Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Rail Services

Robert Troy

Question:

1. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to the considerable disruption and inconvenience that has been caused to commuters by changes to the Irish Rail timetables; and the steps he will take to address this. [38002/18]

I ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to the considerable disruption and inconvenience caused to commuters on the Maynooth line, M3 Parkway line, northern commuter line, Newbridge and Hazelhatch line, Heuston commuter line, my own line from Mullingar and the Longford and Sligo line as a result of the introduction of the new Irish Rail timetable on 9 September. Could he advise the House what measures his Department will take to address the long delays?

I thank the Deputy for his topical question. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. I am not involved in the day-to-day operations of public transport. As the Deputy is aware, the operation of Iarnród Éireann services, including the new timetables on the DART, is a matter for the company with oversight by the National Transport Authority, NTA.

One of the features of Dublin's future transport infrastructure that is proposed in the NTA's transport strategy for the greater Dublin area 2016-2035 is implementation of the full DART expansion programme. The DART expansion programme is a series of projects that will create a full metropolitan area DART network for Dublin, with all the lines linked and connected. While interlinked, the projects will also have benefits as stand-alone projects. The National Development Plan, NDP, 2018-2027 includes delivery of the priority elements of the overall DART expansion programme.

Also, by optimising the delivery of both passenger and network benefits through a large NDP capital investment that builds first on optimising the existing rail infrastructure, there should also be better value for money for the taxpayer.

As part of the DART expansion programme and the move to a ten-minute frequency for DART services, Iarnród Éireann introduced a new timetable on Sunday, 9 September to provide for enhanced DART frequency. Iarnród Éireann has stated that the new timetable provides for a 28% increase in overall DART capacity and moves from 156 services per day to 195 services per day. The company also indicated that the more frequent off-peak DART was introduced as a direct response to market research which showed greater demand for off-peak services.

As sometimes occurs when new timetables are introduced, some teething issues arise that need to be reviewed and adjusted in order to ensure that the new arrangements reasonably address customers’ needs. I understand that while the vast majority of this new timetable has provided a much enhanced service to DART commuters now and enables the provision of additional off-peak commuter services from December of this year, some capacity issues have arisen. I am assured that Iarnród Éireann is working with the NTA to iron out those problems.

The main issue that has arisen is around capacity on the northside of Dublin, and Iarnród Éireann has responded swiftly to customer concerns by scheduling additional morning peak services from Portmarnock and Clongriffin.

From Monday, 17 September there has been a 7.29 a.m. service from Portmarnock station to Pearse station and a service from Portmarnock to Bray. Clongriffin has had an additional service provided by Iarnród Éireann at 7.45 a.m. which runs from Clongriffin to Bray.

In summary, with these further services now added by Iarnród Éireann, Portmarnock now has the same number of peak morning services as it had before the timetable change and Clongriffin has one extra.

Iarnród Éireann has stated that it believes that these changes will address the frequency concerns from passengers from Portmarnock and Clongriffin and the capacity issues that have arisen particularly at DART stations such as Harmonstown and Killester.

I am hardly surprised the Minister is not taking responsibility because that is a general trend of his. He Minister described teething problems. Charlie Weston tweeted this morning that he takes the train every morning and it has not been on time since 9 September. The Minister alluded to DART frequency, with trains now arriving every ten minutes, but there are shorter trains so there is no increase in capacity. This is at a time when, as a country, we are failing to meet our emission targets and are trying to encourage people to migrate from their cars to public transport.

Can I ask the Minister's opinion on the example of a commuter from Mullingar? The person said they used to get the former 7.31 a.m. train from Mullingar, which got them into work for 9 a.m., but which now leaves 15 minutes earlier and is scheduled to arrive five minutes sooner than the current train. The train for the person's return journey leaves at 5.10 p.m. and arrives in Mullingar ten minutes later. We have a situation where the busiest train in the morning is leaving 15 minutes earlier to arrive five minutes sooner while in the evening, it takes ten minutes longer to get home. That is an extra 20 minutes a day for a commuter who pays €3,600 per annum for the benefit of that service.

