Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Rail Services Provision

Marc MacSharry

Question:

53. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to capacity issues being experienced across the rail system; if additional capacity will be delivered within the next couple of years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29957/19]

Is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport aware of the considerable capacity issues being experienced across the entire rail network, from the commuter towns to Dublin and other major cities, and on intercity lines? The Minister is surely aware of the chronic overcrowding on services and the commuting misery suffered by many families. While we encourage people to use public transportation, we are unable to facilitate them.

I thank the Deputy for his question and welcome him to his new role as transport spokesman. I pay tribute also to his predecessor, Deputy Troy, who fulfilled his role extraordinarily well.

The Deputy is quite right that due to increased demand, there are capacity issues at certain times and on certain parts of our rail network. I am happy to inform him that additional capacity has been, and will continue to be, delivered over the short, medium and longer term. As to the short term, ten-minute DART services and expanded services through the Phoenix Park tunnel and on other commuter lines have been introduced. The focus now is on off-peak expansion with a view to easing pressures during the peak period. This year, construction will also start on the new national train control centre, which will improve management of the network generally and allow for some capacity increases once completed.

As the commuter rail fleet is fully deployed at peak times, however, we must also increase the volume of rolling stock. That will be achieved through medium and longer term measures. In the medium term, the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Iarnród Éireann are proposing to purchase additional carriages for the existing fleet known as the ICR, or intercity, fleet. I expect a business case on this proposal to be submitted shortly. Once approved, I understand the additional carriages will come on-stream in approximately two years. While the NTA and Iarnród Éireann are also evaluating tenders received in an earlier process to seek second-hand fleet stock, the proposal is complicated by the different rail gauge in use in Ireland.

In the longer term, it is proposed to massively expand the fleet. A pre-qualifying notice for the relevant procurement competition has issued. The new carriages will be a mixture of bi-mode, or battery electric, and fully electric and form part of the DART expansion programme. It is expected contracts will be awarded during 2020 in respect of this proposal. These are significant investments and, obviously, value for money is an important consideration. The Deputy can be assured that I am making funding available to expand the capacity of our rail network and I look forward to his support in that regard.

The "live horse and get grass" approach is not working for us. The Minister says he expects a business case shortly. There is an administrative merry-go-round from the board of Irish Rail to the NTA, the Department, the Minister and Cabinet. What sort of timelines are we looking at? It will take 18 months to make rolling stock available for use after it is ordered. My understanding is that the business case for the 41 vehicles to which the Minister referred has gone from Irish Rail to the NTA. Is there any way to take account of the families suffering all over Ireland, in particular those commuting to the cities and in respect of the intercity service? What are the timelines in respect of the ordering of the 41 carriages? After that, we will be into the 18-month countdown. In the meantime, what has the Minister done in co-operation with his colleagues in other Departments to alleviate some of the pressure by encouraging flexible working hours or other arrangements by way of additional bus services?

One must realise, as I am sure the Deputy does, that one cannot just go into a shop and order carriages or trains here, there and everywhere. These things have to be considered carefully and procurement procedures must be followed. The Deputy would not for one moment suggest that should not happen. It is very important. The Deputy referred to the 41 additional carriages for the existing fleet and he is correct. While the possibility of purchasing or leasing second-hand stock as a quick fix is being evaluated, the Deputy is probably aware that procurement recently commenced to source 300 new bi-mode carriages. The order will be placed next year with delivery taking place in the next two to three years. We have to approach this issue by taking action in the short, medium and long term and we have a plan for all that, depending, of course, on the expansion of demand. The Deputy will be well aware that the increase in demand for public transport in recent times has been unexpectedly successful. Public transport is attracting a large number of additional passengers, due partly to prosperity but also to the fact that public transport, whether it is bus, rail or Luas services, has improved immensely, which I applaud. We are determined to move people to public transport and we are doing so successfully. There are capacity difficulties, to which the Deputy referred, but we are determined to resolve them and we have a well spelled out plan to do so.

