Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Question No. 87 replied to with Written Answers.

Transport Policy

Brian Leddin

Question:

88. Deputy Brian Leddin asked the Minister for Transport his plans for developing a strategic framework for the development of sustainable transport modes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53657/21]

What are the Minister of State's plans for developing a strategic framework for the delivery of sustainable transport modes?

The Minister, Deputy Ryan, aims to publish the sustainable mobility policy framework before the end of this year. It will set out a strategic framework to 2030 for walking, cycling and public transport to support Ireland's overall requirement to achieve a 51% reduction in carbon emissions by the end of the decade. The framework will primarily focus on measures to promote and facilitate active travel and public transport for all and, in so doing, encourage less private car usage nationally to support our climate commitment. The climate action plan for 2021 sets out additional measures to promote other complementary transport mitigation measures such as the switch to electric car usage and greater use of renewable transport fuels.

A collaborative approach has been taken by the Department in developing the sustainable mobility policy framework through public consultation and extensive stakeholder engagement. It will set out a comprehensive set of actions to increase active travel infrastructure provision and improve public transport capacity and services throughout the country. These actions will be supported by behavioural change and demand management measures to make sustainable modes the preferred choice for as many people as possible. Transport needs are not uniform throughout the country and we recognise that tailored solutions will be needed for both urban and rural areas.

The new framework will be underpinned by funding under the national development plan, NDP, which provides €35 billion for transport over the next decade. This will enable significant investment in active travel, bus and rail infrastructure and the expansion of sustainable mobility options in our cities, towns and villages. This will be complemented by expanded public transport services throughout the country, as supported by the public service obligation, PSO, programme. The target of the policy framework will be to cater for daily travel needs in a more sustainable manner and deliver an additional 500,000 daily active travel and public transport journeys by 2030.

I am heartened by the commitment to deliver the sustainable mobility planning framework by the end of this year. The framework is a successor to the smarter travel policy, which brought us up to 2020. There was a very good consultation on that policy, which finished around the time of the general election. As we move forward with the new plan with increased ambition, it will be critical to our success. One of the weaknesses of the smarter travel policy was that it very much focused on commuting to work, whereas we really need to address transport in the round. The Minister of State has done very good work on safe routes to schools and school streets. Those types of journeys will be critical to the policy we deliver. I look forward to the consultation on the plan. If we can deliver an holistic approach to transport and the modal shift, we will see benefits across air quality, public health and for the economy.

The Deputy is entirely correct that this will require an approach across a number of areas, such as the safe routes to school initiative. However, it is not just about children in primary and secondary school having safe access; it is about local accessibility in towns and villages. It is not just an urban programme but one that will also work for rural areas. It is about enabling schools to work locally with their local authorities, particularly in tricky rural settings, to come up with solutions and models that can be replicated in other parts of the country. That was the call we put out through the National Transport Authority, NTA, when it was engaging with An Taisce on its Green-Schools initiatives with the local authorities. The message was that we were not just looking at urban areas but also at solutions for our rural towns and villages. The sustainable mobility framework will be closely aligned with the climate action plan and the strategic outcomes of the national planning framework, which will be especially important for regional accessibility, strengthening rural economies and ensuring we have sustainable mobility in the transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient society.

I am very happy to hear the Minister of State's emphasis on rural transport. If we are to solve the challenge of the rural-urban inequity divide generally, we simply have to tackle the challenge of rural transport provision. We should look to pursuing what the Germans and Swiss are doing, with the model of every village, every hour. I acknowledge the Connecting Ireland launch last week, which was fantastic. It will deliver huge benefits to villages and towns across rural Ireland and will give people an alternative to using the car and, for those who do not have a car, a means of getting about.

We need to make very hard decisions around the reallocation of road space, particularly in urban areas. I would like to see that addressed in the sustainable mobility policy framework. Will the Minister of State comment on that?

