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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 4 Jul 2007

Roads Bill 2007 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important legislation. I begin by congratulating you, A Cheann Comhairle, on your election to the Chair of this House, and I wish you well in the future. I also wish the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, well in his new portfolio.

This legislation is important for the future of the State. Its principal purpose is to provide the necessary statutory basis to facilitate the implementation of free-flow, open-road tolling, also known as barrier-free tolling, on toll-based national road schemes, through the provision of appropriate deterrents for non-payment of tolls. The Bill provides for the redesignation of certain high quality dual carriageways to be motorways; the provision of service and rest areas on the national road network; some technical amendments to various sections of the Roads Act 1993 and a number of amendments to the Taxi Regulation Act 2003; and the making of by-laws to deal with the issue of parking at sports stadia on event days.

When dealing with roads infrastructure, we cannot ignore the issue of road safety. There is a major responsibility on all of us to avoid speeding, drink driving and being tired at the wheel. It is important that we improve the roads infrastructure throughout the State, but 20% of all accidents are caused by fatigue or speeding. We must take responsibility for our actions. In recent days, we have seen once again the horrific consequences of road accidents.

We must all be vigilant when driving and negotiating the roads. I urge every motorist, cyclist and pedestrian to play their individual part in ensuring their own safety and that of others on the roads. We still have a major crisis in regard to road deaths, particularly among young people. This carnage must stop. A road safety strategy has been implemented and I hope it will deliver. I urge the Minister to become directly involved in this issue.

I will deal first with the section of the legislation relating to car parking at sports stadia.The Bill attempts to address the issue of parking congestion experienced on public roads in the environs of sports stadia and such venues on event days. It amends the Road Traffic Act 1994 to allow local councils to deal with the matter through the making of by-laws together with some consequential and connected amendments. The new section covers the prohibition of parking around specified venues or events, the issue of permits to residents and the provision of traffic signs on consultation with the Garda.

This issue has a direct effect on two areas in my constituency, Parnell Park and Doneycarney, where big match days can be a nightmare for residents in terms of accessing their homes. The Richmond Road area, which is close to Croke Park, also needs protection. Residents' rights must be respected when it comes to big matches and concerts. I welcome any sensible solutions which assist these residents but we cannot accept a situation in which people are trapped in their homes during match days and major events. I urge the Garda to implement the law because many of these issues could be immediately addressed by means of existing legislation. People are trapped in their homes when their gates are blocked by thousands of people attending matches in Parnell Park or Croke Park. This section of the Bill is consumer friendly and it is important that we respect and protect the rights of citizens.

The section of the Bill providing for service areas is important. The Bill makes a number of amendments to the Roads Act 1993 to facilitate the provision of service and rest areas on the national road network. Ireland's national road network has been transformed almost beyond all recognition over the last decade. A consequence of the substantial development of long lengths of motorways and high quality dual carriageways is that there is an increasing need for facilities to cater for road users who wish to rest during their journeys or avail of fuel, sanitary and refreshment facilities.

While this is an area in which we are lagging behind other countries, I welcome the improvements. To address the growing need for service and rest areas, the NRA intends to provide service areas offering a full range of services, including retail services, at intervals of approximately 50 to 60 kms and rest areas, parking and sanitary facilities only, at intervals of approximately 25 to 30 kms. These facilities will be located both on-line and at or close to existing interchanges.

We are trying to catch up with our European neighbours. Many of the thousands of Irish people who go to France on camping holidays comment on the services provided on the side of motorways and dual carriageways so that people can eat lunch or purchase petrol. On many stretches of motorway in this country, one could be driving for a long time before finding an opportunity to do the same. I urge the Minister to bring us up to international standards because that is the way forward in terms of upholding citizens' rights and developing tourism. Over the coming weeks, thousands of tourists will visit Dublin and the rest of the country and we must ensure these services are available to them.

Unfortunately, the Roads Act 1993 does not give the NRA explicit powers to provide these rest and service areas on the existing motorway and dual carriageway networks. The provisions in this Bill address this deficiency and will greatly facilitate the NRA and road authorities in arranging for the provision of service areas on motorways and dual carriageways. This is a positive, constructive and sensible measure which puts the interests of citizens, tourists and consumers at the top of the political agenda.

