Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Roads Maintenance Funding

Marc MacSharry

Question:

1. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on whether there is sufficient funding provided for maintenance and improvement of local and regional roads in particular; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48417/19]

Does the Minister believe there is sufficient funding provided for maintenance and improvement of local and regional roads and will he make a statement on the matter? As he is aware, successive years of under-investment have left Ireland's regional and local roads at crisis point. Average spending in the last six years shows a deficit of nearly 40% in terms of the Department's own estimate of what is required, which is close to €600 million per year just to stand still. This figure does not take account of the many years of under-investment which have built up and left our roads in such a poor state.

I thank the Deputy for the question. The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is a statutory function of each local authority under the Roads Act 1993, as amended, with works funded by local authorities’ own resources supplemented by State road grants. The current arrangements in place regarding retention of local property tax receipts mean that the four Dublin councils are largely self-funding for works on regional and local roads since 2015. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport provides supplementary grant assistance to road authorities and in recent years has supported local authorities in developing a road pavement management system, MapRoad, with a view to promoting effective asset management. My Department also continues to emphasise to local authorities the importance of prioritising investment in the road network when allocating their own resources.

Analysis undertaken by my Department for the strategic framework for investment in land transport, published in 2015, estimated on a conservative basis that expenditure of €580 million per annum was needed to keep the regional and local road network in a steady-state condition. Updated analysis puts this figure at €630 million, the figure to which Deputy MacSharry referred. There were major cutbacks in funding for the road network in general during the recession. Project Ireland 2040 provides for a gradual increase in funding for regional and local roads and there has been a significant increase in Exchequer funding, particularly in the last two years. The €483 million allocated this year represents an increase of nearly 50% compared to 2017. However, the amount available is not sufficient to achieve steady-state levels of investment. For this reason funding continues to be directed primarily at the maintenance and renewal of the regional and local road network.

Within the budget available to my Department, the main regional and local road grant programmes are focused on specific policy objectives, such as surface sealing to protect the road surface from water damage, road strengthening based on pavement condition rating to lengthen the life of roads and a discretionary grant scheme which allows for a specified range of activities including winter maintenance. These three grant programmes account for most of the grant funding and are allocated taking into account the length of the road network and traffic factors in a particular local authority area.

That really does not answer the question at all. We are currently spending €483 million per annum. By the Minister's own admission the updated figure for what we need to spend is €630 million. I do not like the air of passing the buck yet again, as if this was a matter for somebody else and the Minister was just a non-executive director for transport and really it was the local authorities' problem. We must manage this process, take responsibility for it and ensure that whether it is from the Minister's home of Enniskerry or my home of Strandhill, or whether it is Dún Laoghaire or Dunquin, local and regional roads form the very backbone of our economy. Some 94% of the road networks and around 54% of all road traffic are on local and regional roads. They are in a disastrous state. What is the Government doing about it? The Taoiseach in his manifesto, the programme for Government, said that Ireland's infrastructure lags behind other European countries. What has the Government realistically done?

I thought I had specified a fair amount of this already to the Deputy. I will continue. Limited funding is also being made available for road improvement schemes. The national development plan provides specifically for the implementation of 12 road improvement schemes over the next number of years, subject to necessary planning and business case approvals. I am pleased to note that to date construction of three of these schemes has already been completed, namely the Dingle relief road, the Adamstown and Nangor road upgrades and the Portlaoise southern distributor road. Any additional improvement projects proposed by local authorities for grant funding will be assessed by my Department on a case by case basis. Projects submitted for consideration need to comply with the requirements of the public spending code and my Department's capital appraisal framework.

Progress is being made in terms of restoring funding, which has come from a low of just over €300 million to what the Deputy cited, €480 million, today. That is a 50% increase in the last two years. It will take more time to reach the levels needed for adequate maintenance and renewal of the network and this underlines the importance of the statutory road authorities' funding contribution.

We had a motion down last February calling on the Government to take urgent action to respond to the National Oversight and Audit Commission, NOAC, report. Has the Minister identified any change in the data that is collated by the road asset management system his Department uses to track the condition of the roads?

