Priority Questions

Public Transport Provision

Robert Troy


34. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the steps he is taking to address overcrowding on the public transport system, most particularly in cities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25611/18]

What steps has the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport taken to address the chronic overcrowding on our public transport system, particularly in our cities, our larger urban areas and on the commuter routes into the larger cities?

I thank the Deputy for the question. Following a period of reduced transport usage and suppressed transport growth during the recession, Ireland's transport activity and demand has been increasing again and is expected to expand further in future years in line with forecast economic growth rates.  The National Transport Authority's, NTA, recent bus and rail statistics bulletin shows that more than 250 million passenger journeys were provided nationally last year on public obligation services provided by the transport operators.  For the capital city, the latest annual canal cordon report published by Dublin City Council and the NTA shows that 70% of all inbound trips crossing the cordon were made by a sustainable mode, that is, by people cycling, walking, or using bus, tram, train or taxi.

While these figures are encouraging, they present their own challenges. We want more people to use public transport but, as the Deputy indicated, if left unchecked, this can lead to crowded services.  We recognise that, which is precisely why we are investing extensively not only in expanding passenger capacity and services on the public transport network, but also in providing better infrastructure for people who choose to cycle or walk.  We need to safely and comfortably continue to accommodate more passengers and give them better, more reliable and attractive services.  The major investment programmes we outlined in the national development plan, NDP, are needed to respond appropriately to this growth in demand for public transport services and to address congestion and capacity constraints on the existing network.

Our flagship investments all to be delivered within the 10-year NDP horizon include: BusConnects to transform, enhance and expand the bus system in Ireland’s cities; MetroLink and priority elements of DART expansion to increase the range, scale and frequency of passenger rail services across the greater Dublin area; increasing Luas capacity for passengers on both the red and green lines; and considerably developing cycling and walking infrastructure in the greater Dublin area, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford.

Planning of these larger projects is under way and they are scheduled for delivery progressively over the lifetime of the NDP.  Meanwhile, in the shorter term, our agencies are also taking a range of less elaborate, but nonetheless important, measures that will help ensure more effective functioning of transport services, particularly in the cities.  These include improving timetables to intensify the frequency of passenger services; buying new vehicles and fleet and increasing the size of the fleet in service so we can carry more passengers; providing upgraded cycling and walking infrastructure; and investing in sustainable transport projects. All this planned investment in public transport across the short, medium and long term will combine to add greatly to the level of service available for the travelling public, connecting more people with more places, easing congestion and combatting climate change.

The Minister said he wants more people to use public transport. If he is serious about encouraging that modal shift, he needs to provide reliable, efficient and punctual public services. I acknowledge that there was a positive announcement this morning in respect of BusConnects but that will be a ten-year project. If one talks to any commuters who currently use bus or rail services, they will talk of overcrowding, delays, congestion and the lack of park-and-ride facilities. I will give the Minister two examples. Councillor Kate Feeney identified that people were contacting her with regard to the Brewery Road bus stop on the N11, which is on a quality bus corridor and which is served by three different buses. People are waiting in excess of 15 minutes because when buses pass, they are full. Councillor Daithí de Róiste raised a similar issue with me regarding Chapelizod, which is served by four different bus routes. Representing constituents in Mullingar, I am aware the problems with Bus Éireann services and trains travelling from Mullingar. If the Minister is serious about getting people out of their cars and into public transport, he needs to accelerate investment. How many additional buses will he make available nationally this year? How many of these new buses will be green, energy efficient, hybrid buses? How many hybrid buses are in State ownership nationally?

I will have to provide the Deputy with the exact figures but they will not be difficult to provide. I will be able to provide him with some of them immediately. Against the backdrop of growth in demand for bus services, 140 new buses are being purchased in 2018 for the Dublin Bus fleet to replace older buses and to cater for market growth and new routes, with a further expansion of the fleet expected in 2019 in advance of the roll-out of BusConnects. Passengers will also experience service improvements following the recently announced opening of the bus market with an increase in service capacity of approximately 35% across the 24 routes involved.

