Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Mechanically Propelled Vehicles

Robert Troy

Question:

38. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of efforts to legislatively provide for the use of e-scooters here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22270/19]

E-scooters represent an exciting new form of mobility that are low cost, low on emissions and accessible but under existing law, these vehicles are illegal on Irish roads. I ask the Minister to provide an update to the House on the Department's efforts to legislatively provide for the use of e-scooters in Ireland.

I thank the Deputy for raising this subject.

The Road Traffic Act 1961 defines a mechanically-propelled vehicle, MPV, as a vehicle intended or adapted for propulsion by mechanical means, including a bicycle or tricycle with an attachment for propelling it by mechanical power, whether or not the attachment is being used. It also includes a vehicle the means of propulsion of which is electrical, or partly electrical and partly mechanical.

E-scooters and powered skateboards fall into this category and are therefore considered to be mechanically propelled vehicles. Any users of such vehicles in a public place, as defined in the Road Traffic Act 1961, must have insurance, road tax and a driving licence, with penalties under road traffic laws including fixed charge notices, penalty points, fines and possible seizure of the vehicle for not being in compliance with these requirements. As it is currently not possible to tax or insure e-scooters or electric skateboards, they are not considered suitable for use in a public place.

I have requested the Road Safety Authority, RSA, to research how e-scooters and other such vehicles are regulated in other countries, particularly other member states. I am keen to understand the road safety implications of the use of such vehicles on public roads, especially when interacting with other vehicles. I will make a decision on whether to amend existing legislation when I have received the outcome of the authority’s research and not before then. I will need to be satisfied that permitting such vehicles on our roads will not give rise to safety concerns, both for the users themselves and for all other road users, including cyclists, pedestrians and motorists, or otherwise adversely impact on other users of our roads and streets, whether on foot, cycle, MPV or public transport.

I am aware that the Deputy's party is eager to introduce a Bill relating to e-scooters and I welcome this. I gather the Bill may even be published today and I will certainly consider it in the light of what I have just said and in the context of the findings of the RSA. It is extremely constructive that Fianna Fáil will add to this debate, which is complicated and will inform what is coming down the line.

The use of e-scooters is rising rapidly because they are efficient, mobile and low-cost vehicles. People are responding favourably to them. Recently Mr. Conor Pope wrote an article on e-scooters in The Irish Times and reported that a 3 km journey from the Phoenix Park to College Green during rush hour took ten minutes. In that context, it is no wonder that people are using them. As well as being very efficient in terms of time, they are also hugely energy efficient.

Unfortunately, however, the Department is once again reacting to a trend. The Minister has not indicated today when the RSA will conclude its investigations into this matter. This should not take a long time because e-scooters are being used and regulated in many other international cities. We are not asking the Minister to reinvent the wheel. We are just asking him to introduce similar regulation to ensure that e-scooters can be used in a safe manner in this country.

I can understand the Deputy's impatience. However, this is a matter of road safety and it is important that we get it right. It is also very important that we get the views of the RSA. While I am not watching the authority line by line and day by day, I gather that it is collating information on how e-scooters operate elsewhere. It is somewhat revealing that various countries have reacted in different ways to e-scooters. I do not accept the Deputy's accusation that the Department's response has been slow because the explosion in the use of e-scooters has been pretty sudden. Various countries have reacted in different ways to the emergence of these vehicles, which has been akin to a flood. I am not taking any position on them until I have heard all of the arguments. I would point out to Deputy Troy that action has been taken in many countries. Barcelona has actually banned e-scooters, while Paris and Berlin have imposed restrictions because of safety concerns, as well as difficulties due to the interaction of e-scooters with other forms of traffic, including motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. It is not quite as simple as it may appear on the surface in terms of regulating their use. The primary concern behind the survey and examination that is going on is safety. Belgium classifies e-scooters with pedestrians or bicycles depending on speed while Denmark has four classifications, depending on speed. France has different rules and in Sweden, the legislation treats them the same as bicycles. There have been different reactions in different places and we hope to be able to learn from those. We also hope to learn from the Bill to be introduced by Fianna Fáil and to act accordingly.

My position is that we should wait and see what the research shows before making a decision.

The Minister is open to persuasion. He is effectively saying that he does not have a view.

That is correct.

