I am delighted to finally have the opportunity to discuss the Dublin Transport Authority Bill. In many ways we have been waiting 21 years for the Bill. As Deputy O'Dowd stated, in 1987, in an astonishing act of political vandalism, the fledgling Dublin Transport Authority, which had been established under the previous Labour and Fine Gael Government, was abolished by the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. I, therefore, welcome the belated publication of the Dublin Transport Authority Bill by the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. The re-establishment of this critical transport body for the often gridlocked greater Dublin area is long overdue.
The legislation has, of course, been promised as a priority by a long succession of Fianna Fáil Ministers for Transport, including Deputies O'Rourke, Cullen and Brennan. In light of the years of preparation and lengthy discussion, the final Bill is somewhat disappointing and incomplete. The result of the Government's lethargy and delay has been an ongoing public transport deficit in the greater Dublin area and massive traffic problems and congestion.
Key measures on prioritising commuters and democratic accountability are missing from the legislation. I am opposed to the Dublin transport authority becoming what has been termed a "HSE on wheels". Inexplicably, the full integration of a number of other agencies and regulators — such as the Taxi Regulator — is not contemplated by the Bill. I note the Minister's comments in the Seanad in this regard. However, the Bill does not provide clarity in respect of the confusing and antiquated 1932 bus licensing laws. Other enforcement measures, particularly in the areas of planning and transport provision, are simply not strong enough. These omissions are astonishing in view of the many years that successive Ministers for Transport have supposedly been working on the legislation.
The absence of the DTA and the failure of Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and his predecessor, Deputy Cullen, to provide strong leadership on delivering the €34 billion Transport 21 programme has seen massive slippage in projects just two years into that programme's lifetime. When the Transport 21 plans were published, the DTA was specifically mentioned as the key body to facilitate the delivery of the much needed transport infrastructure projects like metro north and the Dublin rail interconnector.
Last November, the Minister outlined an astonishing litany of delays and missed deadlines that have already occurred in respect of Transport 21. It will be 2014 at the earliest, rather than 2012, before metro north is scheduled to be completed. I know this from having spoken to some of those who are competing for tenders. The completion date for the Tallaght to Citywest Luas extension has been revised from 2008 to 2010, the Connolly to Docklands Luas line has been pushed back from 2008 to 2009 and the critical link up of the green and red Luas lines has, astonishingly, been stalled indefinitely. In addition, the completion date for the long-promised phase 1 of the Navan rail link has been revised from 2009 to 2010. The list of projects that have been delayed goes on.
The watchword for the Labour Party and me in developing transport services and infrastructure in the greater Dublin area and beyond is sustainability. Labour believes that establishing a sustainable, integrated and accessible transport system with commuters at its core must be the priority. At its most fundamental, a transport system involves moving people and goods. The needs of commuters — including cyclists and pedestrians — must, therefore, be at the heart of sustainable travel and transport services. Labour's vision for Ireland's travel and transport system in 2020 is one that is responsive, sustainable, integrated, accessible and safe.
For the various reasons to which I refer, the very belated establishment of the DTA must be warmly welcomed. However, there are significant gaps and deficiencies apparent within the Bill. I hope to outline some of these and return to them on Committee Stage.
One of the most complex elements of the Dublin Transport Authority Bill is the establishment of public transport performance related contracts under sections 47 to 55, inclusive. The Minister and his Department have proposed these clauses in response to Regulation (EC) No. 1370/2007, which will come into effect in December 2009. The Department argues that there has never been any contractual basis to the provision of services by CIE, Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus or Irish Rail and that such contracts are necessary for the implementation of Regulation (EC) No. 1370/2007. When the regulation comes into force, it will, therefore, be imperative to have established the legal contractual basis for public transport services under Irish law.
Under section 52 of the Bill, the first direct award public service contracts will be awarded to Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail. However, these contracts will be reviewed after just five years for bus services and ten years for rail services. By contrast, under section 48 all private bus operators will be awarded ten-year contracts — with 15-year contracts for metro and light rail. Why is there not a level playing field in respect of the contract timescales relating to private and public operators? Is it not eminently possible that after the five and ten-year periods the directly awarded contracts may be reviewed and that key licences will be removed from the core public transport service providers, Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail? Will this prove to be privatisation by stealth? Will it finally herald the introduction of the discredited plan put forward by the former Minister, Deputy Brennan, to facilitate bus privatisation by the back door?
This matter is particularly important in light of the failure of the current Minister, Deputy Dempsey, to spell out what he intends to do in respect of the 1932 bus licensing laws. This is a glaring omission in the legislation before us. The Bill indicates that Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann will continue to provide public bus passenger services and to service routes under the 1932 laws. However, there is ongoing dissatisfaction in both the public and private bus sectors as regards the sometimes baffling operation of those laws by the Minister and his officials.
Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann representatives have expressed their frustration with the current licensing situation at meetings of the Joint Committee on Transport and at briefings. For example, Dublin Bus has long planned to create a local services network for the massively expanding Swords area and to run the No. 41X bus route through the Dublin Port tunnel. However, its intentions in this regard have been stymied by the way the Minister and his Department interpret the 1932 bus licensing laws.
Clarity and transparency are urgently needed in respect of bus licensing. The Minister informed the Seanad that he intends to bring forward a Bill to modernise the licensing regime for bus services in line with the commitments in the agreed programme for Government. He also indicated that he intends to reform the 1932 and 1958 Acts. Why could this not have been achieved under the Bill before us, particularly as we have waited so many years for it?
The route by route allocation procedure as laid out in section 48(3) is problematic. I intend to table amendments in respect of it. This procedure may prove an incentive to be inefficient. As public service obligation routes under direct award contracts become profitable, there are concerns that such routes will be tendered out under section 48 and that public service operators may be left with the less successful, loss-making, subsidised routes. What incentives does the legislation, as drafted, contain for public sector companies offering inclusive services to be as profitable and efficient as possible? Section 56 mandates that the DTA can be an operator of last resort if a public transport operator will not provide services on terms and conditions acceptable to the authority. It could, therefore, be possible for the DTA to eventually directly provide public transport services and regulate performance and fares of itself and all other operators.
How does the Minister envisage that system will operate and how can a regulator be expected to fairly regulate itself? Should we perhaps consider giving CIE such a role as operator of last resort, as was intended in 1945? After all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel if the expertise and experience already exist within CIE. There is also a risk that if this Bill is not amended in that manner, it could result in the death-knell for CIE, the mother company of our State companies.
Sections 5, 25 and 29 of the Dublin Transport Authority Bill, for example, transfer the greater Dublin area transport Vote from CIE to the DTA. In section 30, the DTA is given wide borrowing powers of up to €1 billion. This, in effect, removes one of the CIE board's core functions and could completely eviscerate the organisation. Section 111 removes the power of the chair and board of CIE to make appointments to the boards of Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail.
Part 3 of the Dublin Transport Authority Bill details the DTA's significant powers in terms of securing public transport infrastructure and services. Under Section 44, the DTA will procure infrastructure and services, although it will normally work through the auspices of existing agencies such as the Rail Procurement Agency for metro or light rail and Irish Rail for rail infrastructure. Questions have been raised, as my colleague outlined, about why the RPA was not subsumed into the DTA because of a possible duplication of resources.
Speaking in the Seanad on this Bill, the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, argued for retaining the RPA because of the need to maintain institutional stability in the current fragile global economic context in terms of the delivery of metro north's PPP. I accept the Minister's bona fides on this point. I also agree with the outstanding former chairperson of the Rail Procurement Agency, Mr. Pádraig White, that the RPA clearly won the argument that it is essential to maintain the RPA to deliver on time key projects such as metro north, metro west, the Luas extension to Lucan and so on. I will consider a possible amendment in this regard that perhaps towards the end of Transport 21, the RPA might migrate to the DTA.
There are also serious questions regarding the extent of the powers of the DTA. Section 54 establishes the DTA as the transport regulator over any surface public transport service that commences or terminates in the greater Dublin area if the Minister so designates. This provides huge scope for the expansion of the DTA across the whole Leinster and midlands regions and beyond. Is the DTA, and this powerful expansionary clause, merely the first step in the establishment of a national transport regulator? If that is the case, should we have established in the Bill a national transport regulator? Why did the Minister not introduce such a measure?
A coherent and integrated approach is also needed in the development and management of transport infrastructure and services outside the greater Dublin area. It appears that in this regard the DTA is little more than a halfway house. Commuters using services that begin or end in the greater Dublin area will be subject to the pricing regime of the DTA as the public transport fares regulator. However, communities outside the greater Dublin area, or mid-Leinster area if we wish to call it that, will have no responsible authority in terms of the enforcement of integrated transport and planning measures. Key decisions and resources for critically necessary rural transport programmes are thus again being put on the long finger.
I asked the Taoiseach yesterday about the new drink-driving limits. Significant expansion is needed, not just for social provision in rural areas, but across the board of the rural transport programme, and we are not taking that opportunity.