I thank the Deputy for acknowledging the initiative which was taken this morning. It will do nothing short of revolutionise the bus service in Dublin. There is no doubt that the effect of the 16 new routes or roads which have been announced will be to transform what the Deputy recognises is a congested city and it will also have an equally beneficial effect on Cork, Galway and other areas. This is only one of several initiatives I could identify. The Deputy will be aware that later this year an all-day ten-minute DART service will be introduced across all lines.

Planning for the delivery of the DART expansion programme has already commenced, including in 2018.

The Minister's time is up.

There will also be increases in respect of the Luas.

Could the Minister confirm that the industrial relations difficulties in regard to the ten-minute DART service have been resolved?

Over the past four years, only 20 new additional buses have been provided on average per annum. That represents a 2% increase at a time when there is double-digit growth. Dublin Bus still has 70 buses that are older than 12 years. They should not be in operation. They are harmful in terms of emissions and are unreliable. Therefore, we have a long way to go. While I acknowledge there are plans for the next decade, what will the Minister say to the people on Brewery Road on the N11 and in Chapelizod in September when the schools and colleges are open again? What will he say to them when seven buses pass them when they are standing at a bus stop? Will Deputy Ross, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, ensure that in September, there will be sufficient capacity on our bus routes to encourage more people to use buses instead of cars and that when they do get out of their cars and wait at bus stops, we will be providing an efficient public service on which they can rely? They cannot rely on one at present, unfortunately.

What the Deputy always does so well in this situation is point to the problems and not towards the facts that we are addressing them and that there are solutions on the way. If the buses were empty, he would be saying I was running a white elephant and that there were too many people in their cars. The increasing demand for buses is a reflection not only of the demand for buses but of the good and much more punctual services being offered and the fact that people are very willing to take public transport.

The Deputy rightly identifies difficulties, no doubt at the bottom of Brewery Road. I cannot comment on that specific case. Like the Deputy, I can ask questions of the NTA or Dublin Bus but I cannot comment on individual cases because the timetable and daily operation cannot be micromanaged by me. There will, however, always be circumstances of that sort. What the Deputy ought to acknowledge — he has, in a way — is that BusConnects, improvements regarding the DART and Luas expansion, and the money we will be spending on cycling and walking infrastructure comprise a serious and very dramatic attempt to address that problem, which needs a certain amount of time to be resolved. We are determined to resolve it.

We must set an example now. We have taken ten minutes on the first question. We are not going to allow that to continue.

Driver Test

Imelda Munster


35. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the reason his Department was unaware of the legal standing of the policy in regard to the mandatory nature of public services cards for those who wish to obtain a driver's licence or theory test; the reason his Department and the Road Safety Authority appear to have had a significantly different understanding of the policy; the way in which approximately €2 million was spent by the Road Safety Authority in making arrangements to implement a policy which was then scrapped; the situation regarding public services cards and obtaining driver licences and driver theory tests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25536/18]

Will the Minister clarify what appears to be a change in policy by his Department over the mandatory nature of public services cards, PSCs, for those who wish to obtain a driver's licence or do a theory test? Can he clarify how it came about that his Department was unaware of the legal standing of this policy? Can he clarify why the Department and the RSA appear to have had a significantly different understanding of the policy? Can he explain how approximately €2 million was spent by the RSA in making arrangements to implement a policy that was then scrapped? What is the situation now?

I thank the Deputy for the chance to clear this up. There is a certain misconception about this problem, which was misunderstood by people writing about it. Of course, their message was then conveyed to the Deputy and others who do not actually know what is happening in this case.

It is the policy of the Government since 2013 that the PSC should be integrated into service provision across public services. The use of a single card through which people can have their identity verified offers great benefits to both the individual and the State in terms of time and convenience, as well as the integrity of public service delivery.

The policy of integrating the PSC into the provision of public services is not a matter of making it mandatory, but optional. The legislation in this area is complex and there was evidently a misunderstanding as to this policy and its implementation. The Deputy is partially right in that regard. I personally clarified the misunderstanding by directing that use of the PSC in driver licensing should be an option rather than a mandatory requirement.

The current situation is therefore that a person applying for a driving licence may present a PSC as proof of identity, or use such other documentation for proof of ID as was previously accepted.