When was the last time Irish Rail purchased rolling stock and when will that rolling stock be delivered? I heard the Minister on "This Week" at the weekend talking about his budget priorities and I was surprised he did not mention a priority for an increase in spending on public transport.

The Minister's responsibility is to ensure the funding to Irish Rail is returned to what it was in 2008-09.

I thank Deputy Troy. I do not believe the Deputy would expect me to intervene specifically in relation to the Mullingar route. Indeed, he might be the first to criticise me if I did so. If the Deputy has a particular problem with that route, and it appears he has, the appropriate place to go is elsewhere, and he knows that. It would be wrong for me to step in and say that Deputy Troy has made representations and that I want to ensure his particular area is looked after in that way.

Having said that, I sympathise if the passengers in his area are being discommoded by these changes. It would be reasonable for the Deputy to go to the NTA or to Iarnród Éireann to make that case and I hope he has already done so.

As the Deputy can see, the changes that have taken place have not been universally successful in certain areas and further changes have had to be made as a result of what has happened. One of the features of this change in the DART expansion is that the NTA and Iarnród Éireann have been extremely flexible. One of the qualities of a good transport service is that when measures of this sort are introduced, as for example with the Luas, one is prepared to be flexible in the face of passenger movements and changes, and this is what has happened.

My guess is that in the case of Mullingar, which the Deputy mentioned, it will come under the same sort of criteria and scrutiny and will get similar responses to the one regarding Clongriffin and Portmarnock.

I used Mullingar as an example and at the outset I listed every commuter line that is experiencing serious disruption. The reason we are experiencing serious disruption is that quite simply we do not have sufficient rolling stock in our ownership to expand our services. That is a fact. I asked the Minister a specific question about the last time Irish Rail ordered new rolling stock. When can we expect the delivery of new rolling stock?

In regard to the Minister's interview on the "This Week" programme this week, I asked about his budget priorities for public transport. He seemed to go through many different areas but failed to acknowledge the responsibility he has for public transport, and with which he is fortunate to be charged. What can we expect in terms of an increased budget so the person I used as an example, who is paying €3,600 a year, is not going to be left with a journey time of 20 minutes longer a day, as a result of the changes in Irish Rail? Would the Minister take public transport if it meant that he was going to be 20 minutes longer a day getting to work? I seriously doubt it.

The Deputy is aware that despite his prognosis and prophesies of doom passenger journeys on Irish Rail increased by 6% in 2017. The DART and commuter rail services, to which he referred, carried almost 33 million passengers in the Dublin region in 2017, which is also an increase of 6%. It is booming.

In answer to the Deputy's question about procurement, the procurement process for additional DART fleet is expected to commence this year, with a contract for approximately 300 new rail carriages expected to be awarded in the second half of 2019. Some 28 refurbished carriages are to re-enter service in 2019. This will add capacity to a number of services. Iarnród Éireann and the NTA are currently assessing the availability of additional fleet that could be introduced to passenger services on the rail network across Ireland in the short term. The Deputy need not tell me that these agencies are not considering these issues. We will have 300 carriages and we have 28 carriages being refurbished.

When are they going to be delivered?

The Deputy asked me about when they are being ordered and the procurement-----

I asked about when they are being ordered and delivered.

I will answer the Deputy's other question about public transport priorities. There is an Estimates process going on, which the Deputy may not be aware of. I will be making my public transport requirements quite clear during that Estimates process. The question I was asked about at the weekend was in a completely different capacity and the Deputy knows this perfectly well.

Road Network

Imelda Munster

Question:

2. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the reason the port access northern cross route is not included in Project Ireland 2040 or the National Development Plan 2018-2027 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37889/18]

Why is the port access northern cross route not included in Project Ireland 2040 or, indeed, in the national development plan? Will the Minister make a statement on the matter?

