Dublin Transport Authority Bill 2008 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

First, I must convey the regrets of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, that he is unavailable to introduce this important legislation to the House. He is in Armagh today attending a North-South Ministerial Council meeting. However, I am pleased to introduce the Dublin Transport Authority Bill 2008, the main purpose of which is to establish a single public body that will be in overall charge of all surface transport in the greater Dublin area.

In essence, the intention behind the proposal to establish the Dublin transport authority is to ensure that the population of the greater Dublin area will in future have a high quality, integrated transport system that meets its travel and transport needs for both work and leisure in a sustainable way.

On a point of order and meaning no disrespect to the Minister of State, where is the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to introduce his Bill?

I heard on local radio this morning that he is in Northern Ireland to meet his counterpart. Is this correct?

While I thank the Chair, I have said that. Perhaps there was some noise in the Chamber at the time. I mentioned that the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, sent his regrets. He is attending a meeting in Armagh of the North-South Ministerial Council on transport today.

My point is that although this Bill initially was to be dealt with tomorrow, it was introduced today. While Fine Gael Members do not have a problem with that, the Minister for Transport ought to be here and there is no excuse for his absence.

We have a good——

It is important that the Minister should be present for the conclusion of the debate. Perhaps the Minister of State can ask him.

He will be present.

As I noted, he has conveyed his regrets.

There is little point in Members making recommendations.

Deputy O'Dowd is correct in that, originally, the Bill was scheduled as a back-up for today's proceedings. However, the schedule changed.

The Minister of State should continue. This is a minor issue.

The Bill passed all Stages in the Seanad with, it is fair to say, support from across the board for the intent of the legislation, if not for every last detail. The Seanad debate resulted in a number of amendments to the Bill as initiated, several of which were due to the intervention of the Opposition, which I believe have resulted in improvements to the relevant provisions. I look forward to the debate in this House and I am prepared to listen to any reasonable suggestions for further improvements to the Bill.

The greater Dublin area, GDA, is the most densely populated and traffic-congested region within the State. It comprises seven local authorities, namely Dublin city, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, south Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. It has an area of just under 7,000 sq. km and in 2006 had a population of 1.66 million people or almost 40% of the State's total population. This represents an increase of more than a quarter of a million people in the ten years from 1996 to 2006. During the same period, the number of people travelling to work each day in the area also increased by a quarter of a million or by more than 50%. The people of this area and its business community require a transport system that is integrated, efficient, effective and sustainable. The provision of such a system is the mandate the Government intends to give to the Dublin transport authority.

The new authority will have overall responsibility for surface transport in the greater Dublin area, subject to direction by the Government in respect of significant policy issues. I will outline the main policy priorities for the authority. It will work with the regional and local authorities to ensure a better alignment of transport and land use planning processes. It will be charged with ensuring the effective integration of public transport infrastructure and services. It will be responsible for the timely and cost-effective implementation of the public transport infrastructure projects for the greater Dublin area in the ten-year Transport 21 capital investment framework. It will procure the provision of public transport services in a manner that optimises the benefits arising from the almost doubling of capacity on the public transport system under Transport 21. Finally, but not least, it will be asked to work towards the achievement of a sustainable transport system for the greater Dublin area.

In order to deliver effectively on such policy objectives, the authority will be given a wide range of functions covering strategic transport planning, the procurement of public transport infrastructure and services, the promotion of cycling and walking, integration and traffic and demand management.

The authority will draw up a strategic framework for the delivery of infrastructure and services in a strategic transport plan covering a 12 to 20-year period, much as did the Dublin Transportation Office's strategy, A Platform for Change. To ensure this plan is put into action, the authority will produce six-yearly integrated implementation plans focusing on the projects and services to be introduced during the period of each plan and on how the integration of such projects and services with each other and with existing services is to be achieved. Both the strategic transport plan and the implementation plan will be subject to a wide-ranging consultation process. Each plan will be subject to ministerial approval as part of a wide range of measures to ensure the authority will be properly accountable.

