Other Questions.

National Car Test.

Joe Sherlock


113 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Transport his views on recent reports that there is a lack of consistency in the testing equipment used in national car test centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6797/04]

As required by EU law, testing of certain passenger cars has been mandatory in Ireland since January 2000. The National Car Testing Service Limited holds a ten year contract to carry out testing on behalf of the State. The company was awarded the contract following an international public tendering competition conducted in accordance with EU procurement law.

I understand the equipment used to carry out NCT tests was selected by NCTS on the basis of its capability to accurately and consistently test vehicles in accordance with detailed technical specifications prescribed by the then Department of the Environment and Local Government which had responsibility for vehicle testing when introduced. I am also advised that all NCTS vehicle testing staff are qualified vehicle mechanics. This requirement accords with the contract specifications which additionally requires all testers to undergo rigorous and comprehensive initial training before they commence testing customers cars and undergo regular review and developmental training. A primary purpose of the initial and ongoing training is to ensure that each tester follows standardised test procedures.

The test process is subject to regular internal scrutiny by NCTS management. Where operational deficiencies, such as a need for retraining, equipment recalibration or for procedural improvements, are identified these are addressed immediately. Furthermore, all elements of NCTS test operations are subject to continuous external supervision by the Department of Transport. The detailed supervision is carried out on behalf of the Department by a consortium consisting of PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Automobile Association.

During the ongoing supervision process, particular attention is paid to ensuring that the various performance standards set out in the contract between the company and the Minister are complied with on an ongoing basis. These standards apply to premises, test equipment, staff, test arrangements, facilities management, information technology infrastructure and operations, customer service and provision of public information.

More than 630,000 first tests and 300,000 retests were completed in 2003. I am satisfied that the measures I have outlined ensure that as far as is possible in such a high volume repetitive process, the test results reflect the condition of the vehicles at the time of testing.

My question does not relate to staff or staff training, it relates to recent newspaper reports which indicated a lack of consistency in the equipment being used in test centres. Several examples were cited in the reports of cars having failed the NCT in one particular lane and passing it in another. Will the Minister of State explain the inconsistency in that regard? What is the Department doing about it? What is the Minister's view in this regard?

The report states that a person whose car fails the test in a particular lane has the right to have his or her car tested in another lane. Is that the case? Do people have the right to have their cars tested in an alternative lane? How can the Minister explain the inconsistency in the results between lanes in the same test centre?

I remind the Deputy that there are currently more than 300 testers undertaking one million tests every year. Of course, there will be some variability involved. The Deputy's question relates specifically to the lanes. I am frequently updated on such issues. The calibration is regularly tested and there should be no difference between lanes. A car which fails a test in one lane should fail in the others. In regard to the case referred to by the Deputy, I have grave suspicions about whether there was anything wrong with the lanes and will follow up the matter with the possibility of taking disciplinary action.

I congratulate the Minister of State on his visit to Roscommon at the weekend and on his success in getting my namesake nominated.

Will the Minister agree that the perception exists that national car testing is a money making racket and that the objective is to ensure a high failure rate within the system? Will he also agree that media reports such as the ones referred to by Deputy Shortall give rise to serious concerns regarding the integrity of the system? The Minister previously indicated he was considering the introduction of an appeals system. Has he given further consideration to that idea and, if so, what plans does he have to put such a system in place?

On the Deputy's point about national car testing being a money making system, I remind him his party introduced the system in 1996 when in coalition government. I believe we are using the best method of testing and that a singular entity should undertake the tests. Again, on the Deputy's point about national car testing being a money making system, that is always the case when one puts such a service in the hands of one company. I agree with the system introduced by the Deputy's party when in government.

The Deputy asked about media reports and the integrity of same. I have been castigated on a number of programmes for supporting the NCTS. It is a case of the big bad wolf company taking on the little people. There are 57 elements to each test and a person who fails to comply with them is breaking the law. The Government and others have been consistently castigated for not enforcing the law. The NCTS is enforcing legislation in this regard and the Government is being castigated for catching people who are breaking the law.

