I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to address the committee. I propose that following my opening statement, Mr. Noel Brett from the Road Safety Authority, RSA, will deal with the report on driver testing and Mr. Hugh Creegan of the National Roads Authority, NRA, will provide a statement on the barrier-free tolling issues covered in the report. Obviously both men will then be available to answer any questions in respect of those issues. However, I also wish to refer briefly to the two specific issues.
As regards the report on driver testing, I am pleased to note a number of positive conclusions. In particular, the Comptroller and Auditor General found that despite a doubling of applications for driving tests between 2005 and 2008, the RSA succeeded in dealing with the surge in applications, as well as the historical backlogs, and has radically improved the timeliness of test provision. Second, the Comptroller and Auditor General found that outsourcing provided the RSA with a comparator for driving test delivery and this knowledge transfer contributed to the improved design of information technology systems developed by the RSA, which will improve its administrative processes and management information.
At the same time, the report identified a number of areas for improvement and made recommendations as to what kind of improvements were needed. Most of those recommendations obviously relate to actions to be taken by the RSA and Mr. Brett will address any questions the committee might have regarding them. However, one recommendation in the report is specifically addressed to the Department of Transport. It calls on us to put in place a service level agreement with the RSA setting out the expected performance levels for the driver testing service and the process for monitoring and reporting. The Department has accepted this recommendation and departmental officials have held discussions with the RSA regarding the development of the service level agreement and it is our intention to have in place this agreement by the end of this year.
Although the service level agreement will put the Department's relationship with the RSA on a more formal footing, I should stress that since the establishment of the authority four years ago, the relationship has been highly constructive and mutually supportive. I also make the point that it has been a highly effective collaboration, as measured by the most important performance indicator available, namely, the consistent reduction every year in the number of fatalities on our roads. The first three years of the RSA's existence have seen a fall of more than one third in road deaths from 365 in 2006 to just 240 in 2009. Moreover, nine months having elapsed this year, at present we are running at a rate that is more than 10% lower than last year's level, which obviously was at a record low.
In respect of barrier-free tolling, the Comptroller and Auditor General's report covers the results of a review of the commissioning of the facilities in the first year of operation of the barrier-free tolling system. It also examined the comparative financial performance over the previous year, the challenges in maximising toll revenue and how operations are monitored. Despite some inevitable teething problems early on, overall barrier-free tolling on the M50 now is operating successfully. The new system, coupled with the completion of the M50 upgrade works, has helped to ease congestion on the motorway and has improved traffic flow on the entire Dublin road network. Since the introduction of the new system, toll revenues have risen, primarily due to an increase in traffic volumes. Last year, I informed members that the benefits of the West Link buy-out, which was essential to deliver barrier-free tolling, would exceed the costs and would provide good value to taxpayers and users of the M50 and it is clear that this is turning out to be the case.
I will now turn to the transport Vote, which is dominated by the Transport 21 programme. Very high levels of investment in road infrastructure continued over the last two years and the major interurban road programme now is virtually complete. The M1 from Dublin to the Border, the M4-M6 from Dublin to Galway, the M7-M8 from Dublin to Cork and the M9 from Dublin to Waterford now are all fully open to traffic. As for the remaining major interurban route, namely, the M7 from Dublin to Limerick, one further section was opened this week. Just one piece of the jigsaw remains outstanding, which will be open to traffic in November and at that stage the entire major interurban road programme will be complete. In addition, the upgrade of the M50 motorway and the M3 from Clonee to north of Kells also were completed in 2010.
On public transport, phase one of the western rail corridor opened in March this year and services began on phase one of the Navan line in September. The Luas extension to Cherrywood is due to open in October and construction continues on the Luas line to CityWest, which will open in 2011. Planning work is continuing on metro north, the DART underground, the Luas BX/D line and other projects. In the first four years of Transport 21, Exchequer funding amounted to almost €9 billion, with expenditure in 2009 totalling €2.124 billion. Given the current difficult economic circumstances, it now is unlikely that all the projects originally identified in Transport 21 will be completed by 2015 as originally intended. However, no projects have been cancelled, planning work remains a priority and Transport 21 continues to provide a strategic framework for capital spending on transport infrastructure into the future.
On the current side of the Vote, expenditure totalling approximately €698 million occurred in 2009. Of that, expenditure on national roads maintenance and work on regional and local roads accounted for €170 million. The Road Safety Authority received €33 million to help reduce the driver testing backlog and to promote road safety awareness. The continued State support for its public service obligations on public transport came to €314 million while 2009 also saw the support for regional airports continue by way of public service obligation and operational support payments, which came to €18 million, as well as capital grants of €5 million for safety and security works. Finally, the total spend on the maritime sector amounted to €47 million, comprising €39 million in current and €8 million in capital expenditure. This expenditure reflects the ongoing commitment to modernise and develop the Irish Coast Guard and our maritime safety administration.
This concludes my statement and I will be happy to answer any questions from members of the committee after they have heard the other opening statements.