Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009: [Seanad] Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to introduce the Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009 for the consideration of the House. This Bill places the bus passenger at the centre of a new transformed national bus licensing regime which will replace the current antiquated and inadequate regime that has applied for the past 77 years and brings the legislation governing the licensing of commercial bus services into the modern era. This is a development which all stakeholders have agreed is essential.

The Bill establishes a uniform licensing framework for service providers, both private and State bus operators, thus eliminating any differences under the current regime which may have been perceived as conferring a market advantage. We are introducing a completely new consumer centred system for bus operators. This is reflected in the provisions of the Bill, to which I will refer specifically later.

The 1932 Act was designed primarily to protect the then rail network from competition by road-based transport. It has never been amended in the light of changed economic and social circumstances which, obviously, almost a century later, have radically altered. The Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 was the first stage in the roll-out of this Government's programme of legislative reform in the area of public transport, to fulfil the commitments in the programme for Government 2007.

The 2008 Act, allied to the passage of this Bill, will result in a comprehensive re-fashioning of the legal framework around the planning, regulation and control of public passenger land transport in the State. The changes include the establishment of an independent transport authority, the introduction of public service contracts with quality standards for the provision of subvented transport services, a flexible but fair licensing system for commercial public bus passenger services and transparent regulatory mechanisms to achieve this. I am satisfied that they will benefit the consumer and taxpayer in years to come.

The main purpose of the Bill is to establish a new legal framework for the licensing of all commercial public bus transport services. In doing so, the clearly stated objective of the legislation is the promotion of regulated competition on a national basis in the public interest, as well as the promotion of integrated, well-functioning and cost efficient services. The essential key to the approach being proposed is that the regulation is being applied in the public interest.

The new licensing system will encourage competition in a manner that is geared to the needs and demands of consumers. The identification and pursuit of commercial opportunities will always be a matter for the operators. However, the authority will decide based on customer needs if a proposed service adds value. The industry requires regulated competition.

The licensing regime promoted in this Bill reflects the reality that there are different markets with different considerations attending. It is this general theme which is the basis for the adoption and application of the term "regulated competition" within this Bill. Addressing the needs of consumers is also the central tenet of the new EU Regulation 1370/2007, which establishes new contractually based requirements for the future provision of subvented public bus and rail passenger services.

The regulation promotes the premise that where public service obligations are imposed in respect of the provision of such transport services they must reflect the need that exists to ensure the adequacy of those services in the general economic interest. I raise this important issue at this early point of this overview of the proposed legislation because the issue of public service contracts provided for under the DTA Act 2008 was the subject of significant debate during the passage of this Bill through the other House. That debate centred on the reasons section 52 of that Act promotes the pursuit of direct award contracts between the authority and Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail for the continued provision of their existing range of subvented bus and rail services within the GDA.

Section 52 of the 2008 Act provides the companies in question with exclusive rights to continue to provide services, and mandates the authority to enter into direct award contracts so as to establish a basis for the maintenance of State funding for those services that is consistent with the provisions of EU Regulation 1370/2007. In that context, the section makes it clear that the single overriding reason for the establishment of those contracts is the need to ensure the adequacy of public transport services in the general economic interest.

The approach adopted in section 52 in relation to direct award contracts recognises in the first instance that such contracts are required so as to ensure that the existing subvented public bus and rail passenger services in the GDA can continue to operate and attract necessary State subvention given the importance of those services to the travelling public. Were that course not pursued, the maintenance of the existing bus and rail services in the GDA would have been threatened. The Bill before the House provides that the legislative framework for underpinning the existing subvented bus and rail passenger services in the greater Dublin area will be extended to all similar existing services in the rest of the State.

The House will recall that in recognition of the approach to direct award contracts established in EU Regulation 1370/2007, section 52 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act incorporates significant powers for the Dublin Transport Authority to review the contracts relating to public bus services, which can give rise to the unilateral amendment or termination of a contract as appropriate. The Bill will also realise the transfer of the Commission for Taxi Regulation to the authority.

The amalgamation of a number of important functions relating to the regulation and control of all land-based transport modes on a national basis within the authority is in line with the Government's decision to rationalise the number of such agencies in order to optimise efficiencies and savings. It also prompted my decision to confer it with the title of "National Transport Authority" to reflect its wider role now and the prospect of additional functions in future in the light of experience gained, as provided for in section 30 of the Bill. The Bill also contains a number of miscellaneous provisions relating to public transport.

The Bill now proposes that the bus route licensing regime in respect of commercial bus services will be the same for all bus market participants, including those provided by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. It will establish a clear template against which applications for bus route licences will be considered, as well as a modern system of penalties and associated powers for revocation of licences. As I indicated at the commencement of my speech, the new commercial bus licensing regime will operate side by side with the new contractual based regime to apply in respect of subsidised bus and rail services.

These subsidised services are in EU terms the subject of "public service obligations". The Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 has already established a contractual framework for the procurement of public transport services in the greater Dublin area by the authority in respect of these services. The 2008 Act established a basis for a new performance-based and transparent contractual structure relating to the provision of bus and rail services in the greater Dublin area deemed to be the subject of a "public service obligation". This will ensure the best value for the travelling public and the taxpayer from the still significant subvention being provided by the Exchequer for public bus services operated by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann or other service providers in the future.

The Public Transport Regulation Bill provides that the contractual framework under the Dublin Transport Authority Act for the future subvention of non-commercial bus services and rail will be extended to apply to such services nationally. Parallel with this Bill, work is proceeding in the Department on drafting direct award contracts with Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and larnród Éireann with a view to having such contracts concluded in the coming weeks. These contracts will be for a period of five years in the case of bus services and ten years for rail services. Given the comparatively recent development of other modes of public transport, it is often forgotten that the bus network is by far the main provider of public passenger services in the State. It provides the backbone to the public transport system in Ireland, particularly in the greater Dublin area, with almost 150 million passengers carried by Dublin Bus in 2008. To put this in perspective, this accounts for almost half of all public transport passengers in the State.

Nevertheless, the provision of well-functioning bus services is vital in areas outside the greater Dublin area. In some of these areas, there are no other alternative public transport facilities available, save for the limited suburban rail services provided in respect of certain cities. Legislative reform, through the replacement of the Road Transport Act 1932, is an essential part of the interrelated structural and regulatory modernisation process of public transport.

It is recognised that taxi, hackney and limousine services comprise a significant element of national public transport services. Accordingly, it is appropriate that the regulation of this sector should be undertaken by the same authority, which is being given responsibility for the regulation and control of all other modes of land based transport in the State. The Bill, therefore, provides for the further rationalisation of the institutional arrangements in the public transport sector by proposing that the Commission for Taxi Regulation be amalgamated with the Dublin Transport Authority to form a single entity.

I now propose to discuss the main provisions of the Bill. Part 1 sets out a series of provisions that are standard in all legislation, including the interpretation of specific words and phrases that have a particular relevance to the provisions in the Bill as a whole. Part 2 establishes a new regulatory regime for the licensing of commercial public bus services. Its immediate focus is the replacement by a single licensing regime of the existing legislative regimes that separately authorise the provision of bus passenger services by private and the State-owned public operators, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. A level playing field is being created for all market participants with no distinction between the treatment of future bus route licence applications by either private or public operators. Furthermore, the replacement of the existing codes, especially the Road Transport Act 1932, will address fundamental issues that have served to deter and stifle rather than encourage and support the instigation of new bus services.

At the outset, Part 2 sets out certain fundamental elements for an appropriate licensing system. It addresses issues such as the requirement to hold a licence, a description of the services to be provided in terms of the route, frequency, timetable etc., categories of licences and the form of application that must be followed. Deputies will note that in establishing all of the elements of the proposed system, the Bill is deliberately descriptive rather than prescriptive in its approach. It does not mandate the making of regulations or orders by the authority, but rather directly addresses issues and allows the authority the flexibility to make determinations on an ongoing basis on a range of matters so as to better allow the authority to adapt the system to meet changing demands and consumer needs. These powers are balanced by the mandatory requirements on the authority to consult broadly in its activities.

The needs of consumers are central to the consideration of the overall licensing system and this is a focal point in this Part. It reflects the advice given by the Competition Authority in the development of that particular theme. In that context, I refer Deputies to two sections in particular, sections 10 and 23. Section 10 is a pivotal element of this Part in that it sets out the general provisions for the consideration of applications for licences. The section places that consideration within the parameters of the general objectives of the authority as set out in the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, and amended by the current Bill. This highlights the importance I place on ensuring that the provision of properly regulated commercial bus services will be central to the future growth of passenger services.

Having regard to those objectives, the consideration of applications must take account of the demand that exists for services with particular reference to the needs of consumers. Again, this must be seen in the context of the general objectives of the Dublin Transport Authority. Its purpose is not to be restrictive but to regulate services to ensure service provision meets service demand. The consideration of demand gave rise to an interesting debate in the Seanad as to whether it was necessary for the authority to consider this issue at all. The argument was made for its removal on the basis that it was unnecessary in a competitive bus market where it is a matter for individual bus operators to apply for licences based on their perception of the market and having regard to commercial decisions. However, as I outlined in the Seanad, it must also be recognised that there is no guarantee that such commercial decisions will be made in the interests of consumers in all cases. The incorporation of this requirement with regard to the consideration of all applications for licences will ensure that the interests of operators will not take precedence over consumer interests.

