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

The following motion was moved by the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Noel Ahern, on Wednesday, 21 May 2008: That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
Debate resumed on 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.
—(Deputy Fergus O'Dowd).

I call on Deputy Reilly who has three minutes left in his slot.

I will be brief within the minute remaining.

The Deputy has three minutes.

Very good. I can talk a little more slowly therefore and maybe the Minister will not only understand me, but also take on board what I say. The Indecon report, which was presented recently to Fingal County Council, stated that the metro north project had the ability to deliver 67,000 jobs to north Dublin. In answering questions earlier, the Minister said that the project remains on line for 2013. Is that correct? He is nodding his head, so I will take that as a "Yes". This is a key to delivering a hospital, possibly, and a third level institution to Swords, County Dublin. The county manager is actively pursuing such commendable objectives. The planners drawing up plans for a new city with infrastructure and transport amenities in the Swords area need clarity at this time of economic duress. Now that the draft plan is on display, I hope timelines and so forth will be published soon. Given Dublin Airport's expansion — a new terminal is under construction and a new runway is planned — metro north is badly needed. Without it, developments at the airport will fall foul of a lack of infrastructure. I hope the metro line proceeds on time.

I ask the Minister to reconsider the Bill, on which the House had a heated debate on the previous occasion. While the legislation offers opportunities, it is vital that the new authority is answerable to the House. We do not need another Health Service Executive, which is what the Dublin transport authority will be if the Bill is enacted as proposed. The proposed authority will not be answerable to the House or anyone other than the Minister. How will Deputies obtain information on behalf of constituents and citizens on issues on which the authority is not delivering?

Deputies have spoken about the need for transparency and accountability, with which, I am sure, the Minister agrees. However, he must also agree that if the Bill is passed without amendment, the new body will be neither transparent nor accountable and the disconnection between those who make decisions and those who have to suffer their consequences will increase.

If nothing else, the result of the referendum on the Lisbon treaty showed that people are angry for a host of reasons. While disinformation and other factors played a role in the outcome, the underlying and important message was that people feel disempowered and believe politicians are not listening to them and power is shifting to the centre. The current approach does not work and undermines people's faith in democracy. I ask the Minister to reconsider the arrangements provided for in the Bill to ensure the authority is subject to proper levels of responsibility, accountability and transparency. Its staff must have a clear definition of what is their responsibility, to whom they are answerable and the reason decisions are made. Moreover, the House must have an input especially as recent changes in the health system made the House irrelevant in that area. If the Minister refuses to reconsider, I will oppose the Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Dublin Transport Authority Bill. A Dublin transport authority has been promised for many years and I am glad we finally have a Bill before the House which allows Deputies to discuss how we can develop a successful integrated transport system for the greater Dublin area.

The simple fact is that Dublin and its surrounding counties have suffered more gridlock and transport chaos in the past two decades than they should have suffered due to the lack of a single unifying transport authority for the greater Dublin area. It is typical of the Government that we are getting our act together on this issue in the post-Celtic tiger era when massive expenditure on infrastructure may have to be cut back due to economic uncertainty.

The Dublin transport authority should have been in the leading advocacy role when planning the future of Dublin as part of Transport 21. A single strong voice on transport in the greater Dublin area could have had a greater impact on halting the rampant ribbon commuter development of the past 15 years. It is possible that, if a strong body such as the DTA had been established 15 years ago, we would have a more compact city of higher density, able to support a larger number of major public transport initiatives such as metro lines and fewer commuters spending many painful hours daily travelling to and from work.

It is clear that a single unifying body in control of transport planning and issues in the greater Dublin area is required. A body such as the DTA would be better equipped to take a lead in tackling issues, such as the gridlock which affects much of this city, than successive Fianna Fáil Governments and Ministers for Transport who, since 1997, have been unable to halt the increasing gridlock in the city, from which all of us suffer daily.

In my constituency of Dublin South-Central, the Terenure, Harold's Cross and Kimmage areas are badly affected by gridlock and I probably receive more representations on this issue than on any other. The area around Terenure crossroads experiences constant traffic jams but despite the efforts of Dublin City Council, South Dublin County Council, Dublin Bus and others to put together a package to alleviate the problem, congestion remains as bad as ever. Everybody in the area heaves a sigh of relief when schools close because a number of secondary and primary schools located in the immediate area contribute to gridlock.

It is extremely frustrating for commuters who experience congestion at the point at which two major roads, Terenure Road West and Templeogue Road, converge. While I accept, as a strong supporter of public transport, that the bus corridor from Rathfarnham has priority at the crossroads, congestion in this location causes unacceptable problems for those trying to get to work. There has been no serious attempt to address the problem of traffic through Terenure or to establish a framework to improve matters for residents and commuters from as far away as Tallaght who use these two major routes. Those who use the other major arterial route into Dublin, Harold's Cross Road, also experience gridlock virtually every day, as I do unless I leave home at 6.45 a.m. At least I have the privilege of a degree of flexibility as to the times I can leave home. Many of my constituents have no such flexibility because they are committed to a specific time schedule.

