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.