At present, to undertake the driver theory test, a PSC is being called for. However, in the interests of consistency, alternatives to the PSC will be catered for. As the driver theory test is operated by the Road Safety Authority through a contractor, I gather that allowing for the use of a passport, for example, may involve revisions to that contract. That is an operational matter for the RSA.

In regard to expenditure, it is not correct that €2 million was spent on the effort to make the PSC mandatory in driver licensing. The €2 million in question was in fact the expenditure on the development of an online application system for driving licences, and this system is going ahead.

The expenditure by the RSA in regard to the PSC was an amount of the order of €30,000 to €40,000, which was spent on advertising the use of the PSC. While the PSC is not in fact mandatory, even this expenditure cannot be considered as waste. It was important to enhance awareness of the benefits of the PSC, as well as the availability of an online option for driving licence applications. The RSA awareness campaign encourages the use of both.

According to the RSA, in March 2017 the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport instructed that PSCs were to be mandatory in the process of applying for a driver licence or a theory test. Last year, the PSC became mandatory for theory tests. PSCs were to become mandatory for driver tests in April. In March, just one month before the card was to become mandatory for driver licences and nine months after it was made mandatory for theory tests, the Department received legal advice from the Attorney General that there was no legal basis for the change. Therefore, the Minister pulled the plug on the project. This was a year in, after he had instructed the RSA to prioritise it and had overseen the waste of €2 million implementing a policy that turned out to be illegal. Why did the Minister and his Department not check, in the first instance, that there was a legal basis for that change?

The Deputy is using rather dramatic language. During the integration of the PSC into the driver licence application process, an erroneous policy of making the card the only acceptable form of identification was pursued by the RSA. At no point did the Department then direct the RSA to adopt a mandatory approach. In light of concerns, the RSA's planned approach was in line with neither Government policy nor legislation. I decided in March 2018 to make clear to the RSA that the PSC should be an optional form of ID verification but not mandatory.

The Deputy really should not be talking about waste of €2 million. There was money spent on promoting the PSC. The Deputy is absolutely right in that regard. I refer to the €30,000 to €40,000 to which I alluded. The €2 million to which the Deputy is referring was to promote the online system for driver licences. The two should not be confused.

The correspondence between the Department and the RSA on this matter shows total confusion and disorganisation. From the documents released under freedom of information provisions, it would appear the RSA believed it was operating on instructions from the Department that PSCs were indeed to be made mandatory. It seems clear from the freedom of information documents that the law was broken in regard to the theory tests. Who is responsible for that? Who will be accountable for potential data breaches regarding the personal data of theory test applicants? The Department seems to be suggesting that the RSA went on a bizarre solo run. The Minister's own spokesperson said no losses have arisen, yet the RSA claims €2 million was wasted. Therefore, one side is being economical with the truth. Which side is that? Someone has to be held accountable here.

If there was any confusion, I hope I have been able to clear it up. The Deputy referred to the theory test. She is absolutely right that a PSC is being called for but, in the interest of consistency between the theory test and practical test, alternatives to the PSC will be catered for.

To suggest that the €2 million allocated, not all of which has even been spent at this stage, which will be spent on promoting online driving licence applications, is somehow wasted is confusing the two ideas. The Deputy is right that there was a misunderstanding between the RSA and the Department but that was corrected and it is now working perfectly well.

I asked the Minister who was responsible for the theory test but the RSA is contradicting him. The authority is saying it was instructed that it was to be mandatory and the Minister is saying otherwise. We would like some clarity as to exactly who misunderstood whom in this case.

I made it clear. To clarify matters, I instructed that it was optional.

Cycling Facilities Funding

Robert Troy


36. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to reverse cuts to the cycling budget over the past two years; his further plans to publish a statutory instrument to enact a minimum passing distance; and if the national greenway strategy will be published. [25612/18]

It is National Bike Week and I ask the Minister to give a commitment to reverse the cuts to the cycling infrastructure budget he has implemented over the past two years, to outline a definitive timeframe as to when he will publish the statutory instrument to enact the minimum passing distance, and to give a clear timeframe as to when the national greenway strategy will be published.

