I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This Bill provides for amendments to the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, the Taxi Regulation Act 2013, the Road Traffic Act 1961, the Railway Safety Act 2005 and the State Airports Act 2004. It is a short Bill with just seven sections. One section provides for the Short Title and collective citation, while there is one section each for four of the five Acts being amended and two sections providing for amendments to the Taxi Regulation Act 2013. I will give an overview of the main amendments being proposed. However, I emphasise that the amendments are technical amendments to existing legislation and do not involve any new regulatory policy.
Section 1 relates to the public transport infrastructure functions of the National Transport Authority, NTA. The proposed amendments to the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 will ensure the NTA can develop and deliver public transport infrastructure such as bus rapid transit, BRT, in the event that it is decided to proceed with this project and others similar to it or other projects such as cycling schemes. The amendments are required to address certain issues identified by legal advisers to the NTA as potentially precluding the NTA from providing such projects. The proposed amendment ensures the NTA would have the necessary powers to deliver required public transport infrastructure but does not involve a commitment to the development of BRT itself. Under the capital plan to 2020 the funding to support and improve bus services will be a key priority. As well as ensuring a modern efficient fleet, it is essential the bus routes and supporting infrastructure facilitate the provision of attractive services.
There are 16 bus corridors forming the core bus network within the Dublin region. These priority bus corridors represent the key arteries of the bus system, with high frequency, multiple bus services using these routes. As such they form the cornerstone of the overall bus network for the region. Outside of the city centre, the overall length of these corridors amounts to about 174 km, or 347 km when each direction is considered separately. Of these, less than one third, approximately 102 km, have dedicated bus lanes. The remainder, approximately 70%, require buses to co-run with general traffic. To improve the efficiency of the bus services on these routes and to improve journey time performance and overall competitiveness, it is important to address sequentially the bus lane deficits on these routes and provide continuous bus lanes, to the extent practicable, along these key corridors. If funding were available over the next period, 30 km to 40 km of the required improvement works would be constructed each year.
Achieving greater levels of continuous inbound priority would make it possible to increase average bus speeds, with a current average of 10 km/h at peak to 15 km/h or even 20 km/h on certain routes, with resultant savings in terms of bus fleet requirements and drivers, as well as a much improved service for passengers.
In particular, the amendments in section 1 address a constraint in the existing legislation that creates a differentiation between public roads existing before the establishment date of the National Transport Authority and public roads developed after the NTA was established. The advice of the Office of the Attorney General has confirmed that a technical amendment to the 2008 Act would be required to address this differentiation and provide that the NTA would have equivalent vires to provide public transport infrastructure on public roads constructed either before or after the establishment date of the NTA.
Section 1 also provides for an amendment to section 44 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act, 2008 relating to the performance of a function by the NTA. The amendment removes a doubt that has arisen over whether it adequately addresses the situation where only part of the function is required to be performed by the NTA. This means that a likely case of the NTA intending to undertake certain aspects of a function while the other statutory party continues to carry out all of the remaining aspects may not be permissible or may carry the risk of a successful legal challenge.
Sections 2 and 3 provide for amendments to the Taxi Regulation Act 2013. The programme for Government contained a commitment to review and update the regulation of taxis to ensure taxi drivers were recognised as a key component of the public transport system and to provide for a forum for discussion between the regulatory authorities and taxi providers. The taxi regulation review report of 2011 identified 46 actions to address the key issues in the sector in seven areas, including driver licensing, vehicle licensing and standards, accessible services for people with disabilities, compliance and enforcement, consumer and industry assurance, fleet management and rental controls and a rural hackney service to deal with limited access in rural areas.
The Taxi Regulation Act 2013 was introduced primarily to give legal effect to recommendations made in the regulation report of 2011 relating to increased enforcement measures, including a demerit scheme to deal with recurrent breaches of small public service vehicle regulations, the issue of on-the-spot fines for an increased range of offences and a proportionate system for mandatory disqualification from holding a licence on conviction for a serious criminal offence. The 2013 Act also repealed and replaced the Taxi Regulation Act, 2003. The commencement of the 2013 Act and the introduction of new SPSV regulations by the NTA in tandem with that commencement on 6 and 7 April 2014 have delivered a significantly greater level of compliance. Furthermore, it has improved and streamlined the regulatory regime for driver and vehicle licence-holders and provided for an enhanced degree of professionalism in the industry. Customers of taxi services also benefit from greater transparency and available information on licensed services. A range of quality of service actions have been initiated which have resulted in a renewed commitment to improve the utilisation of wheelchair accessible taxis.
The amendments in section 2 can be grouped into those which provide for greater precision in the 2013 Act, others which provide more specific enabling powers under that Act and relate to certain matters for which the NTA may provide in regulations, as well as those relating to punctuation and textual corrections and refinement.
The main amendments providing for greater precision in the Act provide for the inclusion of a requirement that the licensing authority may only grant a licence to drive a SPSV to a person holding a driving licence to drive such a vehicle; the automatic revocation of such a licence on surrender of the licence by the licence-holder; and the non-application of the representations and appeal procedures under the Act to decisions of the licensing authority to refuse to grant a licence or to revoke or suspend a licence arising from a vehicle not meeting the required standard for SPSVs. Without this amendment the licensing authority's decision does not take effect until the appeal procedures have been exhausted, a process which takes approximately two months, during which time the licence continues and the vehicle can be used as a SPSV, despite failing the standard test.
Another amendment provides for the extension of the current three-month timeframe to nine months from the date of the death of a licence-holder, during which the nominated representative of the deceased licence-holder may apply to the NTA for the grant of a licence in the same category. It is considered that three months is too short a period.
