Wednesday, 28 April 2010
Seanad Eireann Debate
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe. I believe this is his first occasion in this House since his appointment. I congratulate and wish him the best of luck in his term as Minister of State.
I also welcome the Minister of State to the House on this, his first occasion. I wish him well. I have no doubt his talents will be well used in the Department and that what he proposes will no doubt be in the best interests of future generations rather than the present one.
I also welcome the Minister of State to the House. I believe this is his first appearance here. I know he has considerable interest and expertise in these areas. I wish anybody well who has come into ministerial office for the first time after a time in the Dáil. I hope it is successful for him.
It is timely to consider a survey published over the weekend by TomTom, the company that makes satellite navigation systems for cars. It conducted a survey of 59 cities across Europe with a population of more than 500,000. It analysed the cities that suffer most from traffic congestion issues. Out of the 59 cities analysed, Dublin was sixth worst in terms of the time lost in-car and the amount of time commuters must spend unnecessarily as they go about their business.
I want to raise four themes to which I would like the Minister of State to respond: the status of integrated ticketing; the recent announcements from Dublin Bus about the withdrawal of buses; the integration of planning and transport introduced under the national transport authority Bill; and the status of Transport 21 and how those projects stand.
Experts in transport planning frequently state the most important aspect of public transport, once different modes are available, is to deliver integration so people can move from one mode to another. Given the increase there has been in the varieties of public transport since the introduction of the Luas, the introduction of integrated ticketing has never been more important. The track record of the Government, however, on integrated ticketing, both in terms of cost and delivery, is a joke. In 2000 the then Minister for Transport made the commitment that integrated ticketing would be rolled out and the first deadline for delivery of that project was 2002. It is now 2010 and there is no sign of the project being rolled out across the entire country. There is a promise of some phasing but, by this stage, given the increases in public transport modes, the idea that a person cannot move from bus to train to Luas is a disgrace.
By the time the project is up and running, the cost is likely to exceed €55 million. The taxpayer has already spent in excess of €30 million. The project is eight years behind schedule and, given that nothing has happened, the costs are going up year on year. There was a report in The Sunday Times at the weekend that targets that were being set for the delivery of phased integrated ticketing in the second half of this year were unrealistic and would not happen. Does the Minister of State expect to see the roll-out of integrated ticketing in the second half of the year? Where will it happen, will it be in Dublin alone or will it happen elsewhere? How much will it cost? If we find ourselves moving beyond 2010, the phasing that has been pointed to as vital to deliver the national roll-out of the project will not happen and we will face a further delay. I was concerned to see a report in The Sunday Times that claimed further delay is likely.
What is happening in Dublin Bus is topical. This is not just an issue for Dublin Bus because when it makes an announcement, a similar announcement is usually made by Bus Éireann soon afterwards. This is confined to Dublin at the moment but Bus Éireann faces the same pressures and it is likely it will have to put in place a plan to respond to the commercial pressure it faces. Dublin Bus has stated there will be a further reduction of 90 buses following a reduction last year. Despite that reduction, it does not expect to see any change in the frequency and quality of service made available to commuters.
The bus levels in Dublin will fall back to those of 2001 and 2002. Since then we have doubled the amount of money available to Dublin Bus, from €40 million to €80 million. The subvention made available to that company has doubled across the time the number of buses has decreased. It will be difficult for the Minister of State’s Department to enjoy the credibility it wants in sustainable transport if, at the same time, the number of buses on the streets is decreasing. The Minister of State should make a statement this afternoon about the Department of Transport’s intentions on this, publish the report underpinning the decisions that have been made and examine the putting in place of the legislative changes that would process the applications from private operators who wish to provide services separate from Dublin Bus. We have operators who have been waiting for a decision on a licence from the Department of Transport for up to four years. That must be addressed.
There are many projects in Transport 21 that are moving quickly through the planning phase, such as metro north and the Dublin interconnector, but there has not been a recent statement from Government about the capital funding and support necessary for the delivery of those projects. Every public reference tells us they are in the planning phase and the Government will not make a decision until planning is complete. There is little point moving through the entire planning phase if the capital requirement needed to get the public private partnership off the ground is not in place.
I wish the Minister of State well. His job is needed to deliver the necessary integration. The record until now has not been good and I hope the Minister of State will change that. I await a detailed response on the status of integrated ticketing.
Smarter travel initiatives are a challenge. We are a small island but those from mainland Europe or the United States who come to Ireland find it difficult to get around. That is the sad situation in which we find ourselves, lacking an integrated public transport system of which we can be proud. In some areas we have good public transport systems but they operate in isolation and there is no planning for how they might interact with other transport agencies or the communities they are meant to serve.
Sustainable transport is a buzzword but sustainability depends on a number of factors: accessibility, interconnectivity, including integrated ticketing and the connection of physical locations, and viability in order that the public will use it. There are rail, bus, light rail, city bus and rural transport operators. That is very important in a country such as Ireland. Public transport must be attractive to entice people to use it. By that I mean that, first and foremost, it must be accessible. Main public transport facilities such as railway stations must be accessible. In addition, the various services which operate from those stations must offer timeframes to suit those most likely to use them, namely, commuters. Services must run at times that will suit people for getting to work, college or school and then home. There is no point in running services late in the morning when most commuting has already happened. Much of the time service operators, semi-State bodies in many cases, miss that fundamental point and arrange services around schedules that have been in existence for generations. They do not look to see how Ireland has changed or how the movements of the public work, in college and work schedules and in factory flexitimes. Many people work to a 24-hour shift nowadays, starting earlier than the normal 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. shifts and working for 12 hours.
I do not say the Minister will arrive at a transport system that will suit everybody but we should be looking at and analysing the volumes of people who are in most need of public transport. These basic issues of accessibility should be studied and analysed before any planning is done so that we can have the facts. Then when it comes to planning it can be done with proper information and the result will resonate with the public and entice people to use public transport.
Another area to note concerns the basic comfort levels of public transport. Much of our rolling stock and railway tracks has improved and improvements were made under Transport 21 resulting in the introduction of new carriages. However, for a long time many of the older carriages used to rumble along substandard railway tracks and only now are we starting to get to grips with those. Unless people have a pleasurable and comfortable experience travelling they will not use the service again. That must be taken into account and there must be adequate basic facilities on a train or a bus, whether toilet facilities, food service or comfort stops along the way in the case of bus transport. It is noticeable there are no rest stops on many of our motorways. I wonder where many of our public bus fleet and private bus operators will pull over for comfort or toilet stops or even for coffee because there is a large network of motorways throughout the county with little or nothing in the way of motorway service stations. That again is a basic and fundamental omission and it should be addressed in policy and by Government.
The rail issue is very important. I acknowledge the work that has been done on the western rail corridor. It is important we preserve our national railway corridors and it was a very great mistake to close some of these in the past. One I know well, the Waterford to Cork line, was closed and it would obviously be very difficult to open it again.
The Minister of State will be aware that the Rosslare to Waterford railway line is under threat at present. I have no problem saying publicly that this railway depended very much on the beet and sugar industry which is more or less gone now, as we in the south east are aware. This is a challenge, not only to Government but to the wider public and those lobbying to keep the line open. It is one of the worst railways in the country in terms of conditions and standards and is not utilised as much as it should be. Here we have a relatively low-grade railway that is not being utilised fully so why should we not turn the issue on its head, acknowledge the challenge, promote the line and develop it to maximum efficiency? We should reschedule and size the service to accommodate those most in need.
I shall give an example. The railway passes very close to Wexford town on its way to Rosslare. It could be extended very easily to the north of Wexford town where a park and ride facility could be installed. That facility could then be utilised by the people of Enniscorthy and Wexford, of whom significant numbers work or go to college in Waterford city. That is a practical example. Those people could come and park their cars early in the morning in the park and ride facility at Wexford town and use the railway to get to Waterford city.