In regard to funding, I have no doubt the Deputy will welcome the increases I have secured over the 2018 to 2021 period. More than €110 million allocated will be allocated to develop cycling and walking infrastructure in the greater Dublin area, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. In addition, I have also secured funding of €135 million over the same period for sustainable transport projects in the five cities. These projects will also improve, directly and indirectly, both the cycling and walking infrastructure in them, and the efficiency and safety of their existing infrastructure.  

In addition, the significant investment planned in the BusConnects programme will also deliver an extensive new network of cycle lanes, greatly improving the safety of our cyclists. My Department also spends in excess of €2.5 million per annum on behavioural programmes to encourage a modal shift and to increase safety and awareness among all road users.

In regard to the minimum passing distance, draft regulations providing for an amendment to article 10 of the Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) Regulations 1997 were submitted to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for consideration and settling. As that process identified a number of complex issues, legal advice was sought within the Office of the Attorney General. The Department is currently giving consideration to that advice and will shortly engage with the Attorney General's office, to resolve outstanding issues. The Deputy has a particular interest in this and I will keep in touch with him.

My Department is currently finalising the national greenway strategy and I expect to publish it in the coming weeks. The strategy will provide a framework for the development of Ireland's greenways ensuring the best possible return for State investment. Furthermore, the strategy will determine the type of project that will be funded over the coming decade by my Department and will set out guidance and options for project promoters in regard to the challenges faced in delivering greenway infrastructure.  It will also emphasise the need for early and wide consultation by project promoters with communities and affected landowners.

The Minister's commitment to cycling over the past number of years has been questionable. According to a reply to another of my parliamentary questions, funding in 2015 was just shy of €19 million while last year it was just shy of €17 million, a reduction of approximately €11 million at a time Cycling Ireland membership increased by 720% and, according to Central Statistics Office, CSO, figures, there was an increase of 42.8% in the number of people cycling to work between 2011 and 2016.

On the minimum passing distance, the Minister referred to legal advice from the Attorney General's office on the statutory instrument. He was aware of this proposal because it was made by his own colleagues, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, more than 18 months ago. He procrastinated about it and did not act to implement it for almost 18 months. It was only when I tabled an amendment to the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 that he decided to do something about it. He made a solemn promise that he would introduce this within weeks when he held a press conference three months ago and it is disappointing that he has not honoured that.

The Minister referred to the funding that will be made available between 2018 and 2021. Who will ensure this funding is adequately spent because when the fiasco regarding the proposed cycle route along the Liffey quays raises questions as to whether there is capacity to roll out this funding?

I accept fully what the Deputy said about cycling. I do not question his commitment to cycling and if he says I was slow about implementing the statutory instrument, I will accept that criticism in some ways. I am a convert to cycling. I took some time to be converted to the urgency not only for the imperative of the modal shift, which must be more dramatic, but also for all the bells and whistles that go with that shift. I am a convert to the need to not only protect our cyclists but to encourage people to get out of their cars and on to bicycles, and that is working. It may not be working fast enough for the Deputy but it will accelerate during my tenure.

On the suggestions the Deputy has made, I am not in any way hesitant to say that I was not persuaded of the need for the minimum passing distance by a large number of the groups led by Phil Skelton and others. I was being educated and I have been converted to the need to transfer people to bicycles and to protect them.

I welcome the fact that the Minister acknowledges that but now that he is a convert, will he get on and do his job? He should not mind the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. He should look after his own Department. He has responsibility to ensure that this statutory instrument is published without delay. If he spent more time focusing on his own area of responsibility, it might have been published by now. Fifteen cyclists lost their lives last year while six have lost their lives so far this year. It is imperative that this statutory instrument is published and enacted without delay.

On the additional funding, I welcome the fact that the Minister will reverse cuts he made in the past two years.

What percentage of the funding for BusConnects will be ring-fenced for cycling? In light of the fiasco relating to the Liffey quays cycling route about which a Fine Gael councillor said, "We have made a complete balls of how we’ve managed this from day one", what action will the Minister take because he has not showed any leadership in that regard? How will he ensure that the proposed new cycling routes will be progressed without unnecessary delays?

