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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 5 Nov 1997

Vol. 482 No. 4

Private Members' Business. - Dublin's Traffic Conditions: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Dukes on Tuesday, 4 November 1997:
That Dáil Éireann condemns the Government for its failure to commit adequate resources to tackling the factors contributing to the rapid deterioration in Dublin's traffic conditions.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann, recognising that measures to ease traffic congestion in Dublin should be implemented within the framework of the integrated transportation strategy for the Greater Dublin Area as set out in the final report of the Dublin Transportation Initiative, welcomes the commitment of the Government to implementation of the DTI Strategy and, in particular:
notes that the Operational Programme for Transport 1994 to 1999 provides for investment of in excess of £600 in transport infrastructure in Dublin;
supports the Government's commitment to provide a light rail system for Dublin, within the framework of the Operational Programme, consisting initially of a Tallaght/City Centre/Dundrum line;
welcomes the planning work in progress on extension of light rail to Ballymun and Sandyford;
notes that implementation of the DART extensions to Greystones and Malahide, acquisition of additional DART rolling stock, construction of new DART and suburban rail stations and implementation of quality bus corridors is proceeding as quickly as possible consistent with the need for adequate public consultation and compliance with relevant tendering and contract procedures;
supports the Government's commitment to provide key additional road infrastructure for Dublin, in particular, the Southern Cross and South-Eastern Motorways, to complete the Dublin C-ring, and an access route to Dublin Port;
endorses the policy of promoting better use of road space in Dublin through implementation of a range of traffic management measures and intensified enforcement of traffic regulations; and
notes that the Dublin Transportation Office will shortly begin a formal review of the DTI Strategy to update the strategy and renew its impetus."
—(Minister for the Environment and Local Government).

Deputy Broughan has two minutes remaining but he is not present.

We have 30 minutes, and I propose to share my time.

I am delighted to have the opportunity of discussing the traffic of Dublin. I welcome the fact that this motion was tabled by the Opposition in Private Members' time because we are approaching the busiest part of the year where gridlock will once more prevail in spite of our best efforts. I should like to make a few suggestions about our traffic problems.

More use should be made of the SCAT traffic signal system. When traffic approaches a SCAT system, the lights will change if there is nothing coming in the other direction. It gives all motorists a fair chance. There is nothing more irritating for motorists than to sit at a red traffic light waiting for it to change although there is no traffic approaching from the other direction. This is most aggravating given the amount of traffic on roads and I advocate greater use of SCAT, particularly in the county part of Dublin.

There has been much discussion recently about the speed of traffic on roads. There should be better enforcement of traffic laws. I did not hear the details but I understand there was a severe crash on the Chapelizod bypass this evening. I cannot comment on it because I am not aware of the circumstances. However, I understand a number of children were taken to hospital and I am sure the House shares my hope that none of them was seriously injured.

I travel that road from Celbridge every morning and I am aware of the volume of traffic on it. Articulated trucks speed along the bypass but it is rare to see a Garda car with a radar. Video cameras should be installed along that route. Many other measures need to be taken urgently about these problems. I have contacted the Garda Síochána on a number of occasions about speeding traffic on the Chapelizod bypass and the Lucan road. I am told many prosecutions are taken against speeding motorists but I travel that route daily and I rarely see Garda squad cars or motorbikes pulling aside drivers. The problem of speeding articulated trucks needs to be addressed urgently.

There will be a huge amount of selfish parking in the city in the run up to Christmas. The level of fines should be doubled in November and December to prevent people parking on double yellow lines or at dangerous junctions. The manner in which some people park is outrageous. If one tries to drive through Suffolk Street and Trinity Street to Dame Street, one will see cars parked on double yellow lines. Traffic cannot get through as a result of the selfishness of other motorists. There should be many more tow away vehicles to deal with the problem of improperly parked cars. It is time something was done about this matter.

Larger fines may be the answer. If a person was fined £200 for parking on a double yellow line in November or December in the city centre, he or she would think twice about parking there again. It is selfishness because many people do not worry about the fines imposed for parking in such places. They usually hand them over to their firms which take care of them. This is very wrong.

The bus services in Dublin are dreadful. I conducted a survey on the standard of the bus services in my constituency of Dublin South Central last year. Approximately 25,000 questionnaires were distributed and I received over 500 replies which was substantial. Some 94 per cent of the respondents said they usually used the bus. They were asked how frequently per week they used the service; 55 per cent used it daily, 34 per cent used it three to four times a week and 11 per cent used it once a week. The respondents were asked to rate the local bus service; 7.3 per cent said it was very good, 16.3 per cent said it was good, 26.7 per cent said it was fair, 21 per cent said it was poor and 28.7 per cent said it was very poor. Approximately 6 per cent of those who replied said they did not usually use the bus. Of those 41.9 per cent cycled, 35.5 per cent drove cars and 22.6 per cent walked.

The people who rated the service cited the 22 and 22A as particularly poor. One person said the average waiting time was 40 minutes. They wanted more buses on the 22A route or at least the buses already on the route to arrive at the advertised time. Another person said the average waiting time was 40 to 60 minutes. They wanted the bus replaced with another system which would guarantee frequent arrival, for example every ten to 15 minutes. Another person said the waiting time for the 22 or 22A bus was up to one hour and ten minutes.

I sent this information to the manager of Dublin Bus and I received an acknowledgement. However, nothing has been done about it. I intend to give the Minister a copy of the survey. If we want people to use buses we must provide a proper service. It is also time to provide decent vehicles. The people surveyed did not like the small buses, the Imps. They complained of over-crowding and long waiting times. They said they are frequently left waiting at bus stops because Imps are already full when they reach them. The respondents also said people should not be allowed to stand on these vehicles which are viewed as uncomfortable for older people who find it difficult to board them.