It must also be recalled that the bus market is not a single entity in respect of which demand is a constant issue. The characteristics of urban, rural, inter-city and provincial bus services are different and demand considerations for one may be fundamentally different for others. The criteria that may be applied to the licensing of services must reflect those fundamental differences of emphasis. The incorporation of demand tests that are targeted at each of those generic types of services should be a fundamental feature of the consideration of applications.

Section 10 also gives latitude to the authority, in so far as it considers it necessary, to address a range of other important matters, as well as dealing with the consultation required. This discretion arises because the consideration of all or part of these matters may not be necessary in the case of all categories of licences.

Many licences are issued by my Department for which these considerations would have no relevance, for example, licences for once off events. The authority can consider the potential impact — which could be positive or negative — of a proposed commercial bus service on existing transport services being provided under contracts, the need to increase the availability of transport and the promotion of integration and competition.

In addition, it can bring to bear more general factors, such as the national spatial strategy, planning guidelines and the sustainable travel and transport action plan. Deputies will see that there is a wide menu provided for the authority in the consideration of applications. Subsection (6) specifically requires the authority to inform applicants of the reasons applications are refused.

Section 23 provides that the authority must prepare and publish guidelines in relation to this part. The guidelines must in particular set out how the authority will consider applications under section 10. It is my view that this pivotal element of the overall licensing framework must be pursued in an open and transparent manner. Accordingly, drafts of guidelines must be published. They also must be specifically submitted to the Minister for Transport and the Competition Authority for their respective views. This will ensure that at all times the approach to licensing is in line with national transport policy and competition policy generally.

Section 19 identifies a range of circumstances where licences can be revoked, including an amending provision introduced in the other House providing for the automatic revocation of a licence granted under this Bill in the event of the person's road passenger transport operator's licence being revoked or withdrawn. Section 24 establishes a system of significant penalties for those who breach mandatory elements of the overall licensing system. This has been in need of urgent reform for some time with current penalties insufficient to enforce compliance with existing requirements.

Part 3 consists of sections 29 and 30 and provides the framework for the re-focusing of the Dublin Transport Authority into a national body. That re-focusing is prompted by the fact that as a result of this Bill, the authority is being vested with a range of new functions that have national application, in particular the bus route licensing system, as outlined in Part 2. The introduction of the new licensing system and the interrelationship between it and the provision of subvented bus services through contracts, underlines the logic to the authority taking responsibility for its administration nationally.

Under the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, the authority, on its establishment, will be responsible for the contractual framework for the provision of land transport in the greater Dublin area. With the addition of the bus route licensing functions under this Bill, it is clearly appropriate that the authority's engagement in contracts for transport should also apply nationally. Section 29 provides for that linkage. The chairman of the DTA is currently working with my Department in making the necessary arrangements to set up the DTA on a formal basis in the coming weeks. When this Bill is enacted, it will assume the additional responsibilities.

Resulting from the Bill, the regulation and control of all land based public transport services, bus, rail, metro and light rail, will be centred in one national authority. Against that background, there is a clear logic in further expanding those linkages to incorporate the regulation and control of taxis, hackneys and limousines. Section 29 therefore also provides that the functions currently carried out by the Commission for Taxi Regulation are being subsumed into the overall remit of the authority.

To reflect the significant broadening of its role, section 29 also amends the application of the authority's overall objectives to ensure that they are relevant to the carrying out of the new functions it will have to carry out nationally. Section 30 specifically provides for the re-naming of the authority as the National Transport Authority. It also recognises the possibility of a further expansion of the national remit of the authority into the future to include all of its powers, duties and functions under the DTA Act and the current Bill.

At this point I would like to reiterate that I am convinced of the robustness of the reasoning and need for the establishment of a body to oversee the co-ordination and control of both the delivery of the major programme of transport infrastructure and the integration of transport modes in the greater Dublin area. In the Bill before the House today I am not seeking to expand those roles to the rest of the State. However, through section 30 of the Bill, the prospect for the further expansion of the remit and functions of the authority can be pursued against the background of the experience gained by the authority in pursuing its initial remit and role in that regard.

Part 4 of the Bill addresses practical and legal issues that arise as a result of the transfer of the functions of the Commission for Taxi Regulation into the authority, sections 39 and 40, which address the transfer of both the employees of the commission and the office of commissioner and, finally, section 41, which gives overall effect to the transfer of all of the commission's functions to the authority.

Part 5 consists of 3 sections and two associated Schedules and provides the basis for amendments to a number of existing Acts. In particular, the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 is the subject of a series of amendments. In the first instance, section 42 addresses the repeal of provisions relating to the establishment and governance of the Commission for Taxi Regulation that are consequent to the amalgamation of that body into the new National Transport Authority. Secondly, section 43 provides for necessary changes to titles and references in that Act that also arise from the proposed amalgamation.

Part 1 of the First Schedule presents a series of amendments to the 2003 Act which have arisen as a result of recommendations by the Commission for Taxi Regulation. In particular a restatement of section 43 of that Act is proposed. This is to ensure that the prohibition on providing a service without the necessary licences applies equally where a vehicle is the subject of a lease arrangement. It gives powers to authorised persons under the Act to seize and detain vehicles being used in the commission of offences established through the section.

Parts 2, 3 and 4 of Schedule 1 address minor amendments to the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001 and the Roads Acts 1993 and 2007.

The Second Schedule provides for a further range of changes to provisions in the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 that provide for the substitution of the existing references to the commission to references to the authority in respect of a range of functions currently carried out by the commission. It also provides that the existing advisory council to the Commission for Taxi Regulation will be known as the advisory committee on small public service vehicles.

Section 44 of the Bill provides for amendments to the Planning and Development Act 2000 to give the authority a role in relation to the preparation of regional planning guidelines outside the greater Dublin area or GDA. The DTA Act 2008 already provides that the DTA will have involvement in the planning processes in the greater Dublin area. This involvement is mandated primarily by reference to the requirement imposed on the authority to make a strategic transport plan for the GDA under section 12 of the Act. The GDA is unlike any other area of the country in terms of its transport needs. Members of the other House impressed upon me the necessity that this should not be lost sight of in giving the authority a national role. However, given the importance of co-ordinating transport infrastructure and strategies and the lead-in time for their implementation, I consider that the DTA should have a limited role in relation to land use planning issues outside the GDA.

Accordingly, following consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Bill proposes to give the DTA a role in relation to the preparation of the regional planning guidelines outside the GDA through amendment of the Planning and Development Act 2000. I consider that regional planning guidelines is the appropriate level at which the authority should be involved.

All regional authorities will consult with the authority when they are preparing the guidelines for their areas and will include a statement of proposed actions to ensure effective integration of transport and land use planning. The amendments are modelled substantially on the relevant provisions of the DTA Act 2008 in relation to the GDA.

I would also remind Deputies that my Department produces its strategy statements at least every five years. It also produces specific national policy documents when required, such as the Transport 21 investment programme and the more recent sustainable travel and transport action plan. There is not a deficiency in national strategic planning. The NTA will therefore follow the policies of the Government and the implementation strategies set out in the Department of Transport strategy statements.

The transport strategy for the GDA is a different matter. It addresses an issue that is specific to a single geographical region, and is intended to be a very practical document that sets out to solve current transport issues of the GDA. There is widespread recognition of the need for such an approach to dealing with the greater Dublin area. The approach offered in the DTA Act of a transport strategy, an integrated implementation plan and a traffic management strategy, is specific to dealing with the transport issue in the GDA and not for general application across the State. If at some time in the future there is a view that such an approach should be tried in other areas, then I would be open to considering it at that time.

Part 6 of the Bill addresses two separate issues. Section 45 deals with a legal obligation under EU law to provide for the transposition of Article 6 of EU Directive 2001/14/EC on the allocation of railway infrastructure capacity and the levying of charges for the use of railway infrastructure and safety certification into Irish law. It designates the Minister for Transport as the competent authority in this regard. Section 46 seeks to clarify the powers of local authorities to provide bus priority measures and cycle facilities and, where necessary, provides a step-in power to the DTA. The section exempts bus priority measures from regulations applying to local authority developments under section 179 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, known as the "Part 8" procedure.

The Bill proposes that bus priority measures will be delivered under the road traffic legislation as an executive function of the relevant county manager, with the exception of such measures involving road widening. The purpose of these amendments is to streamline the delivery of bus priority measures.

The provisions of this Bill will replace the current outmoded and inadequate licensing regime that has applied to the authorisation of bus routes for some 77 years. The passage of the Bill facilitates not only the modernisation of the current licensing system, but also the rationalisation of the regulation and control of all land transport modes under one body. Subsuming the regulation of taxis, hackneys and limousines within the same body also supports that rationalisation.

I am confident that the Bill will bring greater clarity and fairness to the bus route licensing code and that its provisions in general will strike the correct balance between the needs of the public for high standard, integrated public transport services, while also promoting regulated competition in the provision of public transport services in the public interest. I commend the Bill to the House.