Again, it is a matter of integrating ideas and planning and looking outside the box. However, Iarnród Éireann is taking the easy option in this instance by closing the railway and deeming it unviable rather than looking at the positive and interacting with other local authorities and agencies to see how it could build up this service, take people off the roads and make it work. That is only one example but one well worth looking at. It could be used as a model in other areas of the country to promote and encourage the public to use railway services.
That concerns the railway alone and I shall not speak more about it. However, I have put a practical proposal to the Minister of State that should be considered. He might say, as might the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, that railways are the responsibility of Iarnród Éireann. That is the case but Iarnród Éireann is a semi-State company directed by Government policy and Government policy should consider initiatives such as the one I gave in an attempt to encourage more railway use. That would be important.
Before I move away from the railway issue, I point out that I use the Waterford to Dublin line to a great extent. Accessibility is very important. However, there is not even an automatic ticket machine at Waterford railway station although it is the capital of the south east. If I book on the Internet I must go through manual procedures to get my ticket whereas if I book from Dublin I just put my credit card in the machine and my ticket comes out. Basic electronic facilities of this kind should be in all our major railway stations and it behoves Iarnród Éireann to develop them without leaving out major stations.
Senator Paudie Coffey: I will not say much more than that. I had wanted to speak about the cuts in bus services in rural Ireland because they are having a deep impact. People have no access to public transport and are using their cars more because Bus Éireann has cut some very popular services. I could mention Waterford again and services to towns such as Cappoquin, Lismore and Tallow. These were served by Bus Éireann on the route between Waterford and Cork but they are no longer so served and people are using their cars more. It is a great pity we are denuding and cutting back those services when we should be trying to encourage more use of public transport.
Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Deputy Ciarán Cuffe): I thank all the speakers for their kind words of welcome. I welcome the opportunity to update Senators on the issues of smarter travel in general and public transport in particular, to outline for the Members how both these areas form a core part of this Government’s transport policy and to explain our objectives. I also hope to address some of the points made in the contributions and shall also take the opportunity to outline what is happening in the related planning area of my particular brief.
Smarter travel is a new way of thinking about travel and transport in Ireland and public transport is a key element of that. In neither area can change be delivered overnight, but progress is none the less steady and apparent. I shall speak first on the smarter travel policy and then follow up on the particular issues raised by Senators in regard to public transport and Dublin Bus.
As Members will be aware, the smarter travel policy, A Sustainable Transport Future, was launched early last year as the Government’s new transport policy up to 2020. Its aim is to set the overall vision for sustainable transport and a framework for action by the main players. That vision focuses on changing the way we think about and make policy for mobility, travel and transport matters. It encompasses the entire concept of people and goods moving from one place to another by walking, cycling, public transport, car journeys and movement of freight. It also concerns culture and behavioural change — where we live, how and why we travel, and choosing sustainable options. It puts transport within the sustainable agenda on issues such as reducing congestion and emissions, improving air quality, enhanced competitiveness, health benefits, and overall quality of life. It seeks to deliver a more rational and healthy, more environmentally friendly, more competitive and more quality focused society. This means thinking about mobility rather than transport and involves changing how we plan transport. It means more walking, cycling and use of public transport, a decrease in car modal share from 65% to 45%, reducing the need to travel, and promoting eco-driving and the sustainability of the road transport fleet, for example, cars and freight.
As a nation, we have become dependent — in some respects over-dependent — on the private car to meet our transport and travel needs. We are becoming increasing choked by cars on our urban roads. If trends continue, average speeds in urban areas in morning peak hour in Dublin will have dropped from 13 km/h to 8 km/h by 2016. The smarter travel message is not about banishing the car but, among other issues, involves considering what we use cars for, what is necessary, what can be replaced, and how we might develop a blueprint for a much better travel and transport system for Ireland in the future. Cars will continue to play a key role in transport in the future, but that role will be different.
Senator Coffey quoted the TomTom travel survey. I suspect the travel information for the survey came from TomTom GPS devices installed in private cars. However, I am more interested in improving quality and travel times for everyone, not just those who use a private car. If we were to use travel times for those who use slower modes such as walking and cycling, as well as those for who use public transport, we might get a slightly different figure. The smarter travel initiative is about improving transport choices for all, not just those who travel by private car.
There are alternatives. Bus services have seen significant investment in recent years. We have also invested heavily in excellent commuter rail services and Luas. Within the past six months on the DART network off-peak travel frequencies of 15 minutes have been introduced. I remember the days a year and a half ago when a person could arrive at a DART station and see a sign indicating the next DART was due in 23 minutes. Trains now arrive every 15 minutes off-peak, which is a significant step forward that puts the DART in the same league as Luas. One brilliant aspect of Luas is that the service is well used off-peak because the level of frequency is high, at less than one every ten minutes. There is no timetable because the trams travel so frequently. I want to see this replicated around the city.
We can consider the smarter travel initiative one year on. It is a long-term policy, but we are already seeing positive results. In the first phase the focus of the policy is on a number of key issues, including progressing cycling and walking policies; starting demonstration projects; progressing schemes for school and workplace mobility; developing guidelines for both transport and spatial planning; commencing the transformation of bus services; researching appropriate fiscal measures to promote sustainable travel; and setting up new institutional arrangements and making legal changes. More detailed information is available on the Department’s smarter travel website, www.smartertravel.ie. Overall, seven of the 49 actions listed have been delivered and there has been progress on a majority of the others, with sound progress being made on 33.
The Department recognises that changing culture and behaviour is the key to embedding an ambitious and challenging sustainable transport and travel agenda. This is not a simple task, but our focus has been on supporting a range of pilot and demonstration projects to show people what works and on developing a cycling and walking culture, particularly in schools but also among commuters and leisure users. We work with partners such as the local authorities, Departments and agencies and other groups.
I will outline for Members some of the main areas in which progress is to be made in the first year. I might stand up in outlining them, as I understand the protocol is that I should stand when speaking.
Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: I am delighted to have the Senator in attendance and contributing to the debate. I look forward to my colleagues being in attendance to hear his contribution as, unfortunately, I have to attend a parliamentary party meeting at 6 p.m. However, I will do my best to finish my contribution.
The first national cycle policy framework has been published and progress is being made on a range of actions, including the first ever all-Ireland bike week and the commencement of the national cycle network project. I am glad to say that this afternoon I have overseen the provision of 16 new cycle parking spaces outside my Department on Kildare Street. That sends a nice message that we are providing the nuts and bolts needed to assist the cycling project. There has already been success with the dublinbikes scheme in Dublin. It has been an outstanding success. I am sure many Members have the smart card which allows usage of the scheme and I have found it an excellent way to get around the city. On the rare days when I do not have my own bike with me I use the scheme. I spoke to people in Dublin City Council about it earlier and the amount of journeys has exceeded all expectations; it is the most successful bike sharing scheme in western Europe. The figures speak for themselves; they show the scheme has worked very well. I pay tribute to Dublin City Council for its work in this regard. I was initially sceptical of the deal with JCDecaux, but I have seen the results on the ground and I am delighted with the significant increase in the numbers cycling in Dublin.
We have also begun preparations for a national walking policy which might strike people as a little curious. We have to look at what can assist people in allowing them to walk, whether it be an increase in “green” times, providing further crossing points in our cities, towns and villages or ensuring there are pedestrian operated signals at crucial points within areas. The green schools travel programme had reached 144,000 schoolchildren in 482 schools by the end of 2009, yielding an average reduction of 18% in the number of children travelling to school by car. This equates to a saving of 100,000 car trips per annum. I do not want to bore Senators with statistics, but the overall conclusion is that the programme is working. Those familiar with schools participating in it know it has been a brilliant success. We are also developing a national cycle competency accreditation scheme for schoolchildren.
We have 65,000 employees in 30 organisations participating in the National Transport Authority workplace travel schemes, with a 16% reduction in the level of car usage. There is a national programme which targets a figure of 250,000 employees up to 2012.
South Dublin County Council commenced a pilot personalised travel plan for Adamstown, while we have a pilot cross-Border car-sharing scheme in counties Derry and Donegal. We have the sustainable travel demonstration project fund with €15 million to be allocated over five years and 30 projects approved for funding. A sustainable travel demonstration areas fund of €50 million to be allocated over five years was also put in place. The names of some 39 areas have been submitted by local authorities for funding, with 11 potential schemes being short-listed and the final selection to be made in June.