The Bill introduces a number of amendments to provisions of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003. The initiatives proposed reflect on issues raised with the Department by the Commission for Taxi Regulation and are aimed at building on the programmes already being implemented by the commission to promote the development of quality services by all of those engaged in the operation of small public service vehicles. There should be no problems in encouraging those involved in the taxi and hackney industry to improve standards for our citizens and there is no excuse for overcharging customers, particularly those who travel to work or have to use taxis in emergencies. Complaints have also been made by tourists about overcharging. The taxi business can provide a good living and I know many people who offer a quality service and make the extra effort. However, we have also to respect the rights of the consumers by protecting them from overcharging. The emphasis must be on the quality of the service.

In that general context, the proposal to amend section 34 of the 2003 Act provides for the introduction of a licensing control regime for dispatch operators who operate a business for taking bookings for taxis, hackneys and limousines. Dispatch operators play a key role in the delivery of services especially to those who cannot avail of on-street services, such as those available from taxi ranks. Since the passage of the 2003 Act, the commission has pursued a programme of regulatory reform that has seen the realisation of a significant range of changes from the previous code. Against that background, there is no reason to continue with the general requirement for ministerial consent to future regulatory changes that the commission wishes to pursue. Accordingly, section 13 proposes that the requirement for ministerial consent for the making of certain regulations, or ministerial consultation, in sections 34, 38, 46 and 52 of the 2003 Act be removed. However, all orders or regulations made by the commission under the Act will continue to be subject to the requirement that they be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas after they are made, in accordance with section 3 of the 2003 Act.

In addition to an amendment to facilitate the extension of the fixed charge system to offences under regulations made under section 39 of the 2003 Act, this section provides for the extension to hackneys and limousines of the enabling powers available to the commission in respect of taxi fares. This initiative is an enabling provision and does not necessarily herald the adoption of fare controls for hackney and limousine operations in the near future.

Finally, the section proposes that the maximum fines for certain of the offences established under the 2003 Act should be increased. This will bring the maximum fines more into line with the current maximum fines applicable to summary convictions that have been established in legislation since the passage of the 2003 Act.

I hope the final few compensation issues remaining in respect of the Dublin Port tunnel are addressed. I ask the Minister to use his authority to ensure all the residents whose homes have been damaged during the construction of the tunnel are compensated. While the vast majority have received their cheques, a number are still waiting. During the construction of the tunnel, they experienced significant difficulties in terms of noise, vibrations and pollution and a number of houses were seriously damaged. It is an experience from which those responsible for the metro project could learn in terms of working closely with residents groups and the people most affected by these major projects. We must be vigilant in that regard.

It is important that we ensure the Bill delivers on our roads infrastructure. There is great potential in the legislation to improve the quality of motorways and other roads and the numbers of accidents have already decreased over the past ten years on improved roads. Many of the accidents now taking place are on minor roads in rural areas.

We must address those minor roads and those communities which are often neglected because they are far from the main urban centres. When one has proper roads one can begin to put the emphasis on road safety and protect lives. Then one can develop the roads further, as covered in the legislation, to deal with the services because they are a very important element for citizens and the tourism industry.

I welcome the legislation which has many positive aspects and I will support it.

I wish to share my time with Deputy James Bannon.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and wish him well. It is a shame we are speaking about roads on my first outing in the Dáil because I would prefer if the emphasis were on public transport, but I am sure the Minister will share my enthusiasm for that. I hope public transport will dominate his agenda because it is extremely important.

I neglected to welcome Deputy Clune back to the House. We missed her.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. It is nice to be back. Like other Deputies, I welcome this Bill. The most important part of the legislation deals with tolling and lifting the barriers on the M50. Travelling on the M50 is something we have all experienced at some stage. Fortunately I do not do so on a daily basis but I feel for those commuters who have to sit at the M50 toll booths for hours on end. We have heard some horrific stories in that regard. I am sure the fact that this long and sorry saga will soon be at an end will come as a relief to all those commuters. It is a pity it took so long but we will have barrier-free tolling from 2008. NTR had an agreement with the Government and at that time it was probably the only body willing to build the M50. In hindsight, it probably got a very good deal, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Nonetheless it is good to see the contract has been bought out and ownership is returning to the State. The State will now have control over the M50 and I am sure many people are relieved, but it is a pity it took so long.