Larger vehicles have been requested and they should be provided. Bus fares should also be lower. If the volume of people using buses was increased, it would more than offset the initial cost of lower fares. This area must be addressed. One respondent to the survey on the standard of the bus services in Dublin South Central sent me a picture which shows a skeleton waiting at a stop for a 22A bus. This sums up the feelings of the people in my constituency about the bus service. I have a copy pinned up in my office as a constant reminder that people are most concerned about this problem. Perhaps I should place a copy in the Oireachtas Library.

I favour cycle lanes but it should be an offence if cyclists do not use lanes where they are provided. Some cyclists career along streets and weave in and out of traffic although a cycle lane has been provided at considerable public expense. The use of cycle lanes should be compulsory.

Everybody is aware of how couriers behave on the roads. I am not aware of the death rate among couriers but I worry about the survival chances of some of those young people on bicycles who weave in and out of traffic, go through red lights and go the wrong way up one way streets. The law does not appear to apply to them and the Garda are unable to stop them. Years ago cyclists stopped if a garda stuck out his hand. Now they cycle around the garda and usually give him or her a rude gesture when they are out of sight.

I often travel through Lower Kevin Street in the morning. There is a shop there and during rush hour, when cars are bumper to bumper, there are always vehicles parked outside on double yellow lines. They appear to have the freedom of the street and are never ticketed. Nobody appears to care. I understand the need to drop off merchandise to shops but that can be done outside rush hour. Lower Kevin Street is frequently reduced to one lane of traffic travelling towards St. Stephen's Green. This matter should be examined.

I regret the lack of good manners among many motorists. It is common decency to give way when one cannot move. People park on yellow boxes when they know they should not. One morning I left Celbridge, which is more countrified, and tried to get to the main Dublin road at Lucan. A magnificent new green Volvo, driven by a beautiful blonde woman, was parked in the middle of the yellow box. I showed my disapproval and she gave me an Italian gesture in return.

Mr. Hayes

Was it the Minister?

It was not the Minister. I remember the rude gesture she made with a single digit.

That is blondes for you.

She blew your chances.

It summed up the personalities of some drivers. The real nature of people comes out when they drive. If her fiancé had seen her, the marriage would have been off. Good manners mean consideration for others. Life would be much more simple if people behaved with courtesy.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Eoin Ryan.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Everybody agrees there is a serious traffic problem in Dublin city and county. That did not arise today or yesterday, and successive Governments can share the criticism for this problem. I represent satellite towns such as Blanchardstown, Clondalkin-Lucan and Tallaght. We have had bypasses, motorways and other major infrastructural investments. It appears that the greater the investment, the greater the gridlock and ensuing confusion.

It is frustrating to see what has happened mainly under the authority of the Department of the Environment and Local Government. The Minister should, as a result of this debate, look at those projects which could tackle this problem and which require urgent attention. The Minister spoke last night of the understandable need for wide public consultation. That is very desirable, but there are other considerations.

There is agreement on the need for a tunnel into Dublin port. Elected representatives made representations on behalf of worried constituents. The project is gridlocked and nothing can be done until everything is resolved. The management of Dublin Corporation came up with a scheme which was rejected by its elected members. The matter went back to public display and three months of consultation. Then location of the proposed entrance was moved. Recently representatives got a colour brochure which is the third issue of the Tunnel Information Project. It sets out the requirements necessary before the project proceeds, which is very desirable.

The progress of many of these projects is predictable. It takes years to get to the point when construction starts and proceeds to completion. One can see oil tankers and lorries with 40-foot containers endeavouring to get up the Dublin quays throughout the day. A national rail distribution park is proposed for my constituency. A rail line is to be extended from the port to carry container traffic; the roll-on, roll-off facilities are to be installed and then goods can be picked up on the motorway and distributed nationally.

These projects have been discussed for years, but we are still talking about the chaotic Dublin traffic. A tollbridge was built in my constituency and I understand that the traffic there now is at the level predicted for 2002. That is the so-called forecasting competence of the Department of the Environment and Local Government, which has been responsible for seeing these projects through with the local authorities. That is the case with virtually every roundabout, motorway or bypass in my constituency. There is a rectification crew out to cut back footpaths or remove bollards virtually before the paint is dry on the road markings. The need for those changes should have been predicted.

At the end of the Western Parkway in Deputy Hayes's constituency there were traffic tailbacks; after three years a slip road was built, which is excellent. However, that could have been done three years earlier. It is frustrating to know that finance is available, usually supported by the EU, yet matters get bogged down by red tape. It is easy to criticise bureaucracy. The Southern Cross motorway has been delayed for years in the courts, though it will hopefully begin construction soon. A ring road is necessary to relieve traffic in the western towns, but there is no cohesive, overall plan. That is not the fault of the Department of the Environment; it is ours.

Another team of consultants reviewing Luas is ridiculous. This should have been looked at as a first option.

Finance is available for all these projects and everyone agrees they are necessary. What will happen with this gridlock? Perhaps the Garda will switch from other duties and try to move the traffic, but that is like arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is only fiddling with the problem.

Projects such as the Dublin port tunnel, the national rail distribution park, finishing the Southern Cross motorway and provision of underground or overground public transport by rail should not get bogged down. The Opposition has tabled this motion and Dublin Deputies can catalogue the difficulties arising out of the problem. Unfortunately, they do not see an end to it. If nothing else, the Minister should get agreement between his Department and the local authorities on fast-tracking the projects I have mentioned. Let the public express their views.