That is hardly surprising. He does not have a view on too many things. With regard to the report into the use of these scooters which he has commissioned the RSA to conduct, has the Minister set a timeline for when the authority must report back to him? How quickly can we then expect action from the Minister and his Government colleagues? In November last year the Minister's Government colleague, Deputy Rock, said that he was publishing a Bill. I understand that no such Bill was ever published. We have to acknowledge, as the Minister has, that the use of these scooters has exploded in the past 12 months. We need to respond accordingly. People are using them. They are effective and efficient and they help with congestion and with the environment. We should react positively to this development, while ensuring the safety of all road users. Will the Minister set down a timeframe as to when he will formulate his opinion? We will be bringing our legislation, which we will publish later today, before the Dáil for further discussion.

I will not set an exact date but I regard this as a matter of great importance because of the extraordinary surge in the number of these vehicles we see on our pavements, footpaths and roads. It is not something that can be tolerated for very long. Enforcement is not up to me, but I see the difficulties with having unregulated vehicles on our roads. We will have to make a decision as soon as possible. I emphasise the safety issue.

The convenience is of value to certain people, but research will show whether these vehicles are in line with our policy of getting people out of cars and onto buses, public transport, and bikes. We do not know whether these people are coming off public transport and crowding the roads. We do not know from where they are coming or what the effect of this development will be on overall policy. That will be a major factor in our decision. We will make a decision on this issue very quickly. We will consider Deputy Troy's Bill and what the report says, but safety is paramount with regard to this issue. Safety is what matters most. Other considerations are also important but we must accept that safety is what matters. We do not want to see the sort of incidents that have been seen elsewhere, that is, accidents caused by these vehicles.

Public Transport

Imelda Munster

Question:

39. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of progress of the public transport stakeholders' forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22052/19]

I am asking this question on behalf of Deputy Munster. I ask the Minister the status of progress of the public transport stakeholders' forum and if he will make a statement on the matter. In 2016 and 2017, the public transport sector experienced a series of industrial actions by transport workers. These matters were eventually resolved without any input from the Minister. Will he explain whether this forum has been abandoned? He made a commitment to establish it. When will he follow through on this commitment?

I am allowing the Deputy to ask the question but there was no request made by Deputy Munster.

The only request made related to Deputy Pearse Doherty's question. We will take the question anyway.

As the Deputy is aware, on 21 May last year I hosted a round-table dialogue on public transport policy. That discussion was organised in the context of a wider body of work under way in my Department with regard to a review of public transport policy. This work reflects the commitment given in A Programme for a Partnership Government to review public transport policy to ensure services are sustainable into the future and are meeting the needs of a modern economy. The dialogue event held in Dublin’s Mansion House brought together a wide range of representatives of consumer and passenger interests, public transport operators, unions, business groups, environmental interests, research institutes and the academic community, regulators, members of the Oireachtas joint committee, and policymakers.  The event allowed for an open and inclusive exchange of views among interested stakeholders and commentators, facilitated an open discussion about public transport policy, and let everyone put forward their views.

In this area of public policy there are of course some divergent views but, importantly, there is also a lot of agreement. We all agree on the importance of public transport for society and the economy. We all recognise the role of public transport in helping meet our climate action challenge. We all want to see our public transport services and networks improved in the coming years. Discussions at last year's event looked at the potential challenges and competing priorities likely to arise in the future across all aspects of public transport provision, including economic, social and environmental considerations, and this has helped inform the policy review work that my Department has been undertaking. That work has represented a significant commitment of resources to undertake the comprehensive research and analysis this important policy area demands.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that this work is nearing completion and I will launch a public consultation this summer by publishing a comprehensive suite of documents looking at ten of the most important areas of public transport policy and seeking the views of all stakeholders. I look forward to the next phase of this work and to engaging with the public and the Oireachtas as we look to shape the future direction of public transport policy.

I thank the Minister. I am glad to see that a report is coming forward because the Minister did not mention anything about industrial issues. It should certainly be within the remit of this committee to look at such issues. There have been significant developments in public transport recently. Plans have been made for BusConnects and MetroLink, a further 10% of Bus Éireann routes are up for grabs and set for privatisation, and violence and antisocial behaviour on public transport has escalated. All of these issues have added to the problems. With the expansion of bus services, Bus Éireann has made massive improvements in terms of delivery and it is now a very viable company. Public relations and industrial issues should be part of this agenda. From what the Minister has said in the past, I gather that this is not his intention, but it is very important if we are to avoid ending up where we were before, which is in a situation where there is a complete breakdown in which the Minister will not interfere.