I will wear my arts, sport and tourism hat to raise an important issue which must be addressed. A recent Fáilte Ireland study showed that traffic congestion has a very negative impact on tourism and tourists' experiences in the greater Dublin area. Tourism is vital to our capital's economy. According to the Dublin Regional Tourism Authority, more than €1.6 billion was spent by 5.6 million tourists to the Dublin region in 2006. We neglect the views and opinions of tourists at our economic peril, particularly given that Ireland is already expensive by European standards and suffers from unpredictable weather compared to many other European countries. For these reasons, we must not give tourists further reason not to visit Dublin. I hope, therefore, that a properly provisioned Dublin transport authority with significant powers will be able to tackle the city's gridlock and ensure a better experience for tourists and citizens.

It appears from figures emerging from the Department of Transport that target completion dates for projects under Transport 21 are being pushed out. The critical link up of the red and green Luas lines has been stalled and the future of proposed Luas lines, such as that from Lucan to the city centre via Ballyfermot, is clouded due to the constrained fiscal climate in which the Government finds itself.

Recently, when I spoke on Transport 21, I showed constituents a map of the areas affected by the programme. They pointed out a large area which looked a little like the Phoenix Park, in other words, it was blank. This suggests Transport 21 will not offer much good news to my constituency, although there has been a proposal to route a Luas line through the constituency. The proposed route has generated significant hostility because people are afraid the project will not impact positively on traffic flow and will take so long to deliver that it will be irrelevant. It is imperative the Dublin transport authority is established as soon as possible to help steer these vital projects through the choppy economic waters we face and ensure value for money.

The failure of successive Fianna Fáil Ministers for Transport to deliver integrated ticketing has been a bugbear of mine for a long time. Foreign tourists are also irritated to discover integrated ticketing is not in place in the greater Dublin area and anecdotal evidence suggests this results in a concentration of foreign tourists in the city centre. They do not see the ease with which they can move into the suburbs and, indeed, out of the city. If we had integrated ticketing, they would be more likely to use the various transport options — Luas, DART, rail etc. Dublin is probably unique by comparison with European cities. This integrated ticketing project has been in existence since 2002, but despite spending millions on integrated ticketing, the project has not been realised. I hope that with the DTA this project will be moved forward.

One of the reasons there has been difficulty in providing integrated ticketing is the lack of cross co-operation among all the major public transport providers in the greater Dublin area. One of the important roles of the DTA should be to co-ordinate the delivery of such a project. We should have had integrated ticketing in the Dublin area long ago. There are reasons for this. Its delivery is not a simple matter but it is so fundamental to encouraging people to use public transport that it must be seen as a priority.

The keyword in today's transport planning is "sustainability". This extends to the provision of houses, services and public transport. Dublin's future transport development must prioritise sustainable forms of transport, commuting and living. The ever-increasing price of fuel and the issue of global warming mean that commuting to Dublin from Gorey, Mullingar or Virginia will no longer be feasible on the scale it is currently. This necessitates an overarching body to help plan the city's transport development across all modes of transport, public and private. The Government has shown that it is not able to proactively manage and plan for the transport needs of the city and it is time the DTA was given the opportunity to do this on behalf of the people to ensure we have the sustainable forms of transport required for the Dublin area.

I want to address the lack of co-ordination between planning in Dublin city and the need for a quality transport system. A number of large residential developments have been allowed to go ahead in recent years. I speak with some passion about my constituency where many of these huge developments have been allowed to proceed. Leaving aside the other opinions I have on the merits of high-rise development, one of its knock-on effects is that the transport facilities in place are not nearly adequate for those living in those apartments, particularly in dense developments where there is a high level of occupancy. There is nothing like an adequate level of public transport for them.

Second, often car parking facilities are put in place around such developments and that means that people, because they do not have access to public transport, are obliged to use their cars, the consequence of which is gridlock. The planning department of Dublin City Council, for example, and the transport authority must merge to ensure that there is infrastructure to allow people to live in such high-rise densely-occupied apartments and at the same time have an adequate quality of life.

One must consider the anger engendered by virtue of finding oneself blocked at the bottom of Jamestown Road, as will inevitably happen arising from another development in my area. The local community very much welcomes the 300 affordable houses but it is extremely irritated by the fact that no account was taken of the knock-on effect in terms of the number of cars that will inevitably come out of that development and find themselves blocked at the bottom of Jamestown Road and on the Naas Road.