I thank Deputy Munster for this question, which is very important in her area. The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of the relevant county or city council, in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from the council's own resources, supplemented by State road grants. The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be funded is also a matter for the council.

Prior to the financial crisis, applications for funding for road improvement projects would have been considered as part of the specific improvement, strategic, regional and local road grant schemes. However, the extent of the cutbacks in grant funding during the crisis meant that these grant schemes had to be curtailed after 2013 because expenditure on maintenance and renewal was falling well short of what was required to adequately maintain the regional and local road network.

The national development plan provides for the gradual build up in funding for the road network but it will take some years yet to reach the level required for the adequate maintenance and renewal of the network. For this reason, there is limited scope at present for funding projects under the specific and strategic grant programmes.

Any projects proposed by local authorities for consideration under the specific and strategic grant programmes are assessed by the Department on a case-by-case basis. All projects put forward by local authorities for consideration must comply with the requirements of the public spending code and my Department's capital appraisal framework, and it is important for local authorities to prioritise projects within their overall area of responsibility with these requirements in mind.

Under the capital project appraisal process a preliminary appraisal has to be submitted in relation to each proposed project. Once an appraisal is received, it is assessed taking into account other competing projects, and the overall roads budget. To date, no application has been received by my Department from Louth County Council in relation to the port access northern cross road. It is of course open to the local authority to bring forward a proposal subject to the public spending code and capital appraisal framework. It would then be considered in conjunction with other proposals, taking account of limited resources.

I have raised this issue with the Minister on several occasions, as he is aware, and each time the response has been the same. The previous responses the Minister has given were that given the cutbacks in State funding for regional and local roads since the financial crisis it has been necessary to curtail the grant programme for major new, regional and local road schemes and for major realignment schemes in order to protect the funding available for the maintenance of the existing network. The Minister has regurgitated that reply each time I have submitted a question to him. The Minister stated "curtail" but that is a little bit of an understatement. The opportunities to apply for grants have been literally non-existent.

As I stated, I have raised this with the Minister before and I want to explain what the northern environs programme is. It is a plan to build three neighbourhoods consisting of more than 7,000 houses. This will mean an increase in population of more than 20,000 people in the town of Drogheda. To say that the port access northern cross route is a vital piece of infrastructure is an understatement. It was a dismal failure of the Minister and the Government, although no surprise, that this route was not included in the Project Ireland 2040 plan. There is not even a reference to it. Drogheda receives just third tier status.

The CEO of Louth County Council has also stated that due to the reduction in funding from the Minister's Department there were few, or no, real opportunities to apply for this grant.

Go raibh maith agat. I call on the Minister. He has one minute.

I understand Deputy Munster's need for this road and she has in fact made a very good case for it. It does seem strange to me that no application was received by my Department from Louth County Council with regard to port access on the northern cross road. It is odd as it would have been logical for this to have been one of their priorities and it should have come to my desk at the earliest opportunity. The council has, no doubt, more important roads but I would have thought that the first port of call for Deputy Munster would have been to go to the local authority and ask it to put in an application for this. It is very difficult for me to respond to this if the local authority has not itself put forward a case for this road. Deputy Munster has herself put forward a very good case for it.

As I said, the CEO of Louth County Council said there were no real opportunities to apply for funding, given all of the cutbacks in the Department. I have some good news for the Minister, however. Louth County Council is working on a project submission for urban renewal and regeneration funding under the Project Ireland 2040 plan and the northern cross route will be part of that. Will the Minister give a commitment to grant the application the necessary funding for this vital piece of infrastructure? Given the magnitude of the development and the necessity for this port access crossroad, and given that Drogheda is in gridlock as it stands, without trying to accommodate 20,000 people - planning permission has already been granted for 5,000 of these houses - will the Minister give a commitment here and now that he will release the funding once he receives the application, and that this will also be included in the Project Ireland 2040 plan? He mentioned that he has not received an application but I hope he will do so when he does.

A final response from the Minister.