The Deputy is right to mention Connecting Ireland. When we talk about public transport, there is the issue that people have a vision focusing on urban Ireland and our cities. Connecting Ireland is about delivering public transport in rural towns and villages throughout the country. That is key if we want to ensure people in rural Ireland have connectivity. However, we also need to be practical and realistic in recognising that not every rural area will have a public transport option. The aim is to maximise the potential of those routes and have evidence-based policy in regard to public transport services in rural areas throughout the country.

The draft policy framework is looking at issues like ensuring continued mobility safety, decarbonising public transport, expanding the metropolitan area sustainability options, expanding rural and regional sustainable mobility options, and encouraging people to choose sustainable mobility over the private car. We want transport-led development. This is about an all-of-government approach to ensuring we are building in the right areas and, where we have housing developments, that there is a sustainable, integrated transport system aligned with them.

Question No. 89 replied to with Written Answers.

Road Traffic Offences

Neasa Hourigan

Question:

90. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Transport the number of red light enforcement cameras that are in operation; the number that are planned to be rolled out in the remainder of 2021 and in 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53632/21]

How many red light enforcement cameras are in operation and how many are planned to be rolled out in the remainder of 2021 and into 2022?

As Minister of State in the Department of Transport, I have no role in regard to the installation of cameras. Road traffic legislation sets out the standards for the use of such cameras and their effect in terms of road traffic law. Under section 81 of the Road Traffic Act 2010, electronic apparatus, including cameras, may be used to provide evidence in regard to offences under a number of the provisions of the Road Traffic Acts. The enforcement of road traffic law is a matter for the Garda Síochána, with some powers provided for local authorities in respect of parking controls. The installation of cameras for traffic management is a matter for the relevant road authority.

Regarding the installation of cameras to detect red light offences, in 2015 to 2016, a pilot was successfully carried out at the intersection of Blackhall Place and Benburb Street in Dublin, on the red Luas line, under an agreement between the NTA and the Garda Síochána. The NTA operated the system and provided images to An Garda Síochána, which had responsibility for processing violations. The aim of the pilot was to reduce collisions at that intersection between cars and trams on the red line. Following a review of the project, two further locations have been selected for red light cameras, namely, Con Colbert Road and Queen Street. My Department has been advised the NTA will be developing system design and technical specifications for tenders to install and operate the three sites.

Separately, the role of additional camera-based enforcement and its potential road safety benefits is being considered by the Department and transport agencies.

I thank the Minister of State. As she said, the NTA has a role to play in this. It relates to some of the discussion we have had in recent weeks about the possibility of a transport police force, which is an idea that has merit. We can no longer divide the issue of enforcement from the proper operation of our transport systems.

I get consistent feedback from my constituents in Dublin Central that cars are increasingly pushing the limits of amber lights and outright breaking the red lights, sometimes at speed. An Garda Síochána does not have the proper resources to deal with this issue and it is not practical for it to do so. I can think of better ways for it to use its resources in Dublin Central. Many EU countries operate this red light traffic system very well. The initial trial over an 18-month period in that area of Smithfield mentioned identified 1,300 road users breaking the lights, and I suspect that was a rather conservative estimate. From that trial in 2015 in Smithfield, in 2019, those three additional cameras were installed. That progress seems quite slow.

Following the completion of the pilot, a review of the overall system was undertaken, and in 2019, An Garda Síochána confirmed acceptance of the review recommendations and that the pilot installation could be confirmed as permanent. However, it was necessary to retender the technical and operational parts of the project, as the original installation was a pilot project only. Under procurement legislation, the larger permanent operation requires a new, publicly advertised tender process. Due to Covid commitments, the NTA has not progressed the retendering process. It intends to develop the system design and technical specifications for the Blackhall Place site, as well as the additional sites at Con Colbert Road and Queen Street and seek tenders in the next year. While the Blackhall Place site is not currently operational, it is expected to be reactivated following the appointment of a specialist service provider. During 2023, it is expected the additional two sites, Con Colbert Road and Queen Street, will be activated.