In his speech the Minister referred to the fact that the money taken in future will be invested in upgrading the M50, which is going on at present. For those working in transport it must be a nightmare trying to predict future road usage — predictions always seem to fall short of reality. However, it is important that the funding to be collected from the tolling in future will be reinvested in the upgrading of the M50. I wish to see transparency with regard to when the upgrading work will be completed and the tolling ceased, if at all. Those who are paying the tolls to fund the road expect that at some point the work will be completed and the tolling ended.

Motorists in this country feel hard done by. They are heavily taxed through motor tax, petrol costs and so forth, and they must also pay tolls. It looks likely that the road from Cork to Dublin will have two tolls. The Fermoy bypass currently has a toll of €2.60, or €5.20 for a return journey. If the section from Portlaoise to Cullahill is also to be tolled, that will add significantly to the cost of travelling from Cork to Dublin. I am concerned about this issue and would like confirmation that there will be an end to the tolling at some point. Once roads are paid for they should be free to all taxpayers and road users.

Tolling is now to be registered and drivers can obtain a disk for their cars, for which they pay, but how will foreign drivers or those who have a foreign registration plate or licence be detected? I know there are procedures in place in the United Kingdom and Germany to detect such drivers. It would be very unfair if they did not have to pay, particularly if, as we are told, 10% of drivers in this country are foreign. We must ensure that the system is fair and that everybody who uses the roads pay their fair share.

The Minister referred in his speech to Transport 21 and outlined the excellent progress that has been made to date. A sum of €34 billion is to be spent over ten years. A total of 23 projects are listed and of the 14 that were completed last year, 12 were on budget and one was ahead of schedule, namely, the Kinsale Road interchange on the N21 in my constituency. That was opened six months ahead of schedule. It was a badly needed facility which relieved traffic congestion in that area. However, it was understood in Cork that another flyover was to be put in place at the Bandon Road-Sarsfield Road roundabout, but that has been stalled. It seems ridiculous that on a single stretch of the N21 there is a flyover at only one roundabout, which simply transfers the traffic less than a mile down the road. In that sense, it has only led to congestion in another area.

I met the NRA recently which told me that its focus is now on inter-urban routes. I would hate to think that important infrastructure such as the aforementioned flyover would fall off the agenda. Likewise, the N28 and the upgrading of the road from Cork to Ringaskiddy is extremely important, not just for local people but also in terms of the Government's spatial strategy. In terms of encouraging development in Cork, this road is badly needed to facilitate moving the port of Cork down harbour to the Ringaskiddy area. Without the upgrade of the N28, it will not be possible to move the port. In that context, it is essential infrastructure. A lot hangs on the development of the N28 and I hope it has not fallen off the agenda. I know it is at compulsory purchase order stage but there is no guarantee that it will progress to tender and construction stages at the pace which is needed to ensure development in the region. I expect to raise this important matter with the Minister again. I urge him to examine the issue and ensure it goes ahead. I hope it will be a priority for the NRA and that the Minister will make his views known in that regard.

I am pleased the Bill provides for the upgrading of high quality dual carriageways to motorways. Having read statements from the NRA in the past few years claiming that it would provide a motorway from Cork to Dublin by 2010, I wondered how it would achieve that, but now I see that much of the route will be upgraded from high quality dual carriageway to motorway status. Motorways are much safer in that exits and entrances to them are controlled. Drivers take motorways seriously, remain in the correct lane and generally observe the speed limits. The fact that the limit is 120 km per hour is very beneficial for drivers. I welcome this development, which is extremely important in the context of driver safety. It is on our lower classification roads that we see a high level of accidents and unfortunate fatalities.

This Bill will facilitate the provision of rest areas, which is also very important. I was driving to Dublin late one night last week and noticed a lot of heavy goods vehicles parked on the quays, by Heuston Station. There are no rest areas for drivers and nowhere for them to stop. It was dreadful that they had to park by the quays where there are no toilet or snack facilities nearby. Rest areas are very important, not just for heavy goods vehicle drivers but for all those using our roads. There is a severe lack of rest areas, particularly given the recent closure of many petrol stations. It is very difficult to get petrol and one has to plan one's journey very carefully. Petrol stations are closing because they are not viable if they have to depend on petrol sales alone. Having travelled widely during the Seanad campaign five years ago, I know that one must plan one's journey and ensure that the petrol tank is filled by 8 p.m., otherwise one may not find a filling station open until the following morning. Therefore, it is great to see that rest areas are being provided because they are extremely important and will bring about the first-class transport system to which we all aspire.