I do not think that this application will come to me so I am afraid that I cannot give this commitment. The urban regeneration and redevelopment fund is under the aegis of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. This fund was launched as part of Project Ireland 2040 to support the regeneration of five cities and large towns and will operate on a competitive bid and Exchequer grant basis, with matching 25% funding from other public and private sector sources. The closing date for applications is next week, 28 September, and a further call is anticipated for mid-2019. I am very glad that Louth County Council has now made this application but as far as I know it will not be coming to my desk-----

It should be coming to the Minister's desk.

It will not come to my desk. It will be going to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government-----

Should there be funds in the Minister's Department?

-----so perhaps then, it should make that application to him. My Department understands that Louth County Council submitted an application under the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, and that the estimated cost of the project was of the order of €7 million with proposed funding of €5.4 million. We understand that the northern cross route was not among the projects selected for that application either.

Driver Licence Applications

Robert Troy

Question:

3. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on whether asylum seekers should be able to obtain driver licences in view of the recent decision to award the right to work to asylum seekers. [37874/18]

What is the Minister's view on whether asylum seekers should be able to obtain driving licences, in view of the recent decision to award asylum seekers the right to work?

The Minister has two minutes and I ask him to observe it.

As the Deputy will be aware, historically Ireland has not issued driving licences to asylum seekers.

The court ruling earlier this year stating that asylum seekers may work while awaiting the outcome of their asylum applications has little or no direct relevance to driver licensing law. The two issues are legally quite distinct, and the court ruling does not change the position.

I have however asked my officials to re-examine the question of whether we should issue driving licences to asylum seekers, as I know some EU member states do. The matters at issue in the case of driver licences for asylum seekers are matters of both EU and national driver licensing law. I understand, based on legal advice, that it would be possible to issue asylum seekers with driving licences and I would be happy to consider that once other matters are resolved.

The other matters relate to the integrity of the driver licensing system. Driving licences allow people to drive but they are also widely used as proof of identity in other circumstances. It is a core component of the driver licensing system that the identity of applicants has to be verified. The Government's policy is that identity for applicants for licences should be verified to what is called the Standard Authentication Framework Environment, SAFE 2 standard. It would not be acceptable to issue driving licences to some people only if they meet this standard of ID verification while allowing others to receive a licence without meeting this standard. I appreciate that some asylum seekers will not be able to verify their ID to this level.

Finally, we have to consider what will happen if an asylum seeker receives a driving licence and is subsequently turned down for asylum. It will be necessary to have a mechanism in place so that the Road Safety Authority, RSA, as the national driver licensing authority, can be notified immediately and can cancel the licence.

I have written to my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, regarding these issues. When the issues concerned have been resolved, I will be happy to consider issuing driving licences to asylum seekers. I shall consider the situation further when these matters have been addressed.

Deputy Troy has two minutes.

The Minister referred to the decision made by the Supreme Court in May of last year to strike down as unconstitutional the absolute ban on asylum seekers working. This has forced the Government finally to address the need to reform the direct provision system. The Minister is right - historically asylum seekers could not work. Because of the Supreme Court decision, however, they now have a right to gain access to work. Some asylum seekers live in areas without readily available access to public transport and if we are serious about helping them into the workforce then one essential requirement is that they be able to obtain a driving licence, buy a car and travel to work. I welcome the Minister's confirmation today that he is reviewing this matter. There are a number of potential difficulties that he must overcome. I ask that we put a tight timeline on this. When can we expect the Minister to come back to the Dáil with an answer on this? When can asylum seekers reasonably expect to be in a position to apply for a driving licence?