The targets for Irish Rail are 75:25. It is at 48 million journeys and heading for 75 million journeys by 2025. The Minister said the procurement process for 300 carriages has started, albeit it is intended to be 600 new vehicles over ten years, but all that has been issued is a call for expressions of interest that it is hoped to receive by the end of July. At the snail's pace at which we tend to operate, delivery will not be within two to three years, as the Minister has just said, it will be in 2024. Those are the words of Irish Rail, whose representatives told me so today. The 41 shorter-term solutions to which the Minister referred are still two years away. What level of priority and emergency is the Minister declaring in this regard? When it comes to other aspects of procurement, we have seen how projects can be fast-tracked depending on the level of focus. The Government is not applying the appropriate priority to fast-tracking this process. Rather, it is going around the houses while families continue to experience commuting misery and the detrimental effects continue to be felt in our ability to attract people to public transport. The more people are squashed into a train, the more liable they are to resort to their cars.

We are increasing the number of commuter trains, improvements have been made to the Phoenix Park tunnel and ten-minute DART services have been introduced. We regard with a sense of urgency the short-term difficulties to which the Deputy has quite rightly referred, but he will also know that a successful transport system of this sort will always have capacity issues if demand increases at a faster rate than expected. Luas cross-city, which was introduced barely 18 months ago was, overnight, a victim of its own success. We introduced a very successful cross-city project and it immediately attracted an significant number of people to public transport. It is a tribute to public transport in Ireland and something we are going to match and alleviate in a very short time. The projected number of Luas trams we will bring to the green line in a short period will certainly alleviate the difficulties to which the Deputy referred. We will not sort it out in five or six months, but we will sort it out by way of a medium and long-term plan, the details of which I have spelled out clearly to him.

Public Transport Initiatives

Imelda Munster

Question:

54. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the estimated spend of 20% of the budget of his Department on public transport; his plans to increase this percentage in view of existing deficits in public transport provision and the ongoing need to reduce car use to comply with obligations regarding emissions; his further plans to increase spending on the public service levy specifically to increase routes and service frequency; if new railway projects will be announced in particular outside of the greater Dublin area; the increase in the public transport budget he is seeking in budget 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29825/19]

I ask the Minister to comment on the estimate that 20% of his Department's expenditure relates to public transport. Does he intend to increase this percentage in light of the existing deficits in public transport provision and the ongoing need to reduce car use to comply with our emissions obligations? Does he intend to increase spending on public service obligation routes and service frequency? Does he intend to announce any new railway projects, including new railway lines, outside the greater Dublin area? What level of increase in the public transport budget is he seeking in budget 2020?

I will miss Deputy Munster in the weeks and months to come.

I will not say "likewise".

I do not doubt that she is going on to greater things. In budget 2019, almost 35% of the total voted expenditure of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport was allocated to supporting sustainable mobility. I fully agree with the Deputy that we need to increase that level of funding in the years ahead. I am sure she will welcome the increases I have secured in the allocations for sustainable mobility in the coming years as part of Project Ireland 2040. The capital allocation is scheduled to increase by approximately 48% next year and by a further 46% in 2021. On current expenditure, the subvention levels have increased substantially in recent years. There has been a 36% increase in the past four years. A total of €287 million is being provided this year. This increased subvention is supporting improved services in urban and rural areas. The increased services are allowing more people to make the shift to public transport, with a 7.5% increase in passenger numbers recorded last year.

The Deputy will acknowledge that a number of important projects are under way or are scheduled to start this year. The continued expansion of the bus fleet will add more capacity to bus networks across the country. I could also mention a number of significant active travel projects in our major cities, like the Royal Canal greenway in Dublin, the Harley Street bridge in Cork and the Parnell Street project in Limerick. Trams on the Luas green line are being extended, with the first of the newly extended 55 m trams due to enter service after the summer. We are increasing funding for the maintenance and renewal of the national rail network by 23% this year to help to deliver improved journey times and reliability on the network. A new national train control centre will commence construction later in the year. The city centre resignalling project will deliver increased rail capacity when it has been completed. We are continuing to fund the planning and design of the transformative projects planned under the BusConnects, MetroLink and DART expansion investment programmes. I am confident this increased investment will enable more people to make the shift away from the car and toward sustainable options.