We will need quite a bit more additional capacity than that. While movement on it is encouraging, it will have to be rolled out nationwide. Suitable enforcement will have to be part of our transport solutions in moving towards a lower carbon strategy. It is also an issue around a rights-based strategy for those with disabilities and making the urban sphere much more accessible. For those who want to move towards active travel in terms of cycling and multi-modal trips, enforcement on our roads is incredibly important. Speeding and the breaking of lights has a huge impact on people's perception of the road, their right to it and their use of it. That is no more relevant than to those vulnerable groups, such as younger children and those with disabilities. Until the perception is out there that people will be seen, called out on and held to account for breaking the rules, the rules will continue to be broken.

I hear the Deputy's concerns. There is no legislative barrier to this. The Department does the legislation and it is up to the agencies - the NTA and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, An Garda Síochána and the local authorities - to roll out these projects. I take her points on accessibility on public transport. We have increased Garda resources in this budget. The Deputy made reference to antisocial behaviour on our public transport services. This came up earlier, with other Deputies. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has spoken to the Garda Commissioner and the Garda is engaging extensively with public transport service operators in ensuring we can make certain both staff and passengers are safe. The work is ongoing, but I will relay Deputy Hourigan's comments to the Minister, Deputy Ryan.

Rail Network

John Brady

Question:

91. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Transport the plans there are to increase capacity and the frequency of trains on the Dublin-Rosslare rail line; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53621/21]

This morning, it was reported it is proposed to reduce car journeys by 500,000 per day under the climate action plan to reduce carbon emissions. Key to that is investing in our public transport. In my constituency in Wicklow, we have a 19th century public transport service and infrastructure, the Dublin-Rosslare rail line, which serves through the county down to Wicklow town and Arklow. What plans are in place to expand the capacity and frequency of the rail service through Wicklow?

I thank the Deputy for his question and the opportunity to discuss the issue of increased capacity and the frequency on our rail lines, specifically the Dublin-Rosslare rail line. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, has responsibility for policy and overall funding for public transport, however, neither he nor my Department have a role in the day-to-day provision, operation, or maintenance of subsidised bus and rail services. That is the responsibility, first and foremost, of the NTA, in conjunction with public transport operators such as Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, Go-Ahead Ireland, Luas or, in this instance, Iarnród Éireann.

Iarnród Éireann has advised that its operational fleet is fully deployed in the provision of scheduled services at present, in line with prevailing passenger demand across the network. The current capacity is primarily based on demand levels pre-Covid, when rapid growth in passenger demand resulted in the use of 100% of the company's operational fleet at peak times. Post-Covid, demand remains suppressed in the short term, and as we continue to exit the Covid-19 restrictions, significantly altered travel patterns have emerged.

Iarnród Éireann has advised that it intends to undertake an analysis of this new trend in customer habits and adapt its timetable to meet customer demands. It is expected this assessment will take a number of months as travel patterns become established, with a phased return to the workplace over the coming months, depending on the prevailing epidemiological situation. Once this process has been completed, a timetable and capacity proposal will be prepared and issued for public consultation on the Irish Rail website. It is currently estimated that this process will commence in the second quarter of 2022.

The recently announced national development plan will see the introduction of additional infrastructure which will relieve congestion on the network while also delivering new trains to provide greater capacity for increasing passenger numbers into the future. A range of projects are under way which will continue over the next 12 months, such as the national train control centre, track laying and new intercity railcars. These 41 carriages are under construction and scheduled for delivery in 2022.