I do not know whether the Deputy is aware of the Labour Court or the Workplace Relations Commission. These are bodies which were set up to deal with industrial relations and which have been very effective in industrial disputes in the past, particularly in the transport sector. In the cases of industrial difficulties we had a couple of years ago, these bodies managed to bring the parties together and to reach a satisfactory conclusion. I welcome the fact that many of those involved in those industrial relations disputes came together in the stakeholders' forum we held last year. We had a meeting in the Mansion House and everybody accepted that it was constructive. It covered a wide variety of subjects and, as a result, a wide range of issues are being researched by a working group of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. These issues include active travel, congestion, finances and funding, Project Ireland 2040, public transport accessibility, public transport in rural Ireland, the regulation of public transport, statistics and trends, transitioning the public service obligation, PSO, fleet to alternatives fuels and technologies, and transport emissions and climate change. There are papers on these ten issues. These are all issues on which those involved in industrial relations, by which I mean the trade unions and employers, are very well placed to have an input. I welcome the fact that they did so on that day. That forum will inform the public policy we are developing.

I ask Members and the Minister to observe the clock, please. I hate interfering.

One of the big issues for many people is privatisation. We have been opposed to any attempts to privatise further any of the bus services. Bus Éireann is doing very well at the moment. The numbers using its services have increased massively, and it is now returning a profit for the first time in recent years. I agree with the Minister with respect to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, which we utilise.

However, at times things come to a point of being at loggerheads. The Minister should not abdicate his responsibility by leaving it up to the WRC to negotiate between the bodies. That is not good enough. Sometimes intervention or certainly recommendations or even talks behind the scenes are very important. Public transport now is a major issue. We have climate change. We have all the issues relating to carbon emissions to live up to. This is a very important area.

I do not disagree with much of what the Deputy has said. I agree that climate change is an important topic. He and others are welcome to make an input to public consultations as they arise, but also if we have a further stakeholders' forum. That is a useful subject.

I do not accept what the Deputy said about privatisation. Nothing has been sold. Since I came to office, this has come not just from the Sinn Féin benches but from others on the Opposition benches that there is some kind of privatisation agenda. That is not the case. Some operating routes have gone to commercial interests not owned by the State, but that is for competitive reasons. They have limited contracts and they are also something I defend. No privatisation is going on. Not a single asset of the State has been sold off as a result of this.

I am delighted that the Deputy has acknowledged that the State transport companies are doing much better. I am delighted with that. It is partly related to the economy and the population growing. It is also related to them becoming a great deal more efficient. The PSO we are providing is also helping them.

Privatisation is not part of the agenda. I have to repeat this every time I stand up in this House. There will be competitive interests in that market, but there is no intention to sell off the State silver in any way. That is not the object of the exercise. The object is to have an efficient consumer-led group of transport companies giving a great service to the State, and long may it last, but it is not in any way to privatise them or sell them off.

Bus Services

Robert Troy

Question:

40. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of the BusConnects redesign; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22271/19]

I ask for a comprehensive report on the status of BusConnects in respect of the redesign and the infrastructure changes that are necessary.

I thank the Deputy for providing the opportunity to talk about BusConnects. The Deputy is aware of the fundamental importance of PSO bus services in addressing congestion and contributing to tackling our climate action challenge. The PSO bus network is the backbone of the public transport system. Last year, over two thirds of the approximately 266 million passenger journeys on State-supported services and networks took place on the bus network. Of those 266 million passenger journeys, approximately 141 million journeys took place on the bus network in Dublin.

I am sure the Deputy agrees that we need to ensure delivery of an improved bus network that works best for passengers and citizens, for the environment and for our economic growth. That is the purpose of BusConnects. It needs to expand bus services, improve journey times and deliver a better passenger experience. It is being rolled out in Dublin first and will also feature in the other major cities in line with their transport strategies once developed.

BusConnects comprises a number of different elements, of which the two most commented upon have been the network redesign and the development of new bus priority measures. Last July, the National Transport Authority, NTA, published proposals for a revised network of bus services across the Dublin region. There was a large response to that consultation period, and more than 30,000 submissions were received. Among those 30,000 submissions, we all know concerns were expressed about certain aspects and suggestions on how other aspects might be improved. We have also seen a certain level of misinformation in certain quarters about the proposals as published and their potential impacts, which is regrettable. This was a public consultation exercise and the purpose of it was to engage with the public and seek their views on how things might be improved.

Following the conclusion of the public consultation period at the end of last September, the NTA commenced reviewing and assessing all of those 30,000 submissions. That review is now largely complete and a revised proposal for the bus network is under development by the NTA. It believes this revised network will incorporate measures which will take account of the vast majority of issues raised last year and suggestions put forward by the public. The NTA expects to publish the revised network for a further round of public consultation in September, and it will publish a report of last year’s consultation process and the issues raised during it.

