Thursday, 12 February 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
Deputy Seán Barrett: An efficiency review of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann was initiated in June 2008, arising out of concerns that the State bus companies were not using their fleets to best of their abilities. This was a narrow review. We should be examining public transport as distinct from buses. In Dublin we are fortunate to have Luas, DART and bus services but none operates in tandem with the other. Until we start to use a bus, and Luas or DART for parts of a journey we will not encourage more people out of cars. The most recent announcement that Dublin Bus is cutting back its service is horrific. In one breath we ask people to cooperate in reducing CO2 emissions so that Ireland can meet its targets — I chair an Oireachtas committee which examines this issue — and in the next breath we cut the bus services. Transport will be the biggest contributor to increased CO2 emissions. We will have to pay penalties for failure to meet the targets we have agreed at EU level.
We must decide whether we want a proper public transport system. If Dublin Bus is not in a position to provide that service we should bite the bullet and offer routes to the private sector to replace those Dublin Bus can no longer support.
The Acting Chairman, Deputy O’Connor, who comes from Tallaght, will appreciate how important a local transport network is. There is a strong suggestion that from 1 March the No. 111 bus from Loughlinstown to Dún Laoghaire will be taken off the route. The route was designed to bring people from the Dún Laoghaire DART station to their homes away from the DART line, as far as Loughlinstown. It also brings people to the DART service in the morning. If the link is taken away more people will drive.
The State and the taxpayer have funded an expensive DART system and a Luas network, running to Cherrywood but the bus company has decided to take away the bus that links these wonderful networks. How will people get to these other services? The common response is that Dublin Bus is in competition with the DART and the Luas. What a strange way to think. Dublin Bus should not compete with the DART and the Luas; they should support each other.
Loughlinstown is a developing area and it is anticipated that there will be a population of more than 30,000 people in Cherrywood with 18,000 jobs forecast. Residents there also need to get to and from hospitals and schools. There is a health centre which will be completely cut off. There are several schools in the area and a FÁS training centre but the bus company is removing a service. This causes one to despair, to say the least. Unfortunately, the Minister of State present is not responsible for this tragedy but maybe he will pass on a message to his colleague, the Minister for Transport, to the effect that he should immediately introduce legislation to reform bus licensing.
Where is the Dublin Transportation Authority? Why has that not been urgently put on a statutory basis? Instead of reducing the number of buses, let Dublin Bus have a more efficient timetable and not duplicate services on one route. Why do all the buses trundle through O’Connell Street, around Parnell Square and down the other side, blocking the whole city?  Why can they not go to a certain point and have a free service circulating in the centre city at all times, which would take all the buses out of O’Connell St. and reduce the traffic and reduce CO2 emissions? Before Dublin Bus lets people go let us have a comprehensive review of the overall public transport system in the Dublin area, and my area of south Dublin, where we are fortunate to have a Luas, DART and bus service. We need to have joined up thinking, and we should not let management in these organisations regard each company as being in competition with the others. They are there to provide an efficient service that will get people to work in the morning and home in the evening, allow them to know what time their buses are arriving and connect with the DART when it is leaving.
I call on the Minister of State to urge his colleague to examine this matter before Dublin Bus destroys any joined up way of thinking, so that we are certain to use public transport, be it the bus, the train, the DART or the Luas.
The Government’s recently published smarter travel action plan sets ambitious targets for us all. It states that by 2020 we will move over 500,000 potential car-based commuters to other more sustainable forms of transport; slash CO2 emissions by at least 4 million tonnes; ensure that electric vehicles account for 10% of all vehicles on our roads; ensure more than 150,000 people travel to work by bike; create regional e-working centres to help cut commuting times; create an all-island car sharing website; invest in new, safer cycling and walking routes, and invest in more park and ride facilities on the outskirts of our major cities
We cannot afford not to meet these targets. Our current transport trends are unsustainable. We must free ourselves from the current conviction that the private car must be the primary travel mode. If we do that, enormous benefits will accrue, not only to ourselves as individuals, but to society. These benefits will last a lifetime.
Smarter travel seeks to deliver a sea change in the way we think about and make policy on transport matters. It considers all sectors of the transport area including personal travel by car, bus rail and air. As a nation, we have become dependent on the private car to meet our transport and travel needs. As a result, our urban roads are becoming increasingly choked by cars. If trends continue, average speeds in urban areas in morning peak hour in Dublin will have dropped from 13 km per hour to 8 km per hour by 2016. We cannot allow that to happen, which is why this action plan is so important.
There are obvious alternatives to the car. Bus services are under-utilised in this country, despite the fact that there has never been a greater demand for stress-free travel alternatives. Bus services should be in huge demand, but bus passenger numbers are falling dramatically. The Government is determined to grow bus passenger numbers so that more people will opt to leave their cars at home.
The Government has made record funding available to CIE for 2009 — over €313 million — in a year when Exchequer funding has never been more scarce. However, Dublin Bus saw an alarming fall in its passenger numbers last year and a rise in its debt. If CIE continues with business as usual and does not reform to attract more customers, it is projected that it will deliver debts this year in excess of €90 million. We cannot let that happen.
In order to balance its books, Dublin Bus is examining how it can reduce costs and implement the cost saving, customer focused recommendations set out in a recent Deloitte report published by the Minister for Transport. This has the potential to help Dublin Bus cut costs, while at the same time growing passenger numbers and improving its service to customers. We are determined to stop the dramatic slide in bus passenger numbers and we can do this through a customer focused reform programme in Dublin Bus.
In other areas of public transport, the Government has invested heavily in excellent commuter rail and Luas light rail services. The Government will continue to provide top quality public transport alternatives to the public over the coming years under Transport 21. Smarter, sustainable travel will deliver benefits in the areas of health, environment, economic competitiveness, energy security and quality of life. Each of these benefits will be will be realised, and they will be experienced in south Dublin as clearly as they will be throughout the rest of the country.
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