The authority will procure public transport services, which are subject to public service obligations, in a manner that is consistent with the provisions of EU law. This will enable the authority to ensure the integration of services and will provide a new framework to hold service providers to account for the quality of services provided to the public. It will regulate public transport fares and will have powers to ensure the delivery of integrated ticketing and fares and public transport information schemes. It will promote cycling and walking as a sustainable alternative to motorised transport. The work of the authority in this regard will take into account the Government's action plan on sustainable travel and transport, which will be published later this year, and, in particular, the national cycling plan on which the Department is working at present.

The authority will also prepare a strategic traffic management plan for the region to ensure a consistent approach across all local authority areas, including during construction works for major infrastructure projects.

One of the key drivers in preparing this legislation was the need to more closely align transport and land use planning in the GDA. Achieving greater integration of transport and land use planning will be central to the success of the authority in carrying out its mandate. The Minister worked closely with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and his officials on drafting the relevant provisions in the Bill. The objective was to ensure a more sustainable and integrated approach to land use and transport in the greater Dublin area through maximising consistency between regional planning guidelines, local authority development plans and local area plans, and the authority's transport strategy. That can only be achieved if a balance is struck that ensures transport considerations are fully addressed as part of land use planning while respecting the existing democratic accountability of the planning process.

The proposals seek to give an equitable share of responsibilities to the regional and local planning authorities on the one hand, to participate in the development of the transport strategy and implementation plan, and to the DTA, on the other hand, to take an active part in the formulation of the regional, county and local planning processes.

A series of technical amendments are proposed to the Planning and Development Act 2000 to allow the Dublin transport authority make key inputs at every stage of the preparation and review of regional planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area, thereby ensuring that they are closely aligned with the authority's transport strategy. A balancing provision allows the regional authorities to influence the content of the authority's transport strategy to make sure that it is consistent with the regional planning guidelines. Similar arrangements will apply to ensure local authority development plans and local area plans will be consistent with the authority's strategic transport plan.

Additional powers will also be given to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to intervene, if required, to ensure that regional planning guidelines, development plans and local area plans are consistent with the transport strategy prepared for the greater Dublin area by the Dublin transport authority. A similar power is given to the Minister for Transport to intervene, if required, to ensure that the transport strategy is consistent with regional planning policies.

Additionally, developers of classes of development prescribed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government after consultation with the authority, will be required to submit transport impact assessments as part of the planning process. Such impact assessments will require developers to demonstrate how their proposals are consistent with the authority's transport strategy. Planning authorities will be required to satisfy themselves that is the case before granting permission. The Bill also introduces a new, non-compensatable reason for the refusal of planning permission, namely that the proposed development would not be consistent with the authority's transport strategy.

These proposals will provide workable and effective arrangements to better integrate transport and land use planning to ensure the full benefits of a more accessible city and hinterland envisioned under Transport 21 are realised for people living and working in the greater Dublin area.

A major objective of this legislation is the delivery of an integrated transport network. This will be achieved in a number of ways. The authority will have overall responsibility for procuring public transport services and will be able to use its detailed powers in this area to ensure that bus, rail, metro and Luas services are properly integrated in the future. The authority will implement a single public transport brand, something akin to the Transport for London brand springs to mind, but it will be left to the authority to decide the optimal branding and how it should be introduced. The authority will take over direct responsibility for the introduction of integrated ticketing, building on the work already undertaken by the Railway Procurement Agency and overseen by the integrated ticketing project board. The authority will also have responsibility for introducing an integrated fares system and the development of an integrated information system, providing a single, integrated source of travel planning information for public transport users. Its infrastructure powers will enable it to ensure the delivery of public transport interchange and park and ride facilities.

The Government is committed to a radical improvement of public transport services in the GDA. Moreover, it is wholeheartedly committed to obtaining the best value for the travelling public and the taxpayer from the significant subvention being provided by the Exchequer for public transport services in the GDA.