We need to come up with a strategic plan that will increase this work to a level where we stand still. By the Minister's own admission, that will require €630 million. We cannot spend more years building to that level because the legacy position continues to worsen. What is the Government's strategic plan to get us up to speed, make the roads safe and reduce commuting times?

The Deputy has asked the same question three times in a row.

One answer will do.

He wants a different answer to each question which is somewhat demanding and a little unrealistic. He referred to the National Oversight and Audit Commission, which each year publishes a local authority performance indicator report. The report for 2018 was published two months ago, in September. The data in the report are sourced from the map road asset management system for regional and local roads, the development of which the Department has supported for some years. The data include an up-to-date road schedule of public roads, a record of all payment-related works and information on road surface types and road pavement conditions. The 2018 report indicates a 5% increase in the percentage of regional roads with the poorest condition rating between 2015 and 2018, but also increases of 8% and 19% in the top two condition rating categories, respectively. In the case of local primary roads, there was a significant increase in the percentage of regional roads in the top two categories in the 2015 to 2018 period. NOAC, an independent body, did not arrive at the same conclusions as the Deputy. It found that the trend indicated an improvement in the condition of regional and local primary roads.

Public Transport Provision

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

2. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of the upgrading of the northern commuter line; the details of the purchase of additional trains and carriages; when these will be operational; the long-term plans for the DART expansion on the route; and when such an expansion will be completed [48277/19]

I am very fortunate to represent the constituency of Fingal which has a very fast-growing population. The area is served by the northern commuter line which is full to bursting, not only at peak times but nearly all the time. I use the train service. The alternative for many people who cannot use it is to use the M1 motorway. As the Minister will be aware, the M1 is like a car park for much of the time every morning. We desperately need additional transport to service the needs of my constituency, which is absorbing much of the housing need for north County Dublin.

The Deputy is probably aware that there are three significant developments under way to expand capacity on the northern line. These are the expansion of the commuter rail fleet; the expansion of the DART fleet; and the electrification of the northern commuter line and its integration within the overall DART network.

In recent weeks, Government approved the purchase of 41 additional intercity railcars. These additional railcars will be added to the existing rail fleet and will benefit commuters across the greater Dublin area, including passengers on the northern line. I am informed that once these carriages have entered into service, capacity on the northern line will increase by approximately 20% as compared with today, which will be a very welcome boost to capacity on the line. It is expected that these railcars will begin entering service by late 2021.

The other two developments I referred to form part of the overall DART expansion programme, a programme which will roughly double the capacity of the greater Dublin area commuter rail network. The first of these developments is the proposed significant expansion of the fleet. In May this year, the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Iarnród Éireann commenced a procurement pre-qualifying competition. Its intention is to put in place a ten-year framework to purchase a minimum of 300 trains and possibly up to 600, if needed. This fleet will be a mixture of fully electric fleet and bi-mode, or battery electric, fleet. The inclusion of battery electric fleet will allow the trains to be deployed on the northern line in advance of the second aspect of the broader programme which is the subsequent electrification of the entire line up to Drogheda.

As to timelines, the process of having rail fleet built is a lengthy one and it will take between three and four years after the award of the contract before these new battery electric trains start to be delivered, probably at the end of 2023 or in 2024. It is not possible to confirm exact delivery dates until the fleet supplier is appointed. Timelines for the electrification of the line will be finalised as part of the development of the programme level business case which I expect to receive next year. As mentioned, additional capacity will be added to the line in advance of that aspect of the overall programme.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I hope the Deputy can see that there are a number of very positive developments under way with regard to the northern line.