The provision of parking around sports stadia is welcome. Having been involved with residents' groups — I am referring in particular to those around Páirc Uí Chaoimh — I know it is difficult for local people to find parking spaces when major sporting events are taking place. There have always been such concerns about parking in residential areas. Yesterday, I read that Dublin City Council is considering not issuing parking permits for residential areas any more, which is unfortunate. It seems as if we are turning many residential areas into park-and-ride facilities for commuters. The provision of residents' parking permits around sports stadia is welcome, however, and I am glad to see that such powers are being given to local authorities which will negotiate with the residents concerned. It is another useful mechanism.

I welcome many of the Bill's provisions and look forward to hearing the Minister's comments on Committee and Report Stages.

The Ceann Comhairle is having a good week. I welcome the Minister to the House and wish him well with his new portfolio. Under his remit, I hope the midlands area will not be left out as it has been in the past. We were disappointed with the raw deal the region got under Transport 21 and the national spatial strategy. Under the latter plan, Longford town and the county at large did not receive hub or gateway status, which prompted annoyance and concern in the midlands. I hope there will be a review of the national spatial strategy in the not too distant future.

The two-hour cutback in debating time for this Bill is totally unacceptable and constitutes another example of the disregard and contempt with which the Government treats this House. We have seen the consequences of rushed legislation, which provides bad law at the end of the day. We have repeatedly seen supplementary amending legislation to deal with shortfalls and inadequacies in earlier Bills.

I support this Bill in principle but would certainly not endorse the Minister's contention that it was universally well received in the Upper House. The necessity for such legislation is not in doubt but there are areas of concern such as the delay in bringing this Bill before the House. It amounts to a U-turn by the Government. This issue has been in the public domain for some time and I am glad the Government is taking action, albeit belatedly.

Not so long ago, the Government denied that the State's contract with National Toll Roads would be ended and that the company would be bought out. The change of heart has come too late for motorists who have suffered years of intolerable congestion on the M50. The Government turned a blind eye to these problems for over a decade, denying that the toll barrier caused massive tailbacks. To anyone flying overhead, this situation would probably appear as the largest car park in the world.

The extraordinary loophole in the Bill, which will allow foreign registered cars and trucks to travel toll free, is neither acceptable nor realistic. It is already intolerable that foreign drivers can escape the imposition of penalty points. Approximately one in five drivers committing penalty point offences do not have Irish driving licences, while Irish motorists and pedestrians suffer the consequences of these actions.

Sections 9 and 10 are of particular interest to me. They concern a number of amendments to the Roads Act 1993 to facilitate the provision of service and rest areas on the national road network. Recent reports have highlighted tiredness as a major cause of accidents so increasing the number of lay-bys and rest areas could go a long way towards reducing road fatalities. Little progress was made in this regard under the previous Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Administration. According to the road safety performance index, published last month by the European Transport Safety Council, Ireland has one of the worst road safety records among the EU's 27 member states. An extensive investigation by the National Roads Authority identified up to 12 locations for on-line services, in addition to 11 rest areas on major inter-urban routes, including the M1, M4, N6, N7, N8, N9, N11 and N18. As the Roads Act 1993 does not give the NRA explicit powers to provide rest and service areas on the existing motorway and dual-carriageway networks, I fully support the Bill's provisions to do so. They are most welcome and have been demanded by motorists for many years. I am glad the Government has seen fit to facilitate them.

The NRA intends to provide service areas which will offer a full range of services at intervals of approximately 50 km to 60 km and rest areas, including parking and sanitary facilities, at intervals of approximately 25 km to 30 km. It is proposed that these facilities will be located on-line and at or close to existing interchanges.

I have repeatedly highlighted the urgent need to extend the M4 from Kinnegad to Mullingar, Longford and on to the north west. I am seeking a commitment on the extension of this essential motorway to Mullingar, Longford and on to Sligo. This important infrastructure is essential for the economic development of the midlands, including County Longford. Longford is in a key position in the centre of the country. There is an interchange with the N55, which runs north-south, and for years I have called on the Government to upgrade this arterial route. Such an improvement would divert much traffic away from the east coast through the midlands, with consequential benefits for the midlands region. The proposal should be examined more seriously by the Government.