I express my appreciation to the people who helped me to prepare the Fine Gael response to this Bill, in particular Angela Flanagan, Paul O'Brien and Nick Miller. I also compliment the Oireachtas Library on presenting a very balanced view of the issues involved.

I agree with the Minister on several points. It is 77 years since this legislation was changed and it is important that there is full and proper debate on the proposed changes now. The weakness in this, however, is that the Minister proposes to take Committee Stage of the Bill next week. I cannot understand why, after 77 years, we are rushing this through the House. I understand the Minister has a deadline of 1 December for the passage of the legislation. That does not add up. We in Fine Gael want more buses, more transparency about routes and the subsidisation of public service obligation, PSO, routes, more frequent buses, more routes and cheaper fares, all of which is possible. The rushing of the legislation does not contribute to a proper debate on some or all of these issues.

It is a wide-ranging Bill but I will try to deal with some of the issues as quickly as I can. We in Fine Gael fully support the principle of one regulation body for public transport in Ireland. When the Minister brought the DTA Bill to the House, I made it clear that we favour a national transport authority over a Dublin one. We oppose this Bill because it maintains a protective veil around CIE and does not offer any real competition in the Irish bus market. The proposed new licensing system states that Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail are not subject to the new system as they will come under the direct award contract, that is, no competitive tendering. The Bill also allows the new national transport authority to renew contracts under direct award without necessarily being subject to the tendering process. As a result, if new public transport services are required, or when existing contracts come up for renewal, the new authority will be free to enter into new contracts with CIE companies without investigating whether other operators could provide a better service and-or require a lower level of subsidy.

This Bill represents a massive lost opportunity for the State to save on subsidised public transport. In 2008, CIE received a total grant to cover public service obligations and railway safety of €321 million. This is an annual State expenditure that could be dramatically reduced with competitive tendering.

What is the subsidy in the privatised market in the UK?

I am quite happy——

Deputy O'Dowd does not know.

I regret to inform the Deputy that he is in the Irish Parliament, not in the United Kingdom. Maybe he wants to go there.

We are talking about a deregulated market. It is 33% there.

I am very happy to quote what happens there, particularly in London.

Deputy O'Dowd should address his remarks through the Chair.

I will but I hear some noise from my right. It sounds like the extreme right of this House.

CIE received a total grant to cover public service obligations and railway safety of €321 million from the taxpayer. I believe we can get much better value for money if we have more competition, not privatisation, through which everybody competes for the routes, for a better service, and is not fighting over political dynasties or State control of issues that go back to Soviet Russia and other such places.

With no competition in the market, there are few incentives for Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann to improve quality, frequency and reliability of service or to cut costs and improve efficiency. CIE has traditionally viewed any attempt to introduce competition in the market, even by expanding the number of routes and services, as a threat rather than an opportunity for the company. CIE must view itself as a co-provider, not the sole provider, of a public transport service. Reform of the bus market would provide opportunities for private operators and for CIE, particularly as competition in the market would increase the demand for public transport options.

The Public Transport Regulation Bill does nothing to address these issues and much of the detail of the Bill would be a matter for our proposed Irish transport authority. That detail includes increasing licence fees and deciding whether individual routes could be tendered for or are part of a network of routes. We are being asked to pass legislation, the implications of which are not clear. Fine Gael believes that the bus will remain the most significant public transport option in the short and medium term. For this reason we need to reform our bus networks dramatically to increase capacity, frequency and attractiveness as a public transport option.

The Fine Gael model for a new bus network would be based on competitive tendering for bundles of bus routes. That means identifying the PSO routes and which routes make money for the main carriers. In response to a parliamentary question I tabled some time ago, asking whether CIE could identify through its companies, or if the companies could identify, which routes were PSOs, the Minister said that all routes are PSOs. That does not make sense. There is no transparency and accountability surrounding how Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus spend money.

Deputy Broughan will be happy to hear that a model similar to ours operates in London and has worked exceptionally well, with bus use increasing by 68% between 1999 and 2008. In Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway competition resulted in significant cost reductions. Many of these countries have a social democrat tradition, which shows that competition can operate in a social democracy.

Our new national transport authority would define public transport needs, the routes and services required and benchmark the level of public service subsidy required to operate these routes. It would create a national transport strategy, define the bundled routes and invite tenders for the provision of these services on routes or in a geographic area, in order for operators to service profitable and PSO-supported services. Both CIE companies and private operators would be open to tender for routes in the first instance. This is not privatisation but competition.

Winning operators would sign a five-year contract with the proposed authority to set out service standards such as frequency, cost, reliability and cleanliness. The authority would take ownership of State-owned bus stations and city centre depots. Upon signing of transport contracts, the authority would then allow bus companies to use stations and depot services as part of their service provision contract. It would have primary responsibility in developing park-and-ride facilities.

A key problem is that nobody has statutory responsibility for park-and-ride facilities. As someone who travels frequently to Dublin, I do not have a park-and-ride facility from my hometown in the greater Dublin area. While I accept local authorities in the greater Dublin area are examining plans for such facilities, it is critical their construction is speeded up if we wish to reduce our CO2 emissions and get more people on to public and private buses. Fine Gael will ensure this transport authority will drive that agenda.

An integrated ticketing and pricing structure along with real time transit information is the hallmark of a modern efficient transport network. Work on these projects should be prioritised after years of inaction and delay. Fine Gael will amend planning laws to make local transport plans an integral part of all county council development plans.

The Minister dealt with this in the latter part of his speech stating that within the greater Dublin area, planning permission for a new large housing estate will not be granted unless the developer agrees an access to public transport plan with the National Transport Authority. Using my constituency as an example, the greater Dublin area runs to the River Boyne. North of the River Boyne, however, it will not apply which will exclude Drogheda, a fast growing area in which commuters to Dublin live.

This is the problem with this legislation. Will the Minister consider an amendment to include a north of the River Boyne catchment area in the legislation? One weakness of this process is all amendments must be tabled by 11 o'clock tomorrow morning. That is not enough time to get this important legislation right after 77 years. Will the Minister consider that towns and cities with a population of 36,000 and over would have the same exacting transport-planning regulations as the greater Dublin area? These growing towns and cities need a proper planning strategy. It is not good enough to say there must be due regard to the regional transport issues. They simply will not percolate down to the county development plans for towns and cities outside the greater Dublin area. County Louth, for example, is in the BMW region when it is in effect in the greater Dublin area. The planning and economic issues, such as the North-South corridor, it faces are essentially eastern seaboard development issues, not BMW ones.

The national spatial strategy has identified specific areas across the country which require specific investment models for how they will grow over the years. The issues facing all the strategy's growth centres and other towns without transport plans warrant the attention of the Minister and his officials. Although Fine Gael opposes the legislation, if an amendment to this effect was included it would make a good and constructive change to the Bill.

Transport issues have changed radically since the 1930s. We had out-of-control developers and bankers and a planning system which has led us to the appalling vista we have now in NAMA. The bankers, the builders and the planning were wrong. How many communities have no proper transport plans? They are legion.

The provision of public transport services in Ireland is still largely dominated by the State transport company CIE. In the Dublin region, Dublin Bus still controls the majority of the Dublin bus market as outdated bus licensing law maintains its historical monopoly. However, Dublin Bus has not been able to increase or change its services to meet the demands of a growing city region. I acknowledge I met recently with Dublin Bus which informed me it is putting in place an implementation plan to deal with some issues by the end of 2010.

More than 200,000 of all new homes built in the State from 2000 to 2008 were in the greater Dublin area yet the number of buses in the Dublin Bus fleet remained almost static.

I am quite happy to listen to a speaker from any side of the House but shouting does not make sense in a proper debate. Logic I will listen to but shouting is for empty vessels which we know make the most noise.

Deputy O'Dowd is certainly a good example of that.

I have no difficulty with arguments delivered in a logical, calm and cool manner. Let us keep it that way.

Deputy Broughan cannot shout someone down even if he wants to.

Deputy O'Dowd might follow the example of the Chair in being very calm. I will protect Deputy O'Dowd and when the time comes I will also protect Deputy Broughan.

Indeed and I will look after Tallaght as well. Hysterical interventions point to the hysterical person making them rather than the reality on the ground.

In 2000, the total number of buses in the fleet stood at 1,039 and was only marginally increased in 2007 to 1,182 buses. During these boom times there were still newly developed areas in Dublin such as Clondalkin and Swords that still lacked a frequent or reliable bus service. More critically, Dublin Bus is in the process of reducing the number of buses on the road by 120 due to financial difficulties. This will bring Dublin Bus services back to 2000 levels even though the demographics of the city have dramatically changed since then. Dublin Bus has not managed to match the demographic needs of the people. The Central Statistics Office figures from the past census showed clearly the high numbers travelling into Dublin by car. The key point is that the public service obligation — what the taxpayer paid — to Dublin Bus was €16.8 million in 1999. That figure rose to €82 million in 2009. While the number of buses has remained static, the population has increased and the subsidy has increased massively. The subvention for Bus Éireann was €7.4 million in 1999 and it has now increased to €44 million, which is significant.

While people may have a problem with these points, we must address the arguments presented, and the truth is we all have to change. The country and the bus system have to change. The bus system has not changed sufficiently in terms of what has happened in the recent past and in the context of this legislation, it will not change fundamentally for probably a period of at least five years.