There is a pressing need for additional capacity now. Passenger numbers are increasing by a minimum of 5% each year and capacity is already lagging behind. This is, therefore, a serious issue. A by-election will be held in my constituency next week and people are considering which candidate they will choose. Councillor Ann Graves and I have been knocking on doors. The by-election gives people an opportunity to think about where they live and what they want. The issue of transport is raised constantly right across the constituency. We have very low level of worker participation in the constituency, meaning most people have to leave the area in which they live to go to work. They do not have a choice because there is not much employment locally. People have to travel and are doing so in greater numbers. They need to travel into Dublin but cannot get on to the trains. I am already receiving reports of people becoming unwell on the trains because of overcrowding. I ask the Minister to confine his answer to what he might be able to do to assist these people in the short term because the need is current?

I fully accept that there is overcrowding. That is absolutely undoubtedly true, not just in the Deputy's constituency but, as I have seen, at rush hour all around the greater Dublin area. The flipside of that is that public transport has become a great success. Publicly-owned transport, which would appeal to the Deputy, is working very well. It is correct that the numbers using it have mushroomed in recent years.

What I addressed in my reply were the short-term, medium-term and long-term ambitions. If we were running empty trains, the Deputy would be equally critical. What we are trying to do is to respond to the problems that are created by a successful and booming economy with near full employment and by the fact that public transport has become the vehicle of choice for so many commuters at this time. I am not saying that in a self-congratulatory sense. I am simply saying that these are the problems that will arise when one has a successful transport system. It will become overcrowded. What we are doing, which I have listed, is remedying the problem with a short-term, medium-term and longer-term plan. I have explained these plans to the Deputy but I will go into them in more detail when the Leas-Cheann Comhairle gives me a little more time.

The Minister will have another minute to expand.

With respect, the Minister did sound a little self-congratulatory, if he does not mind me saying so.

If the economy in Fingal was booming, people would not have to leave the area because there would be jobs available locally but that is not the case. The Minister is using a very odd measurement when he argues that the success of public transport is measured by the fact that it is overcrowded. That speaks to a lack of public transport capacity. The Taoiseach, who leads the Government, is fond of trying to out-green the Green Party, much as he protests that he is not. If we are to move away from cars, as people want to do because, God knows, nobody wants to be stuck on the M1 which is like a car park in the mornings, we need to start acting now. People need the option of public transport now. This problem is not just at peak times but all of the time. In the absence of a legal entitlement to family-friendly working hours, people are not in a position to vary their working hours and have to travel to Dublin on trains. People are becoming unwell because of overcrowding on the trains.

We are talking about rail. Improvements were made to peak-time services last year and to off peak-time services, to which the Deputy alluded, this year. There are two fundamental constraints. One is the need to physically expand the fleet through the purchase of additional carriages, while the second is the need to improve the overall management of the network. We are moving on both those issues very quickly. On the fleet, I brought a memorandum to Government on the business case for the purchase of 41 additional intercity railcars, which it approved a couple of weeks ago.

It is expected that the new fleet will be delivered by 2021.

Separately, in May, the NTA and Iarnród Éireann commenced a ten-year procurement framework for electric and battery electric units, which will massively expand the fleet. That expansion will include the northern line to which the Deputy refers. In the summer, the Government approved the development of a new national train control centre and contracts for this are expected to be awarded before the end of this year. In the medium and longer term, there is ongoing development of BusConnects, the DART expansion and MetroLink, each of which will increase capacity dramatically.

Transport Policy

John Lahart

Question:

3. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has considered establishing a transport security unit to tackle widespread and dangerous antisocial behaviour on public transport and at public transport hubs. [48418/19]

If a hallmark of decent, dynamic and effective public transport system is its ability to carry all the passengers who seek to use it, then of equal importance is that such passengers, especially those who abandon their cars in favour of public transport, must be safe and secure, particularly as we move to the welcome 24-hour bus services in Dublin. Recent figures show that the incidence of antisocial behaviour across the public transport system is escalating. We have raised this matter since before the 2016 general election. What progress has the Minister made in providing security services across our public transport fleet in the aftermath of our raising the matter on a number of occasions in the Chamber?

I thank the Deputy for his question on a very serious and worrying matter that has increasingly come to the fore in recent times. I am glad to have the chance to clarify the facts surrounding this issue and to detail the ways in which it is being addressed.