Despite being one of the smallest counties, Longford offers a unique central location, equidistant from the east and west coasts, with easy access to Dublin. These are important considerations for any business development. Longford town is already the largest urban centre in the north midlands, as well as being a major financial and retail location.

I would appreciate it if the Minister would address the issue of road signage on the M4. Towns such as Longford and Mullingar are not indicated on this road and are repeatedly overlooked when road signage is upgraded on main routes. Drivers who are trying to access the midlands from the motorway do not know if they are on the right route. The Minister should discuss with the NRA the issue of improving signage for such midland towns. It is important this is addressed urgently.

There is a serious problem at the point one leaves the motorway in Kinnegad because the roundabouts are not large enough to take heavy trucks. Some drivers of heavy trucks do not wish to pay the toll for using the motorway and instead travel the old route. Once you leave the motorway at Kinnegad the road is a mud bath and was not constructed to facilitate heavy trucks. I would appreciate it if this matter could be examined by the Minister.

People from the midlands face problems accessing Dublin Airport because within 10 km of the facility they may have to pay two tolls. These tolls are unfair because they raise the cost of travelling to the airport for motorists and users of taxis must also pay because of Government policy. This could be addressed by the Minister.

I congratulate the Ceann Comhairle on his appointment and wish him well in the job. I also congratulate the Minister for Transport and the Marine, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and wish him well in his new Department.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute in this debate.

I understood the Deputy was to share time.

I was not aware of that.

I understood the Deputy was to share time with Deputy Connick, with the agreement of the House.

I am prepared to do that.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Transport in all its forms is central to the economy, the environment and the cultural and social well-being of our country in the 21st century and roads will be central to satisfying the nation's transport needs for the foreseeable future.

The relationship between Irish people and their cars is very close, particularly in rural Ireland and an irrational belief exists that makes public transport the poor relation in transport choice. It would not be unusual to see senior executives of major companies taking the train to work in London, New York, or Tokyo but such instances are unfortunately rare in this country. It would be interesting to survey Members of this House to ascertain how many of those who could avail of public transport do so. Hopefully the huge investment in transport provided for in Transport 21, which is being rolled out, will greatly enhance public opinion towards and the attraction of public transport.

Important work on the rail network continues and hopefully we will deliver a world class rail service in the coming years. In the meantime we must ensure our road network is sufficient to cater for the increased number of vehicles using the nation's thoroughfares. The provisions of this Bill will allow for the implementation of free flow, open road tolling. There is no doubt that toll gates, particularly on the M50, contribute on a daily basis to traffic gridlock. However, tolling is but one factor contributing to this problem and the upgrading of junctions and the widening of the motorway will help in bringing about a resolution to the problem.

The previous Minister had targeted August 2008 for the introduction of barrier free tolling and I sincerely hope this date can be met in order to alleviate the frustration experienced by so many people daily. For this reason the co-operation of Members on all sides of the House is welcome.

The Bill also allows for the upgrading of certain dual carriageway roads to motorway status. This is a most welcome provision, as in many cases one cannot tell the difference between a motorway and a dual carriageway. This is particularly evident on the Naas Road, where it meets the N7 Motorway. To the layman there appears to be no clear difference between the two, yet different speed limits exist on the two stretches of roadway which makes no sense at all. We need consistency in road categorisation and this Bill will hopefully bring improvements in the area. I am aware that there are similar anomalies in road descriptions elsewhere, for example at Watergrasshill outside Cork City and on the N11 — M50 intersection.

County Kildare is at the hub of much national traffic travelling to and from Dublin and this includes both traffic from within the county and traffic crossing County Kildare to get to and from the capital. To this extent most or all of the measures included in the Bill will have a direct effect on the people of County Kildare. The upgrade of the M50 will hopefully reduce commuting times for the many people who have to use it daily.

The measures included in the Bill are a much needed step forward in the overall delivery of a transport system that will benefit communities throughout the commuter belt, which is constantly growing.

In 2007 Kildare County Council will spend €117.5 million on its road network. Of this some €86 million will be spent on national roads with the remainder spent on county roads within its jurisdiction. I acknowledge the huge increases in funding made available to Kildare and other counties in recent years that have enabled local authorities go some way to bridging the infrastructure gap.