I do not want to give the Deputy a very firm date because this is quite a complicated legal issue. Identity verification is difficult. I am as enthusiastic as he is to resolve this problem and see that there will be no overriding obstacle to asylum seekers getting driving licences. The key difficulty in issuing driving licences to asylum seekers, however, is identity verification. Ireland has determined that the appropriate level of ID verification is the standard referred to as the Standard Authentication Framework Environment, SAFE, level 2. Asylum seekers come to the jurisdiction with a variety of documentation or, potentially, in some cases with no documentation at all. Verification of ID to SAFE 2 level may be, practically speaking, impossible in some cases. If we are considering issuing driving licences to asylum seekers then it would be possible to take one of the three positions. It would make sense to issue licences only to asylum seekers whose ID would be verified to SAFE 2 standard.

There is obviously also the problem of the post-refusal of asylum. In cases where a person was refused asylum he or she would no longer have a right to remain in the jurisdiction. It is surely arguable in such cases that the individual is no longer normally resident - one of the qualifications - and therefore no longer eligible to be issued with a licence. A decision would then have to be made as to whether a driving licence issued to an asylum seeker should be cancelled if his or her application for asylum is rejected.

We will move on. I ask all Members to co-operate with me, because we will be embarrassed again today if we only answer a few questions. The clocks are very obvious. I call Deputy Troy.

The Minister has already himself confirmed that asylum seekers in other EU states have access to a driving licence. The challenges, therefore, are not insurmountable.

The Minister needs to set a tight timeframe so that we have something to work towards. If he does not set such a timeframe, this problem will have the potential to go on and on. People who come to my clinic and I am sure other clinics want to work and are eligible to work, but they cannot get to work because they live in areas where they do not have access to public transport to bring them to work. The Minister spoke about the continued eligibility of someone who has been refused the right to remain. I remind him that people lose their driving licences every day of the week. It is not an insurmountable problem. I ask the Minister to put in place a tight timeframe we can work towards to ensure people who want to go out to work can access motor cars to enable them to do so.

I thank the Deputy for observing the time limit.

I am very eager to expedite this. I have responded to the Department of Justice and Equality on this issue. It recognises that it is an issue. I acknowledge that other countries do not necessarily have the same problems and have already granted this particular avenue. I will ask my officials to engage urgently with the Department of Justice and Equality on this matter with a view to resolving the problem that has rightly been identified by the Deputy. There is a need to look at it not only as it applies to normal residency, but also as it applies after asylum has been refused. In addition, the problems of identification are thorny and difficult ones. As the Deputy will be aware, the legislative process is slow but there are ways for us to hurry it up. Obviously, our approach will be subject to the advice of the Office of the Attorney General, which has the potential to look very thoroughly at an issue of this sort. Although we might want to hurry up the legislative process, we need to ensure the law that is introduced is robust.

Airport Policy

Michael Harty

Question:

4. Deputy Michael Harty asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the reason Shannon Airport continues to be under the regulation of the Commission for Aviation Regulation for the purposes of airport charges in view of the fact that Shannon Airport is an independent airport and has passenger numbers at the threshold for participation in the regional airports programme. [37888/18]

I ask the Minister to explain why Shannon Airport continues to be under the regulation of the Commission for Aviation Regulation for the purposes of airport charges, given that it is an independent airport with passenger numbers at the threshold for participation in the regional airports programme.

I thank Deputy Harty for his question. Shannon Airport is subject to very limited regulation by the Commission for Aviation Regulation, which sets charges for access to certain terminal facilities in compliance with an EU directive on ground-handling services. Unlike Dublin Airport, it is not subject to economic regulation. In the case of Dublin Airport, the regulator sets the maximum passenger charge that can be levied on airlines for the use of airport facilities and services due to its dominance in the market. Ireland's regional airports programme is intended to support necessary safety and security investments and activities by the smaller regional airports at Donegal, Knock, Kerry and Waterford to enable them to continue to contribute to enhanced regional connectivity. Under this programme, Exchequer funding is allocated through a number of schemes to cover capital and operational expenditure at those airports. Passenger numbers at these small airports are less than 1 million per annum. The support that is provided helps them to comply with international safety and security regulatory obligations. There are no plans to extend this programme to other airports.