The safety and security of public transport passengers and staff, including arrangements to deal with antisocial 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 of course concerned to ensure that the necessary arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of all passengers and staff.

Following representations from the National Bus and Rail Union, NBRU, in respect of this matter, my Department wrote to the three CIÉ companies, seeking their views both on the issue of antisocial behaviour and about ensuring the safety of passengers and staff. In their responses, all three companies stressed their strong and close working relationships with An Garda Síochána.

I also wrote to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to seek his views on how we could best address the issue of antisocial behaviour on our public transport system. It is important to note that 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.

Last week, I received a response from the Minister for Justice and Equality outlining the recommendations of a report that he had received from An Garda Síochána on the issue of antisocial behaviour.

The letter advised that An Garda Síochána does not propose to establish a specialist or dedicated unit of the force to police the rail network and further stated that effective local community policing efforts can meet the policing needs of the rail network and its stakeholders.

The report by An Garda Síochána proposes that the Railway Safety Advisory Council, RSAC, will advise the Garda as to the priority rail locations, where the Garda Bureau of Community Engagement will facilitate meetings with local Garda management to ensure that an appropriate policing response is delivered.

Among the proposed strategies to be put in place by An Garda Síochána are: regular liaison with the RSAC; identification of priority hot spots; facilitation of local Garda management meetings with stakeholders; assignment of local community-policing gardaí; crime-prevention advice to transport service providers; and increased liaison at the planning phase of key events, such as concerts, sporting occasions and public meetings.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Minister for Justice and Equality has been advised by An Garda Síochána that the Garda superintendent of community engagement and public safety and the RSAC will keep the above actions under review and subject to an annual meeting.

I understand that An Garda Síochána met the RSAC to discuss the issue of antisocial behaviour on our public transport network and that further engagement and initiatives are planned. Following that engagement, I note and welcome the recent deployment of gardaí to public transport locations and to DART, Luas and commuter rail services under Operation Twintrack.

I thank the Minister for the response. It is not unexpected. Our position on this side of the House has been consistent. People who use public transport need to know that they can travel safely, whether on a bus, a DART, a Luas or an intercity train. A number of measures have been brought in by transport companies, including text alerts. The number of commuters who have used the text alert indicates an alarming rise in antisocial behaviour, ranging from menacing low-grade behaviour on buses to attacks and assaults on drivers and staff. Other jurisdictions have dedicated transport police so that passengers who take the train or anybody who is intent on carrying out any kind of antisocial behaviour knows that there is a possibility that an officer or member of transport police will show up at some stage on a route, whether on a tram or a train. We know that the Luas has security but they do not have the powers to search, detain and arrest. There has been a gradual creep across the public transport system. In my constituency, a stone was thrown through the window of a bus and bus services were withdrawn. The answer from the Garda Commissioner is not robust enough. What is the Minister's view on ensuring the safety of passengers?

I will make my views clear. I will do everything that I can to facilitate a solution to the difficulties which the Deputy quite rightly underlines and to see that staff and passengers are properly protected. I have given an update on what I have done. I will facilitate anything the Garda Commissioner and Minister for Justice and Equality feel is necessary in any way that I can. It is a matter of the operations of the Garda and I must respect and support decisions made by the Garda Commissioner. I will not second-guess him or interfere with his decisions. He has decided that he will not introduce a dedicated unit, for all sorts of reasons that he has given. I have received a letter from the Minister for Justice and Equality about the measures which he is prepared to and is going to take to safeguard Irish citizens and the staff of all transport companies. I will make that letter available to Deputy Lahart.

Does the Minister, as is the case with his counterparts in other jurisdictions, have the ability to investigate the possibility of a dedicated transport police corps not under the Garda Síochána's remit - just like the airport police - but with exactly the same powers as the force? Two new bus routes will operate in Dublin on a 24-hour basis, which is very welcome. My constituents are already asking how we can guarantee the security and safety of commuters who use that service. Newspaper letters and columns are full of stories about people disembarking trams or buses because they feel unsafe, there is intimidation or there are verbal assaults. We have heard of incidents involving staff too. Is there even a memorandum of understanding between the Garda and Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to include that gardaí on the beat would include hopping on and hopping off buses, trams, the DART and trains as part of their normal beat duty? Could the Minister establish such a memorandum of understanding?