Public transport staff and drivers are key workers in any economy. Many transport workers are also safety-critical workers and the lives and safety of hundreds of thousands of commuters are in their hands every day. Landmark hearings of the House of Commons transport committee were held on the UK transport privatisation experience. One of the key lessons outlined to our UK colleagues during those hearings was that transport workers' wages and conditions were the main sources of cost-cutting measures during the disastrous UK transport privatisation process. This must not be repeated with any initiatives taken under the DTA.
A sustainable, integrated and safe transport system for all commuters cannot be delivered unless the highest standards and working conditions are upheld for all transport workers. The Minister must ensure this reality is reflected in the Dublin Transport Authority Bill as I believe he is a former transport worker. For these reasons, the Labour Party will seek to amend the aims and functions of the DTA in sections 10 and 11 to include the promotion of the highest possible standard of working conditions, including fair and reasonable salaries for all transport workers.
Part 1 of the Bill describes the DTA's mandate as covering the greater Dublin area and comprising the geographical area of the four Dublin local authority areas and counties Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. These areas are increasingly an integrated region in economic, social and infrastructural terms. However, it is ludicrous to exclude County Louth from the greater Dublin area, as my colleague from the area stated, and particularly the south Louth and Drogheda area when it is so clearly also a part of the greater Dublin hinterland in transport, social and economic terms. Drogheda and Dundalk are as much a part of the mid-Leinster or greater Dublin area as are Dunshaughlin, Arklow and Naas. There are huge numbers of Louth residents who commute to Meath, Dublin and Kildare for work everyday. North County Dublin, west Meath and south Louth is a cogent and coherent region. I hope the Minister will return to that.
Part 2 of the Bill establishes and lists the general functions of the authority and, in section 11(e), refers to effective management of demand. One of the principal functions of the new DTA will be as regulator of public transport fares. Many citizens have bitterly opposed the gas and electricity pricing policy that has been imposed by the energy regulator, the Commission for Energy Regulation, since its establishment. Under the CER pricing regime, gas skyrocketed by over 100% between 2002 and 2006 and the price of electricity increased by 66% between 2002 and 2006. The year 2007 was the first that CER sanctioned an energy price decrease. What the CER and energy pricing experience highlights are the dangers of letting a regulator set prices in an unaccountable and opaque manner. In effect, the CER became a handy mudguard for the Minister to deflect all the Government's flak on soaring energy costs, which continue to hit the most vulnerable in our society. There are great fears that the Minister could attempt to repeat the same feat with the DTA and public transport fares.
Early this year, there were very significant fare increases in Luas, Bus Éireann, Irish Rail and Dublin Bus fares, which were sanctioned by the Minister. Single Luas tickets went up by 10 cent and fares on Dublin Bus, DART and all commuter and inter-city Irish Rail services also increased by approximately 5% . This means there has been an overall significant increase in public transport fares by 37.6% since 2000 and by 30.4% since 2002. Lower public transport fares are critical for encouraging a modal shift to public transport. The Minister will remember that in the run-in to the general election, my colleague, Deputy Róisín Shortall, proposed on our behalf that we would have a €1 flat bus fare for adults and a 50 cent per trip fare for children in the greater Dublin region.
In the wider context, there are significant issues surrounding the DTA and its democratic accountability. The Labour Party has long supported a DTA that has real and enforceable powers to oversee the development of integrated transport infrastructure and is fully accountable to the citizens of the greater Dublin area.
However, Chapter 2 of Part 2 lays out the governance arrangements and it is extremely disappointing that there are no directly elected representatives on the ten-person board of the DTA. In effect, five of the members will be officials or directly appointed by the Minister. They clearly have a profound influence on the work of the DTA. With regard to section 14(2)(d), for example, why is there not a qualifying section like section 16(5) referring to prescribed organisations for the DTA main board and advisory council?
I am a former member of the Dublin regional authority and we liaised very closely with the mid-east regional authority, attempting to move on the demand for this authority to be set up. There will be only four councillors on the 13-member DTA advisory council, which will also include a large number of officials, three city and county managers, a senior Garda and the ministerially appointed member. Why are the directly elected representatives of the people of the greater Dublin area being so plainly excluded from the decision-making structures and institutions of the DTA? As my colleague stated, there is no provision for any direct statutory input into the DTA board from commuters or commuters' representative groups. We will return to this in amendments.
The Green Party Minister, Deputy Gormley, recently published his local government Green Paper. How will the DTA operate within the structure of the new directly-elected mayoral system? Will this happen in 2011 or 2014? Will the directly-elected person chair the body? There is a strong case for having a directly-elected chair so the people of these seven or eight counties would be able to go into a polling booth and vote for the person who will have this core and key power. There have been strong suggestions recently that the mayor will act as the DTA's chair. I welcome that.