Priority Questions.

Public Transport Regulation.

Denis Naughten

Question:

40 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport when he intends to update the Road Transport Act 1932; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12728/04]

I plan to enact legislation during 2004 which will repeal the Road Transport Act 1932 and put in place reformed arrangements for the procurement and market regulation of public transport services.

I set out my policy proposals for public transport reform in statements to the public transport partnership forum in November 2002 and the Joint Committee on Transport in June 2003. As I have stated previously it is now my intention to establish an independent procurement and regulatory body for public transport which will operate on a national basis. While recent public discussion on public transport reform has focused almost exclusively on organisational issues and provider concerns, I remain convinced of the need for significant reform in the interests of the public transport user and the taxpayer.

With regard to a new regulatory regime for bus services in the Dublin area, I remain firmly of the view, supported by a number of professional studies and experience in other countries, that franchising is the most effective means of achieving genuine market opening to new entrants. I also remain open to additional suggestions provided they are directed at achieving the objective of genuine market opening to new entrants. Likewise, I am open to reasonable proposals relating to the pace of the introduction of competition so long as this objective is achieved in an acceptable time frame. I am currently finalising my proposals with regard to bus services outside Dublin.

Talks between officials from my Department and the CIE trade unions on public transport reform are to recommence on 12 May. An intensive schedule of meetings over five full days has been arranged by the independent Chair appointed by the Labour Relations Commission. It remains my intention to proceed with legislation on public transport reform in 2004.

I wish to ask the Minister two separate specific questions. The first question is about the timetable for the legislation. This time two years ago in An Agreed Programme for Government, the Government promised reform of this legislation. The Minister has made numerous announcements to this effect since he came to office. The House is now being informed that it will happen during 2004. I ask the Minister to be more specific about the timetable.

In light of the ongoing delay, is the Minister concerned, as are his officials, regarding the issuing of grandfather rights to private operators under the current legislation? More than 130 licences were issued in 2003. These people could have grandfather rights which would give them an additional financial asset over and above licences issued under a new regulatory regime. There is no mechanism either to charge the commercial value or even the cost of those licences. Will the Minister agree that legislation is urgently required?

I agree that the legislation is urgently required but it will not be taken in this session.

I figured that out.

I cannot see that the legislation can be brought before the House within the next couple of weeks that remain to the end of June. I am determined that it will be put through in the course of 2004.

The Deputy will be aware that I have been very consistent in the policy on grandfather rights. There have been a number of national stoppages. I have been asked by the Deputies opposite to engage in discussions. I have engaged in those discussions and another round is taking place. We have had seven meetings since January with the trade unions on this subject. Another five days of intensive talks are now about to commence. It was my response to the request to engage in these discussions which added the extra time but I believe it will be worth it in the end.

I take the point being made by the Deputy on grandfather rights. I will endeavour in the legislation to ensure that no rights are established before the legislation which would give people automatic rights after the legislation is enacted. When the regulator is conducting contests for routes or packages of routes, he can conduct an open contest irrespective of who has the route.

Will the Minister agree that if he had commenced the discussions when he came into office, we would not now be in this situation? My understanding and that of the Minister's Department as a result of legal advice is that there will be grandfather rights involved. What impact will this have on the franchising of routes? Has the Department any estimate of the financial loss to the State? The licences granted to Aircoach were worth €15 million. This is already a significant loss to the State and there could be more significant losses in the future.

On the one hand the Deputy regrets that legislation is not in place in order to open up the market and that is my wish also. On the other hand he is worrying about the loss of financial income to the State by virtue of the fact that it has not happened yet. I am not sure where the Deputy is coming from on this matter.

Nobody knows where the Minister is coming from.

I have been very clear in what I want to do. I am seeking to have the legislation completed and put before the House.

Light Rail Project.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

41 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport if, in view of the very high cost of building a metro and the need for high passenger numbers to make it viable, he will consider selecting a route which serves sites with high-density development potential and funding it by means of development levies from these sites; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12721/04]

Question No. 44 in the name of Deputy Eamon Ryan should have been taken with Question No. 41. However, that question falls because the Deputy is not present.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to develop a metro with a link to Dublin Airport. I have received the revised outline business case for line 1 of a metro from the Railway Procurement Agency, which involves a line from Dublin Airport to the city centre. I am finalising my proposals on a metro in the context of the wider transport needs of the greater Dublin area and I expect to bring these proposals to the Government shortly.

