Public Transport Bill 2015: Second Stage

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.

The Bill provides for a number of technical amendments to five existing statutes. It does not involve any substantive regulatory changes and has no financial implications. As the Minister knows, there are five main proposals in the Bill introducing miscellaneous technical amendments to current legislation. While we welcome the technical amendments, we have some concerns relating to specific aspects of legislation and policy that the Bill touches upon. The first concerns bus rapid transit, BRT, the second concerns the new taxi regulations and the third concerns the provisions relating to the hit and run offences.

The first section is perhaps the most substantive in terms of regulatory changes. It introduces an amendment to the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 to enable the NTA to develop road-based public transport infrastructure, in particular BRT. It is understood that this is required to allow the NTA to develop BRT on public roads developed since the establishment of the NTA. While Fianna Fáil and I welcome the development of and public transport structure which has been sorely lacking in recent years, I would like the Minister to commit that bus rapid transport, which now seems to be the preferred option, especially the airport link, will not ultimately become a replacement for a more long-term solution.

Fianna Fáil and I recognise the substantial requirement to invest in infrastructure and the necessity for the Government to carry out what is effectively a loaves and fishes miracle with moneys that are available but it is important that the Government have a long-term strategic investment plan. As moneys become available, key priorities should be identified and the Government should not invest in the short term to meet a need that has long-term implications such that it would not be in a position to deal with the increased demand at a later stage.

While we welcome BRT as a short-term solution to link Dublin airport and the city rest of the country, it should be considered, at the very best, a distant second best to a heavy rail link to the airport. Notwithstanding that, I appreciate the cost of this. At present, Dublin is one of the few capital cities in Europe without a rail link to its main airport.

Fianna Fáil believes a railway link connecting Dublin Airport to the city centre and other urban centres is the only viable long-term solution providing for connectivity to this international gateway. In the short term, we believe the proposed BRT connection is an acceptable interim solution. Despite the importance of transport infrastructure to the economy, the Government has persisted in its strategy of not putting in place the funding that is necessary, notwithstanding the difficulty in gaining access to the funding needed. Funding announced in budget 2015 is only a tiny fraction of what is needed to make progress on many of the schemes.

In terms of the choice between a heavy rail link and a light rail link to the airport, the Minister has indicated previously that he favours the light rail option, which consists of the Luas north via Glasnevin and Cabra. While this option might have the benefit of providing a slightly less costly means of connecting the airport to north Dublin and the city centre, and has the incidental benefit of running through the Minister's constituency, it is questionable whether the light rail option will have enough capacity in the longer term to service such a large and growing population. It is for that reason that I would be more interested in seeing the option of BRT in the short term. If one opts for light rail, it is very hard to move to heavy rail later because of the investment already put in place.

In addition, there are questions, recognised by the NTA, over the fact that the low-speed Luas will take quite a long time to travel from the city centre to Dublin Airport, never mind the 25 km to Swords. It takes at least an hour currently to travel to Tallaght on the Luas red Line. While it is very welcome in resolving a public transport need in the area, it is not an effective means of conveying people from end to end. It is clear that the travel times between Swords and the airport or the city centre and the airport would not be acceptable and that the transport option would not compete effectively with existing modes, namely, the standard bus or taxi. When the Minister is deciding on which rail link option to recommend, I hope he will consider both the limited capacity and slow journey times of his preferred light rail option by comparison with the capacity and journey times of the heavy rail option, such as the proposed metro north.

The second part of the Bill introduces technical amendments to the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 that were absent from the original Bill. For instance, it defines a "licence" as "a licence to drive a small public service vehicle for the carriage of persons for reward". As these are mainly technical amendments to the Taxi Regulation Act passed last year, we support these provisions. The great majority of taxi drivers provide a very high-quality, professional service. However, anything we can do to protect both the professional taxi drivers and the public they serve from unregulated elements in the industry should certainly be considered and implemented in legislation. We need to do everything we can to ensure we have a properly regulated, professional taxi industry. In particular, it should be seen as a full-time profession, not a go-to sector for part-time operators or fly-by-nights without proper qualifications.

It should allow those who decide to take part in the profession to make a meaningful existence, carry on their business and raise a family the same as anyone else in a profession. This Bill puts existing regulations on a statutory footing, ensuring that taxi licence applications must be accompanied by a written declaration stating that the applicant has not been convicted of an offence, that the vehicle is roadworthy, that penalty points have been recorded on the licence and that the driver holds a tax clearance certificate.