I will not answer that question immediately but I will consider it. The views of the gardaí would have to be taken into account, as to whether they feel it is appropriate. Irish Rail has done a fair amount to address the problem, which it recognises. I welcome that Dermot O'Leary of the NBRU has been constantly pointing this out and representing staff and passengers in a laudable way. The company's annual spending on security rose from €4.1 million in 2017 to €4.5 million in 2018. Security patrols by Iarnród Éireann have been doubled. A central monitoring facility for CCTV has been established across the DART network.

CCTV is now available on the vast majority of trains, there is a new text alert service, and a communication plan has been put in place. As the Deputy will know, Iarnród Éireann is introducing customer service officers on board all intercity routes. While the primary focus of these roles is customer service, they will ensure that customers can alert personnel on board to any issues and allow for security or Garda resources to be sought, as required.

I am not taking my eye off the ball on this issue. It is a serious problem and it will be continually addressed. Apart from Iarnród Éireann, the numbers are actually coming down in the other State companies.

Public Transport Fares

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

4. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has costed the introduction of fare-free public transport in view of the need to expand the use of public transport as part of actions against climate change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48416/19]

We all know the famous quote from the young climate activist, Greta Thunberg: "Act like your house is on fire". Instead, we seem to have a Government that is standing with its arms folded. The second biggest cause of carbon emissions, after agriculture, in Ireland is transport. Agriculture will be a longer-term project to shift, but there are immediate things that could be done, and one of them is the introduction of free public transport. It has been done in 100 cities and in the country of Luxembourg. Dublin is now the slowest moving city in Europe. This will benefit people's lives, as well as the environment.

I thank the Deputy for raising this subject, which is certainly worthy of debate. It will not surprise her that I am not going to announce free public transport in the House this morning, but it is a debate that is certainly worth having, and perhaps for longer than ten minutes.

The NTA has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public transport services by way of public service obligation, PSO, contracts in respect of services that are socially necessary but commercially unviable. The NTA also has been given statutory responsibility for the regulation of fares in regard to public passenger transport services. The funding of those services comprises both the fares paid by passengers and the subvention payments from the Exchequer. The main purpose of the subvention payment is to meet the gap between the income from fares and the cost of operating services. In 2019, the Irish Exchequer will provide just over €300 million in subvention for PSO transport services and rural transport local link services. We are also investing almost €480 million this year in public transport and active travel infrastructure.

The Deputy is asking about the likely cost to the Exchequer if public transport fares were abolished. A key factor to bear in mind when considering such an idea is that approximately €600 million in fare revenue is collected annually. This effectively means that the rough cost to the taxpayer of eliminating fares would be in the region of €600 million more every year, in addition to the amounts already spent on PSO and on capital investment. It is important to keep in mind also that this amount would only enable continuation of the existing level of service and does not account for one extra passenger journey because it does not factor in the costs of catering for increased passenger travel demand, which would undoubtedly arise. The figures also do not factor in the cost of providing the additional fleet, depots, drivers, and so on that would be needed to meet the likely resultant substantial increase in passenger numbers if fares were eliminated.

In summary, introducing free public transport for all users would require substantial additional funding by the taxpayer or from other sources. The Deputy has not indicated how she proposes that this would be funded. We all know that our country is facing challenges on climate commitments and on congestion, which this Government is determined to address. As such, it is clear that inroads must be made into reducing the dominance of the private car in Ireland’s transport sector, and reducing the 52% of transport emissions that come from private car use is a key challenge, as the Deputy mentioned.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The Deputy is correct that there is a need to reduce private car emissions within the State and that increased use of public transport can assist us in achieving our climate change goals. That is exactly the Government's objective as clearly set out in my Department's climate action plan, and that is why we are expanding our public transport fleet so that there are more buses, more trains and longer trams to carry more passengers. We are developing long-term solutions through metro and DART expansion. We are investing in well-planned integrated infrastructure and service improvements in all the main cities.