It is appropriate that the Deputy welcomed the fact that I am committed to cycling and it is something on which we can move forward and co-operate.

The issue of BusConnects and cycling is important. I would not like the message to be lost, and I would hate it to be lost on the Deputy, that BusConnects is a massive vehicle for improving the lot of cyclists in this and other cities.

There will be 200 km of dedicated cycle lanes as a result of BusConnects.

There is no point in muttering when it will happen. It is a serious commitment and it will benefit future generations. It is a permanent commitment to cycling and walking. That is what is so important about it. The bus situation is one element of it, but perhaps a more important one is the message that one cannot build bus lanes of this nature without also accommodating the cyclists. That commitment is there and is absolutely evident. It will guarantee a future for cyclists in the city.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Minister has not even answered the question I asked about the percentage of funding that will be allocated.

I have no control over that.

Can the Minister answer that question? He cannot because he does not know.

I have no control over the answers. You can draw your own conclusions. I cannot.

Road Safety Strategy

Imelda Munster


37. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the engagement he has had with the Minister for Justice and Equality regarding increases in resources for the Garda traffic corps in particular increases in personnel; the plans to increase personnel and resources for the traffic corps for budget 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25537/18]

Resourcing for An Garda Síochána falls within the area of responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, and resourcing of the roads policing unit within An Garda Síochána is a matter for the acting Garda Commissioner.

The issue of resourcing the roads policing unit, along with targeted visible enforcement of road traffic law by An Garda Síochána, was identified as a priority in the mid-term review of the road safety strategy, which I approved last year.  The review, which is available on the Road Safety Authority's website, also focuses on enhancing interventions to address the main killer behaviours on Irish roads - speeding, drink-driving, using a mobile telephone and not wearing a seat belt - with stricter penalties for non-compliance.

Enforcement of road traffic law by An Garda Síochána is discussed at every meeting of the ministerial committee on road safety.  At the most recent ministerial committee meeting on 2 May 2018, the Minister for Justice and Equality, as he was unavailable to attend, was represented by an official from his Department.  The Garda was represented by the relevant assistant commissioner.  The meeting was informed by An Garda Síochána that 70 new members were assigned to roads policing by the end of the first quarter of 2018 and an additional 80 new members will be assigned to roads policing by the end of the third quarter of 2018. 

The Garda also informed the meeting that a competition is to commence later in 2018 to select additional members to be assigned to roads policing in 2019, with the objective of adding a further 100 members by the end of 2019.  I was directly assured that just under 1,000 gardaí will be assigned to roads policing by 2020, to meet the target set last year in the mid-term review of the road safety strategy. 

There is little doubt that high visibility Garda roads policing and enforcement influence driver behaviour and are key components in reducing the number of fatalities and serious injuries on our roads.

I am confident that this increase in resources, together with implementation of the other key interventions identified in the mid-term review of the road safety strategy, will have an impact on further reducing deaths and injuries on our roads over the coming years.

According to a reply I received to a parliamentary question which I put to the Minister for Justice and Equality last month, the figure for the Garda traffic corps at the end of February was 635 members. That is just over half what the figure was ten years ago, when there were 1,200 members of the traffic corps. In 2016, the number was 681. The Minister said in his response that he was directly assured of increases in resources. The reason I tabled this question is that I recall the Minister telling a transport committee meeting last September that he had been directly assured last year of a 10% increase in the traffic corps between September and December. That never materialised. We did not get one extra. The Minister has asked how many members have begun to work there but what pressure has he put on the Minister for Justice and Equality? The Minister for Justice and Equality told the Minister last year that there would be a 10% increase but he did not deliver on that. In fact, he reneged on it. What pressure is the Minister, Deputy Ross, applying? He can introduce road traffic legislation every day but if the numbers are not in place to enforce it, it is not worth the paper on which it is written.