On the Deputy's third point, the system is examined every year. The contract is a ten year one of which there will be a mid-term review next year. I and the NCTS favour the introduction of an independent appeals system. The company has no hesitation in standing over what it is doing and would welcome an independent appeals system.

Is the Minister aware of the concern, arising from such inconsistency, to the effect that even a new car off the assembly line would pass no more than two or three tests in one week? In other words, vehicles are often damaged in the course of a test while others pass readily.

Will the Minister comment on why cars displaying the word "taxi" as gaelige are being refused an NCT?

I would like clarification from the Minister on an earlier point. Newspaper reports, which seem factual, indicated there are inconsistencies between lanes within test centres. Is the Minister saying that is not the case? Does he stand over the system in respect of consistency between lanes?

I will take Deputy Shortall's question first. Calibrations are regularly checked but there can be inconsistencies between lanes. I believe the case referred to involved human as opposed to mechanical error.

By the tester?

Yes. I mentioned earlier, before the Deputy came into the House, that disciplinary action may be taken in that case. The NCTS does not refuse to test cars displaying the word "taxi" as gaelige.

I am told it does.

I will look into the matter though I understand that is not the case.

Deputy Durkan mentioned new cars. New cars do not undergo the——

That was only for the purpose of comparison. A brand new car in mint condition put through the test three times would fail a subsequent test.

They do not have to do the test.

Thanks be to God.

Before 2000, all cars had to be tested and there was a very high failure rate. However, the pass rate for cars registered in 2000 coming on-stream now is up to 69% or 70%. We are getting to the stage now where the pass rate will be much higher because we do not have the older models to test. That is the line being followed at present.

Public Transport.

Jan O'Sullivan


114 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Transport the options being considered for changing the height of the Dublin Port tunnel; the cost involved of each of these options; the timescale involved in making the necessary alternations to the tunnel; when he intends to decide on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6780/04]

My Department engaged Atkins to review the feasibility, safety implications and cost of raising the height of the Dublin Port tunnel. Atkins was requested to review a range of options for increasing the operational height of the tunnel, their feasibility, having regard to the state of implementation of the current design and build contract, and the likely additional costs and impact on the project completion date.

The final report was received from Atkins on 8 December 2003. I am currently reviewing the findings of the report and have sought further information from the National Roads Authority pertaining to its conclusions with a view to reaching a final conclusion on this issue as quickly as possible.

Was there any point in asking those questions? I asked the Minister when he intends to make a decision and the cost implications of the various options put forward by Atkins but he has not provided any information on that.

This is yet another area where it appears the Minister does not know what he is doing. He raised this as an issue because some lobby group was in touch with him and he is holding up the whole Dublin Port tunnel project because of it. It is appropriate that the Minister of State is sitting beside the Minister today because it was exactly this time last year that I raised the question of the need to reintroduce height restrictions for trucks. Does the Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, remember that? That was March last year and the Minister of State said he would have the new regulations in by May. That is in the Official Report; the Minister can check it. Twelve months later there is no sign of those regulations. In a recent newspaper report a spokesman for the Minister, Deputy Brennan, said the Government was considering a ban but that this had no implications for the height of the tunnel. What does that mean?

That means nothing.

If the Minister were to reintroduce the height restriction that had existed previously, trucks which met those height restrictions would fit in the tunnel. They would not be a problem.

A later question on the Order Paper deals with this issue.

There would not be an issue about the height of the tunnel if the regulations were reintroduced. When does the Minister intend reintroducing those regulations? There will not be an issue about the tunnel if he reintroduces the regulations. Do we want to have super trucks on our roads anyway?

Otherwise, we will have to let the air out of the tyres.

That is a Kildare solution. I want to make it clear that I am not holding up the tunnel in any way. The project is going ahead at the planned pace. It has not lost a single day because of this issue.

They do not know where they are going because the Minister has not made up his mind. There is significant uncertainty about the project.