The Palmerstown by-pass goes through my constituency and 11 houses had to be knocked down for it. Representations were made by people who did not want houses knocked down because the prices being paid were not high enough. When arrangements were made with the occupants, their next question was when they would receive their cheques. All such projects have their problems. Organisations such as the Dublin Transport Initiative, Dublin Corporation and other bodies have an interest in this, but the Minister will have to take control of the problems of Dublin and the east coast. It is a national issue. Traffic to the port is causing gridlock which is a key factor in Dublin's problems. I urgently recommend the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and the House take action to get these major capital projects under way so that the problem may be tackled.

Mr. Ryan

This is a timely debate coming up to the Christmas period when traffic usually gets worse, although in recent years traffic is terrible most of the time. I represent the constituency of Dublin South East which bears the brunt of traffic coming into the city in the morning and leaving it in the evening. At each residents' association meeting I attend the main issue is usually traffic, the problems associated with it, the lack of pedestrian facilities, traffic management and traffic calming measures.

The Minister said there are two ways to tackle this problem. The DTI strategy outlines some long-term and short-term measures, including improvement in public transport services, selected new road construction, traffic management measures and effective compliance with and enforcement of traffic and parking laws. I am delighted there is a new traffic supremo for the city of Dublin, Mr. Eoin Keegan, an official of Dublin Corporation. He was an excellent manager of planning and I have no doubt he will do an excellent job in trying to resolve the traffic problems in Dublin city centre.

Investment of £1,280 million is needed to meet the DTI strategy, an enormous amount of money. We will not see some of the fruits of that money for approximately five years and, in a number of cases, even longer. The port tunnel and the southern cross route are major infrastructural programmes which are needed as soon as possible but it will take time before they are completed. Possibly even before the port tunnel is completed, we should consider building a tunnel under the strand at Sandymount, which is needed. The Sandymount, Merrion and Ringsend residents' associations have come to the conclusion that it is needed. If it is constructed, traffic management and the environment in those areas will be improved greatly.

Ten years too late.

Mr. Ryan

The Deputy cannot blame me for that because I always said it was needed and that we were sticking our heads in the sand by pretending the problem would go away.

The economy is one of the culprits for this problem. There was a slogan - put a tiger in your tank. We have certainly put the Celtic Tiger in our tanks because car ownership in Dublin has gone from 275 per thousand in 1991 to 357 per thousand in 1996, a huge increase. This year again there has been a huge increase in car sales and it will continue as our economy grows. Certain Members from Dun Laoghaire were delighted when particular operations were transferred to Dublin port. We were not delighted about it because we felt the infrastructure was not there. Tonnage in Dublin port has gone from 7.7 million tonnes in 1991 to 14.5 million tonnes last year and it continues to grow. Traffic is travelling on roads which cannot properly facilitate it.

Passenger numbers through Dublin airport have increased from 5.5 million in 1991 to 9.1 million in 1996. Perhaps I am wrong, but we do not hear the authorities in Dublin Airport asking for a spur of the DART to the airport. The reason is they are making a fortune from car parking from where one must get a bus to the terminal. The last time I was at Dublin airport a person missed a plane because it took so long to get from the car park to the terminal. That is ludicrous. If the Dublin Airport authorities were not allowed such considerable car parking space, they would have looked for a spur of the DART to the airport a long time ago so that people from the southside could travel by DART to the airport. This happens in many other international airports.

There are short-term solutions. When in Opposition, as my party was, it is difficult to get things done. However, this time last year the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, and I held a press conference in Buswell's Hotel on this issue. Unlike the Opposition we came up with positive proposals for the Government. The Opposition has condemned the Government, which is ludicrous.

Mr. Hayes

What about the about-turn on Luas?

Mr. Ryan

That is a long-term solution. We came up with positive proposals and three weeks later the then Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, in fairness to him, implemented Operation Freeflow, which included many of our proposals and which we welcomed. That was positive Opposition, of which there is little in this motion. The Opposition, which is less than six months out of office, cannot blame the present Government. That will get it nowhere. There are a number of short-term solutions, including Operation Freeflow. I am delighted the Minister will arrange a meeting between the relevant Ministers and agencies to try to get people to think before they travel. Such a scheme should be implemented.

This House can only do so much. We have said we will provide the money, implement the DTI strategy and Operation Freeflow. Those who really need traffic to move properly are the businesses in the city centre and we must get them to help themselves. During the month of December and the early part of January during the sales, they should get those who work in their businesses to pool their cars or to take public transport so that their customers can come to the city to shop. That is a proposal we made last year. If they do not do so, people will travel to shopping centres outside the city. Invariably, we will face the problem we had in the mid to late 1980s when Dublin city centre was dying which we do not want to happen.

Businesses must help themselves because otherwise we are wasting our time. Dublin City Centre Business Association and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce should be asked to get everybody, including shop workers, solicitors or accountants who depend on each other in the long-term, to leave their cars at home when they can.

The Minister outlined the effectiveness of car pooling and the number of cars we could take off the streets is considerable. There are approximately 20,000 free car parking spaces in Dublin city centre. At a recent conference Colm McCarthy asked why these spaces were free and said they should not be. We will not tackle the problem if people must pay for public transport but not for car parking. People should be forced to pay so they will think twice about bringing their cars into the city centre and consider taking the bus or the DART. If there is not a change in attitude, we will get nowhere. Although we may implement the successful Operation Freeflow, businesses must help themselves by getting their employees to reduce the number of cars coming into the city centre.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Hayes, Cosgrave and Barrett.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Traffic chaos and the associated problem of road safety are among the issues of highest priority for people living in Dublin. They are certainly one of the priorities for my constituents. The views put forward to Deputy Ryan at meetings of residents' associations are the same as those put forward to me by the public.