These are reasonable provisions with which the majority of taxi drivers are already in compliance.

While competition in the taxi industry, as in any industry, is essential to ensure an efficient level of service for the consumer, the taxi business should be a full-time operation and taxi drivers should expect to be able to make a decent and honourable living from it. The former Minister, Noel Dempsey, tried to address this matter through conditions dealing with the qualitative nature of the taxi business and putting certain regulations in place that make it difficult for those I would term "fly-by-nights" or part-time workers who cherry-pick the work at busy periods such as at weekends or when certain events are held. The industry requires a coherent system of regulation to ensure the existence and maintenance of fair competition rather than free-for-all competition, which disadvantages professional taxi drivers.

There are some areas where the new taxi regulations could be strengthened. First, there may be a necessity to improve the complaints procedure and strengthen guidelines which recommend appropriate behaviour within taxis. According to the latest National Transport Authority figures, almost 1,000 complaints were made against taxi drivers last year but the NTA took no further action in three out of every five cases. I know some of these cases may be spurious because certain taxi drivers have indicated to me that there are others who seek to make spurious complaints because of the way the complaints procedure is structured. If it is the case that the reason for taking no action in the majority of cases was due to a lack of substance on the part of the complaints, that is obviously a legitimate decision by the NTA. However, if it is the case that such complaints are not being investigated due to lack of powers or inadequate level of resources on the part of the NTA, it is a potential issue the Minister might address in due course. Driver behaviour was the most common complaint, making up nearly half the 952 complaints received in 2014. Even if many of these complaints against driver behaviour are cases of mixed-up signals, such a large number of complaints suggests there is a potential problem here which may have to be addressed in new regulations. I would like to see greater powers on the part of the NTA to investigate such complaints, notwithstanding the fact we must ensure compliant taxi drivers are not forced into the complaints procedure in respect of spurious complaints. It would also be sensible to put in place an awareness campaign to publicise the fact that such a complaints procedure is in place in order that the genuine consumer who wishes to report poor behaviour by a taxi driver is aware of the procedure, can make complaints in an open and transparent way and can expect an outcome. That is in the best interests of the consumer and the majority of taxi drivers. In my experience, there are very high standards among taxi drivers in this country who are often more professional than their counterparts in other countries where I have used taxis. A very small minority is not up to the standard one would expect.

There is also scope to put in place new guidelines for appropriate behaviour, which can guide a complaints procedure and can be communicated as part of the licensing. For example, Rape Crisis Network Ireland and the National Women's Council of Ireland have called for the NTA to require taxi drivers to complete training and commit to a code of conduct before a small public service vehicle, SPSV, licence is granted to cut down on instances of women feeling unsafe or threatened in taxis. These are sensible proposals and could be incorporated into the taxi licensing process without much cost or effort. Ultimately, such licensing provisions are to the benefit of the great majority of decent taxi drivers on whom they are unlikely to have any material impact.

I also believe that the current regulations do not do much to offer adequate protection to taxi drivers. The Taxi Regulation Act incorporates a strange information-sharing provision which has meant that information provided by taxis to the NTA in the register of licences for SPSVs has to be made publicly available. Under these new provisions, all that is required to obtain the home address of a driver is the name or licence number of the driver, the taxi roof sign number or even the car registration and a fee of €25. It is difficult to see what valid public safety reason there is for taxi drivers to have their home addresses revealed to the public. This seems like a classic case of overkill by the former Minister's regulations. Such senseless open access to personal details and home addresses could potentially put in jeopardy both the privacy and the safety of drivers in jeopardy.

While at the time of consultation, the former Minister and others paid lip service to the hard work and important public service of taxi drivers, little has been done since then to increase the physical safety of drivers in their cabs. For instance, taxi representative organisations have repeatedly called for stricter sentencing for assaults on taxi drivers following a series of violent attacks, which seem to have increased in recent years. This is probably understandable considering there is a belief that many taxi drivers carry large amounts of money. It is not the case because many taxi drivers are struggling to make a living but to petty criminals who might be addicted to drugs, a relatively small amount of cash is a substantial gain. In this context, taxi drivers are seen as a soft touch. There is an issue around the use of credit cards in taxis. I know that the NTA has consulted the industry and an effort is being made to find a point at which the use of a credit card kicks in. That limit has yet to be defined but I would have thought anything above €15 would be an appropriate point for a taxi driver to facilitate the use of a credit card. I also believe that all taxis for hire at our airports should be in a position to accept credit cards. Many tourists arriving in this State, particularly those from outside the eurozone or even the UK, might not have the local currency available and it is right and appropriate that any taxi plying its trade, especially at our international airports, must be in a position to accept credit cards as part of that service.