The Bill provides for the use of performance-based public service contracts for bus and rail public transport services in the greater Dublin area. The contracts will set out clearly the services being provided and the payments to support those services. These provisions are in line with the new regime introduced under the EU regulation on public service obligations in the transport sector, which becomes mandatory from next year.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to improving bus services under Transport 21 by reforming the bus licensing provisions of the Road Transport Act 1932 to facilitate the optimum provision of services. It is the Minister's intention that proposals for a new bus licensing regime will follow in subsequent legislative proposals. The new licensing regime will be designed in a manner consistent with the new EU regulation. In the meantime, applications for new bus licences and notifications from State bus operators will continue to be processed under the licensing provisions of the Road Transport Act 1932 and the notification system under the Transport Act 1958.

The Bill includes strong provisions, modelled on the powers that have been so successfully used by the National Roads Authority, NRA, regarding the provision of public transport infrastructure. The powers of the authority set out in the legislation can be summarised as follows. The authority will have responsibility for the allocation of Exchequer funds for public transport infrastructure projects in the GDA. However, as is the case with the NRA, the DTA will act in accordance with the investment priorities set out by Government in Transport 21 and the national development plan. The authority will be required to endeavour to deliver public transport infrastructure projects through existing agencies in the first instance. However, if it considers it more convenient, expeditious, effective or economical to do so, it can deliver a project itself. The authority can issue a direction to a transport agency requiring it to deliver or take a particular action in delivering a project. Should the transport agency refuse, the DTA can step in and take over the project itself.

Following his appointment as Minister for Transport in June 2007, Deputy Noel Dempsey decided to initiate a review of the draft legislation having regard to the commitments in the agreed programme for Government and also the length of time that had passed since the Dublin transport authority establishment team had completed its report. One of that report's recommendations was that the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, be absorbed into the new authority. In the intervening period the RPA has made major progress on the important projects assigned to it under Transport 21, particularly the procurement of metro north. In the circumstances the Minister became concerned that the absorption of the RPA by the authority could jeopardise the ongoing public private partnership procurement process in respect of metro north, which is at a critical and sensitive juncture — tender documents were issued to the four bidding consortia just last week. For that reason, it has been decided to leave the RPA outside the authority. The benefits of providing organisational continuity in respect of the metro north procurement process far outweigh any other benefits that could have accrued from pursuing other options regarding the relationship between the RPA and the authority.

While mentioning the metro north project, I wish to point out an amendment to the Bill that was introduced on Committee Stage in the Seanad regarding St. Stephen's Green. The provision of metro north, as well as the DART interconnector, will have an impact on St. Stephen's Green. Section 15 of the Saint Stephen's Green (Dublin) Act 1877 requires that the green shall be maintained as a park for the recreation of the public and for no other purpose. The advice of the Attorney General was that a provision was required to overcome this restriction and facilitate the provision of the railways concerned. Consequently, section 114 of the Bill provides powers for the transport agencies to carry out surveys and inspections in advance of railway works, to carry out the works authorised by a railway order and, in the longer term, to operate a railway under St. Stephen's Green. The provision was drafted in consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who has statutory responsibility for the green, and care has been taken to ensure that the Minister's powers of consent under the National Monuments Acts with regard to the green remain unaffected.

Irish Rail and the RPA have worked closely together in designing the stations for both the interconnector and the metro north within the constraints agreed with the Office of Public Works and in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dublin City Council and other key stakeholders. In addition, Dublin City Council is developing a traffic management strategy to minimise the disruption caused to traffic by works at St. Stephen's Green. To protect the sensitive heritage and environmental aspects of this area, specialists including conservation architects, archaeologists and arboriculturists are currently being taken on by the RPA to advise on these significant matters. Before any work is carried out, detailed surveys, reports and photographic records will be commissioned and agreed with the OPW. A detailed landscaping plan to reinstate the green will also be agreed with the OPW.

Mr. Tom Mulcahy has been appointed chairperson of the interim Dublin Transport Authority and will relinquish his position as chairperson of the Railway Procurement Agency in due course. Additional members will be appointed shortly to the interim authority. Its remit will be to prepare the ground for the establishment of the new authority. A competition to find a suitable chief executive designate will be undertaken. Once the chief executive designate is in place, the interim authority will be able to consider the staffing and financial requirements of the authority, initiate the recruitment of staff, source office accommodation and put in place the necessary support systems with a view to ensuring the authority is in a position to start work straight away when established.