Our aim in expanding the carrying capacity and the attractiveness of our public transport and active travel networks is to provide a viable sustainable alternative to private car use for more people for more of their journeys. Under Project Ireland 2040, an indicative allocation of €8.6 billion is assigned to support sustainable mobility, ensuring that public transport and active travel become more available and attractive alternatives.

Our ambitions regarding modal shift are quite high, as are the costs associated with such a shift. However, our continued work on this front is essential if we want to reduce congestion and emissions. Promoting a continued move towards more sustainable forms of transport for a higher number of journeys will help reduce Ireland's climate change emissions.

Passenger fares are only one factor in meeting the costs associated with running the public transport system. The State and the taxpayer are the main funder. Any proposal to abolish passenger fares and the resulting shortfall in funding would have to be covered by an increase in PSO funding from the taxpayer via the Exchequer.

I got some of those answers in response to the written questions I have asked. Is it not shocking that 52% of transport emissions come from private car use when only 4% come from public transport? It would make a massive difference to tackling climate change if we could get people out of cars. People would be happy not to be stuck in cars if there was sufficient public transport as an alternative.

In regard to the cost, €300 million as a public subvention is extremely small when compared with most countries. Yes, €600 million would be the cost of immediately abolishing fares right now, but that is not a lot and could be paid, for example, from a very small financial transactions tax, something that has been called for even by the EU and is not a radical socialist demand. Tax the multinationals to get their workers to work. How about that as novel idea? It would mean Google, Facebook and all of the other large corporations would actually pay the level of corporation tax that is due.

In Dublin West, which I represent, we have huge industrial parks where tens of thousands of workers are driving in and out every day because they do not have public transport available. Unfortunately, BusConnects, which the Minister lauds, is planning to take away direct routes from some of those areas into the city.

The Deputy and I share a common belief that we want to reduce emissions, particularly from private cars. We probably part company after that. Like everybody else, I would love to see public transport free for everyone. It would undoubtedly produce, as the Deputy said, a big rush into public transport. The problem is that the €600 million only addresses the current issue. It would be an extraordinarily expensive operation suddenly to announce free public transport, which we could not do because we do not have the capacity. It would not work overnight. It would be a very long-term project which would cost vast sums of money in terms of extra vehicles, extra depots and extra drivers.

As the Deputy will know, we are determined to reduce emissions and to get people out of their private cars into buses, and there are very large-scale projects, such as the metro, BusConnects, the Luas expansion and the DART expansion. All of those projects are directed simply to getting people out of their private cars, which will, of course, reduce emissions, which are a common enemy.

I do not think anybody said this could happen overnight. However, in other countries, it has been planned within a year or two years to upgrade the public transport capacity to cater for it. Some of the positive benefits have included reduced numbers of road traffic accidents, cleaner air, less noise and faster emergency response times as traffic is not as clogged. There is also the abolition of ticket infrastructure, and we recall the queues at the toll booths on the M50. More people have started to use public transport, including the elderly, and more people go into cities and towns rather than being stuck in the suburbs, so isolation has decreased. For example, in Tallinn, Estonia, passenger numbers increased eightfold very quickly when free public transport was introduced.

Of course, there would have to be initial investment beyond the €600 million but we need that anyway. Let us not play the poor mouth. This is an extremely wealthy country. We had the highest number of net worth individuals recorded last year, so the money is there. However, this is also necessary in terms of climate change. By the way, there was a boon to those cities in terms of tourism because of free public transport. Luxembourg, as a country, has just introduced this. We could employ more workers on decent rates of pay, not in the privatised services the Minister lauds. This is vital and should be done, and people should campaign for it.

Again, I endorse the Deputy's ambition, although I do not necessarily endorse the path she wishes to take to it. We have laid out a strong, determined and clear path as to how we were going to do this and how we are going to get people out of their private cars.

