, including light rail, can play in meeting those needs.

I know from meeting many different stakeholders in the region the urgent need to focus on delivering the key elements of the existing Galway Transport Strategy such as BusConnects. A significant amount of planning and design has already taken place which will enable construction activity in the coming years across active travel, bus and rail related projects including BusConnects. I will continue to provide support in that regard with funding and other assistance offered through the NTA. I look forward to the Deputy's support as we seek to deliver on this ambition in the years ahead.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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15. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to improve the booking system through Irish Rail for persons with a travel pass. [62341/21]

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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As the Minister for Transport, Minister Ryan holds responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. However, I note that he is not involved in the day-to-day operations, provision, or maintenance of public transport services, including matters related to subsidised rail services.

The Free Travel Scheme is a non-statutory scheme administered by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (D/EASP), which is available to persons aged 66 years or over who are permanently resident in the State, and to all carers in receipt of Carers' Allowance. The Scheme is also available to certain people with disabilities and people who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments.

The fundamental principle of the Scheme as originally envisaged, is to utilise spare capacity on public transport services which operate, in any case, with or without eligible persons.

I have been advised by Iarnród Éireann that the company currently make available two booking options for free travel pass holders who wish to reserve seats for travel. Holders of a free travel pass have the option to book free of charge up to 60 minutes before departure on the company website at www.irishrail.ie; or they can phone Iarnród Éireann's Customer Call Centre for further assistance if they are not familiar with the online booking process, where customer care representatives will be happy to assist them with their queries.

Iarnród Éireann have further advised that their digital channels roadmap has identified continuous improvements to their booking system. The roadmap includes plans for a redesigned ticket selection process in 2022, subject to successful testing and technical feasibility.

Additionally, Iarnród Éireann have recruited in excess of 100 Customer Service Officers across the rail network who will operate on-board the majority of Intercity services, and who can issue Free Travel Pass tickets and other tickets while on-board, including cross-route tickets, to eligible persons.

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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16. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the way public confidence in the security of public transport can be improved, particularly given recent heightened concern regarding safety, particularly that of women on public transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [62100/21]

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I would like to thank the Deputy for her question and the opportunity to discuss the very serious issue of anti-social behaviour on our public transport systems.

Anti-social behaviour is a broad societal issue that we are currently facing to which public transport is not immune, and I recognise that those who work and commute daily using our public transport network are most directly impacted by any incidents which occur.

I am particularly aware of the concern of women regarding safety for women travelling on public transport and this was highlighted in the 2020 study commissioned by Transport Infrastructure Ireland "Travelling in a Woman's Shoes". That study highlighted that 55% of women stated they would not use public transport at night and 34% of women stated that feelings of insecurity have prevented them from travelling. The report also highlighted that 1 in 3 public transport users have seen or experienced some form of harassment or violence while using public transport. This presents a challenge at a time when we are committed to increasing usage of public transport and to achieve modal shift.

While it should be noted that the vast majority of public transport passenger journeys occur without incident, I am of course concerned to ensure that the necessary arrangements are in place to protect the safety of all passengers and staff.

The safety and security of both public transport passengers and staff, including arrangements to deal with anti-social behaviour, are important matters that, first and foremost, must be managed by every public transport company, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána, where appropriate.

My Department has been engaging regularly with the NTA and the three CIÉ companies, on the issue of anti-social behaviour. The companies have advised me of a number of initiatives being undertaken to help ensure the safety and security of both the travelling public and their staff.

Iarnród Éireann have advised that, in conjunction with an Garda Síochána, a joint focus on public order and anti-social behaviour has been in place since May 2021, with a particular emphasis on the Greater Dublin Area and the DART, Northern Line and Heuston to Portlaoise services.

As of the 13th of December, four Garda Response Hubs are now in operation to support on-board staff at: Mallow; Limerick Junction; Thurles; and Portlaoise.

Furthermore, an Athlone Garda Response Hub has been approved and will commence operations on 1st January 2022, with additional Response Hubs in Kildare (Kildare Town or Newbridge) and Roscommon (Castlereagh) in negotiation.

An Garda Síochána is currently supporting Iarnród Éireann in carrying out on-board patrols on scheduled late night services over the Christmas period across the network in addition to ongoing joint Garda/Iarnród Éireann operations, including high visibility patrols of stations where specialist Garda Teams included the Garda Dog Unit will be deployed.

A text alert service has also been introduced to enable customers to discreetly report anti-social behaviour incidents

Transdev Dublin Light Rail, who operate the Luas network on behalf of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, employ 50 security staff. These staff liaise with An Garda Síochána regularly as part of their work, such as through the Operation Citizen initiative, commenced in October, which has increased the visual presence of Garda patrols, particularly in the city centre where heavy footfall Luas Stops are located. Concurrently they have reported that they are seeing a decrease in anti-social behaviour of circa 40% - at the same time as experiencing an increase in tram travel.

Both Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann have reported that the level of anti-social behaviour is relatively low on their services and also noted a declining trend, which is positive.

The entire Dublin Bus fleet is fully fitted with CCTV cameras, with up to 10 internal cameras and two external cameras fitted on the more modern vehicles in the fleet. Each vehicle is equipped with a radio, which facilitates immediate contact to the Central Control Centre.

All of the company's buses are in radio contact with Central Control. Any instances of disruption or concerns around security are immediately reported and services are suspended as necessary. The company also has mobile inspectors in the city centre, who are available to attend incidents as required.

Bus Éireann has invested in extensive CCTV coverage throughout its fleet for the protection of passengers and staff and driver security screens are fitted to the entire low-floor, single-deck and double-deck bus fleet. Emergency support for drivers is provided through 24-hour control centres and any incidents of anti-social behaviour are fully investigated and followed up with An Garda Síochána as required.

The combined interventions implemented to date have had a number of successes in tackling anti-social behaviour, particularly on the northern DART through teamwork between IÉ’s security provider, the Howth Junction Security Centre, Revenue Protection Unit staff, station staff and An Garda Síochána, however this is an issue which will require continuing joint action.

As Minister for Transport, both Minister Ryan and I will continue to work collectively with all stakeholders to ensure the safest possible travel environment for members of the public, and safest possible working environment for the employees providing our valuable public transport services.


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