I propose to outline the main provisions of the Bill. As this is a lengthy Bill, I will highlight only the main provisions of each part. Part 1 deals with preliminary and general matters and concerns certain standard legislative provisions such as definitions and commencement provisions. Part 2 concerns the establishment of the Dublin Transport Authority and the governance arrangements under which it will operate. Chapter 1 of Part 2 concerns arrangements for the establishment of the authority. Sections 10 and 11 set out the general objectives to be pursued by the authority and its principal functions. To highlight the importance of cycling and walking in the wider transport picture, an additional function of promoting increased recourse to cycling and walking was added to the authority's functions by amendment in the Seanad.

Under section 12, the authority is required to prepare a transport strategy identifying the strategic transport requirements for the greater Dublin area over a 12 to 20 year timeframe. The authority will inherit the work currently being undertaken by the Dublin Transportation Office on the development of a transport strategy for the greater Dublin area for the period 2010-30 to succeed A Platform for Change. A public consultation on the development of that strategy was initiated last Monday. The authority is required under section 13 to prepare a six-year integrated implementation plan setting out the priorities, actions and objectives of the authority with regard to the provision of public transport infrastructure and services. This plan is designed to translate strategy into action.

Chapter 2 of Part 2 sets out the structure and governance arrangements of the authority. Under section 14, the authority will comprise ten members appointed by the Minister, three of whom will be executive directors — the chief executive officer and two senior managers. The Dublin City Manager will be appointed in an ex-officio capacity. The remaining six non-executive part-time members must be people with relevant experience. The report of the establishment team recommended the use of an independent nomination panel to recommend to the Minister persons for appointment to the authority. However, the Minister is firmly of the view that given the large amount of taxpayers’ money being allocated to the authority, there should be strong accountability by the authority to the Minister of the day and to Government and that such accountability is best achieved by direct selection and appointment of the board by the Minister.

Joe Burke for chairman.

The authority will be charged with carrying out all of the DTA's statutory functions. Section 17 provides for the appointment by the Minister of a 13-member advisory council which will scrutinise the work of the authority. Membership of the advisory council will comprise the Dublin City Manager, two county managers from the GDA or officers nominated by them, four elected members of the Dublin and mid-east regional authorities, a member of the Garda Síochána and four ordinary members nominated by representative organisations.

Chapter 2 of Part 2 incorporates important provisions concerning the duty of the authority to implement Government policy and its accountability to the Minister, the Government and the Oireachtas. The Minister will have the power to issue policy directions and guidelines to the authority regarding any of its functions. Compliance with policy directions will be mandatory. In addition, under section 41 there is a statutory obligation on the chairperson and chief executive to appear before Oireachtas committees. The authority's accounts will be subject to annual audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General, following which an annual report must be submitted to the Minister. In addition to moneys granted to the authority through the Department of Transport, it will also be permitted to borrow up to an aggregate limit of €1 billion and those borrowings may be guaranteed by the Minister for Finance subject to appropriate terms and conditions.

Section 40 of the Bill contains standard provisions precluding Members of either House of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament from becoming members of the authority. As originally drafted, this exclusion also applied to local authority members. Following debate on Committee Stage in the Seanad, however, the provisions regarding non-eligibility of local authority members were removed. As Deputies are aware, a Green Paper on local government has been published, in respect of which a consultation process is underway. One of the proposals put forward for consideration is the creation of the position of a directly elected regional mayor for Dublin, who would also become the chairperson of the DTA. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government hopes to finalise work on a White Paper by the end of the year after considering the views expressed during consultation. We will work closely with him to give effect to Government policy as set out in the White Paper.

Part 3 comprises six chapters dealing with transport infrastructure and services. Chapter 1 sets out the functions of the authority with regard to the provision of public transport infrastructure. It is being given responsibility for the procurement of public transport infrastructure. However, in the normal course of events the authority will procure infrastructure through the existing statutory agencies — Irish Rail for suburban rail and the Railway Procurement Agency for light rail and metro. The authority will also allocate capital funding to these bodies or agencies. If the authority considers it necessary, however, it can step in and take over projects itself. Its powers in this regard have been modelled on those of the NRA with regard to road projects.