We all know the benefits of good transport links for individuals, businesses and communities. It is a matter of frustration for people in many rural areas and urban areas outside the greater Dublin area that such links do not exist in large parts of the State. As I have said previously, there are parts of rural Ireland that do not have any public bus services, or perhaps just one bus a week. People have a right to expect connectivity not just between rural and urban parts of the country - we know all about the benefits of such connectivity - but also between smaller towns. In the absence of such connectivity, how does the Minister intend to reduce emissions and encourage more people to reduce their use of cars, particularly in rural areas outside the greater Dublin area?

The Deputy will be aware that reducing emissions from cars and public transport and encouraging people to cycle and walk are significant priorities in the climate change programme we have announced. Alternatives to the private car are very important. As the Deputy will be aware, on a daily basis we are trying to encourage people to move out of their cars. That is why we have set demanding and high targets for the number of electric vehicles. We are seeking to have nearly 1 million electric cars on the road by 2030. Some people have described this target as challenging and others have described it as ambitious. We are determined to tackle this issue in an unprecedented manner. This will be difficult, but we believe it can be achieved. As the Deputy will be aware, we are providing a lot more funding for cycling. We are totally committed to the cycling story. We have bought into it. An unprecedented level of funding is going to cycling. Some €53 million is being provided for greenway cycling routes all over the country. The Dodder greenway and other cycling routes will open this year. We have made a commitment to large public transport projects to take people into public transport and to active travel to get people out of their cars. We will reduce emissions in that way.

I acknowledge that there has been investment in large public transport projects in the greater Dublin area in recent years. It is all very well and good for the Minister to refer to the climate action plan, but the Government needs to invest the money to make its targets realistic. For example, there is no reference in Project Ireland 2040 to any new rail lines. We know the current structure is at capacity in many areas. There are serious problems with overcrowding. Does the Government have plans for any new rail lines throughout the State? From where we are standing, it is difficult to see that a real effort is being made to provide funding to encourage people, particularly in rural areas where the public transport system is non-existent or extremely poor, not to use their cars. The Minister knows that in many rural areas, there is no bus service on which one could rely if one wanted to leave one's car at home.

In recent times, we have done a great deal to improve bus services in rural areas. The Deputy will be aware that along with the National Transport Authority, NTA, we launched a programme last year to improve the rural bus network through the LocalLink services. I think there are 59 such services now. There were 66 services at one stage. As part of an extremely successful pilot scheme between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., services have been provided on the basis of demand response units and others have been provided by adding to existing routes. They have worked very well and they have been very well responded to. The NTA has decided it is well worth continuing with this sort of project. We have given grants to various other community transport systems in rural Ireland to help out where there is no commercial reason to launch projects of this sort, but there is a social need. It would be wrong to suggest we are ignoring rural Ireland in this area because the opposite is the case. We are looking for constructive solutions to assist isolated people who cannot get out in the evenings or at various other times of the day. We have made great strides in this respect. We intend to continue to expand these initiatives. We have introduced new rail services on the crowded commuter lines to which the Deputy has referred. We have introduced additional trains at off-peak times to try to change people's travel patterns as they commute to and from work and thereby reduce overcrowding on some commuter rail services. We think this has been successful as well.

Electric Vehicles

John Lahart

Question:

55. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the absence of a reference to an e-bike strategy in the Climate Action Plan 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29745/19]

As the Minister will be aware, an interesting international conference, Velo-city 2019, was held in the convention centre recently. Many people came from overseas to participate in this cycling conference. A number of keynote speakers from the conference were invited to address the Joint Committee on Climate Action while they were in Ireland. They expressed serious disappointment about this particular area of the Government's climate action plan and its other projects, and pinpointed the lack of targets and plans in relation to the whole area of e-bikes. That is the issue I want to raise with the Minister today.

I thank the Deputy for his question.