The Minister is right about the level of submissions, which was as a result of the anxiety and fear on the part of the people who use the buses. I welcome that at long last the redesign will be published in September. After that redesign, what level of public consultation will be undertaken? For how long will it be open? Will submissions be able to amend the design further?

On the most recent proposals on the loss of gardens to provide the infrastructure changes needed, I understand the consultation is still ongoing for one element. When that is completed, how long will it take the NTA to respond to the concerns that will undoubtedly be raised? I have been out with some of our local election candidates in recent weeks. There is major concern in the affected areas. When can those residents expect to have a reply from the NTA on their comprehensive submissions?

I thank the Deputy for his general support for BusConnects. Fianna Fáil has warmly welcomed the principle of it as something that is necessary. The party has also applauded quality bus corridors, which formed the second part of the Deputy's question, and I think we can unite behind that.

There have certainly been hiccups and high-profile difficulties in the route changes proposed, and plans and drafts, which upset many people in parts of Dublin. We expect changes to be proposed in the new draft plan. We expect that draft plan to be open to a very thorough public consultation. I do not know how long it will last but I do not think it will be as long as the last one. We want it to be open to people to make representations that lead to further changes. This is very important for many people. I understand the difficulties some people, particularly elderly people, have when they see changes coming that they do not fully understand. I think it will be clearer next time. It will be open to further changes. It will probably be shorter than the previous one, but it will give ample opportunity for further changes to be made.

Fianna Fáil welcomes the principle of increased investment in public transport, which has suffered from severe underinvestment in recent years. How can we have confidence that the Government can roll out that necessary investment and the necessary changes to the benefit of the service users when the Minister cannot even tell us the exact timeframe in which the consultation will take place?

I ask specifically about the infrastructural changes. When will the NTA respond to the concerned people along these routes? Will these concerns be taken on board? When will we look at elements of changes that could be implemented now to reduce journey times now and not some time five or six years down the road? I am talking about off-street ticketing, which is very beneficial in many other European cities.

It very much benefits Luas users and would greatly increase efficiency. The work on one corridor, in particular, from Lucan to the city centre, could be done with minimal disruption to residents along the route. Only 15 houses would be affected if a park-and-ride facility were constructed in Lucan. It would greatly reduce congestion in the city centre. None of the measures that can now be implemented seems to have been addressed at all. We do not know when the concerns of the residents who will be affected by the quality bus corridors will be addressed. Will these concerns be taken on board?

I share the Deputy's concerns for the residents; every Member does. There are genuine concerns for those who are going to lose part of their gardens. They have justifiable grievances. Unfortunately, one cannot make radical changes in transport without sometimes causing difficulties for a few people. That is the reality, which we deeply regret. As the Deputy will be aware, the residents will be offered compensation packages and the NTA will make it as easy as possible for them to adapt to the changes.

Approximately 390 individual properties are affected by the six corridors to which the Deputy referred. The number of properties ranges from 166 affected on the greater city centre corridor to two on the Ringsend-city centre route. The impacts on properties vary but can include loss of on-street parking and some front garden space. All the property owners have received a letter explaining the proposal, an-----

Please outline the timeline.

-----overview map of their road showing the potential impact on their property, and an offer to meet on a one-to-one basis. Details of public information sessions were announced at the launch and advertised in national and local newspapers. Information is also available on the BusConnects website.

Maidir le ceist Uimh. 41, tá an Teachta as láthair ag an am seo.

Question No. 41 replied to with Written Answers.

Rail Services Provision

Robert Troy

Question:

42. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of plans to increase rail capacity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22272/19]

Could the Minister update the House on his plans to increase rail capacity? When can we expect additional carriages and trains to be ordered and delivered?

I thank the Deputy for his question and his interest in this issue.

We are all aware that the number of people choosing to make rail part of their daily commute has increased in recent years. Last year, there were 48 million passenger journeys on the heavy rail network, an increase of approximately 5.5% as compared to the number in 2017. To provide some context to that growth, as recently as 2015 the passenger number was approximately 39 million per annum. This increased demand across the network is a sign of continued economic growth and is welcome. It brings challenges, however. As the Deputy will be aware, there are pressures on the rail network to match current demand with available capacity, particularly in the greater Dublin area.

The National Transport Authority, NTA, and Iarnród Éireann are addressing this issue of additional capacity through a mixture of short, medium and longer-term responses. The backdrop to those responses is the substantial funding for public transport that is being provided by Government under our Project Ireland 2040 programme.