Chapter 2 establishes a comprehensive framework that will give the authority the power to secure the provision of public passenger transport services through the use of public transport service contracts. Procurement will be carried out by the authority's entering into public transport service contracts, the general framework for which is set out in sections 48, 49 and 50. In the case of public bus and rail passenger services, as distinct from metro and light rail services, contracts will only be entered into where there is a public service obligation, PSO, identified by the authority. Such contracts must comply with EU law, particularly EU Regulation 1370/2007, which establishes a new framework for PSO contracts for bus and rail passenger services and comes into effect from 3 December 2009. This chapter has been prepared so that it is in line with the regulation. The Office of the Attorney General has been directly involved in the preparation of the chapter to ensure we are in full compliance with our EU obligations, particularly in the area of State aid.

The specific structure adopted in respect of the making of direct award contracts with the CIE companies, which is set out in section 52, has been prepared with particular reference to the regulation. The section establishes the basis for the continued provision of current bus services provided by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann in the greater Dublin area and for the ongoing operation by Irish Rail of rail services in the area. The two bus companies are being granted exclusive rights to continue providing their current services, subject to the grant of licences for commercial services to private bus operators under the Road Transport Act 1932. The authority will enter into direct award contracts with the companies in respect of those services. The initial direct award contracts provided for under this section will last five years in the case of the public bus passenger services and ten years for rail passenger services. Subsequent direct award contracts can be made and the authority is being given powers to review the contracts within their allotted life span.

In the case of public bus passenger services, the chapter provides support for the continued provision of the subvented services being provided by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann in the greater Dublin area in the first instance. It also provides that any growth in the market for subvented services will be addressed by way of public service contracts that will be granted following open tendering, allowing Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann and private operators to tender for the operation of those services. We will address the many other sections in due time.

The establishment of the new authority will streamline and strengthen the decision-making process in respect of the planning and provision of sustainable and integrated transport services and infrastructure in the greater Dublin area. The strengthening of the interaction between land use planning and transport will further assist in ensuring the sustainable growth of the area and will lead to an enhanced quality of life for all who live and work therein. The new authority will have a clear mandate and the necessary powers to deliver on it, but it will be fully accountable to the Minister for Transport and the House. I commend the Bill to the House.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

Dáil Éireann declines to give the Bill a Second Reading due to the severe lack of democratic accountability procedures inherent in the Bill in respect of the operation of the proposed Dublin Transport Authority.

According to the briefing documents of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, the Bill was ready for publication in April 2007, but it has taken one year for the Bill to appear before the House in its new format. Since the Minister took so long to make up his mind — the original date set for this debate was tomorrow and, last week, I was satisfied with the set dates of Wednesday and Thursday — his absence is unacceptable. I acknowledge his commitment to North-South co-operation, but it is an insult to the House that the Minister is not present given the importance of this Bill, which will transform the administration of transport in Dublin.

The Minister is not new to the idea of a Dublin transport authority. The record shows that in 1987 an Act was passed to dismiss the Dublin transport authority, which was established by a coalition Government. On the list of luminaries who voted for its abolition was Deputy Noel Dempsey. Perhaps that is the reason for his absence — he is embarrassed that he voted against the authority and, 21 years later, must vote for it without a proper democratic mandate.

He was a member of the gang of four.

Yes. I do not know whether he is now a member of the Cowen or Bertie gang or some other gang.

The Bill relates to the questions of how people get to and from work, quality of life and improving services. In principle, Fine Gael supports the establishment of a Dublin transport authority. The Bill has many positive elements, but there is a serious democratic deficit in the proposals. The Minister of State's comments regarding the growth in Dublin's population were correct, but the average speed of a car, bus or whatever in the city is 13 kph. The average speeds in Belfast and in Cologne in Germany are 27 kph and 40 kph, respectively. The city's serious transport issues, such as bottlenecks, must be addressed. The Bill, which proposes to establish and provide new powers for an authority, is at the core of changing how we live and get to work.