Shannon Airport is a business within Shannon Group, which was established in 2014 following a Government decision to combine the airport with a restructured Shannon Development. The purpose of the group is to promote and facilitate air transport and aviation services in and around Shannon Airport and to optimise the return on its land and property and on its shareholdings in subsidiary companies. Shannon Group and its board, management and staff are to be commended for its achievements since then. For example, it increased its passenger numbers by approximately 25% to 1.75 million in 2017. It has increased its services and routes, successfully delivered the first phase of an investment programme in new and upgraded property solutions and increased its aviation cluster from approximately 40 companies with approximately 1,400 employees to approximately 60 companies with approximately 2,600 employees. It has restructured its Shannon Heritage business, invested in its various sites, improved its product for tourists and won contracts for the management of other sites, including the GPO visitor centre and Newbridge House. As Shannon Airport is a State-owned enterprise with a fully commercial mandate, it is not considered appropriate or necessary to bring it within the framework of the regional airports programme. It is a matter for Shannon Airport to ensure it operates within its mandate as efficiently and effectively as possible so it can cover its capital investments and operational expenditure.

I thank the Minister. It is good to be discussing matters relating to the future of Shannon Airport on the floor of the Dáil. The future of the airport is inextricably linked with the need for balanced regional development in the mid-west region and along the Atlantic economic corridor. Shannon Airport is a key economic driver in the region. Foreign direct investment companies see Shannon Airport as a critical piece of infrastructure that is central to the economic success of the region. EU rules allow capital expenditure supports to be provided to airports that are used by fewer than 3 million passengers per annum. The Government gives no financial support to Shannon Airport, which is used by 1.7 million passengers per annum, but it provides support to smaller privately-owned regional airports for capital investment and operational matters, such as security requirements. A policy change is needed to treat all airports outside Dublin on an equal basis. If the Minister is sincere about the Project Ireland 2040 ambition to drive effective balanced regional development, he needs to make the case for policy change to ensure Shannon Airport receives equitable support. In that regard, in 2017 the EU amended the general block exemption regulation, which allows airports of fewer than 3 million passengers to receive aid to be used for investment in safety and security. I ask the Minister to consider looking at that regulation and implementing policy change.

The Deputy is right when he says that this aid is restricted to safety and security. My understanding - the Deputy can correct me if I am wrong - is that the real problem at Shannon Airport is that concerns have been identified about capital expenditure which is required for the mandatory upgrading of equipment to comply with the revised hold baggage screening standards. This expenditure, which has not been accounted for in Shannon Group's financial forecasts, is likely to be approximately €10 million and will present significant difficulties for the group. The new hold baggage screening requirements are mandatory for all airports. Shannon Airport will have to overcome the difficulty it is facing in this regard. My officials are engaging with the Shannon Group to get a better understanding of all the elements relating to this issue. Even if Shannon Airport were to be included in the regional airports funding programme, I am not sure whether funding for safety and security would really fulfil the current needs of the airport. Shannon Airport is a different creature from the regional airports. It has competitors but it does not have an economic regulator.

The ability of Shannon Airport to increase its passenger numbers and be a successful airport is a related issue. There needs to be a policy change to support the connectivity and the traffic numbers coming through Shannon Airport. In the last five years, 95% of all passenger growth has been in Dublin Airport. Project Ireland 2040 sets out a vision for attracting jobs to the regions and ensuring economic growth is distributed fairly. IDA Ireland has regional targets for foreign direct investment. I think Tourism Ireland should also have regional targets to ensure there is a fair distribution of visitors to Ireland through airports other than Dublin Airport, including Shannon Airport. In 2016, some €12.6 million was invested in marketing Ireland. Approximately 95% of growth has occurred in the Dublin region, which gets 87% of the incoming traffic. It would appear that the vast majority of the money is being spent in the Dublin region and not in the other regions. I think there should be an examination of how the money being invested in marketing is dispersed across the other airports. In my view, Shannon Airport is not getting a fair proportion of that funding. I have two questions for the Minister. How much money has been spent on marketing airports outside Dublin? Will the Minister implement policies to attract more traffic to our regional airports in order to reverse the total dominance of Dublin Airport?