Anybody who knows the Naas Road will appreciate the difficulties along that stretch. One of the positive aspects of transport has been the Luas line. In my constituency, particularly in areas such as Drimnagh, Rialto and James's Street, it has been invaluable but the problem is that the capacity is far too small. People tell me that when the Luas arrives in Drimnagh, for example, in the morning it is chock-a-block and one cannot get on. The same happens at peak traffic times going home in the evenings. There are limitations in terms of the number of carriages and so on, but these are the kinds of matters that should have been thought through. The Naas Road is one of the areas served by the Luas line, which is a great service but it is not adequate to take the number of people using it. When planning for those new apartments was being put in place that was totally ignored. I ask for joined-up thinking in planning and traffic management.

I welcome the decision to publish the legislation that will finally set up the DTA and the Labour Party welcomes the prospect of a sustainable transport network and accessible public transport.

I thank all the Deputies for their detailed contributions during the course of this wide-ranging debate. I very much welcome the broad support among Deputies for the establishment of the Dublin Transport Authority. I reiterate my apologies to the Deputies for not being able to be here for the opening of the Second Stage debate because of an unfortunate clash with a North-South Ministerial Council. I regret that but I read the transcripts of that debate.

I noted carefully the contributions made on a range of issues during the course of the Second Stage debate and, although I may not be able to address them all, I will take some of those that were the focus of attention for various Deputies. Most Deputies raised the issue of democratic accountability, in terms of the composition of the authority and the advisory council as well as the accountability of the authority to the Oireachtas. I disagree fundamentally with Deputy Reilly's assertion that this is a HSE-type organisation. The Bill contains a strong accountability framework which strikes a fair balance between efficiency and democratic accountability. The Minister for Transport and the Secretary General of the Department of Transport will be fully accountable to the Oireachtas in respect of the DTA — as everybody here will be aware, the HSE has its own Accounting Officer. The funding of the authority will be routed through the Department and we will be responsible and answerable for that. In addition, the chairperson and the chief executive of the authority will be directly accountable to this House through the Committee of Public Accounts and the Joint Committee on Transport in respect of their various functions.

I do not disagree fundamentally with Deputies on the necessity that such organisations are fully accountable to the House. However, in many respects the committees of this House do not exercise effectively their role as scrutineers of the actions of various bodies. They tend to hold a couple of meetings a year on broad general issues and do not focus enough on the individual organisations. A little examination of conscience on that matter by Members of the House on all sides would be no harm.

I have been criticised by some for having mention of "the Minister" approximately 186 times in the Bill and for the potential for the Minister to interfere too much. On the other hand, I have been accused in the House of shedding all my responsibilities. However, there is a strong accountability regime in place in this regard and I fundamentally disagree with that point.

As part of the issue of accountability, a number of Deputies made suggestions on appointments to the authority. I am afraid I am of the old school in that if a body is under the aegis of my Department or me, as Minister, I do not feel I should allow somebody else to make the appointments to the board of that authority because I must come in here to answer for it and account for what it does. I am not particularly interested in ensuring that my hands, or those of any future Minister, are tied when it comes to appointments to the board. One could get some very funny appointments to a board which might not care too much what the Minister might say or do at some point in the future. Political accountability rests with me and the issue of appointments should rest with me as well.

A number of Deputies raised a point about the advisory council, representation on the board and so on. Deputies made the case very strongly that there should be more local public representatives involved in that, particularly on the advisory council. I am looking at that and am disposed to accepting we change that and have greater local authority representation. The idea of allowing a group, or groups, to make nominations to the Minister, who will appoint people to the advisory council, needs to be teased out because once one says a group should be entitled to a certain number of nominees to the advisory council, 75 other groups will say they should be allowed the same number. I will keep an open mind on that on Committee Stage.

The Road Transport Act 1932 was raised by a number of Deputies, principally Deputies O'Dowd and Broughan, and the fact the Bill does not provide for the reform of the licensing arrangements for commercial bus services. It has been suggested the absence of such reform means there will be no competition in the market for at least five years. That is not the case and is a misreading of the situation. Section 48 empowers the authority to procure public passenger transport services by way of public transport service contracts. Contracts in respect of light rail and metro must be pursued by way of open tendering and public bus services may also be secured in that fashion. Bus services can also be procured by way of direct award contracts in line with section 52 and a similar approach will apply in respect of the procurement of rail services. It will be a matter for the Dublin transport authority to instigate the procurement of public transport services as it sees fit.

The Bill does not place any restrictions on the authority in terms of a time period as to when it might invite tenders for a new funded service. The period of five years referred to in section 52 relates to the length of the initial direct award contracts for existing bus services provided by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann only. The future growth of the market for subvented bus services will only be pursued by way of open tendering so competition is in place.