In the short term, increased PSO funding has allowed for an expansion of services, for example, through the Phoenix Park tunnel, the introduction of ten-minute DARTs and new off-peak services on the Maynooth, Kildare and northern lines. While there is probably some potential for additional measures on the busier commuter lines in respect of off-peak capacity, the fleet is currently fully deployed at peak times.

We have also significantly increased funding for the maintenance and renewal of the network, meaning that it is now funded at so-called steady-state level, as measured annually. It means that Iarnród Éireann is able to better plan for issues such as track relaying, ballast cleaning and signalling renewal, and that means an improved passenger experience and potential journey time improvements on key sections of the network.

In the medium term, the challenge is to source additional rolling stock as efficiently and effectively as possible, and ensuring value for money for the taxpayer in that regard. Accordingly, the NTA and Irish Rail have been exploring two options: the purchase or lease of second-hand fleet and the purchase of additional carriages for the existing Intercity rail commuter fleet.

Regarding second-hand fleet, the NTA recently advertised for expressions of interest and is considering the responses received. There is an added complication associated with that option given the different rail gauge we use in Ireland. A decision on which of the two medium-term options will be pursued will be made shortly.

What I am talking about is capacity on the trains. If the Minister talks to any of his colleagues, on any side of the House, he will learn that the services are bursting at the seams. My specific question relates to when the additional rail carriages will be in use. Despite what was said in January 2018 by the Taoiseach, when he promised 30 or 40 refurbished carriages, it never happened. As recently as April this year, the Taoiseach stated additional carriages were being renovated and that others were on order. That is factually incorrect. No carriages are being renovated and none has been ordered. I submitted a parliamentary question on this and received the reply from the NTA. When can we expect additional rail carriages? When will the order be placed and when will the new carriages be delivered? I want a time and date.

The time and date are matters for the NTA. The Deputy knows that as well as I do. I can outline for him, however, what the policy is and the timeframe generally. If, however, he thinks I am going to give a time and date and dictate to the NTA today, he should realise I will not do that.

In the longer term, and as part of the DART expansion programme generally, there is a need to significantly increase the size of the rail fleet. The Deputy is correct in that regard but what he does not acknowledge is that our need for new carriages and more trains and capacity is a measure of the great success we have and of the growing economy. Even he did not anticipate some months ago that the transport companies would be doing so well.

Work on developing tender documentation and train specifications for the proposed bi-mode fleet of rail vehicles is progressing. I refer to diesel-electric trains. It is expected that the formal fleet acquisition tender process will be initiated in the next few weeks and that the fleet manufacturing contract will be awarded in quarter 2 of next year. As the Deputy can appreciate, however, there is a certain time lag between ordering new fleet, having that new fleet built specially for Iarnród Éireann and it entering into service.

There is a time lag and we are aware that public transport, including rail, has been bursting at the seams in recent years. Despite the Taoiseach having promised in January 2018 that additional refurbished carriages were on their way and that new rail carriages would be ordered, they have not arrived. Despite my having raised this issue with the Minister in the past and him having said the order was imminent, the carriages have not arrived. In fact, we are still awaiting commencement in respect of the pre-qualifying criteria. Even if we get everything in order and the orders are placed by quarter 2 of 2020, it will take three to four years before there is a delivery. Despite the fact that the Minister is responsible for public transport, he is saying today to any commuter travelling on an overcrowded train to Dublin from Mullingar, Kildare, Wicklow or anywhere else in the commuter belt, any senior citizen who cannot get a seat on a train, and anybody who cannot get a seat on a train when travelling to attend a medical appointment, that no new rail carriages will be delivered until the end of 2023, at best, or 2024. He is trying to blame the NTA for the lack of his guidance in this regard.

As I said, the fleet manufacturing contract will be awarded in the second quarter of next year. The Deputy fully realises there is obviously a time lag between ordering and delivery and he could not expect anything else. In the longer term, we are also committed to funding a new national train control centre and I expect to shortly seek Government approval for that project in line with the requirements of the public spending code. There are also significant other investments. I can assure the Deputy the issue of value for money is equally important. Ultimately, we need to increase the size of the rail fleet, expand the capacity of the network and continually look to improve services. I am making funding available to achieve exactly that. The Deputy knows, and I have said to him many times before, an additional 300 carriages will be added to the fleet in the longer term, all of which will be bi-mode. A formal procurement notice should issue on this by the end of the year, with a contract to be signed next year.

It will not be until 2024.

Delivery will probably be during 2023, not 2024.