We need new institutional arrangements and legal changes which I am glad to say are happening. The national sustainable travel office was established in the Department, while an interdepartmental steering group is in place to oversee progress on all of the actions listed in the smarter travel initiative. We have a local authority network to liaise on issues of common interest and co-ordinate delivery at local level. I met its members when they came to the Department two weeks ago. There was tremendous enthusiasm among the local authorities, which is where we will see the benefits. It is up to them to move ahead. The point I would make in my new position is that for a very small investment, we can reap enormous dividends in both cycling and walking. Local authorities understand the message and are putting their money where their mouth is.
The Public Transport Regulation Act 2009 is one of the most ground-breaking pieces of legislation since the earlier enabling legislation was enacted in the 1930s. I am glad we have updated it. We have established the National Transport Authority and the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 is before the Oireachtas. We have put in place guidelines for sustainable residential development in urban areas to get away from the low density developments of previous years. I remember hearing the author Colm Tóibín talk about public transport some 20 years ago. He said that if people had a front, back and side garden, there was no way there could be decent public transport services. I agree with what he said. The essential point is that we need the required densities. It is very hard to deliver good public transport services if we do not have them in the first instance.
I am glad to say the National Transport Authority is finalising a new cycle design manual. It has been a long and sometimes painful gestation period of over eight years. We have a draft document that is approximately 400 pages long, but I do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. It is a good document and I want to see it come to fruition later this year.
We have guidance developed by the Department, the National Transport Authority and the quality bus network project office on provisions for cyclists in the design of quality bus networks. There is an urban street design manual being prepared. The UK streets manual is an excellent document which shows how we can produce a decent quality environment in our towns and cities without having the cattle-grid crossing points I have seen far too often. I want to get away from this thinking and make the pedestrian king, with the cyclist second-in-command. I also want to make provision for cars and public transport services, but we must get the balance right. We must have everyone in his or per proper place in the transport spectrum.
The Department has made submissions to regional authorities as part of the public consultation process on draft regional planning guidelines, in which it has emphasised the importance of the integration of transport and land use planning.
We introduced the taxsaver scheme for cycling. We do not have records on it, given that it depends on employer compliance, but one can look around towns and cities at the number of thriving bike shops. This shows that the bike to work scheme is reaping benefits. In the Department of Transport, many of my colleagues are taking advantage of the scheme. It is working well.
We introduced a carbon tax in the December 2009 budget as a necessary part of facing up to climate change. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, is commencing the first household travel survey to establish base line indicators for monitoring the smarter travel policy. The National Transport Authority, NTA, has commissioned a major study of freight and goods movements to establish existing patterns and operations. This long list gives Senators a flavour of what has been done so far in a short timeframe and shows that the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and I are committed to delivering on the smarter travel agenda.
I wish to remark on the enhancement of the public transport system, which is at the heart of the sustainable travel agenda. Notwithstanding the real challenges that the Government faces in the current difficult economic climate, we remain committed to providing the infrastructure and services required to deliver a modern, high-quality public transport system. This has been demonstrated by Government support for bus services in the form of €82.4 million in Exchequer subventions in 2010.
In recent months, investment in infrastructure has seen the opening of the Luas extension to the docklands and phase one of the western rail corridor. I am glad to say I attended both openings. They were joyful days, as local people and visitors to the Point were delighted to see the extension of the Luas into the docklands. Harry Crosbie is grinning from ear to ear on this one. At a more practical level, the new and old communities in the docklands are delighted to have the Luas extension.
Planning on the DART underground continues. I note Senator Donohoe’s frustrations in this regard but, as he well knows, I cannot seek to influence An Bord Pleanála under the legislation, nor can my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley. Were I to engage in lobbying on this issue or any planning case before the board, it would be wrong. I share the Senator’s frustrations. A railway order application for metro north is expected in the coming months and I want to see both projects delivered in a timely fashion. I look forward to them occurring.
Dublin Bus is undertaking the largest redesign of its network in the history of the company. The objective of the redesign is to provide current and future bus customers with a modern, accessible, integrated, easy to understand, punctual and frequent service. The redesign will deliver real and tangible benefits to the majority of bus users. Just over one year ago, I put my words in respect of Dublin Bus on paper in the public media. Since then, I have met Dublin Bus six times. Each time, I stressed the importance of the network’s redesign. I was taken aback by the fact that the Fine Gael transport spokesman in the Seanad would refer to the network redesign as “barmy”. The redesign of an antiquated network that in many cases is based on——
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I asked how one could deliver the same service with fewer buses given that the funding to Dublin Bus has doubled. The Minister of State should answer this question. The money Dublin Bus has received since 2000 has doubled from €40 million to €80 million.
The bigger picture is that of Ireland going through a challenging economic period. We have needed to reduce current and capital spending on roads and buses. We do not have a magic wand. If I had one, I would put more bus services in every hamlet in the country. We do not have that type of funding. We must get Ireland out of its economic difficulties and, in doing so, provide better public transport. I am convinced that Dublin Bus is facing up to the route network redesign and the snail trails that go half way around the country before entering Dublin city. We must straighten out the routes and provide a higher quality service on those routes that are well used. In my area and many other areas, I am glad to say the resultant bus network will be streets ahead of what has been in place for half a century, if not longer. It will be much better placed to cope with the growing suburbs of Dublin, whether in north Clondalkin or Loughlinstown.
I have examined the route network redesign in detail and sat down with Dublin Bus many times. On balance, it makes sense to ensure we get out of our economic difficulties and, in doing so, provide a bus network that is better placed to meet the transport needs of the 21st century. This is what it is all about. I am convinced Dublin Bus is taking the right steps to get more passengers on board at a time when retail spend has decreased and unemployment has increased. We must face up to such challenges.
Acting Chairman (Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú): I do not like cutting across the Minister of State, but he only had 15 minutes. He has much important information, but other speakers are waiting. Perhaps he will bear this in mind.
Senator David Norris: On a point of order, the Minister of State has important comments to make. Would it be possible for them to be taken as read and included in the record if he has not finished after five minutes? Could we ask that they be taken as read and published, as they will have been circulated?
Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: Five minutes should suffice. The Senators do not know how quickly I can speak. Some 60% of customers will be carried on high frequency routes. The current figure is 23%. There will also be increased interchange opportunities with DART and heavy and light rail services. The redesign will reduce the lay-over of buses in the city centre and improve traffic flows, thereby leading to an improved city centre environment. Complementary measures supporting the quality of services to customers will also be introduced during 2010. Real-time passenger information is on the way and will be available by mobile telephone and also at 500 on-street signs. I hope that software developers, such as those involved in the iPhone and other telephones, will put in place the kinds of applications that will allow customers to see what is occurring in real-time. The initial phase of the project will be delivered by the end of the year.
Another important initiative to enhance the quality of the service for users of public transport is integrated ticketing. This project, which will integrate smart cards on Iarnród Éireann, Luas, Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and private bus operator services, continues to progress well and rigorous testing of the system is under way. I was privileged to receive and use an Iarnród Éireann smart card in recent weeks. It beats looking for a handful of change when getting on a DART that is pulling into the station. This project continues to be rolled out and those smart cards are now available from on-line vending machines.
Subject to successful testing, Dublin Bus and Luas annual pass holders will be migrated to integrated smart cards from late summer of this year. This will be followed by a similar exercise for ePurse or pay-as-you-go users of Dublin Bus and Luas services when the scheme is sufficiently robust. The last thing we want to do is roll out a scheme that might experience difficulties. We want to get it right. The smart card will be rolled out to cover services provided by private operators, Iarnród Éireann, DART, commuter rail services and Bus Éireann following completion of the necessary development, testing and commissioning of the systems.