The effect of urban sprawl was amplified by the inefficient use of the Dublin Bus fleet, which the 2009 Deloitte report claimed could act as a barrier to use. In essence, Dublin Bus failed to adapt or alter routes to meet the changing needs of the city. What Dublin needs is better planning, route planning and network mapping to ensure that routes connect areas of high population density and places of employment. While the Luas has been a success story, the city is basically reliant on Dublin Bus, which still carries more than 70% of public transport passengers in the city centre area.

When a private operator was granted a licence to operate buses in the Maynooth area, he put a significant number of buses on the route. His view, the information I gleaned from the Freedom of information Act and the views of the Department of Transport officials all bear out that he was operating under conditions of unfair competition. The record will show that on the first day his buses operated on that route, Dublin Bus ran a bus on the route before and after his bus and when he approached the bus stop he could not stop at it because a bus operated by Dublin Bus had pulled in at the stop. He was not allowed to operate freely on that route. The Department has cited a number of cases where it has been found that Dublin Bus has abused its dominant position in the marketplace. Having such a dominant position is the wrong way of thinking. Everybody has to change and Dublin Bus has to change. Private operators should be able to operate in conjunction with Dublin Bus and with Bus Éireann.

When competition was introduced in the bus market in Dublin it did not work because Dublin Bus abused its dominant position. That has to change too. In this legislation the Minister is still giving Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann such a position because it will give them a direct award as opposed to introducing competitive tendering for those routes. That is where the legislation is weak.

From my discussions with Bus Éireann, it appears it has greater synergy outside of Dublin in terms of the bus market, competition and working with other operators. Bus Éireann uses private operators on many of its routes and they operate with such a synergy. They have a symbiotic relationship from which Bus Éireann benefits because its route is being covered, the private operator benefits because his or her spare capacity is available to operate the route and the public benefit because they have the service. That is the sort of service I want to see in this country. Deputy Bannon will deal with the other implications of that.

When I have asked the representatives of Dublin Bus to approach private operators in this city and ask them if they could assist their organisation by providing a better service on route A, B, C, or D, they have said to me that they will wait for the Act and it will allow them to do that. I have asked them to do that now. That is what is needed. Why should operators who provide buses at their own expense and no expense to the taxpayer have them lying idle while the taxpayer is paying for the other buses on the route? We should use the facilities and the buses available for the benefit of everybody.

I want to address the core of our argument in regard to the legislation, as set out in section 52, with which we disagree. I acknowledge the work of the Oireachtas Library in preparing this background document. The Minister is operating a direct award system under the legislation for the State companies. The document states:

A direct award system seeks to address some of the shortcomings of state operation without jeopardising the state's commitment to the provision of public good. The system, in essence, allows for an operating agency which is bureaucratically and administratively distinct from the regulatory authority under whose aegis it exists. While, in theory the contract to operate is subject to renegotiation at periodic intervals, in practice there is not much possibility for the operation to be awarded to a competitor, as the incumbent operator will have scale and informational advantages which would represent an insurmountable obstacle to a potential market entrant . . . .

Instead, contract negotiations represent an opportunity for the government to exert control on the direction of the operator's policy, and for the operator and the government to co-determine wider issues of transport provision, such as intermodal fare integration, infrastructure and urban planning. As such, the system goes hand-in-hand with an agency approach to government, in which technical operations of government functions are carried out by administratively distinct bodies under government license or oversight, whose relative independence allows them to respond more fluently to changing market conditions and technologies.

However [this is where we disagree] the system of direct awards may not be sufficiently distinct from state operation to ensure market efficiencies play out. In essence the market still lacks any real competitive dynamic, and the close partnership between regulator and operator may lead to a situation of regulatory capture, in which the regulator becomes complicit in allowing cost-inefficiencies, to the detriment of the consumer.

The core of our policy is that there should be competitive tendering in this market. In regard to the market spectrum, the document states:

. . . the system of competitive tendering is designed to maximise the benefits of competition in a market, while seeking to protect the public interest in terms of route coverage, safety standards and possibly price controls. In essence, the regulator defines routes and/or bundles of routes, on which the participants in the market must bid for the right to operate. In general, the bundles will be geographically cohesive, in order to maximise scale efficiencies to the operator, and will attempt to consist of a balance between ‘profitable' routes and ‘social' routes [or PSO routes in case of individual routes]. ... the tender could range from concession charges paid by operators for the privilege of operating profitable routes to route-specific subsidies received by operators to compensate for the cost of operating social routes.

I do not understand why the Minister cannot reconsider these issues in the legislation. Furthermore, I do not understand why Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are not asked to examine whether routes are profitable and do the best deal that can be done for the population. No argument can be made for the taxpayer subsidising routes that can be operated at a profit or for the taxpayer paying for all routes. We do not know which routes are profitable. However, with competitive tendering all operators could enter the market. I have spoken to Dublin Bus about this and it does not envisage any barrier to this. It envisages this happening in five years as provided for in the legislation, but under it they could be given the right to work hand in hand with the private operators.

The document further states:

A system of competitive tendering was found in the ISOTOPE report to best combine the advantages of cost savings while minimising the impact on consumers. The research estimated that even without [any reduction in costs such as costs] ... efficiency gains for European bus markets from switching to a system of competitive tending could be in the order of 15% (Cordis, 1997).

Such a system of targeting the social dimension of routes more directly by applying the subsidy on a route bundle or route-by-route basis has an advantage over the ‘block subsidy' implied by direct award, in that it becomes possible to evaluate the expenditure of public funds on a route-specific basis .... In the case of direct award, it becomes difficult to disentangle the effects of subsidy in meeting social needs from its effects on fuelling .... other cost inefficiencies which may occur.

That is the summary of our point.

In Dublin city there has been increased car use over the years. The result of a growing city with a stagnant public transport service has been the explosion of car usage in recent years. From 2002 to 2006, there has been a 22% increase in the number of persons driving to work by car, lorry or van. In 2006, in the Dublin region alone, only 77,000 of the 546,096 workers took the bus to work compared to the 261,154 who drove. The simple fact is that an increasing number of people spend more time sitting in cars on congested roads commuting to and from work.

The Dublin road network has proven itself extremely fragile with minor accidents having the potential to cause long tailbacks at rush hour, for example, an accident on the M50 can bring the city to a halt. Basically, we need change. In addition, more people taking buses we will reduce our carbon footprint.

There are many other points I want to make, but the Acting Chairman, Deputy O'Connor, would be cross with me if I tried to make them all. In summary, my party is happy, notwithstanding the brevity of Second Stage, to tease out some of these issues on Committee Stage. I would genuinely urge the Minister to reconsider some of the fundamental issues. If he changes this legislation and allows more open competitive tendering, we will get a better deal for the taxpayer and for the commuter, more buses, more routes and cheaper fares. If we do not do that, unfortunately, notwithstanding what the Minister wants to do, it will be more of the same.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I welcome the Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009, which is a critical piece of transport legislation for which this House has been waiting for many years. Clearly, reform of the Department's chaotic and opaque system of bus licensing has been desperately long overdue. Labour's key aim in this regard is the development of a comprehensive, responsive and accessible bus system which is commuter-focused and has the highest possible health, safety and working conditions for all passengers and staff. The taxi industry has seen a shocking deterioration of standards and conditions and I, therefore, also welcome the Bill's provision to subsume the Commission for Taxi Regulator into the new Dublin Transport Authority.

The Labour Party has long called for a national system for regulating public transport. However, we envisaged a Dublin Transport Authority and a National Transport Authority working side by side, since transport challenges in a large urban region such as the greater Dublin area and the much more rural rest of Ireland are quite different. Despite our antipathy to the multiplication of quangos, this may be a clear case where one size does not fit all. The Labour Party has profound concerns about how the new National Transport Authority will be structured and how the regulation of public and bus transport in the critical greater Dublin area will evolve given the proposed absorption of the DTA into the NTA.

Serious consideration must be also given to the Minister's stated decision to amalgamate the Commission for Aviation Regulation and the regulatory functions of the Irish Aviation Authority into the National Transport Authority. I could also envisage a rationalisation of these two agencies into one aviation regulator, but since aviation and land transport are also different, I have strong reservations about the proposed merger and the manner in which the Minister is handling the matter in the Oireachtas.

I also regret that this just published legislation must be rushed through the Dáil by 3 December to give full legislative effect to EC Directive 1370/2007 at the same time as the establishment of public transport service contracts for the protection of key public bus, rail and light rail services. This is a direct result of the appalling dereliction of duty by the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and his three predecessors since 1997.

The primary objective of this public transport Bill, as outlined in Part 2, is to overhaul how bus passenger services are licensed and regulated across the State. The lethargy the Minister has shown on reforming the disgracefully inadequate and chaotic regulatory system for bus services is deplorable given that the current legal framework is 77 years old.

The valuable briefing provided for us by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service — I thank this service and the Department — highlights the amazing survival of this antiquated system of laws, including the key 1932 Road Transport Act for licensing private road passenger services, and of course the Acts of 1944, 1950 and 1958. The types, level, standards and frequency of transport services on offer bear little, if any, resemblance to that era, and yet we still rely completely on the antique, cumbersome 1932 law to regulate and organise our public transport services.