Metro systems are designed to cater for the needs of areas with substantial passenger flows. Among the important considerations in selecting a route will be the level of expected patronage and the potential for raising development levies as a contribution towards the cost of the project.

Estimates of the cost of providing a metro from Dublin Airport or Swords to the city centre range from €2 billion to €5 billion. Even the lower figure is a considerable amount of money which would be a massive investment, but the cost to the taxpayer of the public private partnership route proposed by the Minister could be much greater than the estimates I have cited.

There is a case for developing a route from Swords via the airport to the city centre as it would allow stops on a number of sites which have the potential for high-density development. Questions have already been raised as to whether Dublin has sufficient population density to support a metro. The proposed Swords route would provide a critical mass and, more important, a source of income to fund a metro project. Funding could be generated by imposing levies on developers who own land along the route and stand to benefit substantially from such major transport infrastructure development. Would it not be proper that such people should make a contribution towards the cost of this important infrastructure? The case for doing so has been made and tried elsewhere, notably in Washington DC.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has already agreed to fund an extension to Luas by way of development levies. Such is the level of interest in an extension of a proposed metro from the airport to Swords that Fingal County Council has offered to pay the cost by means of development levies. Does it not make sense that the property owners, the value of whose property stands to be enhanced considerably by a metro, should make a significant contribution to its cost? Is that not the fairest and most logical approach to funding a metro project?

I agree with the Deputy and want levies to be used to help fund a metro. I intend to ask the Railway Procurement Agency to engage with Dublin City Council and the county councils to use levies to the full in the development of a metro. The Deputy will be aware that a levy has been proposed to raise funds with regard to the development of Luas at Cherryfield. In addition, Cork County Council has commenced procedures to raise levies to help fund the reopening of the railway line to Midleton. Levies have been used before and I intend that they will be used in the context of a metro.

I also agree that an extension to Swords, if it is possible, would give a metro greater critical mass. Taking a metro through high-density areas also makes sense given that it would have to break even operationally, as is the case with the Luas. The contract for the Luas requires Connex, a private French company operating the system, to break even over the next five years. While the State pays the capital cost and interest, the company must cover operating costs on a day-to-day basis through fares. A similar structure is envisaged for the development of a metro and the Planning and Development Act 2000 would be used to raise capital through levies from property owners along the route. The operator of the system would also have to break even.

Incidentally, there is increasing scope for the private sector to fund stations when railway lines are being developed. Iarnród Éireann has received proposals from the private sector indicating it is willing to develop and pay for railway stations at no cost to the taxpayer as the company opens up new areas for development. Any such proposals will have to fully comply with planning provisions.

As regards cost, advisers engaged by the Railway Procurement Agency have estimated the cost of the various options for phase 1 of a metro project. The current figure envisaged is €1.2 billion in total direct capital costs at 2002 prices. This figure increases substantially when one estimates a final cost which takes account of expected inflation between now and when the service commences, VAT fees, interest charges, the cost of risk transfer and provision for risk contingency. According to the RPA, an accurate cost for the metro cannot be ascertained until the final structure of the project has been decided and competitive bids received from international consortia. This will still be before a contract is signed.

Under Standing Orders, Deputy Eamon Ryan's question falls because he was not present when it was called. I will, however, allow the Deputy to ask a supplementary question and I will extend the time available for the question to 12 minutes. I do not want my decision to be taken as a precedent.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his courtesy and I will not seek to have his decision taken as a precedent. The Minister appears to have indicated recently that in addition to the metro option, he is considering an alternative option by Iarnród Éireann that it would use existing railway lines to develop a link to Dublin Airport from the DART line probably somewhere north of Maynooth. Does he agree that the real potential benefit from the metro proposal is in planning as it would concentrate development along new lines and service institutions and areas such as DCU, the Mater Hospital, Ballymun and Swords? Would it not be preferable to concentrate planning along a new line, rather than developing the existing DART railway line? Will he indicate whether his Department favours the metro proposal or the alternative Iarnród Éireann proposal? The latter would be a third rate solution that would not stand the test of time, which is test the Minister indicated would be used to decide which option we should take.