The recently published action plan to tackle climate breakdown sets out a whole-of-government approach to climate action and maps a potential pathway to meet Ireland's 2030 emissions reduction commitments. The plan clearly recognises that Ireland must step up significantly its commitments to address climate disruption. A wide-ranging set of bold and challenging actions for transport are set out, particularly with regard to active travel - cycling and walking - and public transport. I want to make sure we will provide high quality cycling and walking infrastructure, as well as a reliable public transport system, to make public and active travel options a viable alternative for as many people as possible and more of their journeys than ever before. In that way, we will lower climate-harmful emissions, begin to tackle congestion and see an improvement in local air quality.

The plan includes our commitment to deliver an additional 500,000 public transport and active travel journeys daily by 2035. This is a significant step-up in our ambition and requires expanding the capacity and attractiveness of walking and cycling networks, as well as the public transport system. Under Project Ireland 2040, we have assigned €8.6 billion to support sustainable mobility. In addition to support for key public transport projects, this investment will vastly improve cycling and walking infrastructure in all major cities. In fact, the €8.6 billion investment budget is well above what we will be investing in new roads, which is a reversal of the balance of investment in the past. In the period from 2018 to 2021, inclusive, €110 million will be specifically dedicated to cycling and walking infrastructure in major urban areas; €750 million is earmarked for the BusConnects programme in Dublin to include the delivery of around 200 km of segregated cycling lanes; and €53 million will be used to support the development of new greenways. This will support the increasing numbers who choose cycling as their preferred mode of transport, including e-bike users. It is clear that prioritising investment in cycling networks is working. The number of annual cycling trips is increasing, particularly within the greater Dublin area, with surveys such as the Canal Cordon Count showing cycling numbers almost doubling between 2011 and 2018.

We need to build on this and do even more. Key actions under the climate plan underpin the commitment to increasing cycling as a mode of travel, including the establishment of a cycling project office within the National Transport Authority and the development of implementation plans and increased cycling infrastructure in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Cycling Project Office will ensure the new cycling infrastructure is delivered optimally, in line with the significantly increased funding being provided.

The cycle to work scheme continues to encourage the use of bicycles and e-bikes to travel to and from work. Under the scheme, an eligible employer can buy a bicycle for his or her employees and the employee pays the amount, less the tax relief, over up to 12 months through a salary sacrifice arrangement. Up to €1,000 can be provided towards the purchase of a new bicycle or e-bike, which is a generous contribution towards the cost of any commuter bicycle but especially towards the cost of an e-bike which is generally more expensive.

The climate challenge needed a step up in ambition and a renewed determination across government and society to tackle climate disruption. The climate action plan has given us the required level of focus and drive. I am personally committed to the decarbonisation of the transport sector and hope to see transport emissions levels continue to fall, as they did in 2018. Cycling will play an important role in the decarbonisation effort and I am dedicated to investing and improving the cycling network.

It is the cycling project office that terrifies me, given the record of the National Transport Authority in attempting to deliver the other landmark project within Project Ireland 2040, namely, BusConnects, but that is for another day. The Minister has set a target of the purchase of 1 million e-cars and e-vehicles by 2030, which is incredibly ambitious. However, he has set no target for the purchase of e-bikes. There are no details in the climate action plan of the incentives that might be provided for employers to encourage employees to switch from cars to bikes and local authorities to provide basic facilities. There is only one municipal bike park in this city. I will quote from an article in The Guardian which was represented at the Velo-city conference. The article states: "What happened to the place once spoken of as "the great hope for emerging cycling cities"?" It only goes back as far as 2013 when, apparently, Dublin was ranked among the top 20 bike-friendly cities, but it has fallen off what is known as the Copenhagen index since. All of the Project Ireland 2040 projects are exactly that. The Minister spoke about what would be done by 2035. What will we do tomorrow? The Minister read and listened to the headlines this morning about the crisis this city was facing from noxious emissions on the M50, in coming out of the port tunnel and the city's core. He has said nothing to me today, which is normal in his responses, about what can be done in the next 12 or 18 months to improve the quality of life and air quality in the city, not by 2035 or 2040 but for those who are alive now and want to live a healthy life.

The Deputy was doing quite well up to a few seconds ago.

I thank the Minister.