As the Department's screening regulatory impact analysis of the Bill notes, the basis for approving an application under the 1932 Act is a proof of demand test which is "undefined and the grounds for refusal circumscribed." However, the screening regulatory impact analysis was thorough and I agree with its conclusion which is why I support the Bill. There are numerous examples of Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and private operators who have wanted to run new services but who are left hanging on interminably for any kind of response from the Department.

For example, the proposed Dublin Bus 41X service for the massively expanding Swords area through the Dublin Port tunnel was stymied endlessly by the Minister's interpretation of the 1932 Act. Recently, Bus Éireann applied to the Department to provide extra bus services to commuters via the Dublin Port tunnel to Balbriggan after the Broadmeadow Bridge collapse and in that case there was endless filibustering of that request.

There also have been an astonishing number of cases of bus services being run where the licences have been disputed by the Department. At present, the Citylink direct service between Dublin and Galway, which is run by one of the big four operators from the UK, operates even though the Department of Transport has publicly indicated that the company does not have a valid licence. The ludicrous sanctions under the old Act is a fine of a mere €6.35 a day.

EC Regulation No. 1370/2007 was issued on foot of the key transport objectives contained in the 2001 European Commission White Paper, "European transport policy for 2010: time to decide." The directive aims to regulate how competent authorities in each member state can guarantee public transport services especially in the context of publicly funding certain transport services within the market economy.

The regulation also provides stricter standards for the accountability of publicly funded transport services and the establishment of national transport regulators. The key issue here, however, is the need under Regulation No. 1370/2007 for the existence of a contract between the competent authority and the publicly funded transport operator detailing the service that the operator is mandated to provide and the geographical areas that the contract covers.

The 2008 Dublin Transport Authority Act established a new performance-based contractual procedure for public bus services in the greater Dublin area and the Public Transport Regulation Bill will eventually allow for these new contractual procedures to be extended nationwide. I understand from the Minister's Seanad speech that work on drafting the necessary direct award contracts with Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and Irish Rail for current public transport services is still taking place, and the Minister might comment on that in his reply.

If these contracts are not in place by 3 December the legal basis for thousands of critical public bus and rail services provided by Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail is completely and disastrously gone. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has been driven to distraction with the antics of Deputy Mattie McGrath and the drinks industry lobby in recent months on the recently published Road Traffic Bill, but it is still impossible not to criticise his last minute approach on the Bill before us.

I also hope that the Minister in his reply will provide a full briefing on how the establishment of contracts will affect the allocation of funding for public transport services in the 2010 budget. The Minister will recall that he refused to do so at the Joint Committee on Transport.

In recent years the Fine Gael Party, the defunct Progressive Democrats and some elements in the Minister's party clearly aimed to privatise key transport services no matter how short-sighted or detrimental to the public interest. Dr. Seán Barrett of Trinity College, for example, encapsulated this view a few days ago in an opinion piece in The Irish Times where he criticised the Bill before us for not going much further towards a more extreme deregulation and privatisation agenda, as he and Fine Gael clearly want. Dr. Barrett totally ignores the challenges of providing a top-class bus service to all of our citizens no matter where they live. We must avoid at all costs a deregulated system where operators could cherry-pick the more attractive and profitable routes and leave working class and lower income communities without a proper bus service, or seniors and other vulnerable citizens who rely totally on the bus paying through the nose for such services, and this is the record of many deregulated markets.

International experience has shown that the market alone simply cannot provide a comprehensive and regular public transport system for all its citizens. The challenges of providing decent urban and rural bus services with the disgracefully low level of PSO funding that Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann have historically received is laid out in the Deloitte review of efficiencies in public bus services.

In the case of Bus Éireann, with approximately 1,300 buses and 2,700 staff, the Deloitte consultants described the national carrier as, essentially, a very efficient company. This was even though its PSO contribution was as low as 12%, which was totally ignored by my Fine Gael colleague and which Deloitte concluded as "low" in European terms. At Dublin Bus, with 1,050 buses and 3,600 staff, Deloitte highlighted a number of network issues that the company was already reviewing but, again, in general, the report found few, if any, glaring inefficiencies in the company. Even Deputy O'Dowd must know that year after year for the past 13 years Dublin Bus asked for more buses to run new services but it did not get them, which was a political decision by the Ministers formerly responsible, Deputies Brennan, Cullen and O'Rourke.

Deloitte found the Dublin Bus PSO payment "equated to around 29% of total revenue" in 2007, significantly lower than operators in cities like Brussels, Zurich, Amsterdam, Lyon and London, or even the 33% subsidy of the big four private operators in the UK outside of London. We should not forget those operators also get an excise rebate of STG£500 million. Yet, in a privatised system, the government can end up paying significantly higher revenues to get operators to work less attractive and less profitable routes that most private operators simply do not want to touch. This is starkly outlined in the recent report of the UK Office of Fair Trading, OFT, into the private bus sector in the UK, "Local Bus Services: Report on the market study and proposed decision to make a market investigation reference". This report is an important warning for us on how deregulation can provide seriously bad outcomes for consumers, passengers and transport authorities.

The OFT investigation reports that the British Government spent STG£1.2 billion in 2006-07 supporting bus services in the deregulated British bus industry, which totalled almost 33% of the total revenue of bus operators. There was also an excise rebate subsidy, which brings the total subsidy to approximately 38% to 40%. Yet, a Member has complained in this debate about subsidies of less than 30%.

The OFT report makes a number of disturbing findings which it referred to the UK Competition Authority. It found that the UK market, excluding London, which has a different system, and Northern Ireland, which has a system more like ours, was dominated by four large companies — First Group, Stagecoach, Arriva and Go-Ahead — which control two thirds of the UK market. The Acting Chairman, like myself, has probably travelled with some of these companies. These companies concentrate on certain regions of the UK and rarely compete head to head. There were significant barriers to entry and significant exclusionary behaviour to crowd out any new rivals.

The allegation made about CIE in Lucan is heard again and again throughout the UK, where private companies are involved. Average fares were highest where there is only one private operator and there are deplorable practices such "salami-slicing" or "gaming", where parts of routes are abandoned. Deputy O'Dowd talks about privatising routes.

Franchising, not privatising. I have no problem with that.

Parts of routes may need a PSO. That is the problem. Private operators tend to abandon the unprofitable part of the route and then ask the authority for a subsidy for operating that route — that is UK practice after over 20 years of a private market.

A further striking conclusion of the report was that bus users were generally price insensitive. The report on price elasticity, within the OFT report, showed conclusively that people are insensitive to price. If there is just one service operated by Arriva or Stagecoach, one has to take that bus. We have controls whereas they do not.

A core objective in Part 2 of the Bill must be the establishment of a level playing field for all operators in order to ensure that the bus system is strongly commuter-focused, as well as ensuring the highest possible standards of health and safety, public transport infrastructure and bus workers' pay and conditions. The Minister must greatly strengthen the focus on commuters' needs in the Bill. The Labour Party has long campaigned, for example, for the introduction of a series of technical enhancements for bus users, including integrated ticketing — which is now on the way — AVL and real-time information systems, a simplified fare structure and provisions for park and ride facilities. I will return to these issues in my amendments.

It is also generally disappointing that the Minister has not put more clear and stringent provisions into the legislation to protect the integrity of the bus network itself, especially in terms of Bus Éireann's network. There are grave concerns about the string of small towns that are linked in a national network by the national operator, Bus Éireann. What will happen to them if we get direct point-to-point competitors, even under the legislation as it stands? Grave concerns arise and we need to ensure that the critical role of public transport services as a public and social good is recognised within the new regulatory system.

As Fintan O'Toole wrote earlier this year in regard to the savage and, in his words, contemptible programme of cutbacks to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, "public transport is a function not just of an economy, but of a democracy". It is a key right of citizenship, as the Acting Chairman knows. One of the Labour Party's fears is that some of the ambiguous sections of the Bill could be used in the future as a Trojan Horse for pushing through a crass privatisation and private monopoly agenda.

Section 10, of course, provides the critical "general provisions" for the consideration of applications for the grant of licences. Given the inadequacy of the current laws, I welcome the fact that under Part 2, section 10(1)(b) of the Bill, the authority must take into account a range of considerations for granting a licence, including “a well functioning, attractive, competitive, integrated and safe public transport system”, the proposed new service’s contribution to increasing public transport services, the national spatial strategy, the sustainable travel and transport action plan and so on. These are all valuable and I commend the Minister on including them.

However, there remains much ambiguity in several of the provisions outlined in section 10 for assessing bus licence applications. For example, section 10(1)(a) mandates that the authority take into account the “demand or potential demand” for public bus services in granting a licence. How will this demand be measured, as the Minister mentioned in his speech? How will the impact on public passenger transport services under the 2008 Dublin Transport Authority Act as outlined in section 10(1)(b)(iii) be measured? Do these two provisions not reinforce the uncertainty of the 1932 Act and potentially allow the authority massive and unverifiable scope in invigilating applicants? I agree with my Fine Gael colleague that this highlights the need for full information and transparency on PSO and all other routes. We need a system whereby we can get that information.