I will answer the questions if the Deputy wants me to, but how can I deal with them if she continues to interrupt me?

The Atkins report was put on the Minister's desk on 8 December last. That is three months ago and we still do not have a decision on it. Is it not the case, and this aspect has been lost in the debate, that the bore hole is significantly wider than the core where the vehicles will travel? The boring machine, therefore, has no implications in terms of the finished size of the core. Is it not the case that the issue is the cost of facilitating these vehicles which are slightly higher than many of the existing vehicles on the road? Is it not the case also that these vehicles, which are slightly higher than the ordinary heavy goods vehicles, ensure that export and import costs are reduced by the additional capacity they provide and that a small 30 cm increase could address the problem before the inner core is put in?

The Deputy is right. It is 11 m in diameter and the height is coming in at 4.9 m. That comprises 4.6 m and the extra space for headroom which brings the height to 4.9 m. If we wanted to do it there is plenty of scope inside the bored tunnels.

There is plenty of room. The issue is the cost.

The Deputy is talking about a slight shift in the ceiling or something like that to deal with that issue, if we choose to do so.

No. I am talking about changing the verges.

I acknowledge that I have this report for a few months. I will publish the report in due course but I was not satisfied with the range of prices given to me in the report to effect a slight increase in the height of the tunnel. The range of prices given to me differed by as much as €60 million or €70 million between the lowest and the highest estimate. I could not make a decision on the basis of that kind of money; it is just too much. The minimum time estimate given to me was two or three months and the longest time estimate in the report was up to 11 or 12 months or over a year. Again, that type of professional advice did not meet the requirement I had hoped would give me some certainty before I enter into any type of decision on this area.

What was the lowest cost estimate?

I have instructed the National Roads Authority to formally ask the contractor, who is on site, to give a specific definite quotation and timeframe so that at least I will know for definite before we take any decision on the tunnel. The tunnel is not being held up by this in any way. I check that on a weekly basis. If that was the case, we would move on this much faster. The implications for getting this wrong could run into hundreds of millions of euro, given that there is a contractor on site with a definite contract and I am not going to enter into that lightly.

There is a question on the height of the trucks on the Order Paper which the Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, will deal with in detail.

The Minister has the first and second Atkins reports. Why has he still not made up his mind?

I have one Atkins report.

The first one was in October and the Minister got the final one in December. Why is the Minister now asking the contractor for a price? The Minister is the person who is supposed to decide.

I told the Deputy the reason.

The Minister got an expert report. The options were presented to him——

I decided to get the quotation.

——and he still will not make up his mind.

The Deputy is not listening to me. I explained that the range of prices in the Atkins report was as much as €60 million or €70 million. Atkins told me it could be this figure or that figure, and the gap is €60 million. I cannot take a stab at that out of the blue. The report told me it could take two months or a year. That is what Atkins told me, and I will release that in due course when we get some more progress on this issue. To make progress on that I asked for definite quotations from the contractor through the NRA,. That will give me a definite price and timeframe. We can make a definite decision based on that information.

It is a bit like the Atkins diet rather than the Atkins report.

Can the Minister say definitely that he wants super queues on——

That is a separate issue.

It is not. It is a central issue to the tunnel.

I wish to refer to the serious questions we asked in March last year. Deputy Shortall is right. My recollection is that the Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, promised regulations on the height of trucks but he also said in response to questions, and I am particularly concerned about this, that the Government would ensure that no trucks coming out of the port tunnel would be able to access the city quays. In other words, we would get what we paid for in the port tunnel, namely, safe city quays and a far safer traffic management system. Does the Minister have to regulate to ensure that port traffic does not exit onto the quays? Is that the Government position or does responsibility for that lie with the city council? Does the Minister have any influence in the city council to make sure that trucks do not exit from the tunnel onto the city quays? I would be interested to hear if the Minister has any views on that matter.

That is the commitment he gave to the House.