I disagree with the emphasis placed by Deputy Ryan on short-term solutions. There is scope for better traffic management and better enforcement of the road traffic laws. There is also a need to proceed urgently with the plans already in the pipeline, for example, the port tunnel, the completion of C ring etc. We must recognise that the sooner we put in place longer term solutions the quicker we will solve the traffic problems.

There is no short-term solution to the problems. The traffic problems in Dublin are caused by the increased number of vehicles on the road. There has been an increase in the number of heavy goods vehicles on the roads as a result of the increased level of economic activity. Deputies Ryan and Lawlor referred to the increased level of activity at Dublin Port, which is a reflection of the increased level of economic activity. The increase in the number of private cars on the roads reflects the increased prosperity experienced by some people.

Although it will require a change in personal behaviour and in the urgency shown to it by the Government and its agencies, we must acknowledge that the only viable solution to Dublin's traffic problems is a radical and fundamental shift to public transport. The Government has a responsibility to ensure that this takes place as quickly as possible. The previous Government exercised that responsibility by advancing the Luas project, but this Government, to its shame, has torpedoed the project and put it back. By doing so it is condemning the people of this city to many more years of traffic misery and chaos.

The decision to adjourn until next April the inquiry, required under legislation, into the Luas project is the latest blow commuters in Dublin have had to face. The chairman had no alternative but to adjourn the inquiry given the decision by the Government to appoint yet another set of consultants to examine the possibility of putting the city centre portion of Luas under ground. However, the decision of the Government to surrender to pressure from vested interests during the election campaign by agreeing to open up again the prospect of going under ground in the city centre was a major error of judgment, especially as this option had been examined and rejected on a number of previous occasions.

At a time when Dublin is grinding to a halt as a result of traffic congestion and crying out for a modern and efficient public transport system the prospect of Luas starting up fades further into the distance. The reality is that there is little prospect of seeing trams on the streets of Dublin during this century. Of even greater concern is the real danger that if the delays continue - and there is a perceived lack of enthusiasm and interest at Government level - crucial EU funding could be withdrawn. The best thing the Minister for Public Enterprise could do is to abandon the plan even at this late stage, to ask the consultants to examine the discredited underground proposal, to allow the O'Leary inquiry to proceed without further delay and to put some effort and energy into getting Luas back on the rails.

We have some of the worst traffic problems of any European city of comparable size and they are getting worse by the week. Traffic problems were once the norm for an hour at peak time in the morning and evening but are now being experienced throughout the day. Even relatively short journeys at rush hour now take on epic proportions. The only solution to the traffic crisis is to encourage more people to leave their cars at home and to use public transport. However, this will not happen until we have an acceptable public transport service. We are a long way from achieving this objective.

By shunting Luas even further into the distant future the only public transport available to the majority of the citizens of Dublin is Dublin Bus. However, bus services in many areas are also creaking to a halt. The combination of poor service, relatively high fares and chronic traffic problems are forcing more and more people away from public transport and into their cars. This, in turn, worsens the traffic problem, further slows the buses and inconveniences people who have no alternative to public transport. The vicious circle has to be broken.

There is a commonly held view that the level of Government subvention to Dublin Bus is very high. However, the reality is that it is very small and one of the lowest for any similar sized city in Europe. The subvention to Dublin Bus this year amounts to £7 million. Given that Dublin Bus makes approximately 185 million passenger journeys each year, this represents a subvention of just 3.8p per passenger journey. At the same time the Government provided what was in effect a subvention of almost £40 million to private motorists under the car scrappage scheme.

Given that the financial picture is in its healthiest state for more than 50 years it is time we recognised the social and economic advantages of having an efficient public transport service. This requires an efficient service and economical fares. It cannot be provided on the level of subvention currently given to Dublin Bus by the Government. It would be money well spent if the Government was to consider increasing the level of subvention to Dublin Bus. The subvention of bus fares would bring down fares and increase the level of service provided by Dublin Bus in this city.

There are two other issues I wish to raise, the first of which relates to the report released today by the Dublin Transport Organisation on the contribution ferrying children to school by way of private car makes to the traffic problem. I confess that I am one of the parents who contributes to that problem every morning. However, for most of us there is no alternative. One cannot let a four year old child cross three busy roads and a roundabout with no pedestrian crossing and walk a mile and a half to school through busy traffic. I am sorry the Minister of State who has responsibility for school transport is not present. We need an efficient school transport system which will enable children to be taken to school and home in safety and which will considerably ease the traffic congestion.

The other issue which needs to be addressed is co-ordination. There are too many Departments dealing with transport and what we need is a single Department dealing with this issue. It is absurd to have the Department of the Environment dealing with roads, the Department of Public Enterprise dealing with airports and rail, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda dealing with road traffic and enforcement of the law and the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources dealing with ports. If this problem is to be tackled with urgency, cohesion and the focus it deserves, a single Ministry of transport is needed, and perhaps Ministries of State with particular responsibility for specific areas such as road safety and traffic congestion in Dublin.

Mr. Hayes

I welcome this motion tabled by my party, which is similar to a motion put down last March by the Government side when in Opposition. The ongoing problem of traffic congestion and gridlock in this city and the three new county areas surrounding it is a major headache for the people of Dublin, and we as politicians have a duty to do something about it. Political action is required at the highest level of Government to ensure all State agencies involved seriously deal with the issue.