A number of violent assaults were perpetrated against drivers last year. While there are no Garda statistics collected on the number of taxi drivers who are assaulted, Tiomanaí Tacsaí na hÉireann, TTNE, has said publicly that it is concerned and that drivers have witnessed a spike in attacks over recent months. These include violent attacks taxi drivers involving knives and bottles and taxi drivers being punched, kicked and bitten. It stands to reason that to prevent such violent assaults, there should be tougher sentences for persons convicted of offences against taxi drivers and an effort made to ensure there is greater use of electronic funds rather than cash within taxis. Drivers are providing service to the public in a particularly intimate, high-risk situation and require greater legislative protection against the threat of assault. Given the lack of physical separation of taxi drivers from their cab in this country, which physical separation is the case in the UK, there should be specific offences introduced to discourage offences against taxi drivers who are especially vulnerable to such attacks.

Part 3 introduces a technical amendment to the Road Traffic Act 2014, inserting an amendment relating to disqualification for persons indicted for hit and run. We welcome this technical change which provides legislative clarity to the earlier Act. Fianna Fáil's own Road Traffic Bill 2013 provided the impetus behind the introduction of this Act. It sought to crack down on hit-and-run drivers by introducing tougher penalties and extending the power of arrest of the Garda. Under Fianna Fáil's proposed Road Traffic Bill 2013, it would have been an indictable offence for anyone to leave the scene of an accident resulting in injury. The offence would have carried a punishment of up to ten years' imprisonment and-or a fine of up to €5,000.

While at the time we welcomed the Government's acceptance of our key recommendations on tougher sentences for persons convicted of hit-and-run offences, we were disappointed with its refusal to grant additional powers to the Garda to test individuals suspected of a hit and run for alcohol intoxication for up to 24 hours, citing legal investigation barriers. While the Minister accepted the broad thrust of our Bill, he did not include all of it in his Bill. In particular, he omitted the provision to expand the period for which drivers could be tested for alcohol from four to 24 hours. This is a point we urge the Government to reconsider as the law incentivises persons involved in a traffic accident to flee the scene of an accident to avoid being tested for alcohol intoxication. In not accepting this provision in our Bill, the Minister said that for a driver to be arrested for drink driving, they have to be breathalysed while they are in their vehicle. However, the situation obviously creates an incentive for the drivers of these vehicles to flee the scene of the offence so as not to be found to be intoxicated.

The Minister should reconsider the benefits of this provision from the Fianna Fáil Road Traffic Bill 2013. He should extend the power of the Garda Síochána to test for alcohol or drugs up to 24 hours. He should also provide that in the case of persons arrested on suspicion of a hit and run offence the results of a breathalyser test can be considered admissible evidence in court.

Fianna Fáil will support the Bill and we look forward to adjudicating on any amendments the Minister seeks to bring forward.

This is a fairly technical Bill which deals with a number of issues relating to public transport which are important and not very controversial. A number of sections deal with different aspects of transport such as safety, fines and accidents. However some very controversial issues arise in any more general discussion of public transport. At present, the public transport services owned by the State are CIE, Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and Iarnród Éireann. These companies have struggled through and survived the worst of the economic downturn but they now face many new challenges. Some of these challenges are positive. For instance, it is important that public transport companies are challenged by their service-users to become more accessible, more intuitive and reliable, through the use of innovation and technology. Despite a slow lead-in, in the past few years these companies have embraced the use of technology to make their services better. Very few Dubliners under a certain age do not have the Dublin Bus app on their telephone or a Leap card in their wallet. Most people have also used online features provided by Bus Éireann and Irish Rail. The one failing is in the integrated information apps developed by Transport for Ireland which feel like something created by someone who has never actually had to depend on public transport in Ireland. Most people I have spoken to regarding these integrated apps have said they are not worth attempting to use. Bizarrely, there are two apps provided by Transport for Ireland rather than one integrated app combining real-time information with journey planning.