In my county, where major national projects have been completed and inter-city routes are well advanced, the Government and National Roads Authority should examine towns that have grown greatly and are experiencing traffic difficulties. In Newbridge a new bridge and outer relief road are required. The Minister will recall visiting Athy in 1996 when he was Opposition spokesman and at that stage there was a campaign for an outer relief road for the town. That project is only beginning now. As major national projects are delivered more funding must be directed towards local authorities to help them achieve improvements in log-jammed local towns.

The roll-out of the national roads programme is an absolute necessity for this country because we are only playing catch-up with the rest of Europe. Hopefully this phase of the roads programme will be completed in the next few years allowing for greater emphasis to be placed on the removal of traffic congestion in urban areas. This, coupled with the increase in spending on mainline and commuter rail services, will give us an integrated transport package that will benefit this country socially and economically for generations to come.

A number of Members have made reference to the elements in this Bill addressing the need for rest and service areas along the major roads that have been constructed. While these facilities will be universally welcomed it should be recognised that the NRA has not addressed these matters clearly in the past and has not employed joined-up thinking with local authorities. I am conscious, as the Minister and NRA bring forward new provisions, that account must be taken of factors existing on some of the relevant routes. Many service providers have given a high quality service on these routes for some years.

In my constituency Kildare County Council recently granted a material contravention for a motorway service area to be delivered on the Mayfield interchange on the N7, just north of Monasterevin. Whatever plans the NRA has for such facilities nationwide, it must engage with those who have traditionally provided services in these areas and who wish to continue to do so.

There was a high quality provider of motorway services on the old N9 in Kildare before it was realigned at the end of the last decade. The service provider had to move to the new road but now the N9 motorway exists about 150 yards away and will provide no access to the services that are in place. If it is unsustainable for a homeowner in a rural area to seek to build another house it is unsustainable for the National Roads Authority to ignore an established motorway service area in a district in favour of the construction of yet another motorway service area in the region. I ask the Minister to address these issues and ensure the National Roads Authority takes local circumstances into consideration. I congratulate the Minister, his predecessor and everyone involved in introducing this positive and constructive legislation.

I thank Deputy Ó Fearghaíl for sharing time. This is my maiden speech. I thank the people of New Ross and district and the rest of County Wexford for the support they gave me in the general election. I look forward to representing them in the House for the next five years.

I thank the staff of Leinster House for the efforts they have made in facilitating my requirements in terms of access to the House. They have been friendly, patient and helpful.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. Having had the opportunity and pleasure of working with him for a number of years in several portfolios, I know he will be instrumental in driving Transport 21. I have great confidence in his ability.

Like many other speakers, I welcome the introduction of barrier-free tolling on the M50. All Deputies have heard horror stories about spending too much time on the M50. I am pleased the issue is finally being addressed, as it will provide great relief for those who use the road every day and reduce the costs incurred by business as a result of massive delays caused by congestion.

I also welcome the important decision to designate dual carriageways as motorways. The variety of speed limits on dual carriageways causes confusion and results in drivers either reducing speed or accelerating at points where they are not sure of the speed limit. The proposed measure will help address this problem.

I welcome the decision to provide service facilities. Our colleagues in France have the provision of such facilities down to a fine art. We have an opportunity to use planning legislation to ensure rest areas are designed to attract drivers by providing toilet, service and parking facilities. Given that fatigue is one of the major contributors to road accidents, it is important that truck drivers, tourists, many of whom travel in camper vans, and disabled drivers and their families have an opportunity to take rest periods.

I was one of many local councillors in the south east who expressed concern at the lack of investment in the region's road infrastructure in recent years. I am pleased this matter is being addressed through the development of the Carlow and Waterford bypasses. This is an historic day for the people of County Wexford because the Gorey bypass, a project costing in excess of €200 million, is being opened. People have difficulty accessing and leaving the county through my home town of New Ross located at one end of Wexford and Gorey at the other. We are delighted the motorway due to open today has been completed on time and under budget.

New Ross is one of the country's main black spots for traffic delays. Many of my constituents experience delays of up to one hour each evening as they try to cross O'Hanrahan Bridge in the town. The publication of compulsory purchase orders for the town bypass is expected shortly. I encourage the Minister to ensure the New Ross and Enniscorthy bypasses are at the top of the agenda.