The Deputy is right in the sense that the traffic corps has been depleted and has been too low. As a result, it has not been up to the efficiency we sought in apprehending people for committing the offences to which I referred, such as speeding, drink-driving, using mobile telephones and driving without safety belts. The Deputy is also correct that the number fell back to a level which would now be considered unacceptable. I will return to the figures momentarily but I wish to reassure the Deputy that this is the primary issue and one of the reasons we hold quarterly meetings of the ministerial group on road safety, which has representatives of all the key stakeholders of the Garda, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, my Department, the Department of Justice and Equality and everybody else who is relevant. The first question asked is not just about the road death figures but also about the figures for enforcement. The Deputy is correct that the number fell behind but according to the figures I have it is now catching up. It will have fully caught up by the end of the year.

Sometimes I despair at the Minister's responses. He is living in fantasy land. I have given figures which prove that the number is just over half what it was ten years ago. The Minister has introduced two road traffic Bills and my party has supported both. However, on each occasion I raised the need for an increase in the Garda traffic corps. Each time the Minister was asked about it he came out with the same spiel. Is the Minister for Justice and Equality making a fool of the Minister? He is giving the Minister these commitments but he is not following through on them. The Minister, Deputy Ross, is introducing road traffic legislation that is not worth the paper it is written on if there is no enforcement. How seriously is the Minister, Deputy Ross, being taken at the ministerial and Cabinet meetings? How is it that the Garda traffic corps, and we are sick of being told the economy is in recovery, is half of what it was ten years ago?

I will give the Deputy some figures. I do not dispute much of what she is saying about ten years ago. Neither she nor I was around then, and she cannot really blame me for that.

The Minister has been around for 30 years.

The RSA's road safety strategy lists a target of 990 roads policing gardaí by 2020. I was assured at the ministerial committee a few weeks ago that this will be achieved.

The Minister was assured of that last September. That is my point.

I was further advised on 2 May 2018-----

The Minister was assured of that last September and nothing happened.

-----that 70 new members were assigned to roads policing by the end of the first quarter of 2018 and an additional 80 new members will be assigned to roads policing by the end of the third quarter of 2018. A competition is to commence later in 2018 to select additional members to be assigned to roads policing in 2019 with the objective of securing an additional 100 members by the end of 2019. I accept what the Deputy says about the inadequacies of the past but she must accept the figures for the present.

They are less than what they were 12 months ago.

I call Deputy Brendan Ryan for the next question.

They are less than what they were 12 months ago and the Minister is saying he has received assurances. Are they the same assurances he got last September?

You have had your second supplementary question. The next question is in the name of Deputy Brendan Ryan.

The Minister for Justice and Equality is making an eejit of the Minister. They are the same assurances that were not delivered.

I call Deputy Brendan Ryan.

Road Tolls

Brendan Ryan


38. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the payment structure of the Dublin Port Tunnel with particular reference to the fact it disadvantages commuters from the north side in view of the fact the greater cost is borne in the morning time by southbound traffic and in the evening time by northbound traffic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25538/18]

The Dublin Port Tunnel is a great piece of infrastructure connecting Dublin Port and the East Link Bridge with the M1 corridor and the M50. However, will the Minister comment on the payment structure for the Dublin Port Tunnel with particular reference to the fact that it disadvantages commuters from the north side? The greater cost is borne in the morning by southbound traffic and in the evening by northbound traffic. The key point is the cost of tolls at times when people from the north side are going to and coming from work.

I thank the Deputy for raising this question and I understand the reasons for what he said. As with many of the parliamentary questions, much of what the Deputies say is true but there are very good reasons for certain things happening. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy on roads. The planning, design and implementation of individual road projects on national roads are a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland under the Roads Acts 1993-2015 in conjunction with the relevant local authority. 

More specifically, the statutory powers to levy tolls on national roads, to make toll by-laws and to enter into toll agreements with private investors are vested in TII under Part V of the Roads Act 1993, as amended by the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Roads Act 2007.

The Government’s decision in October 1994 to proceed with the construction of the Dublin Port tunnel required, in accordance with the DTI strategy, that the implementation of the project would be accompanied by tolling of the tunnel for traffic-management purposes. The purpose of tolling the tunnel was, and is, to ensure that the tunnel performs its primary function of facilitating heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, accessing Dublin Port.