Why is there no clear protection in section 10 for the bus network, especially the critical Bus Éireann national network? Bus Éireann runs a very successful nationwide inter-urban service, often in competition with numerous private operators. However, it also runs local and less profitable services that serve more rural and isolated communities. If the Minister does not protect the core network, we could be left with operators vying to run the attractive inter-urban routes but no services at all on routes serving less populated and rural communities with many citizens who rely totally on their local bus. I would, therefore, have very profound concerns that the Minister has failed to make specific provision that the new national transport authority has a clear statutory role in maintaining and protecting the integrity of the network. Again, I will come back to this issue in my amendments.

It is also exceptionally disappointing that in neither the general provisions in section 10(3) or the attachment of conditions to licences in section 23 has the Minister put any provision for the protection of labour standards and work conditions. We must think first and foremost of commuters and consumers of transport but we must also think of the conditions of those who drive the buses and look after them. In fact, the Minister has only put in place the bare minimum statutory tax and safety standards for the authority when considering bus applicants. The Minister must be very careful to ensure the strictest standards apply to all operators within the bus industry and there is no scope for any unscrupulous or criminal activity. Why is the onus of proof in applying for a licence not on the applicant to provide all relevant information to the authority in determining its application?

The inadequacies in this regard in section 10 mean that, without amendment, there will be no level playing field for public and private operators. Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann will rightly be operating within the framework of the highest labour standards and working conditions but it would appear that other operators will not be required to do the same. There is a real fear that this failure of the Minister could lead to a type of McDonald-isation or Ryanair-isation in terms of standards and conditions for public transport workers. Staff of Aer Lingus recently told me what is happening with regard to cabin crews throughout the airline industry, following Mr. O'Leary and Ryanair, with staff working on contracts for two or three years in desperate work conditions with very low standards. We could have that future for our bus workers as well, if we are not careful.

Another glaring omission in the Bill is that no mention is made of a transfer of undertakings for CIE, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus staff even though the staff of the taxi regulator are referenced. How many transport management and other staff will be affected and moved by this legislation and why were transfer of undertakings procedures not provided for in the Bill? A further key problem is that the Minister has not specified that an application will not be considered unless the applicant's fleet is of a minimum and acceptable quality and the highest health and safety standards are adhered to throughout the company? The Minister refers to this for the period after the application is accepted but what about before that? For example, of the approximately 6,600 private vehicle fleet, about half belong to single vehicle operators and, to date, no uniform fleet standards are applied. Why also is there no provision that all applicants must have accessible fleets before they can apply for a license? The Minister refers to accessibility but not in the earlier part of the Bill. I hope he will agree to an amendment to this part of the Bill. Will the authority insist on the vetting of all drivers at both public and private companies as they are interacting directly with the public? We will talk in the coming days of the disastrous failure of the Financial Regulator. We need to ensure that this regulator gets it right in regard to the matters I have raised.

The attachment of conditions to licences under section 13 is another clearly deficient section, and will also need amendments. Once again, the highest possible standards in health and safety, accessibility, quality of fleet and labour should be automatically attached as a condition of a licence being granted. Section 13 does not mention infrastructure provision. How will key bus infrastructure, including depots, bus stations and bus stops be maintained and regulated under the new NTA regime? The UK experience shows the importance of depots in bus market structure, even though smaller operators tend not to have depots. How will private operators be mandated to provide critical infrastructure for their passengers? The Minister should have included a prescriptive section on depots and stop facilities. Why is AVL not mandatory for all operators under section 13, given the proposed introduction of AVL and real time information for Dublin Bus services from 2010? Why are only "minimum accessibility standards and emission standards for pollutants and noise" attached as a condition to a licence in section 13 (2) (i )? What are these minimum standards?

Provisions for the transfer of licences under section 18 are also of grave concern. Why did the Minister simply not legislate for a non-transferable system of bus licences, so that the next company has to apply straight away for a licence? We could be going back into the same morass we entered into with taxi regulation.

Section 23 provides that the authority can prepare guidelines from "time to time" on the licensing of public bus services. This section is vague and would seem to allow a future Minister or CEO of the NTA with an ideological bend towards whole-scale privatisation to re-write the entire system for regulating bus licences. Why did the Minister not lay down core guiding principles in this section on protecting the network, and on quality, accessibility, health, safety and labour standards? Surely there must be a public consultation before these guidelines are drafted and this should be included in the Bill. Why has the national transport authority been mandated to submit a draft of new guidelines for opinion to the Competition Authority only? Why not submit it to commuters, consumer organisations, to the health and safety authority, to NERA and, above all, to those of us on the Joint Committee on Transport?

Even though its name is the Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009, there is little mention throughout the Bill about how it will regulate the sector. Part 3 amends section 10 of the 2008 DTA Act and refers to "regulated competition", yet why is this not made specifically clear in section 10 of Part 2, which provides for the assessment of licence applications? What procedures are in place if an operator goes bankrupt? Will the NTA or the Department step in? I know the DTA is the operator of last resort. Why is there no provision for a notice to quit period or a notice period for changed timetables for operators? Abruptly stopping or changing timetables in the UK has been a major obstacle to delivering a reliable, consistent and integrated service in areas with different operators.

One of the key problems with other regulators such as ComReg has been that their powers of enforcement and the sanctions they can use against errant operators have been incredibly weak. How will the bus licensing system be monitored and invigilated and will the Garda have a key role here? The fine for committing an offence as outlined under section 24 is just €5,000 on summary conviction. This is much too low given the gravity of offences at stake here, and must be significantly increased up to and including a percentage of a transport company's turnover. The appeals system under section 22 is unsatisfactory. It appears that the NTA will be asked to adjudicate on itself through the use of an internal deciding officer with a facility ultimately to go to the Circuit Court. Perhaps the Minister would consider using the board of the authority or the weak advisory council as the first course of appeal or establish an independent transport appeals system?

Part 3 deals with the transformation of the Dublin Transport Authority into the national transport authority. As a long-term supporter of the DTA, it is disappointing that just as it was getting established, it is to be merged and changed beyond all recognition into a national transport regulator. The greater Dublin area is a unique urban region in Ireland with special transport needs. The transport needs of commuters outside of this area are very different and require a transport regulator specific to a large urban area. This Bill clearly means the proposed governance structures of the DTA are obsolete. To use Vincent Browne's expression, we will be getting rid of the "Toytown" mayors in 2011 and we will have a real mayor of Dublin. I presume that is still Government policy. The elected Dublin mayor was supposed to be the chairperson of the DTA, so how can this possibly happen now? This is a retrograde step for democracy in Dublin and the mid-Leinster region. It is also regrettable that the major provision under the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 to provide for the development of a single transport brand for the greater Dublin area may also fall by the wayside with this new Act. Section 29 of the Bill implies that the DTA will be automatically transformed into the national transport authority, but it makes no provision for a revised constitution of the new authority or the proposed advisory council.

It is bizarre that the DTA's planning and land-transport integration powers are not immediately being extended to the whole country. I would like to have seen in the Bill the same powers for the national transport authority outside of Dublin as the DTA has for the greater Dublin area. This is very necessary, as has been clearly shown by examples such as the long-running campaign by Deputy Michael D. Higgins on the retention of land at Ceannt Station in Galway for an integrated and sustainable transport hub.

My preference is for a DTA and an national transport authority, but given the current economic circumstances, I would propose at least the establishment of a separate Dublin division within the overall national transport authority structure, and I might propose this on Committee Stage.

Mr. John Fitzgerald and Mr. Gerry Murphy have been appointed as designate chairman and CEO of the DTA. Both these officials have had distinguished careers, but I was surprised that the Minister did not appoint individuals, from either the national or international scene, to these roles with direct and long experience in public transport and transport regulation. It is also disappointing that the Minister has made no provision for the chair and CEO of the national transport authority to be approved by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport. During the Dáil debate on the DTA, I made it clear that it must not be allowed to turn into a type of "HSE on wheels". The national transport authority could become a HSE on wheels, without strict accountability to the citizens of Ireland and their elected Dáil representatives. This problem will become even greater with the extension of the DTA's far-reaching powers into the national transport authority.

One profound issue the Minister must also address is the future role of CIE and its relationship with the national transport authority, especially given CIE's important pensions role. I would like to know the connection there.

One of the major transport regulatory reforms in the Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009 is the abolition, in Part 4, of the current Commission on Taxi Regulation and its merging into the new national transport authority. Given the massive regulatory failure across the taxi industry, many people will welcome this development as an opportunity to get a grip finally on the disgraceful free-for-all and chaos within the taxi sector. Will all of the commission staff transfer to the NTA? Will their current conditions and rights be protected, as is the case for the commissioner? What will happen to the taxi advisory council? Why did the Minister not use this Bill to amend the taxi regulator's powers to allow her to take into account taxi capacity and the balance of supply and demand for taxis as a key condition of issuing licences on a regular basis? This was suggested by my colleague, Senator Brendan Ryan, and our legal advice at the transport committee showed this was possible.

The recent programme of reforms announced by the taxi regulator has addressed some of the most serious concerns of taxi workers, but the Minister must use this opportunity to overhaul the taxi regulation and enforcement system to achieve the highest quality service for passengers, as well as providing a decent, sustainable income for all taxi workers.