I should remind the Deputy that we held a very important conference. Dublin was chosen as the site of the Velo-city conference which was held a few weeks ago and in which I was very glad to participate. The fact that it was held here was an acknowledgement of the extraordinary steps we were taking and our ambitions. I would be perfectly happy to admit that we were behind on cycling up to a few years ago, but it would be helpful if the Opposition was to acknowledge that we had bought into the story and were making big strides in that respect. The fact that the Velo-city conference was held here was certainly recognition that we were part of the cycling narrative that was taking off all over Europe. The Deputy is looking for news on current projects and saying nothing is happening, but we are spending way more money on it. I think the Deputy is Fianna Fáil spokesman on Dublin. In Dublin construction will start in 2019 on phases two and three of the Royal Canal project which will deliver a high quality cycleway from the docklands to Ashtown in Dublin 15. There will be a route from Clontarf into the city centre which will bring the segregated Clontarf cycle route into the heart of the city. Other projects involve the Dodder greenway and the Fitzwilliam route along by Fitzwilliam Square. These are four extremely valuable and useful projects that will not just attract people to cycling but will, as a by-product, improve health and reduce emissions.

I will not knock the Minister for that, but what emerged from the Velo-city conference was an international community that was, by and large, disappointed by what it had found in Dublin. Data published by The Irish Times show that every three days a cyclist is treated in a Dublin hospital for trauma. Cyclists are inhaling noxious fumes. I know some of the schemes referred to by the Minister. One of them - the Dodder greenway - is in my county. It is a scenic route. I am sure it could be argued that it could be used for daily commuting, but at some stage someone is going to have to make a hard decision about what a Danish commentator referred to as the "free reign of motordom" in Dublin city. We can construct all of these things. As the Minister is aware, one of the big problems with BusConnects is that it is trying to facilitate buses, cars, pedestrians and bikes. That is why it wants to create highways into the city. It is the Government's answer to chronic traffic congestion and air quality issues in the city. However, we will be waiting an inordinate amount of time before any of this infrastructure is delivered in full and then connected. What radical proposals does the Minister have to stop the domination of the motor car in the city of Dublin and other urban areas where it is causing as much havoc to dissuade people from using their car and persuade them to switch to other modes of what he calls active transport? The Minister and I understand what is meant by the term "active transport" and use it interchangeably here, but many members of the public do not even know what the term means. It needs to be explained to them in order that they will understand where we are going from a policy viewpoint.

I thank the Deputy for asking those questions because I can probably answer them in one word. He asked me what radical proposals we had for bicycles and switching people from their car. I can answer that question with one word - BusConnects. The Deputy was referring to Dublin again. I was very glad to point out in this House that he was one of the great supporters of BusConnects and stood with a placard to welcome it.

As did the Minister, but he also lodged his objections when-----

Please allow the Minister to proceed.

Thank God, he did and I am delighted that he continues to support it.

Will the Minister repeat what he said?

I am delighted that the Deputy continues to support BusConnects

Perhaps the Deputy has done a U-turn, but that is all right.

No, I have made a qualified submission

The Deputy went over time twice. Time is running out.

The Minister is making charges. He cannot make such charges.

The Deputy has sat in this chair. Will he co-operate a little? Time has now run out.

To respond to the Deputy's question, BusConnects will take people out of their cars and move them to public transport. That is the objective which will be achieved. The answer to his second question about the radical proposals we have for bicycles is BusConnects. He may not know it, but there will be 200 km of new dedicated cycling lanes adjacent to the BusConnects corridors. Perhaps he is not aware of that, but in asking such a question about what we are doing that is radical, putting in 200 km of cycling lanes is radical and something I assume the Deputy is very happy to welcome because I saw him with his placard.

On a point of order, I did not hold a placard. I stood in front of the man.

Please, Deputy Lahart. There can be no point of order during questions.

That is not a point of order.

The Minister ignores the fact that 2,300 km of cycle tracks were planned and he is making a big deal about 200 km.

Please, Deputy Lahart. I gave you some discretion but that did not include a point of order. There are other Members waiting for their questions.

I appreciate that.