Will the Minister indicate the reason neither private nor public funding for a metro has not been included in his Department's five-year capital programme? The small amount of private funding included in the programme could not possibly fund the construction of a metro over a five-year period and nor would the small capital programme allocated for public transport cover its costs? Why does the capital programme not include funding for a metro?

In the past year and a half, the Minister has stated on a number of occasions that proposals on a metro would be brought to Cabinet for decision within weeks. I believe I have received about ten replies in which the Minister has made such a promise. Does he still believe that to be the case?

One of these days I will be right. As regards the question on the choice between a metro and Irish Rail's proposal, having examined both options I fully support the metro option. That is the Department's position. Iarnród Éireann has made some interesting proposals, some of which we have acted on, including upgrading the DART, developing double and quadruple tracking and resignalling parts of the railway network. Much of the work the company has done in developing its proposals is valuable and I thank it for them.

A metro offers the best long-term solution. The first line alone would cater for 24 million passengers per annum. This is equivalent to what the DART and the suburban rail combined are currently carrying. I agree with the Deputy's suggested route from DCU to Tara Street via the Mater hospital and O'Connell Street. The Government has yet to finalise that route but it seems to be the right one.

The Deputy posed a very astute question to the PPP. It is not involved because of the structure proposed to finance the metro. This structure involves the State paying nothing until the train runs for the first time. There would be an 18 month process for tendering and a construction period of up to four years. There would therefore be no money for a five year period. A fixed availability payment of €200 million to €300 million per annum, according to the RPA, would be made once the metro was up and running. It is like a fixed mortgage as it is less painful over a period of time. That is the present suggested structure of the PPP; the State would not put up capital money, the international consortia would design, build, finance and arguably operate it. An external firm will operate the Luas so it is likely the same will occur with the metro.

I confess that I have sent the proposal back to the RPA more than once for additional information. I was not satisfied with some suggestions but I hope to have a decision soon.

It is a bit disingenuous to sell it on the basis that we will not have to pay a cent until the trains are running but will pay through the nose for it after that. Future generations will be in hock if we go about it the way the Minister proposes.

I would like the Minister to clarify his position on the development levies. He said he was exploring the possibility of development levies. I referred to development levies to raise funding towards the cost of construction, not the operating costs. If he is serious about that and there is much sense in taking that approach, surely it is impossible to combine it with the standard PPP. He should construct a mechanism for financing the metro at an early stage based on raising considerable funds from development levies. However, the Minister seemed to imply from his answer that he will supplement running costs from development levies. If development levies are to be included, the work needs to be done before the model for funding the project is decided. What work has been done thus far?

If the Minister is proposing to examine the possibility of using development levies, the route selection is absolutely critical. He will be attempting to serve those sites where there is potential for development. The proposed route outlined by the RPA, which goes through my constituency, serves low density housing which will not support a metro. There needs to be some variation on that route if sites that have potential for development are to be served. The Minister needs to start looking at that now.

I am not saying levies will be used for current purposes as they have to be used for capital purposes. I take the point the Deputy made. If the capital cost is to be met initially by the private sector, then where does that levy go? The RPA claimed that it would acquire much of the land by using these levies initially before it signs off on the PPP.

There are very few sites on the route that are densely populated.

The Deputy obviously knows the site very well. The nearer part of the route from DCU to the Mater hospital to Tara Street to O'Connell Street to Stephen's Green is heavily populated. I am not sure if there is much open space between the Mater hospital and O'Connell Street.

Why not select a route?

Before the last election the Government said the metro would be up and running in 2007. Can the Minister predict in what year the metro will run to the airport? The motorway to Waterford would entail a similar cost. How does the Minister quantify the benefits of one against the other as an investment decision? Why does the road building programme get such large public funding, yet public transport projects like this metro do not get such easy access to immediate cash?

The road building programme will cost approximately €8 billion over the next five years. The public transport programme will cost €3.5 billion. That is still a very——

Capital funding is only €2.3 billion.

I have the figure of €3.5 billion, which includes the CIE subvention. That is all taxpayers' funds.

In what year will the metro run to the airport?

I have not got that information.

As Johhny Logan said, "What's another year?"

Road Traffic Offences.