BusConnects is not going to do it.

That is matter of opinion. I sympathise with what the Deputy says. It is not something I agree with but I can see her point of view. In the urban bus fleet, a clear path to low-emission buses has been outlined. Project Ireland 2040 contained a commitment that diesel-only buses will no longer be purchased for the urban public bus fleet from July, and that has been done. In preparation for both this immediate transition and the development of a longer-term low-carbon bus procurement strategy, my Department, together with the National Transport Authority, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, has undertaken a comprehensive series of low-emission bus trials, which are expected to conclude in the coming weeks. Under the BusConnects programme, which the Deputy disapproves of, it is expected that approximately half of the public urban bus fleet will have moved to lower emitting alternatives by 2023, with full conversion by 2030.

It is equally important to consider the potential contribution of electrified rail to the decarbonising objectives we are pursuing. A full metropolitan area DART network is planned for the greater Dublin area. This is part of the national rail network that carries over 75% of total rail passengers each year. We have high ambitions and we have laid out the targets and the paths in this regard. We will achieve them by providing low-emissions public transport.

I ask Members to keep an eye on the clock.

Anti-Social Behaviour

Joan Collins

Question:

5. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will liaise with the Minster for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner with a view to funding and establishing a dedicated Garda transport unit to ensure the safety of bus, train and tram workers and passengers in view of the upsurge in anti-social behaviour on the public transport network (details supplied). [48419/19]

I ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, in light of the dramatic upsurge in anti-social behaviour on our public transport network and the aspirations of Government under the climate action plan, to encourage citizens to switch from cars to public transport, if he will liaise with the Minster for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner with a view to funding and establishing a dedicated Garda transport unit to ensure the safety of bus, train and tram workers and passengers.

I thank Deputy Collins for her question, which has details supplied. I think I am to answer two questions together. That is fine, as long as the Deputy has got away with it.

The Minister is taking the Deputy's question-----

I am taking her question. What I am saying is that the text of her question relates to two issues.

The Minister is just answering Question No. 5.

Yes, that is fine. I thank the Deputy for her questions and a further opportunity to discuss the very serious issue of anti-social behaviour. As I said in my earlier reply to a similar question from Deputy Lahart, while the vast majority of public transport passenger journeys occur without incident, the safety and security of both public transport passengers and staff, including arrangements to deal with anti-social behaviour, are important matters that, first and foremost, must be managed by every public transport company and, where appropriate, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána. While I am of course concerned to ensure that the necessary arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of all passengers and staff, the allocation of all Garda resources, including the manner in which Garda personnel are deployed, is a decision solely for the Garda Commissioner and his team.

As I outlined earlier, the Minister for Justice and Equality has been advised in a report prepared by An Garda Síochána on this issue that it is not proposed to establish a specialist or dedicated unit of the force to police the rail network and that effective local community policing efforts can meet the policing needs of the rail network and its stakeholders. As part of this, An Garda Síochána's superintendent of community engagement and public safety liaises regularly with the chairman of the Railway Safety Advisory Council, RSAC, and will attend future meetings, as requested, of the RSAC, which includes representatives of the rail companies and trade unions. The superintendent has also undertaken to arrange meetings between local Garda management and public transport providers on any identified locations where significant crime and anti-social behaviour persist. Such meetings will enable discussion of the delivery of an appropriate policing response in collaboration with transport providers.

I have been advised that the superintendent will provide advice on community policing engagement, crime prevention, diversity and hate crime to management and staff of the main public transport providers, as was done in a presentation to Transdev, which operates the Luas, last January. The RSAC and the Garda have agreed to keep these actions under review and subject to an annual meeting between the RSAC and the superintendent of community engagement and public safety.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The partnership approach between An Garda Síochána and the rail companies to promote high visibility and strong community engagement on the rail network resulted in Operation Twintrack on 13 September, whereby gardaí were deployed to 12 rail stations nationally along with high-visibility patrolling of rail stations and Luas routes.