We also have a new bus licensing regime. These initiatives have been supported by institutional and regulatory reform in public transport. The Public Transport Regulation Act 2009 reforms the bus licensing regime for the commercial bus market, replacing the Road Transport Act 1932. The new regime, to be administered by the National Transport Authority, provides a level playing field for all bus market participants, public and private, and will foster a competitive market that best serves the needs of bus users. There are some great private operators in my constituency. However, the last thing we want is for people to cherry-pick in respect of the most successful routes. That is an important point to make to those in certain parties which have advocated in favour of a sweeping privatisation process.
Senator Paudie Coffey: On a point of order, it might be better if the Minister of State spent more time answering questions we put to him rather than reading a spiel into the record. A great deal of what he has said is interesting and very good.
Acting Chairman (Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú): The Minister of State has a constitutional right to put forward his views but there is a standing order which restricts him to 15 minutes. I am, therefore, caught between those two considerations. The Minister of State is about to conclude in any event.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the national spatial strategy, NSS, review and outlook. As stated earlier, there is a strong connection between proper planning and public transportation. We are updating the NSS in order that we might focus to a much greater degree on the gateway cities and hubs. We are continuing to roll out Transport 21. The new Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, in conjunction with the White Paper on Local Government Reform, represents a new deal. These various initiatives are connected to each other in the context of delivering smarter travel at local level. They will assist in reducing emissions and increasing access for communities throughout the country.
The core strategy is particularly important in the context of the gateways, hubs, county towns and the other key urban areas identified in the NSS. We want to ensure a much greater level of co-ordination among the HSE and the Departments of Education and Science, Transport and Environment, Heritage and Local Government in respect of the rural travel programme. The manual for streets will be crucial in the context of future development.
I have covered a wide range of issues of interest to Senators, which illustrates both the commitment of this Government to smarter travel, public transport and the planning and development agenda and the real progress that has been made. I, therefore, support the motion. I thank Senators for their comments and for listening to me.
Senator David Norris: I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on his appointment to the Department of Transport. Before he leaves the Chamber, I wish to comment on his observations regarding a hierarchy with pedestrians are at the top, cyclists next and then motorists. There is a degree of discrimination against motorists, which is regrettable. I live in the north inner city and it is virtually impossible for me to drive anywhere in a rational, joined-up or smart manner. On a wet day or if I have heavy documents to bring with me to Leinster House, I cannot drive from North Great George’s Street to Kildare Street because it is not possible to turn right or left at certain points, because one is directed to move in a particular direction and because of the existence of the bus gate and the idiotic 18 mph speed limit. That is not safety. Any taxi driver will inform the Minister of State that the roads are not safer because the slow speed limit increases people’s propensity to jaywalk.
Senator David Norris: The facts do not support the argument that there is any real concern for mortality in the inner city. To have cars moving around the city at a crawl is absolutely idiotic. The position with regard to traffic speeds is chaotic. In Tallaght, for example, there is a three-lane highway on which a speed limit of 60 km/h applies. People could easily drive their cars at speeds of 100 km/h or 120 km/h on that stretch of road. When one comes off the highway to which I refer, one goes straight onto a winding, dangerous country road on which a speed limit of 100 km/h applies. That is insane. Further consideration must be given to this matter.
Before the Minister of State departs, I wish to raise one further matter with him, namely, integrated transport and not just in this country. I have just returned, with some difficulty, from the island of Cyprus. Once again I was obliged to travel through Gatwick Airport. I decided to try to use the international flight connections at that airport because my time was so short. I made all the necessary arrangements but when I lifted the emergency telephone, I was informed that I could not use the service. When I inquired why that was the case I was informed that my flight to Ireland was domestic in nature. I thanked the person on the line for that really wonderful news and stated that when I left this country three weeks ago, it was called the Republic of Ireland. I asked whether, on foot of what I had just been told, the Republic had rejoined the British empire and indicated that Her Majesty would be greatly pleased if this were the case. He inquired as to what I meant and I informed him that either this country is a republic or it is part of the United Kingdom.
The Minister of State should try to take this matter up with the British authorities. What is happening is idiotic. Passengers are forced out of the relevant terminal and obliged to pass through customs, passport control etc., and must then undergo the same procedures again when they come to the next terminal. Why is that the case? It is just because we are Irish. That is not good enough. We should not be treated as second-class citizens at a major international airport in London.
Senator David Norris: The Minister of State gave an indication of strong support on the part of the Government for the metro. That is extremely important. His replacement, the former distinguished Senator and now Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is aware that the metro project originated in this House some years ago, when some of us used an unusual political situation to put through the first legislative framework relating to it.
It is extremely important that the metro should proceed. However, I understand that difficulties have arisen in the context of planning. I hope the Government has taken on board the advice provided by Professor Manuel Maynar Melis who was invited to come here from Spain in order to give such advice. The Spanish authorities are able to proceed much more rapidly with the development of new metro systems because they have addressed, in legislative terms, all the difficulties that can arise in the context of planning, appeals, and so on. I hope the metro system will proceed as rapidly as possible.
I was surprised to hear a Minister of State from the Green Party refer to densities. He indicated that areas in which houses have back and front gardens and side entrances could not, because the densities are not high enough, support a metro or an underground system. I do not believe that is true. I am of the view that there is an adequate level of density in this city. The authorities in the city of Newcastle in England put in an underground system which became so successful that it made a profit and has now been bought by a major German combine. The metro is the way to go.
I do not necessarily believe the metro should be placed in conflict with Luas. The latter provides an interesting, comfortable but totally inadequate service. It can never be made adequate for perfectly demonstrable mathematical reasons. At our instigation, a model relating to the Luas was prepared by Dr. Garret FitzGerald and this demonstrated that it could not accommodate sufficient passengers as a result of the fact that too many intransigent variables formed part of the equation.
There are two Luas lines but these were never joined up. That was idiotic and it was certainly not smart transport policy. I was one of those who pointed out the shortcomings in this regard when the project was initially proceeding. I further highlighted the fact that not connecting the transport system directly to the airport was also somewhat idiotic. However, we are moving on and are working with a capable and energetic Minister of State in Deputy Cuffe. I do not always agree 100% with him but that is as may be.
We need to consider the comfort of passengers on the Luas. I recently had occasion to travel on both Luas lines and discovered that there is a noticeable difference between the red line and the green line. One has a much more civilised ride on the south side line that goes out to Sandyford, on which I believe there is greater supervision. I also have travelled on the line to Tallaght and from quite early in the evening there is a fair amount of aggressive behaviour on the trams, which is highly regrettable. People who are under the influence of drink or drugs make themselves obnoxious in various ways to other well-behaved passengers. I acknowledge there is some supervision and I pay tribute to the security officers on those trams but it must be upgraded. Such behaviour ranges from simple but annoying things like people ignorantly placing their feet on the seats right up to directly aggressive behaviour.
In respect of cars, I indicated that a kind of hierarchy existed. The Minister of State also talked about the carbon tax and during a budget debate a year or two ago, I made the point to his party leader, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, that in respect of car transport, the Government should be increasing the price of petrol rather than increasing car tax on the basis that the polluter should pay. This is the single most efficient method of raising revenue and is the most environmentally friendly. In addition, the car scrappage scheme is a nonsense. As Ireland is not even a car manufacturing country, we do not get any benefit from their manufacture and from an environmental perspective, it is completely counter-productive.
As for cycle lanes, I welcome them although I have retired from cycling as I found it to be far too bloody dangerous in the city of Dublin. However, the Minister should review the cycle lanes because they are incoherent. They sometimes cross and merge with other transport planes in an incoherent fashion. Moreover, they travel a certain distance and then suddenly stop in the middle of nowhere. Consequently, this issue should be examined.
However, I welcome this debate and hope we will get a smarter transport system with fully integrated ticketing. I welcome both the extension of the DART to the docklands and the western rail corridor. There has been some progress and I encourage the Government to complete as soon as possible the work on metro north, which is a vital component of our transport policy.
Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: I thank Senator Norris in particular for his reference to the western rail corridor because in these debates, people sometimes have the view that public transport or transport in general ends at the border of the Pale, which it does not. I believe Senator Coffey also will attest to this.
Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, to the House and it would be remiss of me were I to fail to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, on his first visit to the Seanad. Unfortunately, he now has left the Chamber. In respect of smarter travel, I note that people frequently use the wonderful word “smart”. We are becoming a smart nation that has a smart economy, smart grids and smarter travel. Everything is smarter these days and I hope that is true. I believe smarter travel pertains to connectivity and the ability to move from one place to the next. I refer to my journey from my home to the Seanad. I live close to Barna on the outskirts of Galway city and get up at approximately 8 a.m. As I am obliged to travel by car to the railway station, I get stuck in a traffic jam for about an hour. Although it is not far to the railway station, it is too far to walk and unfortunately cycling is not easy for me because I must bring suitcases with me for my stay in Dublin. Consequently, I drive to and park in a quite expensive car park near the railway station, board the train and come up to Dublin. On arrival, thankfully the No. 92 bus brings me directly to Leinster House, which is very useful. A positive point nowadays is that one can buy a ticket in the railway station in Galway that allows one to travel on either the Luas or the bus directly to Leinster House and such connectivity constitutes an example of smarter travel.
Similarly, it used to be the case that visitors who arrived in Galway city by train and who wished to travel on by taxi found there were no directional signs in the railway station and consequently they would not know from where to get a taxi. As a result, they were obliged to walk out or to ask a person within the station where to get a taxi. They then were obliged to take their suitcases across Eyre Square to reach the taxi rank. Thankfully, this has changed and one can now get a taxi at Eyre Square. This also is an example of smarter travel.
However, I believe there always is too great a focus on what goes on in Dublin. In common with many other Members, the Acting Chairman, Senator Ó Murchú, comes from elsewhere in the country. Such members can attest that in many parts of Ireland, smarter travel basically consists of hopping into a car because there is not much alternative. Therefore, as one discusses such wonderful types of smarter travel as bicycle lanes and bus lanes, one should keep in mind that for those with journeys of 30 km, it is not realistic for many people to travel on a bicycle on a wet day in the west. Moreover, it often is not realistic to get a bus to one’s place of work because in many places no such service exists.
That said, matters are improving dramatically and I refer to a particular incident that took place during the big freeze earlier this year. I was invited to a radio debate on Newstalk, the studios of which are located in the centre of Dublin. I got the train from Galway to Dublin as usual and then got on the Luas which took me to the city centre to participate in this radio debate. However, I was amazed because two of my senatorial colleagues, who shall remain nameless and who were due to appear on that radio debate, could not attend because they were stuck. Although both were from Dublin, they got stuck where they lived and were unable to make it into the city centre. It is quite interesting that rail connectivity allowed me to get from A to B and that it was easier to get from Galway to Dublin city centre on the day of the big freeze than it was to get there from certain parts of Dublin. This was because Dublin was completely snarled up and its roads simply were not working on that day.
I also wish to refer to the western rail corridor, which definitely is part of a smarter travel initiative and I intend to refer to Senator Coffey’s part of the world as well. It was a wonderful day for me when I sat with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, and the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Cuffe, on the very first train from Limerick to Galway, as I had been campaigning for it since the previous millennium. It is great it now is possible to get a train between the second, third and fourth largest cities in the country, as one now can travel from Cork to Limerick to Galway. It is absolutely unbelievable that so doing was not possible heretofore and that successive Governments had allowed a situation to arise whereby passengers simply could not travel by rail from Galway to Limerick and onwards to Cork. Thankfully, this has been remedied although there still is much room for improvement.
Amazingly, although one was told there would not be a great take-up for peak-time travel on the western rail corridor, Iarnród Éireann has found such predictions to be incorrect. Initially, it put a two-railcar train onto the mainline service between Limerick and Galway. Unfortunately, such provision was insufficient and Iarnród Éireann was obliged to put a four-car train on to the route at peak times. Even then, the company has found that many people are obliged to stand. It is incredible that Iarnród Éireann found that demand for the service from Ennis to Limerick completely exceeded expectations. The western rail corridor has completely exceeded expectations and is an enormous success. It was quite incredible that Ireland’s transport planners were so wrong in this regard, when every local person in the west knew this would be the case.
However, no sooner has this service been put in place than the abolition of the service from Rosslare to Waterford has been proposed, which is an absolutely retrograde step. I urge the Ministers to think carefully about this and to consider the possibility of the timing of the service, as opposed to simply stating the service is not working and proposing to get rid of it. One must suit people and travel is all about what people want and about providing a service that is usable by them. It is not good enough to put on a bus service after the rush hour and then expect people to use it to get into town. For example, in certain parts of Connemara, the bus services coming into Galway city do not arrive there until after work has started. As a result, there is not the same take-up of the service as there would be were the buses to run half an hour earlier. Moreover, all manner of anomalies arise in respect of school buses, in particular on foot of the catchment areas for schools, and this must be considered in the context of smarter travel.
I note the Acting Chairman has indicated that one minute remains to me. Like the Minister of State, I could speak all day on this issue. We will have to have another debate on this subject and I commend those who tabled this motion for debate.
No single bigger gain could be made in terms of smarter travel than the alleviating of traffic congestion in cities and towns throughout the country through the provision of improved and universal school bus services. The pinch point is rush hour traffic, with the large volume of vehicular traffic in most cities being the key problem. By the provision of school buses, we would reduce a great deal of traffic at rush hour in that parents would not have to drive their children to school.
In the city from where I come all the schools are located on one side of the river and all the industry is located on the other side of it. People travelling from outside the city often have to bring their children to one side of the city and then cross to the other side, which creates a traffic snarl up. If parents could put their children on a school bus, the city would not have half that traffic snarl up. The gain from such provision would be enormous.
I urge whoever will read the transcript of this debate, if anybody reads the transcripts of debates in this House, that it is important that we examine what has been done in this area in America and in other countries and that we examine the solution presented by the low hanging fruit in terms of connectivity by way of the provision of bus services to transport children and young people to and from school. If we could do that in the lifetime of this Government, smarter travel would be something we could claim to have achieved.
Fianna Fáil Senators tabled this motion welcoming the progress being made on the Government’s smarter travel initiative. The motion was formally moved but no evidence was provided to support what is claimed in it. The Minister of State responsible gave a long reply but there was nothing of real substance or significance in it. Fianna Fáil Senators are putting their hands out to be slapped on this one.
The transport policy, smarter travel — a sustainable transport future, when launched, was hugely disappointing and lacked new ideas, any specific targets, funding and credibility. It was filled with vague unachievable aims and recycled policies that had already been announced by a range of other Ministers.
The Labour Party has long campaigned for better integrated land use and transport planning, especially in terms of new residential developments. There was little in the document to achieve this apart from some pious aspirations about adding transport considerations to future planning guidelines and requiring developments above a certain scale to have “viable travel plans” in place. There were no strict prohibitions on massive developments going ahead without proper transport services being in place for new residents. There was a failure to suggest any concrete proposals on the critical development of the freight sector and instead the document suggested a forum to explore in greater depth issues relating to the movement of goods. Difficult decisions on possible fiscal measures were avoided.
The key aim of the document to achieve a modal shift away from cars completely lacked any credibility given that the Minister oversaw the most savage series of cutbacks ever visited upon public transport services. With the loss of up to 400 buses and 600 jobs at Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, the document is completely disingenuous to aim to expand and enhance rural and school transport services.
The section in the new policy on preparing for the successor to Transport 21 is a joke given that major infrastructural projects under Transport 21 are now in serious doubt. Astonishingly, there was little if any references throughout the document as to how the new policy will be funded.
Last year 11 Departments confirmed they have so far failed to rollout the cycle to work scheme. Under the 2009 budget the new cycle to work scheme was introduced to encourage more commuters to cycle to work by allowing employees a tax exemption for the purchase of a new bicycle or associated cycling safety equipment. A number of commuters have been in touch with me who want to cycle to work and have tried to access the new scheme through their employers, including Government Departments and agencies, yet last year several Departments failed to implement the cycle to work scheme. That was not very smart. Agencies under the auspices of the Department of Transport have been excluded from the scheme.