The president of a strategic transport group gave a logistics speech in which he stated that in 1957, when Sputnik was launched, one could go to and from the airport in 20 minutes during rush hour. The situation has changed considerably. Family life and the economy suffer when people cannot be on time for work because of bottlenecks and trucks breaking down on essential transport corridors. The business community estimates that €2 billion is lost to the economy per year due to traffic delays. This serious issue affects people adversely. Even minor delays, such as flooding or, as occurred last year, the overturning of a truck on an inner bypass just off the M50, can block the city for hours.

Family life has suffered greatly as a result of congestion in cities, with families enjoying poor quality time together. The figures given by the Minister of State in respect of the considerable population increase in the greater Dublin area are accurate, but tired children are going to bed even before their tired parents get home, meaning that the latter do not get to see their children. Family life and commuters suffer greatly due to our poor transport system. That is not to claim that there are no good proposals, such as the metro and so on, but this is the world in which we live. As we change it and try to create a new, dynamic body to address current and future transport problems, we must consider what is being done at present.

My criticisms of the Bill relate to the democratic deficit. Given the comments of the Minister of State and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, it is a key consideration that a body such as this authority does not become a HSE for transport — the HSE is unaccountable and has no transparency or openness. The fact that public representatives are not involved in its management structure or anywhere along the line is its key weakness. It will also be the key weakness in the DTA. I am referring to democratic accountability as opposed to democratic control.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has made much of the Green Paper setting out his plans for an elected lord mayor of Dublin. The next local elections will take place in one year's time but the Minister does not plan to introduce his provisions until 2011. The problem is that there is a lack of commitment to the introduction of a directly elected lord mayor. This Bill will come into force on 1 January 2009. On 1 June or 1 July next year, after the local elections, there is no reason that a newly elected lord mayor should not take the chairmanship of this authority. This would be a way of addressing the significant democratic deficit that exists in the legislation. Appointing the lord mayor to the chairmanship will help to ensure the activities and policies of the Dublin transport authority are accountable, transparent and open. The Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, said that Government policy in this regard would be outlined in the White Paper. However, he did not say that the lord mayor will be the chairman of the authority. I presume, therefore, that there is some doubt in this regard. I ask that he clarify this key issue.

For the purposes of accountability, the membership of the advisory board should include elected representatives. One of the key recommendations of the body which looked at the problems that might arise in regard to the work of the proposed Dublin transport authority was that the advisory body should include one elected representative for each of the regions in the Dublin area. However, that proposal has been thrown out by the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. The year's delay in the introduction of this legislation has resulted in less democratic accountability than we anticipated and expected. The Minister seems to have used that time to water down the accountability and transparency provisions.

I can find no reference in the Bill to accountability to the Dáil. We on this side of the House will not vote for the legislation unless it includes such a provision.

We will not allow the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, to set up another quango that is not accountable to the Oireachtas. All Members are aware of the problems with the HSE. As I said, a positive provision in terms of accountability would be to make the lord mayor the chairperson of the Dublin transport authority. A stipulation that the advisory committee must include local authority members would also be welcome.

Accountability to the Dáil is another aspect of the accountability requirement. Day after day, parliamentary questions are tabled to the Minister for Transport on the activities of Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and so on. We receive some degree of accountability in the House in this regard. I am concerned that the Bill's provisions may erode even this level of accountability and we will be in a position where we are constantly receiving letters from the Ceann Comhairle's office telling us that we cannot raise such issues in the Chamber because they are not a matter for the Dáil. We must be able to discuss the activities of the Dublin transport authority in this House by way of parliamentary questions or Adjournment debate. That will be critical to the success of the authority. We will not support a HSE-type body in the area of transport.

The question of membership of the board is not adequately dealt with in the legislation. There should be a process by which commuters, who represent neither trade unions, business nor politics but rather the users of the system, are consulted. Representatives of commuter groups should be included on the board so that the voice of the consumer is heard clearly. Such an approach may lead to a sharper focus on the part of the chief executive officer of the board. As well as the input of vested interests — I do not use that term negatively but rather in reference to the business community, trade unions, transport companies and so on — the chief executive officer should be able to avail of the insight provided by those who use the system. Commuter groups must have access to the highest level of the decision-making process. As I said, we must avoid at all costs the creation of another body in the mode of the HSE. We do not want a board whose members we cannot speak to, seek to influence or question. As it stands, however, this Bill will lead to just such a scenario.