Seán Crowe

Question:

42 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Transport if he will address concerns that the penalty points system is not being implemented in an effective manner. [12557/04]

The penalty points system currently applies in respect of the offences of breaching a speed limit, motor insurance and the failure of a driver to wear a seat belt or to ensure that a passenger under 17 years of age is appropriately restrained in a mechanically propelled vehicle. The system was first introduced in October 2002 in respect of speed limit offences. In the intervening period some 144,000 drivers have had penalty points endorsed in their licence records. I intend to extend the system to cover the offence of careless driving with effect from 1 June next. The effectiveness of the penalty points system can be judged primarily on the basis of the contribution it has made to road safety since its introduction. In the seventeen months since October 2002 the number of deaths as a result of road collisions has fallen by 100 by comparison to the previous seventeen month period.

The House will be aware that the IT systems needed to support the full roll out of penalty points to the range of offences listed in the Road Traffic Act 2002 are not yet in place. I am assured by my colleague the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the systems in question will be operational by the end of this year. While the national driver file, in which all penalty point endorsements are recorded is fully operational, in the absence of the other IT systems, the process of submitting data relating to the payment of fixed charges or convictions due to penalty point offences is being pursued on a manual basis by the Garda Síochána and the Courts Service. As soon as my Department is notified that a fixed charge has been paid or that a court conviction has been secured in respect of a penalty point offence this information is processed and the notice is issued to the person concerned on behalf of my Department by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which administers the national driver file. Penalty points only apply 28 days after the date of that notice. This process is normally carried out in about two weeks, following the receipt of notification by the Garda authorities or the Courts Services.

In overall terms the introduction of penalty points has had a very positive effect on road safety and I am confident the full roll out of the system will further enhance that effect. That the system was launched in advance of the availability of the full IT backup services has contributed directly to saving lives. However, I understand there have been administrative difficulties associated with the periods between the payment to the gardaí of fixed charges and the subsequent notifications to my Department for the purpose of recording penalty points. I understand the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has addressed that matter in previous replies to the House.

I welcome the fact that there have been 100 fewer deaths on the roads. Many people are concerned that the points system is not effective. More and more people are getting points, but many Garda checkpoints are in areas where there is no danger. These checkpoints are on long stretches of roads, on motorways and so on. Has the Minister spoken to the Commissioner on the proportion of these checkpoints on these roads?

We all know of areas — the Minister has some in his constituency, as I do in mine — where Garda patrols hide behind bus shelters, such as at the Spawell, to catch motorists coming off the motorway, which is subject to a higher speed limit. It is madness and a waste of resources when one considers the speeding cars in housing estates, etc. It seems that the system is not being implemented at accident blackspots on dangerous bends and at other dangerous places and this is why the penalty points system is losing credibility.

Will the Minister call on the Garda Commissioner to review his deployment of Garda staff to make the system more effective? The system is concerned with road safety, as the Minister said. Should the penalty points system run in tandem with a broad strategy for road safety, such as good education and training programmes? Many believe the penalty points system is geared more towards generating revenue because of the manner in which points are being allocated for speeding cars. What discussions has the Minister had with the Garda Commissioner on this matter?

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has discussed the strategy of tackling speeding with the Garda Commissioner on many occasions. The question of when and where the Garda does its speed checks is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner but he knows my views, which are not too dissimilar to those of the Deputy. To be truly effective, the Garda must start targeting the places where accidents are likely to happen. Increasingly, one will see that the force will do this, especially as we roll out the speed cameras. This will help substantially.

The speed limits are being reviewed and it is intended that they will be delineated in metric units towards the end of the year. The Deputy will be aware that the working group has recommended and the Government has agreed with its proposal that the 60 mph speed limit be reduced to 50 mph on what are normally called country roads or back roads. Most accidents seem to take place on such roads. This reduction in the speed limit, combined with the assurance from the Garda that it will increasingly target these roads, will help considerably.

The penalty points system was introduced at the end of 2002 and we had the lowest number of road deaths in 40 years in 2003. This year's figure is being judged against this remarkable performance, which was quite different to that which obtained previously. The number of deaths is still below those for 1999, 2001 and 2002. If the penalty points system prevents only one death, it is worth it. However, it is not just a question of measurement in that narrow sense but also about changing driver behaviour. The penalty points system will increasingly change driver behaviour, particularly when the computer system is fully introduced because, if one is put off the road and attempts to drive within those six months, one could receive a prison sentence. This will be a really strong incentive not to receive penalty points.

Rail Safety.