Public Transport Safety

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

56. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to address the number of attacks that have taken place on transport workers across the three Córas Iompair Éireann companies and the measures to deal with same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29685/19]

Last night a Bus Éireann driver was effectively kidnapped at knifepoint when somebody got on his bus and threatened to embed a sharp object into his skull if he did not allow him to go to Drogheda. The passenger had a false bus pass and had been challenged by the driver. The driver complied with all emergency procedures, yet the police who were meant to be at Drogheda never arrived.

This is just one in a long litany of incidents of attacks on bus and rail workers. What is the Minister going to do about it?

I thank the Deputy for her question. I take the matter she raised seriously, as I do all attacks of this sort.

The safety and security of public transport staff and passengers, including arrangements to deal with anti-social behaviour, are important matters that, first and foremost, must be managed by every public transport company, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána, where appropriate. While the vast majority of public transport passenger journeys occur without incident, I am concerned to ensure the necessary arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of all passengers and staff.

My Department has been advised by Iarnród Éireann that, in 2018, 14 assaults on the company’s staff were reported. This was a slight fall on the 2017 total of 15 assaults on staff. In the first six periods of 2019, there were five assaults on Irish Rail staff, compared to seven for the same period in 2018. This is not to lighten the blow. I take every one of these incidents seriously and am deeply concerned by what is happening.

Irish Rail has also advised that it has undertaken a range of measures and proposes further measures to address anti-social behaviour on the rail network. These include the recent announcement to pilot body cameras for ticket inspectors and customer services officers, increased security personnel, the introduction of customer service officers on all intercity routes and enhanced CCTV coverage.

A new text alert service will also be introduced shortly to enable customers to discreetly report anti-social behaviour incidents and allow security personnel, gardaí or both to be alerted and dispatched as required to an incident.

I am advised that the overall level of anti-social behaviour incidents involving Dublin Bus was down 18% in 2018 and was down by 14% in the first quarter of 2019, compared with the first quarter of 2018. The number of physical assaults on staff so far this year is 26 compared to 22 in the same period last year.

The entire Dublin Bus fleet is fully fitted with CCTV cameras with up to ten internal cameras and two external cameras fitted on the more modern vehicles in the fleet. Each vehicle is equipped with a radio, which facilitates immediate contact to the central control centre.

For several years, the National Bus and Rail Union, NBRU, and other unions have been trying to get the Minister and the Minister for Justice and Equality to take this issue seriously. I have a whole file which includes many letters which have been passed around from one Department to another. The demands of the workers’ representatives are simple. All Bus Éireann and public service vehicles should be retrofitted with security screens to prevent exactly the type of incident which happened last night to the driver I referred to. There should be a transport police body, for which there have been calls for a long time. Again, however, this has been passed from Billy to Jack. Bus Éireann should be cashless and its drivers should not be put in peril and be responsible for collecting fares. There should be an assault payment scheme, similar to what operates in Dublin Bus. The Minister is correct that Dublin Bus has much more security measures. The same is now requested for Bus Éireann and Irish Rail.

The Minister claimed such incidents have decreased. In late 2018, a female driver was assaulted at Busáras, a driver was threatened with a knife outside Kilbeggan, a driver was robbed in Naas and members of the Garda were called to remove aggressive passengers in Naas. This is a litany of incidents which the unions claim are on the increase and that there is no safety travelling on public transport. This is unfortunate because we are trying to get people to use public transport.

I acknowledge the role the unions have played in this. They have made strong representations and represented well on this issue. They have prompted a response from my Department and the transport companies. I absolutely agree with the Deputy in deploring those incidents to which she referred. I can only quote the statistics which I have given about the attacks. Any attack, however, is one too many. I do not think the statistics are valuable in this case because, although it is reducing in some of the transport companies, it is unacceptable. We will not be happy in any way until this is addressed and sorted.

Following representations from the NBRU, my Department wrote to the three CIÉ companies to get their views on the issue of anti-social behaviour, as well as ensuring the safety of both passengers and staff. All companies stressed their strong and close working relationships with An Garda Síochána.