One of the key difficulties with the Bill is that it is not all-encompassing. The Minister originally proposed to incorporate the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, within the new transport authority. After thinking about it for a year, however, he has changed his mind. We will now have two bodies with the same powers, the RPA and the Dublin transport authority. I intend to table an amendment on Committee Stage proposing that the RPA be absorbed into the Dublin transport authority. I do not accept the reasons offered by the Minister of State that this should not happen.

There must be a single organisation with a single voice. The RPA has been in disagreement with Iarnród Éireann for some time in regard to the Broadstone debacle, which Senator Paschal Donohoe brought to our attention. He is an active Senator in this area and will be a successful Deputy in the future. The dispute between the RPA and Iarnród Éireann might have led to land being cut off and communities being denied the transport corridor they needed. The situation was ultimately resolved but it is important that a similar dispute does not recur. I acknowledge and respect the tremendous professional commitment demonstrated by the RPA. However, it must not continue as an entity operating separately from the Dublin transport authority but should instead be absorbed into it. There can be no more turf wars. The way to prevent them is to ensure there is no other entity with many of the same powers as the Dublin transport authority.

The new broadcasting Bill will include a provision to oblige members of the RTE authority to come before the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The Minister has taken upon himself the power to appoint whoever he wishes to the board of the Dublin transport authority. In the interests of transparency and accountability, the Oireachtas Committee on Transport should have the power to grill the Minister's appointees as to their experience and suitability. Moreover, the committee should be allowed to declare an appointee unsuitable. We will make clear to the Minister that we will not accept appointees who are merely party political hacks, regardless of which party that is. We want people who know the business and who live, work or travel in Dublin. If there is accountability before the Oireachtas committee, as is proposed in regard to the broadcasting Bill 2008, the Bill will be stronger and more effective and will lead to greater accountability and better performance. We need to improve the transport system in a transparent manner in terms of having the power to question decisions rather than change them. People on the board should be able to challenge decisions as they arise from the point of view of system users. The DTA should be responsible to the Members of this House. It should not just be a matter of its chairman appearing for 90 minutes before a committee once per year to discuss annual accounts. That is the amount of time we give to the NRA and other bodies because it is all that is available through the committee system. We want more accountability so that we can deal with controversies and get answers from the Minister. We want to hold debates on the Adjournment and raise issues on Leaders' Questions.

Transport users will not have choices until the metro is constructed. Not every bus user is a commuter because a significant number of travellers, such as older people and students, are not going to work. New areas in Dublin city and surrounding counties lack proper public transport services. We want to see more buses, greater choice for transport users and stronger competition in the bus market. That is a cumbersome procedure under the Road Transport Act 1932, and it needs to be urgently reformed. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, has said he will not introduce competition into the bus market before next year at the earliest but we will propose amendments on Committee Stage to open the market in Dublin to competition. That was Government policy. When Deputy Brennan was Minister for Transport, 25% of the market was to be opened, a figure which was reduced to 15% under the subsequent Minister, Deputy Cullen. The present Minister was reported in The Sunday Business Post as stating there would not be competition but he has since advised us not to believe what we read in the newspapers. He may be about to make some sort of commitment but that is not good enough. This Bill presents an excellent opportunity to increase competition. It is not just a matter of competition, however, because we need to provide choice in terms of more buses on more routes.