In contrast to the welcome that has been given to the dissolution of the stand-alone taxi regulator, serious doubts have been raised about the wisdom of amalgamating aviation regulation functions into the NTA. I am not sure how the Minister is going to do this. Will we have two different amendments or will there be separate legislation? Unfortunately allegations have been flying in aviation circles that the Minister took this course of action because of pressure from Mr. Michael O'Leary of Ryanair — the "real Minister for Transport" as some have termed him — and that it was his intention to nobble Mr. Cathal Guiomard and his colleagues in the Commission for Aviation Regulation.

Is this move only to save money or can the Minister provide evidence that will show how our aviation regulatory system will be enhanced due to this amalgamation? Is there not an argument for one powerful but separate self-funding regulator covering all the aviation functions?

Incredibly, there is no mention of the rural and community transport network and programmes in the Bill. The disgraceful McCarthy report proposed the abolition of the rural transport programme on the spurious and untrue ground that everyone in rural Ireland has a car. The programme received funding of just €10 million — or a net €8.5 million — from the Department of Transport last year. The operators of the network provided more than 1.2 million passenger journeys in rural areas, where people have no other public or private transport options as they go about their daily lives, for example when going to the post office or to a hospital appointment. The rural transport network is an essential service. It is particularly important for senior citizens and other vulnerable people. As the Minister is aware, it is an important source of local employment. Some 80 drivers are directly employed by the 37 rural transport programme companies and a further 657 drivers are privately employed. Pobal's performance and impact review found that the rural transport programme met or exceeded all its key performance indicators and targets. The Minister said he was "baffled" by some of the transport proposals in the McCarthy report. Was this one of the proposals that baffled him? Access to rural transport is just as important as the urban transport network. The bottom line for the Labour Party is that the rural transport programme should not be cut. It should be fully integrated into Bus Éireann's network of operators, under the remit of the National Transport Authority. I intend to table amendments to that effect on Committee Stage.

Although I welcome Part 6 of the Bill, I am astonished that this may be the first time for all the basic traffic management measures to be incorporated in law. I have reservations about the Minister's proposal to extend the executive powers of city and county managers, in so far as they relate to quality bus corridors and bus ways. Last night's events showed again that our councillors can be trusted to get things right, in general, when it comes to important traffic measures. We should trust local government.

In general terms, I warmly welcome this Bill on behalf of the Labour Party, especially in the context of the contractual deadline of 3 December next, which is so important for our national public transport companies. I hope I will get an opportunity to propose a series of amendments on behalf of the Labour Party during next week's Committee Stage debate. I am getting a little worried because this is the second Bill on key matters that I have supported even though it was proposed by the Minister. We normally have our daggers drawn. I hope I am not losing my edge when I say that the Minister and his officials are taking the right approach, on balance, in this instance. I disagree with my Fine Gael colleagues.

The former Minister, Charlie McCreevy, once said I was the third socialist in Fianna Fáil.

It is a Knock revelation.

I welcome the introduction of the Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009. The Road Transport Act 1932 belongs to a different era, when we had an extensive loss-making rail system and a bad road system. The spirit of the times was perhaps closer to the command economy than to the era of competition. The Minister is to be congratulated not only on bringing the reform of the 1932 Act, which had been discussed for at least 20 years, finally to fruition, but also on the establishment of the National Transport Authority. He has struck a balance between the status quo, which is heavily weighted towards the public sector, and some of the reform proposals that were made in the past which, it could be argued, leaned too much in the opposite direction. There is a strong case for the retention of a public service with a critical mass, in tandem with the creation of room for private competition. That is broadly the spirit of the mixed social market economy in today’s European Union.

Bus services are the most essential and basic form of transport, especially for older citizens who do not drive. When one travels on many buses, one can see elderly people who benefit from the mobility that is provided by the free transport scheme, which was introduced by the former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. Many younger people use public transport because they do not drive for one reason or another. They may be nervous about driving or may not be able to afford the cost of insurance. Public transport is a good option for those who are sufficiently close to it to make it viable. Although most adults drive, many of us regularly use public transport for convenience, to make better use of time or for environmental reasons. I am glad to say I used the 92 bus when I arrived at Heuston Station this morning. Last weekend, I spoke at the University of Aberdeen in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies. When I returned to Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon, I took a bus to the airport to catch a Ryanair flight. I do not have any problems with the services provided by Ryanair and the national carrier. I normally use the 59 bus or the Luas once or twice a week. I took the Luas twice last week to go to and from a couple of public engagements in Tallaght. Public transport is and should be safe, reliable, comfortable and convenient. I am always grateful to those who provide it. I recommend public transport to all Deputies, including officeholders, many of whom already use it.

Although the motorway network is almost complete, other key primary routes such as the N24 are awaiting improvement. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, is smiling because he knows I am about to mention the Pallasgreen to Cahir scheme, which will include the Tipperary bypass. Other schemes, such as the Ennis to Galway scheme, the New Ross bypass and the Arklow to Wicklow scheme, need to be sanctioned as a matter of urgency. I accept that the development of the motorway network will not solve the problems associated with access to city centres at peak times. The Government's transport policy involves encouraging modal changes. The Minister was photographed in the vicinity of the Dunboyne line last week as part of his efforts to get people to change from the car to the train. It is worth mentioning that tax incentives are available for commuter tickets. It is inevitable that much, if not most, of the Transport 21 investment will take place in what might be described as the greater Dublin area. It is important that investment will also take place in other parts of the country, albeit on a much smaller scale. There will be a focus on the maintenance of services, at least. That will help to secure the consent of taxpayers in other parts of the country for the vast capital investment that is required in the capital. After all, Dublin is this country's principal locomotive of economic development.

I echo Deputy Broughan's emphasis on the importance of rural transport and school transport. It should not be forgotten that large towns throughout the country do not have any bus services, other than those regional services that happen to pass through. I refer to towns like Clonmel and Tipperary, which would benefit from some kind of publicly or privately funded local bus service. It seems to me that such a service will be the next step down the line. Routes can often be refined to meet changing public needs or demographics. They should link to other public transport services, where possible. While competition is important, there must also be co-ordination. Some cities outside Dublin have been slow to adopt bus priority lanes. Perhaps certain local authorities have been dominated by road engineers. It is important for the National Transport Authority to be given the reserved power to push such developments forward if they get stuck for various reasons.

In the past, taxi services were often far too restricted, or even unavailable. Today, Dublin, in particular, is awash with taxis, even to the extent of causing some traffic congestion in certain city centre areas. I do not have all-embracing faith in the market as a cure-all for overall supply; it certainly did not work in the case of housing.

I compliment the Minister on the publication of the Road Traffic Bill, which we will have a chance to discuss in more detail later. It is a compromise that will reduce road deaths and have the widest measure of public support. A point that I have not seen referred to in any public comment is that country roads are dangerous, particularly at night and if one meets somebody in a state of intoxication. A high number of accidents occur on these roads.

I recently met one of the Minister's former colleagues, Mr. Michael Smith, a former Minister for the Environment. He reduced the blood alcohol limit from 100 mg per 100 ml to 80 mg per 100 ml. He faced exactly the same difficulties and arguments as the current Minister.

Did the Minister of State talk to Deputy Mattie McGrath?

Mr. Smith, like me, comes from County Tipperary. The paradox is that Tipperary town was once reputed to have had the highest number of licensed premises per head of population, yet the birthplace of Fr. Mathew was just five miles away.

Deputy Mattie McGrath.

What about Deputy Mattie McGrath? Where do they have his statue?

A Fine Gael councillor lives in that house these days. The Deputy might know him.

I hope he is sober.

Councillor Michael Fitzgerald.

I am convinced that people will adapt, as they have to other changes. It is not the case that one can only drink alcohol in a pub; one can drink tea, coffee, minerals and non-alcoholic beers. Much of the downturn in the trade has to do with other economic factors, the fact that there is a sharp recession and, in some cases, the fact that there has not been sufficiently sharp pricing. That is a debate for another day. I congratulate the Minister on the Public Transport Regulation Bill and look forward to the debate on the Bill he has just published.

The publication of this Bill has opened up the debate on the extent of State intervention in the bus market. There are certainly some calls to open the market to further competition. Examples such as the success of aviation deregulation have been cited in support of this view. My view and that of my party is that we must ensure public transport is strongly supported, particularly urban public transport. CIE, including Dublin Bus, should be given the resources, fleets and permissions needed to improve their services. They are going well down the road towards providing the desired service and they should be given further support.

We should certainly be cautious about increasing competition in the market. There were examples in recent times of cherry-picking of routes in some locations. It is crucial that there be an integrated network. If we do not have an integrated public transport network, everybody will suffer. Unregulated competition is always at risk of diminishing the services that are offered to the travelling public, particularly those in more vulnerable communities.

Those who advocate more competition as an attractive option for making up for the failings and inefficiencies of State bus companies, such as Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, conveniently ignore the important role of the State in providing public services as a social good. We need much more clarity on what constitutes this social good. In addition to merely granting a subvention every year, we must be forensic in determining what it is used for. This would put an onus on public transport companies to be very clear about what they use their subvention for.