The 102 bus service in north Fingal in my constituency and other bus services were pulled by Bus Éireann under the current Minister’s watch. How smart is that? Other Senators mentioned that the Waterford to Rosslare train service was pulled. How smart is that? Senator Ó Brolcháin also challenged that decision.
There has been a reduction in bus numbers in Dublin Bus. How smart is that? The removal of 90 buses was announced by the company on 23 April. It is difficult to believe there will be an increased and efficient service due to these cuts, which are being implemented by Dublin Bus. How smart is it when the people of Donabate and Portrane have been told the bus service cannot be there to meet the train service because the Minister had decided that Irish Rail and Dublin Bus are to be in competition? Would the Minister of State agree that is quite basic integration? How smart is it when, despite a long-standing promise, a pedestrian-cycle path along the Malahide-Donabate railway line has not been delivered? How smart is it when the only time the people of Ballyboughal, Oldtown, Garristown and rural Fingal have seen Dublin Bus is when a driver got lost, despite the fact that the residents of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow have a decent service?
How smart is it when the people of north county Dublin now only have a Nitelink service on Fridays and Saturdays? Does the Government expect everyone to be in bed by 11 p.m. on the other nights of the week? What about nurses who work a block of weeks and then have a few weeks off? What about students who are studying late in the libraries in Dublin colleges? What about bar staff who must pay the cost of a taxi home after working late at night? How smart is all of that?
The introduction of integrated ticketing for all forms of transport has been on the horizon for close to 15 years and supported by all parties, but it has still not been delivered. How smart is that? What kind of progress does that represent? Government Senators, Fianna Fáil Senators in particular, are a bit premature with their self-congratulations. It is laughable.
The interdepartmental working group is supposed to report on the progress of this policy; it was stated, “We will require a biennial report on progress with the first report submitted to Government in 2010.” When we will see this? Has any progress been made on it?
The Minister’s list was much ado about nothing. Nothing of substance was delivered in the first year of this initiative, everything is still to be delivered in the future. It has been stated that we are going to do this and that, that is the objective, but nothing of substance has been delivered in the year.
I am dealing with the motion in this way because Fianna Fáil Senators have congratulated themselves on what has been achieved. Little or nothing has been achieved in the first year of this initiative. There has been no significant programme and that is the only possible verdict on the smarter travel policy.
The section in the smarter travel policy document covering progress over the short, medium and long term, states that: “The first phase of implementing the policy will be mostly concerned with the setting up of new institutional arrangements and legal changes”. That is mainly administrative and I do not know if much has been achieved in that respect. I will have to rely on the Minister of State to clarify that. That section also states that: “A major challenge in the initial phase will be to commence the transformation of the bus service”. Admittedly they have been transformed; the number of buses available to Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus have been slashed. That it is a major transformation and likely to produce progress and smarter travel is beyond belief. That section further states that: “In addition, we will progress cycling and walking policies”. There is no real evidence of that at this stage. The verdict for Fianna Fáil Senators on this motion is that they have put their hands out to be slapped, no real achievements have been made on this initiative. I hope for more significant achievement on this and I look forward to the interim report in the next few months.
I welcome the Minister of State. He was the Minister in the House when I made my debut in Seanad Éireann. I also congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, who spoke earlier. I have not heard as many towns and suburbs mentioned in a Minister’s speech as he mentioned in his introductory one to this House.
Senator James Carroll: When the smarter travel initiative was launched in February 2009 it had an estimated implementation cost of €4.5 billion, a vast amount of money when examined in the harsh light of today’s economic vista. The Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, in his extensive contribution, mentioned spatial strategy reform and how this ties into public transport reform and improvement. This will be key when we analyse smarter travel and how it will be delivered in future. To deliver a truly smarter travel plan, we must look at some key factors, one of which is that Ireland has western Europe’s lowest population density and is the only EU country with a lower population than it had 200 years ago. This means there is huge potential for population and public transport growth in the future. We can and must develop this by reaching a point of dense population in city centres which will improve the quality of life of our people, make our local and national economies more productive and make public transport truly viable, with a extensive demand for its service.
Ireland needs to be ambitions and we, in Seanad Éireann, should tie our goals in with those of Dáil Éireann. We should aim to have population targets in the future, one of which is that we should have a target of 5 million people in the Republic by 2020 and 6 million in the Republic by 2050. This is more than achievable. The reason I say that is in light of the motion that we really start to focus on smart travel as a philosophy. As the Minister of State said, that philosophy can only be fed if the correct spatial and planning strategies are tied in with it.
When doing research for this debate, I looked at other countries and a country about which we forget is Israel. Some 50 years ago, Israel was very underdeveloped but we should look at where it is now in terms of culture, competitiveness and infrastructure. Israel’s population has surged from 2 million in 1948 to 7 million today. The Israeli nation has rebuilt itself in a way that puts our problems into perspective. I read a book by Marc Coleman, the economics editor in Newstalk, in which he stated that if we were never as good as we thought we were, then we are not as bad as we think we are now. The media would be wise to heed this point.
Looking at the specifics of the motion, we must consider all the issues systematically. A vital issue is to address the competitive nature of our public transport, whether rail or bus, and how we tackle this in future. Over the past ten years, prices have increased in bus and rail, which I used regularly to get to Dublin when in college and working here and which I now use as a Member of Seanad Éireann.
In some respects, the failure of local and national politicians to grasp the need to urbanise and build high quality apartments, whether building cities upwards rather than outwards, was a major contributor to high house prices and many of the loans on NAMA’s books. Cities like Philadelphia offer Ireland inspiration on how it could look forward towards its goals for 2020 and 2050. As the youngest Member of Seanad Éireann, I would like us to place a keen focus on that.
In the right locations, the economic benefits of high rise development are ones we can no longer do without. Dublin city quays are arguably more suited to high rise buildings than other places that have been proposed and for which planning applications have been submitted. High density does not necessarily mean high rise buildings everywhere. Cities like Frankfurt and Berlin show how a limited and targeted use of high rise buildings can cluster population in cost effective ways that make for a good quality of life, truly smart travel and public transport quality. There are many benefits to this. People who were forced to move outside Dublin have been subjected to long commutes, negative equity and social exile. That is something we must change immediately.
To achieve my modest population targets for 2020 and 2050, we must make changes to our planning and densification goals to channel them into city centres and not have sprawling commuter towns. I was disappointed the Fine Gael motion focused primarily on Dublin and did not look outside it in its goals and objectives. That is where the motion fell down.
We must look at the price of land. By forcing the State to pay prices based on lands’ building potential, land zoned for development is a monopoly good, the value of which has been created by the State as a result of lack of action. The failure to implement the recommendations of the Kenny report for more than 35 years has been the single biggest reason for the escalation of property prices and we must address this. I urge the Minister of State to look at that. The former head of the IDA and the current chair of Louth’s economic forum, Padraic White, pointed to outdated legislation as the cause for high land prices in the previous decade.
We must maintain a key focus on some statistics, especially as we look towards smarter travel. Ireland’s population has increased by more than 0.5 million since 2002. The natural population increase in 2008 — births minus deaths — was 47,000, so our population is naturally growing. We need to tackle that and tie in our public transport towards that objective. From an average of 3.1 persons in 1996 to 2.81 in 2006 and extrapolating that trend forward to 2.64 by 2012, this seemingly small change will have no profound implications but if we look at what that means in regard to dwellings, 1 million people in 1996 would need 318,000 houses but that same 1 million people would need 378,000 dwellings by 2012, an increase of more than 60,000.  That is crazy and we need to look at reforming that. That is why my correspondence with the Minister of State in the future will encourage him to focus on this. Denmark’s national central planning unit co-ordinates the zoning activities of all regional and local authorities, rents are policed, the price of land is regulated and cities are dense enough to be highly economically productive. That is key to this debate.
