Thursday, 17 December 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cosgrave: I welcome the Minister to the House. A Chathaoirligh, I thank you for allowing me to raise a matter that is particularly important in these weeks, public transport, how it affects the public and how the public need is not being catered for.
It has become clear in recent months that the Government does not have a policy regarding public transport and the needs of the public. Week in and week out members of the public have to wait hours to get home. It is almost easier to win the lottery than to get a taxi. There is no recognition of the public's needs from Iarnród Éireann. The promised increase in DART services in the weekends coming up to Christmas has not occurred. The last DART services at weekends are relatively early, which is a disgrace when one considers what the public needs.
Serious consideration has not been given to what consumers require or deserve. The Minister and the management of Iarnród Éireann stand condemned for their lack of action. They have made no effort to provide the extra money for a late service during the Christmas and new year period. One wonders if the Minister and management of Iarnród Éireann think the service is run for their benefit and not for the consumer. There seems to be no overall public policy on responding to what the consumer wants.
People are fed up. Promises were made that the DART would run on the half hour up to 1 a.m., but this has not happened, and people are being left stranded. This scandalous situation cannot be allowed to continue. It must be addressed. I ask the Minister of State to examine the taxi situation and particularly the DART service. I have raised this matter before. The first DART on Sunday does not run until 9.40 a.m. I ask the  Minister of State to address these matters positively, and if he cannot I ask him to take my concerns known to his senior colleague.
I welcome the opportunity to bring Members up to date on developments since this issue was last debated in this House on 2 April 1998. Extra capital investment is not required to extend the operating hours of DART services. There are capacity constraints on DART system where necessary capital funding is being provided by the Exchequer and by the EU. I will come back to the question of capital funding later. As the Minister pointed out previously, the State makes substantial resources available to Córas lompair Éireann each year. In 1998 this amounted to £107 million. Iarnród Éireann has received about 90 per cent of this amount to fund its operations, including the DART service. This figure does not include Iarnród Éireann's receipts from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs during that period in respect of the operation of the free travel scheme.
The allocation of the State subvention to the individual companies within the CIE group is entirely a matter for the board of CIE. It is then a matter for the individual company, such as Iarnród Éireann, to decide on the distribution of this allocation in support of particular areas of its operations. The House will appreciate that these are internal matters for the CIE group and I have no function in relation to them.
However, it must be acknowledged that CIE is seeking to introduce extended late night public transport services, particularly during the Christmas period. The Nitelink bus service has extended its hours of operation to 3.30 a.m. over the Christmas period. Northbound routes are now serving Parnell Square as well as the city centre and St. Stephen's Green is being served by southbound routes. This is a welcome improvement for 1998, and I will be looking with interest to see how well this revised service performs during these busy weeks.
There have been intensive efforts by the Iarnród Éireann management to extend the times of operation of the DART service. Despite these and ongoing contact with the trade unions, drivers have not agreed to the operation of additional late night services. I understand efforts are continuing and that meetings were held as late as last night. While agreement has not been reached I commend the effort that was put in. I know Iarnród Éireann management moved quickly to resolve concerns about issues such as security. They proposed strengthening the private security firm presence on trains and had secured Garda support as well. Progress can be made. This was shown during the year when, for example, extended services were provided for special once  off events like the Tall Ships Race, and the Minister supports them.
Senator Cosgrave made the point in a previous debate that a concerted effort is made only at Christmas time. While this is not entirely correct, this is a good time at which to take the initiative. There is an increased demand for public transport services at this time and it is the ideal time to test the attractiveness of additional services.
Credit must be given to Iarnród Éireann for responding where possible to increasing demand. They have done so this month by increasing the frequency of trains on the two weekends before Christmas. Throughout the year they have responded to customer demand by increasing the capacity of their services on Saturdays and Sundays with longer trains now operating on most services on both days.
At other times the Minister accepts that capacity is a difficulty and that investment is needed. This has been acknowledged and funding is being provided by the Government to supplement CIE's own spending which was outlined during the previous debate.
As a result, Iarnród Éireann has ten DART carriages on order and these are due to be supplied in 1999. They are being funded in part by the EU and in part from Iarnród Éireann's own resources. The Exchequer together with the EU is providing extra funding for the acquisition of a further 16 carriages for delivery in the year 2000.
These 26 new carriages will be used to enhance existing services and to operate six car train sets. They will also cater for the extended DART network to Malahide and Greystones, which is expected to open in 1999. They will increase the DART fleet from 80 to 106 carriages — a 30 per cent increase in capacity. Furthermore, a new station at Barrow Street is at the planning stage and is expected to be opened by the year 2000. This project is being funded by the EU and from Iarnróid Éireann's own resources.
These projects demonstrate this Government's commitment to improving capital expenditure on public transport infrastructure in Dublin. Iarnród Éireann is very much alive to the need to develop and improve the quality of the service it offers to its customers. However, it cannot develop its late night services without the agreement of its trade unions and workforce. These are kept under regular review so as to identify measures which can be taken, within available resources, to improve services for its customers, and the company will continue to do so, particularly as the extended DART network comes into operation and as the new rolling stock becomes available in the coming years.
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