Other Questions. - Public Transport.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

85 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport his proposals aimed at shortening journey times in Dublin and the greater Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2695/03]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

92 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport his plans to reduce travel times in the greater Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2619/03]

Gay Mitchell

Question:

104 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport his plans to reduce rail travelling times in the greater Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2647/03]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

267 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport his plans to improve commercial transport travel times throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3005/03]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

270 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport his proposals to reduce transport costs by way of reducing travel time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3008/03]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

272 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport if he has set the travel time objectives he intends to achieve over the next three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3010/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 85, 92, 104, 267, 270 and 272 together.

A guiding objective for me is to improve accessibility to work, business and services through the reduction of absolute travel times and journey time variances for individuals and firms. The key strategies for achieving this are by improving public transport within cities and improving key national road routes outside cities. This is being implemented through a major investment in public transport. In particular, within the framework of the national development plan, a wide range of initiatives has been taken to upgrade Dublin's transport infrastructure and services and reduce congestion and associated costs. This includes both heavy and light rail services, bus services, and measures such as quality bus corridors and cycle lanes. Investment in both bus and rail services nationally has also been undertaken.

I am also committed to the full implementation in the years ahead of the national roads programme provided for in the NDP. This will improve the reliability of the road transport system by removing bottlenecks and remedying capacity deficiencies. Investment in national roads is being complemented by a sustained high level of investment in the non-national roads programme overseen by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government.

Is the Minister satisfied with service targets which have been set down by Irish Rail in relation to suburban and DART routes? Is he aware that there is a 78% performance rate on the DART service and a 62% performance rate on the Connolly Station-Maynooth line? That equates to two out of every ten DART trains being late and four out of every ten trains on the Maynooth line being late. Is the Minister satisfied with that?

Has the Minister given any consideration to the introduction of PSO – public service – contracts, especially in light of the new partnership and benchmarking agreements? Both of those agreements gave firm commitments in relation to performance and accountability.

When will integrated ticketing come into operation? Does the Minister agree that, in line with any opening up or franchising of public transport services in the greater Dublin area, integrated ticketing must be considered?

I share the Deputy's interest in securing an improvement by Irish Rail in timetables, efficiency and performance. At a recent meeting I reminded the board of Irish Rail of the wish of this House that those services should continue to be improved. I particularly mentioned the DART, in which very substantial additional public funds are now being invested to lengthen the platforms, increase train sizes from six to eight carriages and improve timing. The present capacity of a DART train is approximately 900 passengers. The change from six to eight carriages will increase the capacity to about 1,300. That change of configuration will bring a substantial improvement.

With regard to PSOs, we are committed to signing agreements with the three companies during 2003. The services of the three companies are procured. In relation to integrated ticketing, I fully accept that this is a must in any franchising model, as is the integration of the management of the network.

In relation to DART, was consent obtained from the Minister's Department concerning the decision by Irish Rail to cancel the tendering process for improvement of signalling within the central corridor? What level of cost was involved and was that the reason for the cancellation of those contracts? In light of the fact that traffic gridlock costs Bus Éireann over €18 million per annum, with rush hour traffic speeds now down to five miles per hour, does the Minister agree there are severe limitations on the development of bus services in that context and that any PSO contract must take serious account of that issue? What immediate steps will the Minister take, such as expansion of Operation Freeflow throughout the year in Dublin city, to address that problem? Will the Minister indicate when he intends to introduce a mechanism for integrated ticketing, in light of the fact that he is considering the franchising out of services in the Dublin area within the next 18 months?

I am genuinely interested in the views of the Deputy and his party on the question of opening up the market. I would welcome a fuller discussion on that at some appropriate point. I believe the companies and the country are clear as to where I stand on the matter and I am interested in establishing where my colleagues in this House stand on it. I have no details on the signalling project but I will revert to the Deputy on that matter.

I accept the Deputy's comments in relation to gridlock and congestion in Dublin. We have to complete the M50 and get the Luas up and running. There are also many other projects to be completed to relieve pressure on the main national routes. We are moving ahead with the Monasterevin route, the Kildare bypass is well under way and there are nine or ten other projects in hand, including the Dublin Port tunnel. When all of those are completed, that should greatly ease the pressure. However, car ownership is growing dramatically.

Does the Minister accept that the solutions to many of the problems in the Dublin area are far simpler than major infrastructural projects? He said the majority of public transport users travel on buses and that is certainly the case in the greater Dublin area. Does he agree that the two key problems in relation to buses are the traffic gridlock in the city and the lack of bus priority? The problem with bus priority is a total lack of co-ordination. As the Minister is aware, the DTO underspent its budget for bus priority by €10 million. Does this not underline the urgent need for a greater Dublin transport authority? Why has the Minister cut off that legislation?

On traffic gridlock, we know that where the traffic and parking laws are enforced, as they are with Operation Freeflow at Christmas time, city traffic moves properly and buses can run to schedule. Why then has the Minister failed to secure adequate funding to provide the long promised traffic corps and what kind of priority will he give to that now?

There is a later question about the traffic corps. I agree with the Deputy that some of the solutions to congestion are simpler, as can be shown when we implement Operation Freeflow. The Dublin transport authority and I have discussed that. I recently had a meeting with the DTO and the director of traffic from Dublin Corporation at which we discussed these issues to see how we could bring about quicker solutions.

Quality bus corridors, to which the Deputy referred, are clearly part of the solution. There are now nine of those covering 100 kilometres.