We have been talking about this problem for far too long. The DTI presented its report in 1994. While the consultation process started in 1991, it was initiated in the early 1980s. Reports are available in the Department of the Environment and Local Government and we know what is required, but political determination is needed to address many of the issues referred to by Deputies Lawlor, Gilmore and others. One point the Government should consider is the lack of cohesion in terms of transport policy. The Department of the Environment and Local Government hands out money to local authorities for roads while the Department of Public Enterprise deals with another policy area. It is important that those two Departments work together, otherwise we should set up a new Department of transport to deal with this issue. I regret the Minister for Public Enterprise, who is directly responsible for this issue, has not addressed the concerns raised in this debate and I hope she does so before the end of the proceedings at 8.30 p.m.

The traffic problem in Dublin is at crisis point and has been so for a number of years during which various Governments were in power. We are all responsible for the lack of action in this regard. One of the consequences of the upturn in the economy in the past four or five years is that a greater number of citizens are purchasing cars. As Deputy Lawlor said, the projected figures for the year 2002 have been already reached. This problem must be addressed and the motion asks the Government to do that. The average number of cars in Ireland at present is about 320 per 1,000 citizens whereas in a European context it is almost 450. The problem of traffic congestion is increasing all the time and will not be solved unless a modern, effective and clean public transport system is put in place.

I represent Dublin South-West, a relatively new suburb which, for the past 25 years, has not received its fair share of the national cake in terms of infrastructure. The position has improved somewhat in the past four years or so, but we are only beginning to catch up. There is complete dismay in that community at the decision of the Minister for Public Enterprise to once again put the issue of Luas on the backburner. Since the reports are available and we know the pros and cons, it is time a decision was made to move forward with this project. The decision of the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, flies in the face of good public policy. The issue of Luas must be addressed. Such a system would provide a means of transport for many people, particularly those who do not have cars - some parts of my constituency have a lower number of cars per population than any other part of the country. As the DTI report points out, it is areas such as those that need attention. If we decide against the underground option, areas such as west Tallaght, where there are fewer cars, will never have an effective public transport system.

Not alone has the public inquiry been put back to well into next year but it is likely no work will begin on Luas until 1999 at the earliest. Even if a decision is made to include the underground option, land acquisition and environmental impact statements will have to be undertaken. The CIE application will be omitted from the public inquiry. If, as a result of the latest inquiries, the underground option is not considered, the Minister should do the honourable thing and resign. The Government is culpable. That is what the motion is about and I commend it to the House. I hope, as a result of my party putting the matter on the agenda, the gridlock issue, which is central to many of the problems in our city, will be dealt with once and for all.

I thank the Deputies who shared their time with me. I welcome this debate. The traffic congestion problem in the greater Dublin area requires action of a radical nature which will have an immediate and lasting effect on the streets of the capital and bring real benefit to those who today spend much of their time commuting, quality time which should be spent with their family and friends or in the pursuit of recreational, leisure or educational activities. The volume of commuters has increased because of the healthy state of the economy. More people are at work and travelling from outer suburbia into central Dublin in ever increasing numbers. The number who travel from Drogheda-Dundalk on a daily basis is remarkable. The phenomena is not confined to this route but also occurs from other access corridors from the south and west of the city. Its impact on the road network, which was not designed to accommodate high volumes of motorised traffic, is appalling.

The loss of time, the impact on the environment and the health cost which this frustration generates must stop. The effect of school holidays on traffic movement is remarkable. The elimination of this element from the normal daily toll reduces the travelling time substantially for the remaining road users. This same observation is also true in respect of the summer months when annual holidays also reduce the volume of commuters. I am not suggesting that four year olds, as referred to by Deputy Gilmore, should use cycle lanes but mature students who can use them should be catered for.

From these observations it is apparent that any reduction in people movement at peak times would have a beneficial effect on the remaining traffic. If cycle lanes were provided, parents would be prepared to allow their children cycle to school in safety rather than drive them. This would be a real benefit to commuters. We must also look at the road network and note the benefits of the M50 in redistributing traffic around the city. We must seek the completion of that route to maximise the benefit of that section already built. We must redirect traffic from central Dublin. While awaiting that completion we must place restrictions on heavy vehicle movements at peak times. We must ensure all road works are undertaken speedily and in such manner that they do not impact on carriageway capacity at peak times.

We have to create an environment where single occupancy of a motorised unit is no longer acceptable. The idea of hundreds of cars lined up with nowhere to go all containing one person in their safe cocoon has got to stop. It always reminds me of a sardine rolling around in a kipper can.

Tax or other incentives must be provided to encourage off street parking and the removal of parked cars on the public highway at any time of the day. This need must be appreciated by all the agencies involved. Another idea which would help the flow of traffic is, for example, that where there is a four lane road, two lanes in either direction, we should look at the possibility of using three lanes in the morning entering the city centre while reverting to two during the day and changing in the evening to three lanes exiting the city.

Greater enforcement of traffic and parking controls is required. It seems wasteful to engage the services of the Garda to monitor traffic on clearways, to enforce bus lane regulations or to write parking tickets. Traffic wardens, when provided, do the job adequately in respect of parking controls. Their role should be expanded to allow them take ownership of the enforcement of the rules.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate in the light of what is happening in the city and in the greater Dublin area. I do so with the intention of trying to be constructive but at the same time critical of the Government because of its failure to grasp the nettle and deal with the Luas problem. If the Government decides to do that, unpopular as it may be because there is no popular solution to the traffic problems in Dublin City and in the greater Dublin area, it will upset some people but the light rail system is the way forward. In the time available I hope to set out some of the reasons that is necessary.