Some other challenges, such as high fuel costs, are being tackled to a degree by use of other fuel sources and technological innovations in vehicles but more could be done. Public transport could be given a proper fuel rebate, for instance. However, the major challenge is the Government’s attacks on the pillars of Irish public transport. Since coming into office the State subsidy for public transport, which was already far too low compared to other European states, has been cut by over 20%. Rubbing salt into this wound the Government has aggressively sought to undermine public transport companies by ignoring the concerns of workers and putting in motion a privatisation plan which will act as the thin end of the wedge.

Fine Gael and the Labour Party have now driven through their privatisation agenda by planning the tendering to private companies of 10% of public bus routes and 100% of Bus Éireann routes in Waterford. This will not happen for a while but already it is has damaged public transport provision. Earlier this year, Bus Éireann began the process of removing some routes which received no subsidy from the State but were important in linking rural communities. It did this because the company is attempting to streamline its services as much as possible so as to protect its PSO routes from going into private hands in the coming years. Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus know that the loss of one subsidised route will endanger another route and that with every route lost to undercutting multinational bus companies, public transport in Ireland will lurch another step towards its own death. The multinationals that will claim these routes will have little concern for the public good or the conditions of their workers. For them, unlike Dublin Bus, the only objective will be to protect shareholders and stock prices. The NBRU has also highlighted that current legislation does not offer clear protection from tendering to the other 90% of routes. It is clear that if the State tenders 10% of routes it is opening itself up to legal challenges which may bring privatisation even sooner than the Government planned. This legally weak position must be dealt with in legislation and I hope to put forward relevant amendments on Committee Stage.

Sinn Féin welcomes any progress on the development of greater bus services in Dublin. Bus rapid transport, BRT, could present that possibility. That being said, it is a great expense if only one route is being provided. Although three routes have been mentioned, only one is currently under consideration, the Swords route. Could this money not be better used in providing more buses, more quality bus corridors and bus lanes? Could some of the principles of BRT, such as priority crossing, be applied to some existing bus routes? The main benefit of BRT is that it is faster than other bus services because it treats buses separately from private cars. Some cities which saw great benefit from BRTs were cities which did not previously have bus lanes in any form. Approximately 150 cities use some form of BRT.

Improving bus services and their access to the road could potentially make the entire network better. Metro north could also provide a high capacity rapid transport system to the airport. Metro north or a rail system would allow for high levels of passenger numbers whereas BRT would carry lower numbers of passengers. A rail system would take cars off the road and provide a cross-city service to the airport. Rather than an expensive headline-grabbing and shiny new BRT, perhaps what is needed is to support rather than undermine the bus service we have. If BRT is the chosen option then it must be under the management of Dublin Bus, a company that is expert in the delivery of bus services and is dedicated to public services and best placed to integrate any new service into the existing network. Sinn Féin would strongly oppose any move to put the BRT in private hands. The Luas is a good example of how even in the best of circumstances, private operators are not better than public operators.

I refer to sections 2 and 3 which deal with taxi services. I wish to raise some issues affecting taxi drivers. I welcome the extension to nine months instead of three of the period within which a taxi licence can be passed on to a bereaved family member. Sinn Féin called for greater access to this provision from its inception. I am pleased the Minister listened to that argument because three months was too short a time. We encountered many people who were very anxious as a result. This is a good move which will help many families. I recently spoke to the widow of taxi driver who had suffered a great deal of financial hardship in the wake of her husband's death. She was completely unaware of any provision for such a transfer. More needs to be done to communicate this to people like that lady. There was initial confusion with regard to this provision.

I also welcome the new period for paying fixed charges. We need to ensure that while regulating taxi drivers, punishing wrong-doing and upholding standards, we do not mistreat a group of hardworking people trying to make a living and contributing to our transport network with good levels of efficiency. The recent removal of taxi ranks across the State and the failure to provide alternatives for these people is not acceptable. We need taxis in our towns and cities and we need drivers to be able to ply for hire at ranks. The Luas cross-city project has led to major problems for taxi drivers. Construction work is part of a living breathing city but these drivers have been uprooted and put out by these works without any consideration for their needs in providing their service. We need ranks for taxi drivers and we need them where the customers are. I understand that this is often a role for the local authority but it is not always so easy for councils to respond in situations such as the major works involved in the Luas extension.

Debate adjourned.