We must ensure we have consumers to use public transport, whether new Luas services, new Dublin Bus routes or train services. Quality of life is a key issue and I listened intently to “Morning Ireland” this morning which talked about Cloughjordan’s eco village, which has a train station nearby. I watched the YouTube video of it first thing this morning and it was heartening to watch what people with noble goals have done. This all ties in together.
I refer to the success of the cycle hire scheme in Dublin. I am a proud member of the scheme but unlike the Minister of State, I do not carry my card in my breast pocket. I used the scheme yesterday. We should examine rolling it out to other urban areas and extending it further within Dublin. As a student in 2003, I went on a cycling tour of Munich and one gets a different sense of a city when one cycles around it for a number of hours. This is where smart travel, public transport and tourism can be tied in together. That is really important because this is where we can really see progress for our citizens and tourists coming to this country.
I refer to the new electric vehicles. A memorandum of understanding in regard to the provision of electric cars was signed with Renault-Nissan. A fund was set up for electric cars and captive fleets. However, we should be more ambitious and more aggressive in these policies. Ambition, aggression and key targets will be the key for all of us.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute on this subject because transport is the lifeline of a city or a community. We are all of focused on our own areas. Senator Carroll was very much focused on population growth and so on while my focus will be on the Dublin area. The motion is a fine one which has given us the opportunity to discuss what progress the Government has made in various areas. However, I was somewhat disappointed with it too. My good friend, Senator Donohoe, would agree that it complains that Dublin Bus is taking more buses off the road and reducing routes and, therefore, cutting services to local communities. I am sure he would agree it is not only Dublin Bus which provides public transport services, nor should it be. I am sure he would also agree that just because it is cutting back on buses or realigning its routes, does not necessarily mean public transport services are being curtailed in areas. We want to have competition and ensure Dublin Bus is not the exclusive provider of bus transport. It is not correct that a private transport company does not provide a public service. Such companies should be encouraged to provide services. I am sure the Senator concurs with me that the more competition we have in the provision of bus services throughout the country, the better the service will be for everybody.
I am pleased the Fine Gael Party has acknowledged the billions of euro spent on transport. Day in and day out we hear people complain that billions were squandered and there is nothing left to show for the good times. Any trip down any road will show that we have brought our road network up to European standards. It is a pleasure to travel from place to place now. I take my holidays here and hope, following the events of last week, that more people will start taking holidays at home. They will be able to move around the country much faster than previously.
The motorway network is a great benefit and it is not in anyone’s interests to neglect consistently to mention it. We should be proud that our road network is finally coming up to standard. An even more important aspect of the improvement in our road network is its impact on safety and the significant decline in road traffic deaths and accidents.
I share the concerns expressed by previous speakers, specifically Senator Donohoe, on integrated ticketing in Dublin. Having waited for a long time and spent a substantial amount on the project, we must ensure progress on introducing the system is made quickly. This has not been our finest hour.
Although I am an avid cyclist, I am not a member of the Dublin bikes scheme. I would like to support the scheme, however, and I am sure I will join it at some stage. Those of us who live in the central area of Dublin city do not use cars much. Last Sunday, I visited a friend on the North Strand. Often, when I want to get home on a Sunday I take a taxi and more often than not because I do not have patience I will walk rather than wait for a bus. However, when I left my friend’s house I saw that an approaching bus was headed for Rathmines, which happened to be my destination. As I did not have my bicycle with me, I thought the only way to get home would be to walk or take a taxi. It did not occur to me that the bus service in Dublin would be good enough to get me home. Lo and behold, however, not only did I not have to wait for a bus — I admit this was fortunate on a Sunday afternoon — but the first bus to arrive was travelling to my destination. This experience changed my mind to a certain extent and is an example of what public transport should be about.
I am an independent person in so far as I travel by bicycle to avoid having to take public transport. It was an absolute pleasure to find a bus that would take me to a relatively obscure part of the city. I did not expect there would be strong demand for a route from Fairview to Rathmines. For this reason, I welcome the new network of routes around the city provided by Dublin Bus.
I hope Dublin ends up with a public transport system comparable to the system in place in Paris. We are well on the way to achieving that objective. One swallow does not make a summer, however, and I will have to test the bus system again when I want to travel somewhere else. Dublin Bus is at least responding to customer and passenger needs with its new network. Rather than every route taking in the city centre, it has introduced routes which criss-cross the city. This is a sign of tremendous progress.
I live near the Luas line and while I do not always use it because I cycle a great deal, I took a tram this morning. On my way to the stop a tram passed by and I thought I would have to wait for some time for the arrival of another one. I did not have to wait for long, however, and although it appeared to be packed, as I had expected, I soon realised that most passengers congregated close to the doors and the centre of the carriage was relatively free. When I moved further into the carriage I found a seat. I often hear people complain the Luas trams are overcrowded. Within one stop, I was able to get a seat. People jump to conclusions very quickly. I almost decided not to board the tram because it appeared to be too crowded. I decided to take it, however, because I thought the following one would probably be crowded as well.
We have made tremendous progress. I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss good transport initiatives. As a result of the Dublin bikes scheme, one often sees people in suits or other attire not normally associated with cycling on a Dublin bike. Clearly, the scheme is being used for short journeys across town by people who otherwise would not consider cycling in Dublin. I am very pleased with this development because Dublin is a great city in which to cycle. What I appreciate most about the scheme is that drivers now know to watch out for cyclists because there are so many people of them on the roads. The roads are becoming much safer for cyclists and parents will be less frightened about their children cycling to school or to visit friends and so forth because other road users are much more aware of cyclists.
There have been many other transport initiatives, including walking initiatives. I am pleased to have an opportunity to discuss the progress made in this regard. I caution, however, that more work is required on the integrated ticketing initiative.
I would like to be able to support the motion and commend the Government on the great work it has done on smarter travel, public transport and initiatives to encourage people to leave their cars at home. Unfortunately, I am unable to do so. I say this sincerely and as someone who believes in sustainable transport. I look forward to the day I will be able to commend a Government on making this type of progress.
The Government has made a hames of public transport. Far from encouraging people to leave their cars at home, it has cut or curtailed many sustainable public transport routes and sacked many of those working in the public transport sector.
I regret also that I cannot support the Fine Gael Party amendment, which is similar to a previous amendment the party tabled. The amendment reveals the core of Fine Gael ideology, with its relentless calls for the privatisation of public bus services. I cannot support an amendment which deals with the privatisation of bus corridors in Dublin. If we are to have an effective transport system that delivers for all of society, it must be in public hands and accountable to citizens. Allowing private interests to cherry-pick the most profitable services will leave the public element of the transport service decimated and in dire need of resources. The result would be to ensure lesser used services are curtailed or withdrawn.
The smarter travel document is ambitious and forward looking. If implemented, it would ensure that Ireland makes inroads into reducing carbon emissions and promoting the use of public transport. Unfortunately, however, few of the measures in the document have been implemented. We have not seen the energy required to support a policy of creating a modern, 21st century public transport system.
Different Senators spoke about their own circumstances and transport in their own area. I do not live on a Luas line or a rail line. Like hundreds of thousands of others, I live in rural Ireland. I live in one of three counties in this State, and one of five in the country, that has no access to rail. Some Senators talk about integrated ticketing, but all we want in Donegal is a bus, not to mind making sure that our bus tickets might be used on the rail service. We need to ensure that a transport policy does not just fit Dublin and other urban areas, but rural areas as well. That is a major challenge in respect of the investment that needs to be made, but if we are serious about reducing carbon emissions and the dependancy on cars, we need to make sure we have policies that are as effective in Donegal as they are in Foxrock, Ranelagh,
Fairview, Cork and Galway. We need to see proposals that will make it easier for people to turn to more environmentally friendly ways of getting about in those areas that did not have the proper public transport infrastructure in the past.