In the four local authorities there is no apparent co-ordination in terms of traffic management. I live approximately eight to nine miles from here and if I leave home at 8 a.m. it takes approximately one hour and ten minutes to arrive at the gates of Leinster House. My problem and that of other commuters - even though we have a DART system - is that to get to Ballsbridge, two to three miles from the city, could take up to an hour of valuable time sitting in traffic. Deputy Cosgrave touched on the reason for this. If one is entering the city via the Stillorgan road, two or three traffic lanes exiting the city are practically vacant while there is a snarl up of traffic entering the city. Surely it is not beyond the bounds of intelligence to have a traffic management structure which would utilise traffic lanes to the maximum advantage at peak times. That involves somebody with authority taking a decision - a traffic corps, the Garda Síochána or traffic wardens - to allow the traffic to flow.

Given the absence of a regular public transport connection system to the DART those from the hinterland will not risk using it. Large numbers of cars travel to a particular DART station where they remain parked all day, thus adding to the snarl up and volume of traffic entering the city. Even where there is a DART line difficulties have to be tackled. If we have a light rail transport system, whether the DART or the Luas project, we must have a proper public transport network to encourage people to use it and leave their cars in the driveways. That will cost money but the loss of money through time to business, deliveries etc., is enormous.

I have just returned from a pre-budget seminar presented by the SIMI. In case we think we have reached the point where the number of vehicles on our roads is comparable with the UK I was shocked to learn that per 100 of population here there are between 20 and 30 cars. That compares with the UK, France, West Germany, Luxembourg and Italy where there is an average of 50 cars per 100 of population. Given that the economy is developing and people are becoming more affluent there will be a tendency to increase the number of vehicles on the roads. If we think this problem is overly manifesting itself we are fooling ourselves. We are dealing with the tip of the iceberg.

We have another problem, that of rising house prices in and around the greater Dublin area. More people are forced to live in Counties Wicklow, Kildare or other adjoining counties and commute to the city centre on a daily basis. Unless we have a public transport system, a combined traffic management system and the local authorities working closely together, or an authority responsible for traffic management, those who are forced out of the greater Dublin area will have to buy a car to commute to and from the city. Otherwise, how would they get to their place of work? This is probably one of the most important issues facing us. For all our prosperity we do not have the political will to deal with the problems surrounding our light rail system or traffic management in Dublin.

The motion purports to condemn the Government for its failure to commit adequate resources to tackle the factors contributing to Dublin's traffic conditions. Deputies opposite know the financial allocations for transport related services this year, and the two previous years, were determined by them when in Government. If they condemn the level of finance allocated to Dublin transport and traffic infrastructure, or the speed of implementation, they are condemning their own decisions. That is not the real issue. Last night, three front bench spokespersons for Fine Gael announced that the solution to traffic congestion in Dublin is to resurrect the Dublin transport authority which was dissolved in 1987 and to abandon the institutional arrangements put in place to co-ordinate and drive the DTI Strategy.

The final report of the Dublin Transportation Initiative was launched in August 1995 when Fine Gael sat around the Cabinet table. The report set out an agreed integrated transport strategy for the greater Dublin area. The strategy introduced a whole new approach to transportation and traffic management in Dublin and outlined the general policy framework for the future development of the transport system. There was, and still is, broad agreement that implementing DTI is the way forward and the best chance of eliminating traffic congestion.

The final report of the DTI recognised that institutional arrangements to co-ordinate and oversee the recommended strategy would be crucial to its success. The arrangements recommended and put in place were selected for a variety of reasons. They ensured effective participation of local authority elected members and representatives of transport users and providers in the ongoing decision making process. They drew on the resources of existing agencies and avoided the creation of a new bureaucracy and were sensitive to the existing statutory responsibilities of various public bodies, including local authorities which would remain largely unchanged.

The final report of the DTI recommended, following an extensive consultation process and assessment of a range of options, that arrangements were needed to perform three principal tasks. In regard to strategic planning, they should provide an ongoing land use transportation planning process for the greater Dublin area. In terms of implementation, they should co-ordinate and monitor the work of the individual relevant agencies to ensure the effective implementation of the DTI Strategy and the medium term investment-implementation programme derived from it, as well as monitoring the impact of implementation. In terms of participation, they should facilitate, at strategic planning and individual project planning levels, adequate and effective consultation, participation in the decision making process and the provision of full and adequate information and feedback. It was within this framework that the Dublin Transportation Office was established in November 1995 when Fine Gael was in Government.

The business of the Dublin Transportation Office is conducted by a steering committee. All of the members hold senior positions with the various land use and transportation agencies in the greater Dublin area. This ensures that the various implementing agencies are involved at the highest level in the delivery of the DTI Strategy.

I mentioned earlier the critical need for participation, particularly the involvement of local elected representatives and transport users and providers. This is achieved by the work of the local authority committee and the consultative panel which represents business, transport and environmental interests. These provide advice and guidance to the steering committee on the performance of its functions, a forum for consultation on strategic planning and project implementation issues and a forum for public consultation.

These structures built on the credibility achieved by DTI during its earlier phases. They provide an effective framework within which all interests can participate in the measures needed to give effect to the DTI Strategy. It is a sad reflection on Fine Gael that, less than five months after leaving office, it wants to abandon the DTI Strategy and its institutional arrangements which were decided and put in place while it was in Government. Fine Gael wants to resurrect an earlier and unsuccessful structure in its struggle to find new policy initiatives.

We do not. Luas is part of the DTI Strategy.

We face an enormous challenge to guide Dublin transport onto a more sustainable course. Strong economic growth is forecast to continue for the medium term. Household formation and employment will also increase in Dublin, leading to very significant increases in car ownership, assuming the continuation of present policies. Without clear preventive policies, these economic and demographic forces will lead to even more severe traffic congestion than Dublin is experiencing today. Good solutions can be attained. The experience of a number of economically well developed European cities, which have successfully implemented sustainable transport programmes, is proof of this.