We cannot leave the matter to Dublin Bus. I am not here to criticise the company or its workforce but restrictive practices have existed in the past and issues arise in respect of public service obligations. We will have greater transparency from Dublin Bus and better services if the consumer has more choice. We are not calling for competition between service providers on existing routes, however, because we recommend competitive tendering, with franchises for one year or longer. Clearly, it costs a lot of money to purchase a bus so we do not expect to restrict the franchise to one year. The Minister for Transport proposes that the routes given to Dublin Bus will remain with the company for five years, which seems a long time. That is not a competitive way to approach the matter. We would like this Bill to reform the 1932 Act and we will propose amendments that turn the DTA into a one stop shop to consider and control these factors. We do not want closed shops, routes that do not expand or communities without transport. I do not care what colour the bus may be, as long as it provides a choice to consumers. Competitive tendering will make an impact in that respect. The Progressive Democrat Party is in favour of bus competition and the Green Party recommends reform of the 1932 Act in the policy paper it published yesterday, which means every party but Fianna Fáil wants to introduce reforms. We are advocating the inclusion of reform in this Bill.

The operation of the Freedom of Information Act is important. Freedom of information is a critical legislative power allowing John citizen to find out what is going on. By selectively watering down the legislation, this Government has made it increasingly difficult for Opposition Members to find out what Ministers are up to. The freedom of information requirements under this Bill appear to allow the transport provider to decide what it shall call restricted information, thereby giving it more power than it is entitled to. It is not that we are going to seek sensitive commercial information but we want to know what is going on and the nature of the choices we face. Freedom of information regulations can be used by citizens and journalists in that regard. I would like the Bill to be as open as possible and apply freedom of information to areas such as public service obligation routes and the truth about what is happening in Dublin Bus. We cannot find this information at present. I do not imply, however, that Dublin Bus has not been open to meetings or exchanges of information.

The need has arisen for a national transport authority. Issues that arise in Dublin which apply nationwide will not be addressed unless the powers of the DTA are extended to a national transport authority.

There are positive elements in this Bill and we have consistently called for legislation to be introduced in this area. Legislation we previously introduced in the House to provide for a Dublin transport authority was rejected by Fianna Fáil.

This Bill's strength lies in its provisions on planning and development. It is right and proper that corruption will no longer exist in local government. We will have no further Mahon tribunals for this region if every planning decision, development plan and rezoning is subject to the DTA approval in respect of infrastructure. Regardless of who the councillors are or which authority they represent, they will have to provide sustainable planning and development. That is a critical part of this Bill and it is a measure which I strongly support. However, these issues extend beyond Dublin. I have read in newspapers about issues pertaining to Killarney and elsewhere in the country. Many towns and villages have been affected by urban sprawl because of bad planning decisions. I welcome the requirement that An Bord Pleanála must have due regard for the views of the DTA when it makes decisions in this area. However, the Minister is losing a golden opportunity by not extending that power to other local authorities. This is an important power and it will make a massive difference to communities.

There is a weakness in the Bill in respect of the constituency I represent. Provision is made in the Bill in respect of the counties immediately adjacent to Dublin. I refer here to Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. In the Seanad, the Labour Party tabled an amendment, with which I agree, to the effect that the Drogheda Borough Council area should be included under the Bill. There is a provision in the Bill under which the Minister can extend the remit of the DTA if it so recommends. However, that is not good enough.

Like east Meath, south Louth is becoming a concrete jungle. If one were to examine the demography and development patterns of east Meath, for which the Bill makes provision, and south Louth, for which it does not, one would see that the two areas are beset by the same problems. There are massive housing estates and a lack of transport infrastructure in both areas. The residents are confused and angry, particularly on foot of the fact that there is an insufficient number of schools, etc., in their areas. The Minister and his officials should consider extending the remit of the DTA to cover south Louth.

My final point relates to the need for transparency in respect of rail fares. I welcome the fact that the DTA will have the power to fix the fares that will be charged by Iarnród Éireann in particular. People are being ripped off in respect of such fares. People from Balbriggan travelling by train from Dublin pay half the fare paid by their fellow passengers who live in Drogheda and Dundalk. The system of fares is inequitable. When one passes Balbriggan, one is obliged to pay an entirely different fare. People are being ripped off left, right and centre by Iarnród Éireann. This is a major issue. The power granted to the DTA in respect of fixing fares may end this great rip off on the part of Iarnród Éireann. I will return to this matter on Committee Stage.

There are many good elements in the Bill. However, without accountability, transparency and openness, we will vote against it because we will not support the creation of another HSE for bureaucrats.

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.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.