Transport 21 proposes the development of a new carriageway from Letterkenny along the western seaboard to Waterford. With the New Ross bypass set to be a dual carriageway, we should consider extending the proposed carriageway from Waterford to the Europort in Rosslare Harbour, one of our vital transport links. I hope access to the country by carriageway from Rosslare will be facilitated, although my priority in the next five years will be to ensure the New Ross bypass is delivered.

I was present for priority questions last week, during which the Minister and Opposition transport spokespersons debated access to taxis for people with disabilities. I have travelled extensively in recent years, including to New York and several cities in France and Spain. During most of these visits I have encountered difficulty accessing taxis. The problem with imposing a condition that taxi providers must make available vehicles accessible to disabled persons is that finding one of the small number of such vehicles when one needs one is akin to winning the national lottery. My best experience of accessing taxis has been in London where a fantastic job has been done in fitting black cabs with ramps in the floor. A disabled person will find that all London taxis are accessible and a ramp is extended to the footpath within ten seconds of hailing a cab. In addition, all taxi drivers receive training and each taxi can accommodate a wheelchair user, four additional passengers and shopping.

A number of car manufacturers continue to produce vehicles which are suitable to being adapted for disabled access. Ireland has an opportunity to lead the way in this respect. We should consider the possibility of phasing in a universal access taxi in the next three to five years. A specialist type of taxi will always be required for community services. Opportunities are available to address the additional costs associated with delivering universal access taxis by providing vehicle registration tax and VAT refunds. We should examine the London model.

During priority questions last week Deputies raised the issue of buying buses that are not suitable for wheelchair access. Why are we still buying buses which are not accessible? Why are manufacturers still producing such buses? As I often state, the only barriers preventing me from leading the lifestyle I choose to the full are those that society erects. We must try to address the root causes of these problems. I hope action will be taken to ensure all public service vehicles, including buses, train carriages and taxis, are made wheelchair accessible.

I welcome the Bill, as it will deliver significant progress. I look forward to supporting the Minister and my colleagues in ensuring its provisions are implemented as quickly as possible.

May I speak for two minutes?

I must call on the Minister to respond before 12.30 p.m.

I will speak for one minute remaining. The transfer of responsibility for non-national roads to the Department of Transport has received little attention. I suppose the reason is that the Minister could not trust the Green Party.

The vast majority of local authorities have not implemented the road safety speed limits. I ask the Minister to put the boot into them to ensure these limits are introduced, particularly in the vicinity of schools. I also ask him to publish the report on the proposed orbital route and consider extending the proposed route from the N9 to the N11. With the Gorey bypass opening today, he must ensure the N11 in County Wicklow is completed. In the past ten years no major works have been carried out on the N81. I ask the Minister to ensure the NDP and Transport 21 proposals for the route are implemented.

On obtaining value for money from local contractors, will the Minister examine the tendency to repeatedly fill potholes?

On a final point, Deputy Bannon referred to signage. My understanding is that the regulations do not permit the signage of towns off major routes but only permit signage referring to the end of the route. Therefore, signage indicating hospitals and so on cannot be included. This should be reconsidered.

Deputy Timmins got as much said in one minute as many do in ten or 15 minutes. I congratulate him on that.

Such brevity is sweet.

I know the Minister will take my points on board.

I thank Members for their interest in the Bill and for dealing with the matter so promptly. It is important that the Bill be passed, as I explained in my opening contribution on Second Stage. I welcome the positive and constructive contributions made. I have been in politics for 30 years as a public representative and have spent more than 20 years in the House yet it never ceases to amaze me that roads and road policy issues usually attract the most attention, whether internally in the Fianna Fáil Party or across the House. There is always a great interest in issues relating to roads, road safety and road signage, and I know this is reflected across the House.

I take the opportunity at this early stage in my role as Minister for Transport and the Marine to acknowledge the support and interest that Members on all sides of the House have taken in road safety matters and the attempt to reduce the number of deaths, injuries and accidents on our roads. Some of the measures taken would not have been easy for any Government without the support of Members on the opposite side of the House — I acknowledge this as a general point.