They are not completed. There are bottlenecks all along them.

I agree entirely. They are not, but it takes time to build them. There are 100 kilometres of bus lanes in the city at present and there are a further three lanes being developed as we speak. I have told the authority that the Government wants it to press ahead.

There is now a new quality bus corridor office, a specialised office charged with a single job of putting in these quality bus corridors as quickly as possible. They are a major solution to freeing up buses in the city and I am a strong supporter of them.

There is no co-ordination of the agencies.

The Green Party believes the model the Minister seems to want to follow, the UK bus service privatisation, liberalisation or whatever he wants to call it, is in fact a very poor one. That is not the view of the Green Party only. We as a party were responsible for bringing over officers from the European Commission who have done extensive studies in the area of comparing the effect of liberalisation of the British model and other European models. The British model, in almost every way according to the European Commission, came across as being not the way to go.

Would the Minister agree there is a manifest contradiction in our broad transport policies in regard to Dublin? We are spending billions of euros building motorways leading to the M50, and we will have to spend more billions of euros upgrading the M50 to cope with the traffic which will be pushed on to it as a result. At the same time we expect to be able to reduce traffic or try to switch people in the city over to other vehicles, spending hundreds of millions of euros on bus or other light rail transport systems. Is massive investment in rail infrastructure, to allow for long distance rail commuting rather than car commuting, not the only long-term way of avoiding gridlock in Dublin? Should that not get precedence over the motorways, which will bring traffic to an inevitable gridlock no matter how wide we make the M50, once it hits Dublin? we cannot build all these roads and then cope with traffic when the traffic hits the city of Dublin.

I am not proposing that we follow the UK model in public transport.

The Minister was singing its praises a minute ago.

I said that in the London bus market, as opposed to the other markets and as opposed to the rail, the franchising model has been successful in that narrow end of it. I recommend that the Deputy look at Stockholm as well. In Stockholm there is a regulator who designs the network and procures the services for the routes. The number of services has increased dramatically, which is what it is about at the end of the day. It is about making sure that we have more services for the public. We cannot on the one hand criticise CIE and then on the other hand say that other models should not be tried. We must try other models.

On the question of investment in rail, the present level of investment on roads is €1.2 billion this year and the investment on public transport is €650 million. That is the present ratio. I hear Deputy Ryan's arguments and I understand from where he is coming, given his party's position as I understand it.

The large section of the expenditure on public transport is not capital expenditure. It is ongoing funding to CIE and therefore it is duplicitous to compare one with the other. The roads expenditure is pure capital expenditure. In looking at a like-for-like comparison of capital expenditure on new public transport projects as against new road projects, the ratio is something like six to one.

Of the €650 million, €400 million is capital expenditure and about €250 million is current expenditure.

Would the Minister consider expanding Operation Freeflow to service the city centre and the city of Dublin all year round? It is a success during the Christmas period and it could have an immense benefit in clearing some of the congestion evident throughout the year.

Would the Minister consider, in the short-term at least, running a shuttle service through the Phoenix Park tunnel to relieve the congestion experienced by commuters along the quays? What type of debate does he intend to have on the type of service to be run from the city centre to Dublin Airport or will there be any debate on whether it will be an underground, metro or heavy rail service?

On the quality bus corridor office, should more resources be put into work on the ground rather than into establishing more offices to direct traffic and direct policy in Dublin? Is it true that, rather than another bureaucratic office, all we need to establish these quality bus corridors is a can of paint and policy initiatives by the local authorities?

I wish the Deputy luck with a can of paint trying to put in QBCs.

His councillors could consider voting for it for a start.

I will have to get Deputy Naughten out on the streets of Dublin with that idea. I agree with him about Operation Freeflow. I would like to have that operate every day of the year. It takes enormous resources. They stop all the roadworks in the city, the trainee gardaí from Templemore come out and there is a massive effort. I acknowledge that it does teach us a lesson that if we can sweat our present road assets and manage them better, we can get much more out of them.

The Minister should set up a traffic corps as he promised.

That is one solution.

The Minister is not doing it.

Which Department is responsible for it?

I will come to that later. It is in a later question. To implement an Operation Freeflow type measure requires substantial resources and I will look at it more closely.

I had many discussions about the Phoenix Park tunnel. Apparently it is quite narrow. I will get the Deputy the details.

It is wide enough to put a train.

All my expert advice is that it is totally unsuitable for any kind of passenger movement, being extremely narrow.

There are passenger services on it.

Without very substantial investment, it would not be safe to use.

Special trains use it.

Mainly freight.

No, passenger services.

I will have to check that.

The Minister will see it used the next time Kerry are in an all-Ireland final, if they ever get there.

There are other proposals. I will discuss this further with the Deputy when the Strategic Rail Review is published because there is another proposal in regard to this tunnel which is worth looking at.

The airport metro is the way forward. I have told the Railway Procurement Agency to get on with that quickly because we need it urgently. It made a presentation to me. There is very substantial private sector interest in developing the metro from Dublin Airport to the city centre. There were a number of decisions to be taken about which of three routes through the north part of the city is more efficient. I will put that report to the Cabinet soon and we will take it before the House without too much delay.

Although I do not have the figure to hand, when I visited Cork recently I recall that I was told that it costs between €1 million and €2 million to put in a quality bus corridor. Obviously one would need a fair few cans of paint for that.

How much will the office cost?

I do not have that figure, but it is no harm to have one or two set individuals charged with putting in QBCs.