The problem here is that Shannon Airport is a different creature from Dublin Airport, which has a monopoly. The latter must have a regulator for that reason. The Commission for Aviation Regulation regulates all elements of the activities at Dublin Airport very strictly. The regulation in Shannon Airport is much restricted, as I said in my opening remarks, to terminals and other groups. The difficulty here is that the airport is a business within the Shannon Group, which was established in 2014, and a State-owned enterprise with a fully commercial mandate. It is not considered appropriate or necessary to bring Shannon Airport within the framework of the regional airports programme. The regional airports are nakedly and openly subsidised but Shannon Airport is not considered suitable for a clear subsidy because it has a commercial mandate and competitors. It is not regulated by the CAR except in very limited circumstances.

Cycling Facilities Funding

Róisín Shortall

Question:

5. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to significantly improve the share of transport funding to allow for the construction of cycle lanes that are separated from general traffic and for other safety improvements in view of the increase in the number of persons commuting by bicycle in recent years and the ongoing dangers posed to cyclists by the lack of safe cycling infrastructure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38027/18]

In view of the significant increase in the number of people commuting by bicycle and the ongoing dangers posed to cyclists by the lack of safe cycling facilities, particularly the lack of cycle lanes segregated from general traffic, will the Minister outline his plans to significantly increase the funding to provide segregated cycling lanes and other safety measures which are so urgently needed?

I thank the Deputy for the very topical and important question.

Over recent years, data published from various sources show an increase in the number of people commuting by bicycle. Recent data published by Dublin City Council and the National Transport Authority, NTA, in the annual canal cordon report show an upward trend of cyclists crossing the canal which continued between 2016 and 2017, with numbers increasing by 3%. There has been a steady year-on-year growth in the number of cyclists crossing the cordon since 2010. In 2017, almost 12,500 cyclists crossed the cordon in the morning peak period. This represents an increase of more than 150% when compared with 2006 and an increase of more than 57% in the past five years. The Central Statistics Office has also published statistical information on cycling, including the national travel survey which illustrates the prevalence of cycling and the upward trends in cycling numbers.

Cycling numbers have shown a steady increase in recent years, which is one of the reasons I worked to secure a substantial multi-annual funding allocation for this area as part of budget 2018. The increase I secured has allowed more than €110 million of capital funding to be directly allocated to develop cycling and walking infrastructure in the greater Dublin area, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford in the period from 2018 to 2021. The programme will provide safe alternative active travel routes that will help alleviate congestion by providing viable alternatives and connectivity with existing public transport infrastructure. Details of individual projects are managed by the NTA.

Over the same period, a further €135 million capital funding is allocated for investment in sustainable urban transport projects. These will include projects that will provide either direct or indirect improvements for urban cycling. This programme builds on investment to date to deliver improvements in public and sustainable transport infrastructure in the regional cities and the greater Dublin area. It includes traffic management, bus priority and other smarter travel projects, which will allow transport infrastructure to function more effectively and will help relieve traffic congestion and therefore improve safety for cyclists.

Additional information not provided on the floor of the House

In addition to both these allocations, the considerable investment of approximately €750 million for BusConnects that aims to reconfigure the bus network and infrastructure over the coming years will deliver the construction of significant new cycling facilities alongside bus routes. The NTA calculates that BusConnects for Dublin will deliver more than 200 km of cycle lanes on the key radial routes into Dublin city centre. This will provide safe cycling arrangements along these corridors, largely segregated from other traffic.

In addition to funding for the provision of infrastructure, my Department continues to be very active in promoting behavioural change to encourage more people to take up cycling and cycle safely. As well as funding national initiatives such as Bike Week, my Department also provides funding to the NTA on an annual basis for the delivery of behavioural change programmes such as workplace and campus travel programmes and the green schools programmes. My Department also engaged Cycling Ireland to develop a new national cycle training standard, Cycle Right, which was rolled out in January 2017 to approximately 15,000 primary school students. My Department also supports the great work that is being done by the Road Safety Authority in the promotion of safe roads for all road users, including more vulnerable users such as cyclists and pedestrians.