As well as the commitment to establish a Dublin transport authority, the programme for Government also includes a commitment to improve bus services under Transport 21 by reforming the bus licensing provisions under the Road Transport Act 1932. It is my intention that proposals for a new bus licensing regime will follow in subsequent legislation. It is too early to give precise details of the proposals but I can confirm that the new Bill will deal with the replacement of the Road Transport Act 1932 and the provisions of the Transport Act 1958 which relate to the provision of bus services by the State bus companies.

That new bus licensing regime will be designed in a manner consistent with the new EU PSO regulations. It is envisaged that new licensing structure will apply in respect of all commercial bus services, including those provided by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, and that the powers to grant bus route licenses in the greater Dublin area will be given to the Dublin transport authority.

The new Bill will also encompass provisions relating to the subvented bus market outside the greater Dublin area which are consistent with the EU PSO regulation. I have dealt with a number of the points made by Deputies in regard to what might or might not arise in the Bill. However, it is not possible at this stage to indicate a precise timetable as to when those proposals will be published but in the meantime, applications for new bus licences and notifications from State bus operators will continue to be processed under the provisions of the Road Transport Act 1932.

I assure Deputies it is not my intention to delay this as I see it as a critical and crucial second step in the reform of the bus licensing regimes. I intend to carry this out very quickly. The fact Deputies and the Seanad have facilitated this debate means we may be able to bring this to a conclusion this side of the summer recess and that will help that process.

Deputy Broughan suggested there is an anomaly between the provision of a five year direct award contract for Dublin Bus and a facility for ten year bus contracts in regard to private bus operators. By virtue of their exclusive nature, EU Regulation 1370/2007 which establishes a new framework for PSO contracts for bus and rail services provides that direct award contracts are treated differently to contracts which are the subject of public tenders. The approach proposed in regard to the length of contracts, which is set out in section 48(6) is consistent with that regulation. It provides that the actual determination of the duration of each contract is a matter for the Dublin transport authority within the framework of the maximum durations established in the EU regulation. The specific timeframes are established only in regard to the first direct award contracts mandated under section 52 in order to ensure that when the subsequent direct award contracts are entered into, they will be fully compliant with the regulation. The Bill does not establish specific periods for those subsequent contracts as that will be a matter for determination by the DTA in accordance with section 48(6).

I refer to the other question the Deputy raised in regard to the operator of last resort and the protection of employees. I do not propose to designate CIE as an operator of last resort for the simple reason that at this stage CIE might, in some case, fail to provide the type of service I, another Minister or the Dublin transport authority might want. It would not be wise to make it an operator of last resort.

In regard to the issues around the terms and conditions of employment, public transport operators are already subject to the relevant requirements of employment law and EU legislation. Notwithstanding this, I understand the concerns expressed by the Deputies and will try to bring forward an amendment for consideration to address that issue. As the Deputies will be aware, the issue is generally a matter which is discussed and decided at national level. We cannot have a sectoral agreement in transport. However, it is an important principle and we should in some way enshrine in the legislation that we expect minimum standards in this area. Hopefully, we will have a suitable amendment.

On the question of extending the greater Dublin area, as Deputies know there is a provision in section 3(c) to extend the geographical area of the greater Dublin area by order of the Minister. The Dublin transport authority can make recommendations to the Minister for Transport in that regard but I am not of a mind to change it at this point. It would cause delay and a certain amount of confusion because we would be moving into an area in which another regional authority was operating. Deputies are aware there is a provision in the Bill for services from areas, such as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern’s area of Drogheda, and so on, to be designated as GDA services.

I have been advised that the ability of the Road Safety Authority to appoint transport officers to enforce,inter alia, road transport regulations regarding driver hours etc., needs to be clarified in law arising from an inadequacy of language in the Road Safety Authority Act 2006. Deputy O’Dowd was contacted by an official in my Department and we tried to make contact with Deputy Broughan as well. I ask for the indulgence of the Deputies in the House in dealing with this matter on Committee Stage. I look forward to their co-operation and I thank them in advance.

I thank Deputies for their contributions. As I indicated, I propose to bring forward several amendments in response to issues that have been raised during the debate. I always try to approach a Bill on Committee Stage in an open manner. If the Bill can be improved I look forward to working with Deputies from the Opposition to try to ensure we improve it on Committee Stage.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the main Question."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 77; Níl, 49.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Behan, Joe.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Áine.
  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Browne, John.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Conlon, Margaret.
  • Connick, Seán.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Michael.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Flynn, Beverley.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kennedy, Michael.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Hanlon, Rory.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Edward.
  • O’Rourke, Mary.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • White, Mary Alexandra.
  • Woods, Michael.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Bannon, James.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Coonan, Noel J.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Donnell, Kieran.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Sheehan, P. J.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and David Stanton.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time," put and agreed to.