The last amendment in this category provides for the applicability of the dispatch operator licensing requirements to technological intermediaries. An argument has been put forward that such intermediaries do not provide a "booking service", the term used in the 2013 Act, but rather a platform where intending passengers can directly contact vehicles. The proposed amendments to sections 2, 7(2)(c) and 22(5) will bring certainty to this issue.
Other amendments will provide more specific enabling powers to deal with certain matters for which the NTA may provide in regulations. The key amendments relate to section 7 and provide for the requirement for prescribed written declarations and undertakings to accompany a licence application, for example, that the applicant has not been convicted of certain offences specified in the legislation and that his or her health or mobility does not affect his or her ability to drive a SPSV.
Section 3 provides for the substitution of section 48 of the 2013 Act which relates to fixed payment notices for small public service vehicles. Section 48 provides that when a person is issued with a fixed payment notice, he or she has 28 days, beginning on the date specified in the notice, during which he or she may pay the prescribed fixed payment amount. That is the first payment option. If the person does not pay this amount during the first 28-day period, he or she may make a payment of an amount 50% greater than the prescribed fixed payment amount. That is the second payment option. However, the timeframe for this option is not prescribed in section 48; it is prescribed in the fixed payment notice issued to the alleged offender. Legal advice holds that it is preferable for the period for the second payment option to be prescribed in section 48. In providing for this amendment the opportunity has also been taken to provide for greater precision in certain aspects of the wording of section 48, for example, the addition of the words "specified in the notice" to section 48(1)(a) and the addition of the words "duly completed" to section 48(1)(b).
Section 4 provides for an amendment to the Railway Safety Act, 2005 to change the name of the Railway Safety Commission to the Commission for Railway Regulation. The Railway Safety Commission was established under the Railway Safety Act, 2005 to foster and encourage railway safety and enforce legislation relating to railway safety. Directive 2012/34/EU establishes a single European railway area and requires each member state to designate a regulatory body to monitor competition in the rail services market in the state and ensure non-discriminatory access to railway markets. The body will have a monitoring function and a role to hear appeals made by railway undertakings and other interested persons. Regulations were made recently to transpose Directive 2012/34/EU and provide for the assignment of the functions of the regulatory body to the Railway Safety Commission. The effect is that, in addition to the regulation of railway safety, the RSC now has statutory functions in the regulation of the rail services market. It is considered, therefore, that it would be appropriate to change the name of the commission to the Commission for Railway Regulation to best reflect the broadened remit. It is proposed that the date for the change of name be appointed in an order to be made by me to ensure the change of name can be carried out in a planned and organised manner.
Section 5 provides for a purely technical amendment to section 27 of the State Airports Act, 2004, as inserted by section 51 of the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014. The amendment will bring the provisions of section 27 into line with similar provisions under the Road Traffic Acts, as operated by local authorities and An Garda Síochána, and clarifies that the payment accompanying the notice cannot be accepted unless all of the required information has been completed on the notice.
The amendment will bring the provisions of section 27 in line with similar provisions under the Road Traffic Acts, as operated by local authorities and the Garda Síochána, and it clarifies that the payment accompanying the notice cannot be accepted unless all the required information has been completed on the notice.
Section 6 is essentially a technical amendment, correcting section 106 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, which deals with duties on the occurrence of an accident. It was amended in 2014 to introduce new offences for hit-and-run incidents causing death or serious injury. The Attorney General's office has since advised the Department that the amended version of the section contains an implicit contradiction. The new hit-and-run provisions are indictable offences but they come under a section heading referring to summary offences. The Attorney General's advice is that the intention of the law is clear in spite of the error, and the Director of Public Prosecutions is continuing to take prosecutions under this legislation. However, it is also the view of the Attorney General's office that the error should be corrected at the earliest available opportunity, and that is what we are doing here.
At the same time, we are rectifying an omission in the 2014 provisions. When the new hit and run provisions were introduced, there should have been an associated amendment to state there would be a consequential disqualification for those who were convicted under the new provisions. As this was not done at the time, we are doing it now through section 6(b) of the present Bill.
I am giving consideration to the inclusion of two further amendments in the Bill, which I intend to introduce on Committee Stage. At present, the NTA is required by virtue of the Roads Act 1993 to make an application for development consent in regard to public transport infrastructure, such as the development of the Sutton-Sandycove cycle track scheme, S2S, to An Bord Pleanála as an environmental impact statement is required for such development. However, I have been advised that the NTA is also required to seek planning permission from the relevant local authority. The objective of the possible amendment will be to clarify that the NTA is required to engage in one statutory approval process for development in accordance with whatever legislation applies to the particular development, and not be subject to two different and parallel processes. My Department is consulting both the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Office of the Attorney General on this proposed amendment.
I also propose to amend the Bill on Committee Stage in respect of rail. International rail travel is governed by a set of procedures and rules drawn up by the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail. These rules are formally set out in a convention known as COTIF. Ireland is one of only a small number of members of the organisation yet to fully ratify the convention. This failure to ratify it has led to infringement proceedings being taken against us by the EU Commission. As a result, and following advice from the Attorney General's office, I have decided that Ireland should expedite the ratification of the convention by means of primary legislation. Irish Rail has been fully consulted on this matter and it should be noted that the enactment of legislation in this area will not have any significant practical impact on rail operators or rail passengers in the State.
This is a technical Bill but, as is often the case with technical Bills, it is still an important one. I commend it to the House and look forward to Deputies' contributions.