The interest in roads arises largely because every Member of the House knows how important they are, not just as a means of getting about but also for Ireland's economic development and the quality of the lives of our citizens. All these issues are closely connected to the funds we invest in our national infrastructure, particularly roads. It is for that reason the Exchequer investment in Ireland's national roads is at an all-time high. More than €9.4 billion has been spent on the national roads in the past decade and another €1.5 billion will be spent this year. Throughout the period of Transport 21, from 2006 to 2015, in excess of €16 billion will be spent.

As Deputies have recognised, the Bill improves and strengthens the position of the National Roads Authority as it continues to deliver large-scale investment in our national roads. Many of the changes being made in the Bill are in recognition of the evolution of that role and the role of the many players in Ireland's road building programme since the introduction of the Roads Act in 1993.

The Bill facilitates the introduction of standardised, consistent speed limits on our major roads as well as the development of rest and service areas which will make a significant contribution to road safety. As such, it clearly takes account of the changing needs of the national roads network and the need to protect for future generations the significant investment being made in our roads. I am glad to acknowledge the positive way in which Members from all sides welcomed these provisions, which highlights the priority they attach to road safety issues.

Of course the most important aspect of the Bill is that it allows for the timely and effective introduction of barrier-free tolling on tolled national roads, in particular Dublin's M50. This will maximise the contribution of the investment being made on this vital roadway in the years ahead and will help to significantly improve the experience of motorists using Ireland's busiest road. The system will be delivered in a very ambitious but realistic timeframe. To stick to that timeframe, the passage of this Bill is extremely important and I acknowledge the co-operation received.

Several Members raised the possibility that motorists driving non-Irish registered vehicles will evade the toll. While this is undoubtedly a risk, the system being put in place will be able to record the details of non-Irish registered vehicles and every effort will be made to access home addresses for such drivers. Unfortunately, it is likely that in many cases it will not be possible to do this but that is exactly the situation we face with regard to penalty points, parking fines and so on and nobody would suggest we should not operate these systems because of the inability to punish some drivers.

The real solution to this problem, as noted by several speakers, is international co-operation. I am glad to report an expert EU group is at work on this issue under EU Directive 2004/52/EC on the interoperability of electronic fee collection systems in Europe. The NRA is represented on this group and is developing a European electronic toll system that would facilitate toll collection across EU borders. The problem adverted to by Deputies would then be largely dealt with. However, I acknowledge it is a problem which will remain for some short time.

On that matter, it is fair to state the NRA is very open to learning from best practice enforcement systems in other countries — some speakers referred to examples from the UK, Germany and elsewhere. We will consider those systems to ascertain whether the risk can be minimised. The way the London congestion charge system attempts to track down non-UK drivers was an example to which one speaker referred.

A number of Deputies understandably took the opportunity presented by the debate on the Bill to raise issues relating to a large number of individual road schemes of direct interest to them and their constituents. Obviously, it is not possible for me to respond in detail to any or all of those matters in this debate but the points raised have been noted and I will arrange for Members to receive direct answers to their queries from the NRA through the usual channel, namely, via the Oireachtas liaison office.

I wish to respond to a number of points raised during the debate which do not relate to specific projects. Deputy Finian McGrath raised an extremely important point regarding road safety, namely, the question of the personal responsibility that all of us bear to drive safely and with courtesy, and to have respect for other road users. The House could spend a year making laws and put every garda on the roads every day of the week, which would have some effect on the number of accidents and the number of people killed and injured. It is not possible, however, to do all of those things in that manner. One thing each of us can do is take personal responsibility for our driving habits and show courtesy on the roads. If we did that consistently it would have a significant effect on the number of road accidents, deaths and injuries. While speed and drink are causes of major accidents many of the minor ones are caused by sheer carelessness and lack of courtesy with people darting out in front of others, forcing them to pull up abruptly. I am sure every Deputy in the House sees this happen every day.

All Deputies should emphasise the importance of the personal responsibility message. It is easy to blame the Garda, the Minister, the National Roads Authority and everybody else but personal responsibility must be repeatedly emphasised.

The taxi service has improved. The Taxi Regulation Commission is in place to deal with complaints about overcharging and to ensure the level and standards of service are top class.

I thank all Deputies for their contributions to Second Stage. It was a useful, positive discussion on the issues encompassed in the Bill.

Question put and agree to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?