The toll scheme was developed with the following objectives: ensure that the non-HGV traffic would not interfere with the ability of the Dublin Port tunnel to meet its primary objective of providing a high-quality access route for HGVs to Dublin Port; ensure that the Dublin Port tunnel would not cause an increase in car-based commuter trips into the city centre; and limit the potential for traffic congestion, which is undesirable in a tunnel situation, to occur within the tunnel.

The transport strategy for the greater Dublin area, GDA, published by the NTA, provides the framework for the planning and delivery of transport infrastructure and services in the GDA for the period from 2016 to 2035. The strategy identifies a broad range of measures necessary to provide for the efficient, effective and sustainable movement of people and goods in the GDA.

The strategy specifically identifies the need to ensure that Dublin Port tunnel continues to perform its primary function of providing access to Dublin Port for freight traffic. This, in turn, not only facilitates trade but also reduces the impact of freight movements on people who live and work on alternative routes to the port.

I thank the Minister for his response. I have spoken many times in this Chamber about the fragility of the M1 corridor. Any accident in the Dublin Port tunnel brings traffic on all northside arteries into the city to an absolute standstill, reinforcing the need for the MetroLink to be delivered. For now, commuters from north County Dublin are using this tunnel as a means to get to the city centre or down the eastern boundary of the city through the East Link Bridge. They are being unfairly hit by the charging structure in place.

It costs €10 for southbound commuters between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. from Monday to Friday and northbound between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Those living on the city side of the tunnel and working on the county side pay €6 a day in tolls if they use the tunnel to and from work. This compares with €20 per day for a commuter who comes from north County Dublin or beyond and works in the city, which is a difference of €70 per week. This is plainly unfair. I acknowledge the response outlining the primary function of the tunnel, but the reality is that commuters are using it whenever they can, leading to unfairness.

I do not dispute the facts. However, I underline that the primary purpose of this tunnel is to get HGVs to the port and not to encourage commuters to either enter the centre of the city or go anywhere else, particularly at peak times. It would be unacceptable to have congestion in the tunnel at peak times on many fronts and that is the reason for the tolling structure. Of course, it would be everybody's wish that there would be no tolling and, certainly, that the tolls would not be as high as they are in that area, which is obviously a huge expense for people who use it. I imagine if the tunnel were used by a larger number of commuters it could lead to safety difficulties. In addition, congestion would deter people and negatively impact on trade. It is very important that the HGVs can reach their destination, namely, Dublin Port, on time. In the context of Brexit, this will assume even greater importance.

The behaviour of commuters who use the tunnel is driven by the congestion in the city centre, which is also the Minister's responsibility. The injustice to people living on the Dublin's northside has gone on for too long and cannot be allowed to continue. The differential is too great and the price is too high. As a minimum step, the differential should be reduced. With MetroLink in the pipeline, there is a long-term solution to the transport problem in Fingal and along the M1 corridor. In the interim, however, it is the responsibility of Government to make things a little easier for commuters. Dublin Port tunnel made a pre-tax profit of nearly €1 million last year, so there is fiscal space to give something back to the northside commuters who contributed to this massive profit.

The people of Fingal and beyond have no choice but to travel the M1 corridor. In particular, those in towns such as Swords that are not served by a rail link deserve better; they deserve a break. The pricing injustice needs to end and I ask the Minister to do what he can on this. I ask him to remember his past. When in opposition, he spoke with some zeal about the tyranny of tolls and tolling. Commuters using the tunnel are driven by congestion and there must be recognition by Government that as long as that congestion exists, commuters will use the tunnel.

I do not blame commuters for using that tunnel and certainly not for the desire to use it. However, I do not wish them to do it. I remind the Deputy that the purpose of the tunnel is to get HGVs to the port on time, to keep traffic out of the port at peak times and to keep traffic out of the city at those times. This tunnel is of great assistance to trade and traffic control. We must accept that they are avoiding it because of congestion in the city and elsewhere. This is just part of the bigger problem which we are addressing as a matter of urgency. It is my wish and hope - it is not a vain hope - that those commuters who are using that tunnel or who are finding it too expensive to do so will soon be moving to a new form of public transport - a change of modal transport that is also cheaper.