It is a matter for the city council to deal with the banning of trucks in the city. It is my strong view, and I have conveyed it to the council on a few occasions, that trucks should be banned from the city centre once the tunnel opens.

If Dublin City Council is against that, does the Minister have any role in enforcing such a view to ensure the city quays are cleared of port traffic trucks?

Dublin City Council is already engaged on this issue. It is undertaking a number of studies and reviews. I believe it will arrive at the same conclusion.

What about the traffic signs?

Obviously this has been a great success to date.

Road Safety.

Phil Hogan


115 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Transport when the fifth progress report on road safety will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6729/04]

Enda Kenny


149 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Transport his future plans for road safety; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6602/04]

Dinny McGinley


153 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Transport when he will publish his new road safety strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6603/04]

Ruairí Quinn


187 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Transport the new measures he intends to introduce to increase safety on the roads in light of the rise in road death numbers for the first six weeks of 2004 in contrast to 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6784/04]

I propose to take Question Nos. 115, 149, 153 and 187 together.

An Agreed Programme for Government states that a three-year road safety strategy will be developed and will target speeding, drink driving, seat-belt wearing and pedestrian safety to reduce deaths and injuries. At my request, the high level group on road safety has prepared a draft new strategy for the period 2004-06 and I have recently received approval from Government to publish the strategy. Arrangements are being put in place to provide for printing and publishing of the document as soon as possible.

The preparation of the new strategy has taken account of the achievements in meeting the targets set out in the Road to Safety Strategy 1998-2002, a comprehensive review of that initiative and further positive trends established in 2003, and the evolving developments in relation to the EU Third Road Safety Action Plan. The strategy, which includes a report on progress achieved during the term of the previous strategy, will outline a range of issues it is intended will be pursued over the period in question. In overall terms, measures will focus on the areas of education, enforcement, engineering and legislation and will target the key areas of speeding, driving while intoxicated and seat-belt wearing.

New legislation is being prepared in my Department which will provide support for the deployment of key initiatives in the area of speed limits and drink driving and will further enhance the enforcement capacity of the Garda Síochána.

The number of fatalities resulting from road collisions since the start of the year is a cause of particular concern. The total for the first two months is 29 higher than for the same period last year. This situation has been exacerbated by the fact that nine lives were lost in two tragic incidents, of which the House will be aware.

The difficult start to 2004 will be given particular consideration by the high level group to ensure that the measures recommended in the new strategy will be implemented as quickly as possible. In addition, the group will monitor the ongoing effects of those measures and recommend adjustment to the focus of the strategy.

I am determined to pursue a strategic approach to the improvement of road safety to achieve long-term sustainable reductions in road casualties. The forthcoming strategy will set out a comprehensive range of measures to ensure that we can build on the success of recent years — a reduction from 472 road fatalities in 1997 to 341 in 2003, a fall of 27.8% over a period when the number of vehicles, drivers and kilometres travelled on our roads have increased significantly.

I thank the Minister for his long-winded reply. I had hoped he might answer the question I asked on when the report will be published. It has been significantly leaked to the media. It has gone before Government and it has gone for printing. It was a simple question, when will it be published? We do not have a road safety strategy currently. Some 29 people more than last year have been killed on the roads. In light of that what measures will the Minister put in place to ensure that the penalty points system is effective and is enforced? Will he agree that the current system whereby penalty points can take months to be issued as they continue to accumulate, with gardaí posted on long, wide, safe sections of road, is not encouraging drivers to abide by the rules of the road?

How does the Minister explain the fact that there was no road safety strategy last year? The 1998 strategy finished at the end of 2002. Why has there been such a delay? The 1998 strategy provided for the introduction of penalty points for a range of 69 offences. To date the penalty points cover only three areas, speeding, seat belts and insurance. The Minister has been promising for a long time to extend the penalty points system. When does he intend to do that?

I propose to extend the penalty points to dangerous overtaking and careless driving within the next month or so.

What about the others?

As regards the strategy for 2003, that was the best year ever for the roads of Ireland.

Written answers follow Adjournment Debate.