Public transport is not a consumer commodity but a public service and the State has a significant role in providing it, as recognised ever since the early days of this State. I am indebted to the researchers of the Houses of the Oireachtas for their research on the Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009. It points out that, as long ago as 1924, the Minister was responsible for ensuring services were adequate in regard to their frequency and daily duration and for ensuring they have regard to other forms of public transport available to the public in the neighbourhood of the proposed route. While the language may have changed since then, an integrated service is crucial for all public transport users.

We will finally be turning a corner when we provide for Dublin Bus services such as real-time passenger information, provided by automatic vehicle locaters. We must move on from having bus stops that tell us when a bus was supposed to have left the depot. We need clarity on when a bus will arrive at a stop.

Smart card technology is improving and is almost as advanced as we desire. Within the next 12 months, we will see significant progress in that area. We need simpler fare structures. I put it to Dublin Bus, which, until a couple of years ago, had 40 different types of pre-purchasable tickets, that it should simplify its structures and make it easier for whoever is programming the integrated ticketing technology to bring all the public transport companies together. A smart card should be provided that works with every type of public transport available in our major towns and cities.

The operational remit and transport planning functions of the DTA will benefit greatly from strategic thinking in the transport field. It is no disrespect to the Minister that, at present, applications for running public bus services that are submitted to the Department of Transport seem to be churned around therein at regular intervals for a couple of years. I am not clear on the process. It seems to involve an amalgamation of the legislation of the 1920s and 1930s along with some creative thinking from the past 20 years. Dublin Bus and the private companies deserve clarity. Thus, they can have a reasonable expectation as to how an application will be judged and that it will be adjudicated on in a timely fashion. This is very important.

Achieving this boils down to addressing the issues raised by section 10, which pertains to general provisions for the consideration of applications for the granting of licences. While I welcome the inclusion of such guiding criteria as the national spatial strategy and the sustainable travel and transport action plan, I am concerned about what might be construed as a get-out clause in subsection 10(1)(b). Before listing the criteria used in examining a licence application, it states, “save where the application is in respect of a category of licence where the Authority deems it not to be appropriate, shall take account of any or all of the following: [...]”. At the very least, this clause is ambiguous. It could be interpreted to mean that the authority would be granted a licence to operate a route or network of services that competes on the road with a route or network of services in receipt of a State subvention. I do not particularly want to see on-road competition provided for in this Bill. It has been a mess where it has been provided elsewhere. It would have knock-on implications for State subvention and the public purse. I would welcome clarification from the Minister in this regard.

I draw attention to recent events in the area of transportation. I was taken aback and saddened by the rollback in respect of the bus gate in College Green by Fine Gael and the Labour Party yesterday evening at a meeting of Dublin City Council. I can well understand their frustration with intervention from the Minister for Transport and my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley. At least the Minister, Deputy Gormley, is a Deputy for that area.

I wish to put my cards on the table. I strongly support giving public transport a strong priority. The decision made last night by Fine Gael and Labour Party councillors will mean that the 46A, for instance, will be less reliable and will take a longer time on its journey to and from Parnell Square and Mountjoy Square and the heart of Dún Laoghaire. That was a bad day for public transport and Christmas came early for the car park operators in Dublin city, courtesy of Fine Gael and Labour. That is a backward step.

It is crucial that we strongly support shops and businesses in the city centre, but 80% of the people who come to Dublin city do not use a car. There is a strong role for bus services, and for services for pedestrians and cyclists as well as the car in the transport spectrum. The signal given last night will give the SUVs stuck in traffic heading for Brown Thomas carte blanche to find their way around the city. It was not a good evening for bus users or for those who wish to use our bikes and will now have to compete with private cars at rush hour in College Green.

To be frank, I was surprised that the Labour Party and Fine Gael took what I believe to be a retrograde step. I commend some members of those parties, such as Andrew Montague in the Labour Party——

Is he in Deputy Cuffe's constituency?

——on the stance they took.

Were there any Greens there at all, or were they all wiped out?

It is a backward step. I wish to see more public transport priority.

Were there no green bottles on the wall?

I wish to see a bus corridor on the south quays in Dublin.

Was there any green paint?

I wish to give more priority to Dublin Bus and other bus operators in our capital city. We need vision and that was not evident last night. People were blaming the bus gate for the global recession and that was not the right thing to do.

I welcome the fact that the Bill is a step towards modernising legislation that dates back to the 1920s and 1930s. There is a job to be done to integrate the office of the directly elected mayor of Dublin with the Dublin Transport Authority, the national transport authority and the functions that emerge from the Bill. I look forward to teasing out the detail in further deliberation on the Bill on Committee and later Stages.

I acknowledge the fact that Deputy Cuffe has at long last realised that the Greens have withered away from Dublin City Council and that is thanks to the imaginative electorate we have in this country in recent years.

Look at what happened, they gave the red light to public transport.

The electorate got rid of the Greens.

Deputy Cuffe should put his name on his sandals as people will not know where he was.

I have no doubt——

Deputy Cuffe.

Land has been rezoned in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

Deputy Cuffe.

I seek the protection of the Chair.

Excuse me, Deputy Bannon.

That is what happens when one does not have Greens on the council.

I did not allow anyone to interrupt Deputy Cuffe and I hope he will give the other speakers the same courtesy.

Trying is not good enough. The Deputy will.

I have no doubt that the intelligent electorate of Dublin will get rid of the Greens from this House after the next general election.

The country will be better off following the demise of the Green Party because it has let people down time and time again in this House and in every council chamber throughout the length and breadth of the country.

I know Deputy Bannon has been provoked but he should try to stick to the Bill.

Yes I will, but I have to deal with this issue.

He is provoking me.

The Greens have let down the electorate. They are in bed with Fianna Fáil for the past two and a half years.

To be frank, I am disappointed. I would have expected better from Fine Gael.

Now the fleas are beginning to bite some of the Green Deputies in this House.

Deputy Bannon should try to stick to the Bill.

Fine Gael has rezoned and given the red light to public transport.

Deputy Cuffe.

The Greens are with the biggest rezoners of all, the most corrupt party in Irish political history, namely, Fianna Fáil.

The Greens sit on the same side of the House as Fianna Fáil.

Fine Gael will be engaged in dodgy rezonings on Wednesday evening. The Deputies can tune in on the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council website.

Deputy Cuffe.

The party is involved in the rezoning of 33 acres.

The sweat is beginning to stick to Deputy Cuffe now.

Councillor Jim O'Leary has——

Deputy Cuffe should take out his handkerchief. He is beginning to sweat over the Green Party's involvement with Fianna Fáil.

Deputy Cuffe is here long enough to know he should not mention people who cannot defend themselves in the House.


Hear, hear.

He should not do that. I do not wish to hear any more provocation. Deputy Bannon should continue with his contribution and stick to the Bill.

While I welcome the introduction of the Bill, I do so with serious reservations. As a rural Deputy I am shocked that the Bill contains no reference to rural transport. It is disgraceful to consider that we have waited more than 70 years for an update of the Road Transport Act 1932 and the subsequent Transport Act 1958 on the licensing of bus services, yet the Minister in his wisdom has, in effect, ignored rural Ireland. That does not surprise me given that the Government is currently jaded, tired, weak and paralysed.

The Minister does not seem to be performing. He thinks that Ireland does not extend beyond the Pale, which is regrettable. That is the case despite the latest Central Statistics Office survey on income and living conditions for 2007, which highlights the fact that just over half of all households in rural Ireland have difficulty in accessing public transport compared to 11% in urban areas. The survey also found that the most significant factor in determining access to services was geographic location. Householders living in rural areas were consistently more likely to report difficulty in accessing basic services than those in urban areas. Given that the legislation deals with the regulation of transportation issues nationally rather than just those of the capital it is extremely puzzling that the Minister should, in effect, ignore the transport needs of rural areas.

That is especially worrying at a time when the rural transport scheme has come under threat from the McCarthy report. I recognise that the Government has bowed to pressure from the force of protest on the recommendations of the report, but rural transport is still an extremely grey area that urgently needs a resolution. That is something I would like to see forthcoming from the Minister this evening. In response to the protests, the revised programme for Government contains a brief reference to the rural transport scheme. While I do not dispute the contention that the scheme has been extended to every county my concern is about funding. It is all very well for the Government to state that it has committed to the retention of the scheme, but the reference to it in the revised programme for Government is to explore the provision of a full-scale transport system in rural areas using the network of expertise of Bus Éireann, the physical infrastructure and personnel resources of the school transport system and the financial resources currently being spent on transport by the Health Service Executive, HSE, and the Department of Education and Science.

The HSE bus service to hospitals in the midlands was discontinued approximately two years ago and the hackney service has been withdrawn from some patients in my constituency in recent weeks. To me that sounds suspiciously like the robbing Peter to pay Paul approach normally adopted by the Green Party and Fianna Fáil Government. Neither the HSE nor the Department of Education and Science is exactly flush with money to provide for their current transport needs. Rural transport provision could utilise the fleet of school buses while they are lying idle between morning and afternoon school runs. However, separate funding must be committed to the rural transport initiative and that is not the case to date. Last July and August the Government faced massive public outcry against the proposals of an bord snip to save a mere €11 million at a very large cost to our rural population. I wish to see nothing other than a firm commitment to substantial funding for the rural transport scheme in the budget. That will reassure people in rural areas that the Government has their well-being at heart.

Debate adjourned.