While we all recognise there has been a substantial increase in the number of people commuting by bicycle, cyclists only account for 3% of commuters. Among children commuting to school the figure is even lower at 2%. There is potential for more people to cycle. It is a very laudable objective and one the Government should be clearly behind because of its impact on personal health and activity levels, reducing congestion, CO2 emissions and so on. There is much to benefit society by encouraging and supporting more people to cycle.

It all boils down to funding and unfortunately funding levels have been incredibly low in recent years. In a recent reply to me, the Minister stated that the amount provided for cycling was only 2.2% of the overall road transport budget last year. Clearly there is a huge amount of ground to make up. It is a matter of setting very clear targets. Does the Minister accept the safer we make cycling, the more people will start commuting by bicycle? The lack of safety and segregation of cycle lanes is a big barrier to people deciding to cycle to work, school or college. Will the Minister indicate what percentage of the road transport budget he believes needs to be dedicated to cycling?

I accept what the Deputy says. It is indisputably true that the safer the roads are for cyclists, the more cyclists there will be. Perhaps because I did not finish my first reply, I did not spell out some of the other intentions we have for cycling and the commitments we have made. The €110 million is a trebling of the amount to be spent on walking and cycling. The Deputy is correct that we did not allocate enough to cycling and we have a great deal of catching up to do. We are well behind many countries. I also acknowledge all the benefits of cycling she mentioned. I said earlier to Deputy Troy that I have bought in to cycling. It is something we have to spend money on and commit to for all sorts of reasons, not only the obvious ones but also for health reasons.

BusConnects, which is coming through in Dublin and which we will debate later this evening, will deliver more than 200 km of cycle lanes on the key radial routes into Dublin city centre. These will provide for safe cycling arrangements and will be largely segregated, which is what the Deputy seeks. They will not be completely segregated but, wherever practical, they will be largely segregated. That is a major commitment, not only to cyclists but also to cyclists' safety. We are spending approximately €750 million on BusConnects, of which cycling is a large and important ingredient.

We are also spending a large amount of money on greenways. We have made a capital allocation of more than €55 million to greenways, which will obviously be a commitment to cyclists. A further €135 million in capital funding has been allocated to sustainable transport for the period ahead.

All my suggestions are falling on deaf ears. Deputy Shortall may ask a final supplementary question.

Cyclist.ie has called for 10% of the overall transport budget to be allocated to improving cycling facilities. Does the Minister accept that figure? He has said he is committed to improving facilities for cyclists. What target is he working towards in terms of the percentage of transport funding that he will allocate to improving cycling facilities? Does he accept that setting a clear target is the only way of making progress in this area? The Minister spoke about BusConnects. What percentage of the BusConnects budget will be allocated to cycling? While the greenways are very popular and a great help in improving tourist numbers, my concern is with commuting in Dublin in particular and also in the other cities. What is the Minister's target for the percentage of the transport budget that will be allocated towards cycling? What timescale does he have in mind to reach that target?

I will respond to that in as far as I can. I cannot and will not give the Deputy a percentage commitment for the allocation to cycling but I will give her the figure of €110 million, which is a trebling of what we had before. It is a very large and significant step change in a commitment to cycling which was not there in recent years.

I fully concede that this is necessary. We must educate people, provide facilities and reassure them that cycling is safe.

There is a current narrative to the effect that cycling has not been safe. That has some justification. It has certainly got some support, and it has got a little bit of movement and traction. I want to reassure people by providing these segregated cycling lanes, particularly in the cities to which the Deputy refers, and by introducing other measures. Safety is the most important element in the whole transport portfolio. By introducing other measures, upon which I will be making other announcements shortly, I will ensure that cyclist safety is a top priority.