I also contacted the Minister for Justice and Equality to seek his views on how we could address the issue of anti-social behaviour on our public transport system. The allocation of all Garda resources, including the manner in which Garda personnel are deployed, is solely a decision for the Garda Commissioner and his management team. I understand that An Garda Síochána has met the Railway Safety Advisory Council on the issue of anti-social behaviour on our public transport network.

It is not good enough that the Minister just throws his hands in the air and says it is up to the three companies. Public transport workers should be able to feel safe when doing their jobs and have security screens, as Dublin Bus workers have. The issue of a transport police force should not be passed from the Minister over to the Garda. It should be the Government that takes responsibility on this issue.

Next Tuesday, it is possible that Bus Éireann workers will take industrial action and curtail the services they have been providing, as happens often with Dublin Bus where workers refuse to go into areas for periods until anti-social behaviour in them stops. The Bus Éireann workers are well within their rights because for many years this has been going nowhere. The Minister has not taken responsibility for the safety of workers in public transport. I strongly encourage the workers to seriously consider curtailing their services as the only way they will get any notice taken of them.

I am certainly not throwing my hands in the air. It is quite the opposite. I have been hands-on in contacting all the relevant people to ensure something is done about it. Action has been taken as I have outlined. We will not be happy until that action is ultimately and totally successful. There is no utterly foolproof way of stopping people from being violent in any place. However, there are ways of taking precautions. We are going to take those precautions and will continue to intensify them where necessary and where we feel it is effective.

Last December, my Department provided an additional €115,000 to Iarnród Éireann to enable it to enhance security on DART and rail commuter services in the greater Dublin area and at its maintenance depots. This was in direct response to the problems to which the Deputy referred. Where there was equipment and money needed, we provided it in an emergency situation.

Can the Minister direct the companies to provide it?

We did it because it was necessary and people's welfare and lives were at risk. We were determined to tackle the problem. The Deputy should not claim I have not directly intervened when I have. I have also urged the companies in question to do what is necessary. They have been responding.

I have asked my Department to engage with all the transport companies, as well as the Railway Safety Advisory Council. I could give the Deputy a long list of measures which have been taken. I have already given her some. I am determined this scourge will be stamped out and I will do anything I can to ensure that it is.

Traffic Calming Measures

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

57. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to legislate for low-slow speed home zones; his further plans to review speed limits in the Road Traffic Act 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29460/19]

Up to 9 a.m. this morning, 81 of our fellow citizens tragically lost their lives on the roads so far this year. That includes 14 pedestrians, 45 drivers, ten passengers, eight motorcyclists and six pedal cyclists.

That is a tragic figure, and it is higher than it was at this stage last year. I have asked the Minister about home zones on housing estates and in built up areas in general and why we are not being more proactive in that regard with slow speed zones. Second, I have also asked how the Minister is liaising with the RSA to adopt a stronger approach towards aggressive and fast driving, which often leads to the tragic loss of life and to injuries.

I thank the Deputy for once again raising an important issue aimed at saving the lives of people on our roads, and in this case aimed at saving vulnerable people, including children in vulnerable areas.

While the Road Traffic Act 2004 sets default speed limits for various categories of roads, elected members of local authorities have the statutory responsibility for making special speed limit by-laws for roads in their area - with, in the case of national roads, the consent of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. The making of such by-laws is a reserved function of elected members.

My Department issued updated guidelines for setting and managing speed limits in Ireland in 2015 to assist local authorities in setting special speed limits, taking account of relevant national policy and local circumstances, including road safety. Provision was made for greater use of lower speed limits in urban areas. This includes greater use of the 30 km/h speed limit, as used widely in the EU, and 30 km/h slow zones. This corresponds to 20 mph, the lowest limit in the UK. These slow zones can be introduced to increase safety for the most vulnerable on suitable roads, such as roads immediately adjacent to play areas. Road authorities are asked to seriously consider lowering the speed limit from 50 km/h to 30 km/h in residential estates. Since 2015, 30 km/h speed limits have been applied in more than 6,400 housing estates. Where a limit of 30 km/h is being implemented, local authorities and community groups should consider applying slow zones.