Improved infrastructure, in relation to roads and public transport, will have a major role to play, but this will not provide a full solution. We need to manage and control the use of this infrastructure. We need also to encourage and support lifestyle changes so that dependence on the private car is greatly reduced. Deputy Clune rightly referred last night to the environmental implications of unrestrained growth in traffic in our cities and towns.

It is widely accepted that transport is a key sector to be addressed from the point of view of sustainability. It has extensive impacts on the environment. For example, the use of land for transport infrastructure encroaches on landscape, natural habitats, biodiversity and agricultural use. Motor vehicle traffic emits pollutants which affect air quality and human health. Carbon dioxide is linked to adverse climate change, sulphur and nitrogen oxides are associated with acidification and carbon monoxide, lead, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter damage human health. Transport is often associated with excessive noise and, as we all know too well, road accidents result in significant injury and loss of life. Those factors must cause us all to redouble our efforts to reduce our dependence on the car and switch to more sustainable forms of transport.

Last night the Minister referred to the widespread international recognition that urban transport problems and traffic congestion are among the most difficult for politicians and administrators to resolve. He also summarised the progress being made with implementation of the DTI Strategy to tackle the problems. However, he also recognised that more needs to be done. We understand that reality and the Government's amendment clearly outlines the facts and the way forward. It firmly commits the Government to full implementation of the DTI Strategy. The amendment moved by the Minister deserves the full support of the House and I call on Deputies opposite to withdraw their motion.

In concluding the debate I want to highlight the seriousness of the crisis facing us. It is estimated that the traffic congestion in Dublin costs approximately £500 million each year. That money is going down the drain. On two occasions this year toxic emissions in Dublin exceeded the WHO acceptable level, not the maximum recommended level. I am sure the Minister is aware that if that level is reached on several consecutive days he will be obliged to take action similar to what happened in Paris recently and to what happens in Athens on a regular basis. Meanwhile the population is slowly, insidiously and silently being poisoned. That is the reality. None of the facts and figures can show the effect traffic congestion is having on the quality of life in Dublin. Dublin is not just an economic unit, it is a place where people live, work, play and bring up their families and they are doing all that in a rapidly deteriorating environment. Everybody knows that getting to work and doing business around the city is a nightmare. Our residential areas and suburbs are overrun with cars and heavy vehicles as motorists try to avoid congestion on the arteries into the city. The result is that life has become unbearable in the Dublin suburbs. Our footpaths for all but the most nimble of foot have become dangerous and frightening places.

Young children growing up in Dublin today do not have the privilege of learning to ride a bicycle because it is simply too dangerous. Parents rightly feel that it would be safer to give them razor blades to play with than to let them out in the Dublin traffic. If the traffic does not cause them harm, the toxic fumes will. The simplest tasks, living in Dublin, have become impossible. Bringing the children to school, doing the shopping or visiting the family are all time consuming jobs. Life is now dictated by the level of traffic.

I failed to attend the seminar given by the car industry, but I understand that more than 55,000 new cars were sold in Dublin this year, which accounts for more than half of all those sold in the country. We have not reached the European average, but we will and that will mean more car on our streets. That is the inexorable trend and it is at the heart of the crisis we now face.

Much has been said about Operation Freeflow and it worked well last year. If sufficient resources are put into it, it can work again this year, but not as well as last year. Operation Freeflow is wonderful at managing traffic within the existing road capacity. It is expedient to manage traffic, but it is not a system of traffic restraint. It can only be and was never intended to be anything other than a short-term solution to the problem. Zero tolerance of traffic violations must continue. The most frightening figure is the most recent figure from traffic modelling studies emerging from the DTO. It shows that even with the implementation of the entire strategy, including the construction of the ring road, the port tunnel, the Luas, the quality bus corridors and other traffic management and restraint measures, such as cycle paths, such is the growth in the level of car ownership that we cannot stand still in terms of traffic congestion. On current trends by the year 2006 there will be 13.5 per cent more car trips than there are today and that cannot be allowed to happen.

The Government's amendment, which suggests the DTI strategy will solve the problem, is wrong according to DTI's figures. It does not mean the DTI strategy should not be implemented. Using the DTI's figures, and by its admission it is too little too late, we are facing a crisis and I stress that a brave, decisive and interdepartmental political initiative of a dimension that would act as a catalyst to secure the necessary modal switch from private to public transport is required. That is the single most important and critical issue that must be addressed. To do that, commuters must be convinced that public transport can meet their needs, that it can be reliable, frequent, efficient and flexible, but at present it is none of those things. That is not the fault of Dublin Bus. It is partly a chicken and egg situation. Too much traffic causes buses to be slow and buses that are slow cause more traffic problems. Dublin Bus does not have the ability to meet demand because it does not have the necessary fleet capacity. It cannot meet existing demand and the demand that must now be made on it. It is futile to ask commuters to switch to public transport when an adequate service is not available.

The Minister announced last night he will ask people to think before they travel. That is a good idea, but it will ring very hollow to commuters who stand in the rain and watch one full bus after another pass them by. If quality bus corridors are to succeed in persuading people to leave their cars at home there must be excess capacity at peak hours. The same applies to the bus lanes. Extra buses could then be used for other trips for those who do not want to commute into the city but wish to make orbital trips during the day. Those people are also entitled to a public transport service.

Uniquely, Dublin Bus recovers 90 per cent of its current and capital costs from bus fares while in most other European capitals the transport system is required to recover approximately 20 to 30 per cent of such costs. Instead of rewarding Dublin Bus for its phenomenal achievement it is penalised because more and more of the CIE budget is allocated to other divisions of the group which are not required to fund their capital investment. There is a compelling argument in this regard and I ask the Minister of State to transmit it to the Minister with responsibility for transport who has not bothered to turn up for any of the debate. There is a compelling argument to take Dublin Bus out of the CIE group and leave it as a stand alone company. Its function as a main service provider is too important for it to be left the poor relation of the CIE group. I hope the public service contracts, which are shortly to be negotiated, will recognise the importance of Dublin Bus and will include a subsidy which will be performance-related and a genuine incentive to encourage an increase in the number of passengers carried.