I am pleased to say that overall incidents of anti-social behaviour and vandalism on Dublin Bus have decreased in recent years since the introduction of the exact fare system, CCTV and security screens at drivers' cabs. I am advised by Bus Éireann that incidents of anti-social behaviour to date this year are at a similar level to last year. It is vital that all public transport companies continue their strong and close working relationship with An Garda Síochána to address these incidents.

The details supplied with my question asked whether the Minister would further acknowledge that the unacceptable levels of anti-social behaviour on parts of the Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann networks and the continuous mayhem on parts of the railway network cannot continue, and that as part of a public transport undertaking, there should automatically be a funded Garda transport police. This has been an ongoing issue, as the Minister said, on which he has been contacted numerous times by the National Bus and Rail Union, NBRU. The figures the NBRU provided last year were quite startling. Over three years, 2016, 2017 and 2018, more than 1,000 incidents of anti-social behaviour were inflicted on drivers and staff. I think it was in response to this that the Minister said he would look at this area. On Friday, 13 September, there was a day of action whereby members of An Garda Síochána travelled on DART, commuter rail and Luas vehicles. There was concern that this was advertised and that a great many people who probably would have engaged in anti-social behaviour on public transport could have taken that day off because it was announced so publicly.

What the Minister said is not good enough. I think it has been noted previously that there is an airport police that has the same search and arrest powers as An Garda Síochána.

As I said to Deputy Lahart, this is a matter for the Garda, not me, to enforce, but I will facilitate it in any way I can. I have been in touch with all the relevant companies about this and they are taking measures to address the issue very energetically. The Deputy is right about Iarnród Éireann - I will quote a number of figures to her - but what she says is not the case with the other transport companies. According to material received from Irish Rail, the number of recorded anti-social incidents has risen in recent years. In 2016 it was 492; in 2017, 680; in 2018, 789; and in 2019, up to October, 971. Irish Rail has been encouraging employees to report all safety-critical issues, including threatening and violent behaviour, and this appears to be coming up with some fairly unsatisfactory results as far as the number of incidents is concerned. Irish Rail has addressed the problem very energetically. On buses the trend appears to be downwards, which is encouraging. Dublin Bus, which perhaps I will go into in response to the Deputy's second supplementary question, has been taking a lot of measures as well. In Bus Éireann I think the numbers are also decreasing. Therefore, whereas Iarnród Éireann has a very serious problem which remains, the bus companies have responded to the actions that have been taken.

The NBRU asked me to put this question to the Minister. There is a basis for reassessing this situation. Was there a report back from the 13 September action involving An Garda Síochána travelling on the DART, commuter rail and the Luas? A Deputy previously said we could also look at community police linking in and jumping on Luas trams and getting onto DARTs and buses as part of their beat. It is not good enough to say this must be left to the companies because many times they do not have the funding - or do they? Will the Minister provide the necessary funding to Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus for them to provide extra security or service workers who could link in with the Garda on any extraordinary events on their transport systems?

I am not sure what the Deputy is referring to when she speaks of a report back from the action. I think she is referring to what was called Operation Twintrack on 13 September, which the Garda carried out. It was a partnership between An Garda Síochána and the rail companies to promote high visibility and strong community engagement on the rail network on that day. Gardaí were deployed to 12 rail stations nationally along with high-visibility patrolling of rail stations and Luas routes. If I can get any more information on this, which I think is what the Deputy is looking for, I will supply her with it. I am not sure that the Garda necessarily has reported to us on the operation, but it is reasonable to expect that it should give us feedback on it and how it worked. This does not necessarily mean the Garda intends to repeat the operation at very regular intervals, but I presume that a lot of lessons would have been learned from such an action.

I am pleased to say that overall incidents of anti-social behaviour and vandalism on Dublin Bus have decreased in recent years since the introduction of the exact fare system, CCTV and security screens at drivers' cabs. I am advised by Bus Éireann that incidents of anti-social behaviour to date this year are at a similar level to last year. It is vital that all public transport companies continue their strong and close working relationship with An Garda Síochána.