We have seen cuts in rural transport services, and we need to fund them to ensure that a proper use of our public fleets means all the needs of our communities are served. I come from a county that has no rail network. When Ireland faced difficult times in previous centuries, the British Government put people to work by building rail networks right across our country. Maybe that is a lesson we could take from the British Government today. Under British rule, people in Donegal had far more access to public transport than they have today. We need to see a bit of joined up thinking. If we are sitting in here 20 years from now and the fourth largest city on the island, Derry, is not connected directly to the capital by rail, will we say it is acceptable? The focus on public transport in 20 years’ time will be more acute, as will the focus on CO2 emissions. Do we think that it will be acceptable in 20 years to leave five counties in Ireland without an inch of railway line? If we are honest about it, we will say “No”. We all know we need to do something about it now. It does not require massive investment at this time, but it takes a bit of foresight, energy, imagination and commitment to look at the issues and to plan them.
How can we deliver rail transport to those counties that do not have it? Should we connect the fourth largest city with the capital via a rail link? Should we connect Derry and Sligo by rail? With the re-opening of the western rail corridor, one can get on a train from Sligo and travel right around the country until one comes to Derry, but then one must get a taxi back to Sligo. We have a gap in that rail line which needs to be closed. It is not acceptable now, but it definitely will not be acceptable in the future. We need to connect the fourth largest city on the island with our capital. If we are talking about proper public transport planning, it makes no sense not to plan for that.
We should examine and implement this document. We need to examine serious mechanisms to entice people to use public transport. In counties such as Donegal, which does not have a rail service or a public bus service, there is no other option but to use the car. We have to give people the options to use other modes of transport, so the time is right to start planning the re-introduction of railways to the north west. It can be done on an all-Ireland basis, in the same way the Irish Government is working with the Northern Assembly to develop the dual carriageway from Derry to Aughnacloy. It makes sense to connect the fourth largest city with the capital city, in the same way that we have connected other cities via motorways throughout the State under Transport 21. We also need to connect the rail line.
A north-west committee was set up following proposals by Sinn Féin in Donegal. I met with members from ten different local authorities about two years ago in Donegal. There were members from Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the SDLP, the UUP and the DUP all sitting in the chamber in County House, looking at a presentation and united in a steering group with one purpose, namely, to re-introduce rail services into the north west. I call on the Government to take a lead and start helping them to prepare for the business plan to do this.
Senator Ivor Callely: I welcome the motion, with the proviso that there is “a lot done, more to do”. I am optimistic that my proviso will be greeted positively by my colleagues in the Government and in the Department of Transport. There exists today a favourable climate in this respect, because statements emanating from Government sources indicate it is favourably dispose to develop its smarter travel initiative, albeit in challenging financial circumstances.
It is only fair to acknowledge the progress that has been made in recent years on public facilities. The measures and proposals are at hand to develop further improvements in the years ahead. This Fianna Fáil-led Government recognises the importance of the smarter travel initiative and the impact it has on the everyday affairs of ordinary men and women. My contribution will focus on a few pragmatic aspects and their impact on the individual. I want to emphasise that we are dealing with the daily transport needs of individuals and our desire to improve the quality of their lives.
As a representative for the Dublin area, my view is that it is vital our nation’s capital has an efficient public transport system that allows industry in the capital to prosper, allows freight cargo to reach the regions, allows tourism to develop, and accommodates the commuter as quickly and as easily as possible. Transport demands in the Dublin area are rising and will continue to represent a challenge for transport service providers in the years ahead.
The smarter travel initiative is putting a framework in place to achieve better integration between transport, land use, new concepts and initiatives. Such integration is vital to ensure sustainable development that should make every journey we take more enjoyable. I acknowledge the progress that has been made to improve co-ordination and collaboration between transport agencies and service providers. I understand that the relevant agencies investing in transport consult and collaborate with other providers. This is noticeable in the connectivity between Dublin Bus, Luas and the DART. These three different providers now ensure there is connectivity between the timetables.
I am disappointed that park and ride facilities have not been developed in the Dublin city catchment area. I understand there may be a view that park-and-ride is more suited outside the city catchment in satellite areas. On the one hand we are talking about densities, while on the other hand we are told that park and ride facilities are more suitable outside densely populated areas in order to bring various catchments into one such location. The Minister of State should examine these differing views and take them into account. My colleague, Senator Paschal Donohoe, knows about some of the difficulties that I can relate to in my constituency. My area includes the DART stations at Fairview-Clontarf, Killester, Harmonstown and Raheny. I do not have to bring to the Minister of State’s attention the difficulties facing DART commuters in those neighbourhoods. She knows exactly what I am going to say next: people cannot get in or out of their own driveways because of parking in the immediate vicinity. Yet the Department of Transport’s policy is that there is no requirement for park-and-ride facilities in the greater Dublin area, and it is suggested that such facilities should be provided outside the urban area. It is probably a greater challenge to provide park-and-ride facilities in the greater Dublin area due to land use, but local authorities are spending an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to prevent day-long parking by commuters. All we are doing, however, is moving them on. It is like the old story of rat running. If a straight road is put in between two points it encourages rat running. Whenever we take a measure in a neighbourhood that is experiencing problems with day-long commuter parking, all we are doing is shunting them on to adjoining roads. We are witnessing this day in and day out.
I ask the Minister of State to consult with some of the public representatives and city officials, particularly the traffic department, as to their call on this matter. She should ask them whether or not there is a difficulty with commuters parking all day. I know the answer to that question, which is perhaps why I am asking it. I am putting down a marker that I am disappointed with the lack of progress in providing such facilities.
We all remember the old debate about whether or not a conductor should be on the bus. It took a long time to resolve that issue, but we have come a long way and there is now co-ordination and collaboration. However, the acid test of that synergy is integrated ticketing. We must have integrated ticketing along with a single price for city transport. Those aspects must be introduced as soon as possible.
We were challenged on the issue of accessible transport with the sectoral plan. We must acknowledge the enormous progress that has been made by all concerned in providing accessible transport. We now need to get those people involved in providing integrated ticketing and single-price journeys.
There is also huge potential in IT or intelligent transport systems. We need to ensure the IT transport initiative is put in place all over the city. In addition, traffic management schemes mainly concern bus priority, which have proved to be successful in providing quality bus corridors. QBCs have made a significant contribution to increased patronage and improved journey times. Massive progress has been made over the past ten years in DART and rail services generally.
As an active person who tries to keep in shape, I run and cycle. In addition, I probably walk a few kilometres every day, if I do not run them. I have a bicycle, a motor bike and a car, which I use at various times.
Unless we have a wholly integrated transport system in the greater Dublin area, I would totally oppose the introduction of a congestion charge for the city. We need to focus on what will make public transport more easily available, thus taking the frustration out of travel. Single-price journeys, integrated ticketing, connectivity and walking routes are vital elements that will ensure people do not use private motor vehicles, thus avoiding traffic congestion.
Senator John Ellis: We have had a reasonable debate on smart transport. I noticed, however, that it was almost totally focused on Dublin without reference to some of the major road developments that are taking place around the country. On behalf of the Government side, I recommend this motion to the House and I ask Members to accept it.
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Cannon, Ciaran.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Healy Eames, Fidelma.||McFadden, Nicky.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Prendergast, Phil.||Ross, Shane.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carroll, James.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|Daly, Mark.||Dearey, Mark.|
|Doherty, Pearse.||Ellis, John.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Hanafin, John.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||Mooney, Paschal.|
|Norris, David.||Ó Brolcháin, Niall.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Sullivan, Ned.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Phelan, Kieran.|
|Walsh, Jim.||White, Mary M.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carroll, James.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|Daly, Mark.||Dearey, Mark.|
|Ellis, John.||Glynn, Camillus.|
|Hanafin, John.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|Mooney, Paschal.||Norris, David.|
|Ó Brolcháin, Niall.||Ó Domhnaill, Brian.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Brien, Francis.|
|O’Donovan, Denis.||O’Malley, Fiona.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Cannon, Ciaran.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Doherty, Pearse.||Donohoe, Paschal.|
|Fitzgerald, Frances.||Healy Eames, Fidelma.|
|McCarthy, Michael.||McFadden, Nicky.|
|Phelan, John Paul.||Ross, Shane.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Last Updated: 15/12/2010 11:33:56||Page of 12|