There are other carrots that can be used to tempt private car owners to switch to public transport. One is to allow employers in the public and private sectors to offer free family public transport tickets. Currently some employees are rewarded with cars or mileage allowances and, particularly in the public sector, to qualify for a mileage allowance one must have a car and is usually provided with a free car parking space. Those are disincentives to people leaving their cars at home. In other words, people are penalised for leaving their cars at home. Free public transport passes would overcome that disincentive and at least public transport would participate on a level playing pitch.

Much has been spoken about the role and proliferation of parking facilities and car parks in Dublin. The worst offenders have been public bodies whose facilities are a disincentive, even to people who participate in car pooling, many of whom would lose their mileage allowances. It is within the Government's ambit to deal with that, but that would require greater co-ordination.

I am sure every speaker mentioned the Luas project, and what I regard and can only describe as the wilful and calculated decision to ensure that the money will be lost for that project simply because the Government cannot face the disruption that it might cause. I do not propose to rehash the argument, but I was astonished when I heard the Minister say on "Prime Time" last week that she held in utter disdain those who questioned her decision to commission a further study. Some might say that was a rather arrogant attitude for a Minister to take, but I will leave that for others to judge. I hope her disdain for those who criticise her does not extend to disdain for those who have placed so much hope in the Luas project. I hope her judgment will be unclouded on this issue so that she will realise what is at stake and it will not prevent her taking action now before it is too late to recall the public inquiry and at least allow it to proceed in regard to that part of the route which is not part of the revised study. In that way when the issue is reviewed by the EU in the spring perhaps we will be able to show some progress and maybe the money will not be lost.

I do not doubt that even if the money is lost Luas will be built. It will be built some day because the arguments for it are compelling but it will be too late for this generation of Dubliners and it will also be too late for those in the city centre. Many of them have been vocal in their objections to Luas, but long before it is built many of their customers will have disappeared to the out of town shopping centres. They will have voted with their feet and Dublin city will be the ultimate loser. Last week our brave public service providers, the taxi drivers, gave us a glimpse of the type of permanent gridlock we will face and are moving towards inexorably unless action is taken to reduce reliance on private transport.

The DTI is based on a city where public transport, including taxis, cyclists and pedestrians, has precedence. In that city there is a huge role for taxis beyond their wildest dreams, but they have shot themselves in the foot by reducing demand for their own service. I have discussed taxis at great length and I do not wish to seem to condemn taxi drivers. They have effectively curtailed a potential market. There is a huge suppressed demand for taxis which cannot be expressed because they are in a monopoly position. Since the latest demonstration there has been an enormous amount of media comment on what needs to be done about taxis. However, it is plain to the dogs in the street that we need more of them. The industry also needs to be regulated, expanded and upgraded.

For two years I was on the local authority taxi committee and I argued with the Fianna Fáil defenders of the taxi monopoly. They said taxis had a role to play and it was in their interest to increase numbers. As a compromise, it was agreed to issue 200 taxi plates this year. We got the answer to that compromise last Thursday on the streets of Dublin.

The Minister cannot say he is committed to the implementation of the DTI and then balk when a hard decision has to be made. Whether it is on Luas, taxis or road pricing, the public interest has to hold sway occasionally rather than vested interests all the time. The Minister cannot say he is committed to the construction of the ring road and then fail to provide funding for the ancillary roads such as the Dundrum bypass and the green route, which have to be in place before the Southern Cross can be opened. The Minister cannot say he is committed to a co-ordinated approach when the Minister for Public Enterprise, replying to a parliamentary question I put down last week suggesting that some of the vehicle registration tax might go towards funding the Dublin Bus fleet, delivers a succinct one liner stating the Minister has no role in this matter. Is it credible that the Minister with responsibility for the prime public transport system in the capital has no role in securing funding for it? It is hardly a co-ordinated approach when the Minister for Public Enterprise cannot speak to the Minister for Finance and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government will not listen to the recommendations of the DTO.

There is a plethora of bodies responsible for traffic in Dublin - the four Dublin local authorities, Dublin Bus, CIE, the National Roads Authority, the Department of the Environment and Local Government, the Garda, the carriage office, the new director of Dublin traffic and the DTO. They all have wonderful and worthy plans but this is all they will be unless someone takes the political initiative to implement and co-ordinate them. This is the job of the Government. There must be decisive action now if we are to save Dublin and have a city fit to live in and a capital we can be proud of. I commend the motion to the House.

Sitting suspended at 8.25 p.m. and resumed at 8.30 p.m.
Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 70; Níl, 57.

  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Blaney, Harry.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Matt.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, John (Wexford).
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kitt, Michael.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McGennis, Marian.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Moffatt, Tom.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Flynn, Noel.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Kennedy, Michael.
  • O'Malley, Desmond.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wade, Eddie.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Wright, G. V.


  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Belton, Louis.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Liam.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Cosgrave, Michael.
  • Coveney, Hugh.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • Owen, Nora.
  • Penrose, William.
  • Perry, John.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Enright, Thomas.
  • Farrelly, John.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Éamon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Higgins, Michael.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McDowell, Derek.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Reynolds, Gerard.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sheehan, Patrick.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Upton, Pat.
  • Yates, Ivan.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Callely; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Sheehan.
Question declared carried.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.