I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 17 together.
As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. I am not involved in the day-to-day operations of public transport or in decisions on fares.
Following the establishment of the National Transport Authority in December 2009, the NTA has responsibility for the regulation of fares charged to passengers in respect of public transport services provided under public service obligation, PSO, contracts.
The Covid-19 crisis has had a profound impact on the public transport sector and the travelling public. The introduction of restrictions on public movement and the temporary closure of many workplaces, education centres and leisure and social activities across the country has led to an unprecedented fall in demand for public transport, with passengers falling to below 10% of 2019 levels at the height of the restrictions. As a result, many TaxSaver holders were not in a position to use their tickets.
As part of a suite of measures introduced in 2020 to help mitigate the impact of Covid-19, including increased PSO subvention and the introduction of temporary supports for the commercial bus sector, Government approval was given to the NTA last year to extend the TaxSaver annual tickets that existed at that time, for a further six months, in response to the Covid-19 public health emergency.
This extension facilitated many customers who had been taking infrequent trips since March 2019. In parallel to the extension, all subsidised operators continued to offer refunds to those customers who chose to seek a refund and many have done so.
The NTA informed me recently that it is not in a position to offer a further extension of the TaxSaver annual tickets. For those passengers who will be travelling less frequently than before, there remains a range of discounted fares and tickets available through the Leap card, including Leap capping, both weekly and daily, Rambler tickets for bus services in Dublin, Irish Rail web fares and other discounted products.
In relation to the possible introduction of a possible part-time TaxSaver commuter ticket following the Covid pandemic, the NTA is currently evaluating such a proposal and my Department recently commenced discussions with the NTA and the Department of Finance in order to obtain approval for the implementation of a more flexible TaxSaver product. The NTA is proceeding with the detailed technical work associated with such a proposal, while discussions with the Department of Finance continue.