Denis Naughten

Question:

43 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport when the railway safety commission will be established; if he has satisfied himself with the current arrangements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12732/04]

I intend to make the necessary order formally establishing the railway safety commission as soon as possible following the enactment of the Railway Safety Bill. With the co-operation of the Houses of the Oireachtas, I expect the Bill, which completed Committee Stage in the Dáil on 7 May 2003, to be enacted before the summer recess. I am satisfied that the implementation of the provisions of the amended Bill will create an effective and robust regulatory framework for railway safety.

I thank the Minister for his response. However, it is now 12 months since we dealt with Committee Stage of this legislation and we still do not now when it will be progressed further. The Minister has established an interim commission. Will he outline the legal authority this commission possesses? I understand it has none. If this is the case, does it not make a farce of rail safety? The report produced this morning highlights that the incident in Cahir was not due to driver error or a maintenance error, thus raising serious questions about the safety assessments of Iarnród Éireann. Does the Minister believe it acceptable that Iarnród Éireann continues to investigate itself regarding rail incidents?

Does the Minister believe it acceptable that an interim commission with no legal standing is now supervising the investigation by the Rail Procurement Agency, RPA, into itself regarding the Luas tram on 7 April? Does he not believe we need to have an independent statutory commission that could investigate incidents such as this and the death of two people on the Luas rail line in Deputy Gay Mitchell's constituency some months ago? Given that people have lost confidence in the RPA, does he not believe it unsatisfactory that an independent investigative mechanism is not in place?

I am working to have Report Stage of the relevant legislation taken in the House this session. The Deputy will be aware of why it was delayed. We had a considerable discussion on the inclusion of the intoxicants provision in the legislation.

It was brought in the day before.

I have now cleared this with Government and will soon have proposals for the House on the matter. I look forward to discussing it with the Deputy when it is before the House.

I do not have an interim inspectorate appointed. What I do have is a railway safety inspector, who serves as the interim inspectorate——

On a point of information, a Dáil reply I received last week states there is an interim railway safety commission which is supervising the RPA investigation.

There is no formal commission.

Exactly. There is no legal basis for it.

No, but the chief railway inspecting officer of the Department of Transport has legal powers which are quite strong and serious. I take the Deputy's point that they are not strong enough, which is why the Railway Safety Bill is on the Order Paper. I agree with the Deputy that CIE should not investigate itself, nor should the RPA. The Railway Safety Bill, of which Second and Committee Stages have been taken in the House, as the Deputy knows, will give the new authority strong powers to conduct investigations.

I have asked the RPA to ensure it promotes the safety aspects of the Luas. People must be and will be informed that there are associated dangers. The Luas is a train and runs on the street as well as on its dedicated off-street tracks. It is quite silent and is operated by electricity.

What about motorcyclists and cyclists who touch their brakes on the tracks?

I heard the Deputy make that point also. All those dangers exist and everybody should be aware that there can be dangers attached to any public transport system. I have asked the RPA to promote safety regarding the Luas. People must exercise caution and be aware of the safety regulations that apply to any new public transport system. I encourage them to do so in the case of the Luas.

Is it not unacceptable that the RPA is investigating itself? The former Minister, Senator O'Rourke, was very critical of CIE and Iarnród Éireann investigating themselves some years ago. That is why the legislation was brought forward. One cannot have an organisation taking anà la carte approach to what issues it will investigate. For example, the RPA has decided not to investigate the tragedy Deputy Gay Mitchell has outlined. There should be a statutory independent commission to carry out thorough investigations and it should be seen to be independent and transparent. The investigation cannot take place in independent circumstances rather than under the RPA because the Minister has dragged his feet regarding the legislation.

That is not the case. The chief railway inspecting officer is fully entitled to carry out a statutory inquiry in accordance with section 7 of the Regulation of Railways Act 1871. Whenever the chief railway inspecting officer——

The legislation is inadequate, which the Minister has admitted.

That is why the new Bill is before the House. The legislation requires strengthening.

We now have an organisation with no statutory power.

The Railway Safety Bill, which is on the Order Paper, will give it the necessary powers.

Report Stage will be taken in a few weeks.

Question No. 44 lapsed.

That concludes Priority Questions.

On a point of order, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is a longer-serving Member of the House than I. I note there is a leak in the roof of the Chamber. Is this the first time in history there has been a leak into the House and not out of it?

That is not a point of order.