My Department has been funding this programme of works since 2015. Provision has also been made for a 20 km/h speed limit. The 20 km/h speed limit should only be used in very limited circumstances, set out in the updated traffic signs manual. It is not intended to replace the 30 km/h speed limit as the norm in housing estates. In addition, in 2013 my Department issued the design manual for urban roads and streets. This provides for improved design to support traffic calming and safer interaction between road users by encouraging lower speeds on new roads in urban areas. Apart from making provision for variable speed limits, I have no plans to review or to change the range of speed limits available to road authorities.

It is welcome that 6,400 housing estates have implemented signage for slow zones. I note the remarks the Minister made about 20 km/h speed limits but I am not sure that it is valid that we should not have scope for 20 km/h or 25 km/h speed limits.

I obtained figures from the Courts Service recently and they show that, in 2017, almost 26,500 speeding offences were prosecuted in the courts, of which 6,634 resulted in convictions. Similarly, in 2018, almost 23,000 speeding offences were prosecuted in the courts, of which 4,245 resulted in convictions. So far this year, almost 10,000 speeding offences have been prosecuted, so it is clear that speeding remains a serious problem.

Deputy Durkan probably remembers the debates we had in the Chamber with the former Deputy, Seamus Brennan, when he was Minister. Is it not time we went back to the 2004 Act, looked at the range of speed limits from the slow zones up to the 120 km/h zones and carried out a total review of them to give us a procedure to ensure we have much safer roads?

The Deputy and I are probably on the same page on this matter. The 20 km/h limit is slow and is only meant to be used in special circumstances such as on a street that is pedestrianised for most of the day but that allows limited access to delivery vehicles at certain times or on a shared surface street in an urban area where there are no separate footways. The Deputy can understand that, although he will the first to point out that 30 km/h can be a killer in certain circumstances as well. That justifies the use of the slow zones.

The Deputy mentioned the speed limit reviews. In recent years, the local authorities have been reviewing speed limits on rural roads in accordance with the 2015 speed limit guidelines. It is a major exercise and he will be aware of it. It should improve consistency in the application of speed limits across the country, which, in turn, should contribute to improved road safety. I have written to local authorities to urge them to complete their speed limit reviews urgently and my officials have been pursuing them since. I am pleased that as of April this year, 23 local authorities had completed their reviews, five were expecting completion in 2019 and only three were not clearly indicating completion this year. There is a need for a constant revision and review of speed limits of this sort to ensure consistency and to reduce speed limits in places where they are too high.

Is it time for us to move towards the Swedish vision zero approach where it is taken for granted that, unfortunately, some drivers will make mistakes? That is particularly the case at higher speeds and responsibility for the speed limits has to go back to the national authorities and the car manufacturers. We have had a situation where it has been three decades since we made our own cars and, therefore, we are relying on manufacturers abroad, as far away as Japan and so on, to make the vehicles. Is it time that we required them, as Volvo seems to be doing in Sweden, to go down the road of having limiters installed in cars? They allow for mistakes to be made at reasonable speeds. In other jurisdictions they have special limits for adverse weather conditions, night driving and so on. Is it not time for us to review the 2004 Act and examine the other slight amendments we have made and conduct a fundamental review to eradicate the terrible casualties we still experience?

The Deputy will be even more aware than I am that speed is one of the great killers in the road safety firmament and it is something that still causes a lot of deaths in Ireland. Despite the fact that our road safety figures are somewhat better, speed remains a top killer and it is something we must face up to. The fact that we are facing it, mostly on housing estates, and we are reviewing the speed limits to try to introduce consistency acknowledges that. Hopefully, that will keep the numbers of road deaths as low as possible.

I wish to tackle the larger issue the Deputy raised, namely that we should consider some of the approaches to the speed problem on the continent. I am open to any suggestions which would work to save lives. I would not turn down any such suggestions. I am in the process of putting forward a road traffic Bill, which tackles the problem of speeding and addresses it with graduated penalties for speeding. That will be aimed at tackling this problem but if the Deputy wishes to make amendments to that Bill when it comes through the Houses, I will look on them as benignly and as favourably as possible.