The Minister mentioned the national development plan in which there is no mention of the Dublin-Rosslare line. I am a firm believer in "build it and they will come". Unfortunately, we have a 19th century rail line through Wicklow, which has received no upgrades for many decades. We have five services out of Wicklow, with two in the morning, one in the afternoon and two in the evening. Coming from Dublin into Wicklow, the first train to leave Dublin is at 9.33 a.m. If we are serious about getting people out of cars, there needs to be a bigger picture in terms of investing in our rail infrastructure. I am hearing absolutely nothing from the Minister of State. We need to see the electrification of the rail line beyond Greystones down to Wicklow town. We need to see the roll-out of battery operated trains as well. When will we see battery-operated trains on the Dublin-Rosslare line? What are the plans to extend the DART to Wicklow town? That gives us a serious opportunity to take people out of cars and put them on public transport.

Iarnród Éireann, supported by the NTA, is at an advanced stage in the tender process to order the largest and greenest fleet in Irish public transport history, for up to 750 electric and battery-electric powered carriages over a ten-year timescale. As well as increasing the Dublin area capacity, it will also see intercity carriages in use on commuter services allocated to intercity routes to increase capacity and frequency of services.

With regard to the possibility of increasing the DART frequency on the Dublin to Rosslare route, between Bray and Greystones, there is an issue with physical infrastructure constraints. The railway between Bray and Greystones is single track, which means only one service can operate between Bray and Greystones at any given time. Journey time between the two takes ten minutes each way, and both of these factors dictate the level of frequency which can be achieved. The DART+ coastal project is in the design and planning phase. One of its key goals is to identify opportunities for capacity enhancement between Bray and Greystones. Public consultation will be under way on those emerging options.

Unfortunately, the Minister of State did not answer the question I asked. I know there are plans to look at the DART between Bray and Greystones.

I asked specifically about extending the DART from Bray to Wicklow Town. That gives us a serious opportunity to deal with the congestion on the N11. On the N11 on a daily basis there are thousands of people sitting in their cars stuck in traffic, when we have a 19th-century rail line. That is where the investment needs to be, if we are serious about getting people out of cars to use public transport. That is where we need to look. I am conscious that the National Transport Authority, NTA, has had some discussions with Wicklow County Council with a view to extending the DART line to Wicklow Town. It is unfortunate that the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is not here to deal with the questions. My colleague, Deputy Darren O’Rourke, raised that point earlier. It is a serious issue that the senior Minister is not here to answer the specific questions that we as Deputies have put forward, with no explanation whatsoever. It is in the Minister's remit to reschedule if he will not be here to answer the questions that we pose. It is within his remit to change the roster.

The Minister of State might answer the specific questions that I asked, not the issue between Bray and Greystones. I am talking about extending the DART to Wicklow town.

Deputy Leddin wanted to come in.

To follow on from Deputy Brady's question, I point out that it is clear to us all that there has never been more investment in rail. It is therefore a bit unfair of the Deputy to say that.

I do not want to put the Minister of State of the spot, but I ask her to outline similar type investments for our side of the of the country, in Galway and in Limerick. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has announced ambitious plans around the midwest and in Galway. Could the Minister of State comment on those?

I thank the Deputies. Minister Ryan is attending Cabinet this morning. That is why he cannot be in the Dáil to take questions. However, if there are any further questions Deputy Brady wants answered, I can certainly relay them to him. The Climate Action Plan will be published later today, so that is why he could not attend. In relation to-----

In fairness, that is poor scheduling.

The rail services are critical. There is a commitment in the Programme for Government to invest in public transport, including in rail. Part of that is the national rail review. This is a both North and South rail review and it will be completed next year. All of the issues that the Deputy has raised about what the NTA is looking at will be considered and examined as part of that process. That is the correct process to ensure we take an all-island approach to rail services in looking at what is required. I will come back to Deputy Leddin on his other questions.

Coast Guard Service

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

92. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport the action he is taking to address the serious findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s investigation into the procurement of vehicles for the Irish Coast Guard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53690/21]

I raise the ongoing issues at the Irish Coast Guard, which have been identified. In the first instance, I raise the issue of the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General following the investigation into the procurement of vehicles for the Irish Coast Guard.

A Department internal audit report in 2019 recommended improvements in Coast Guard procurement. Implementation of these recommendations was underway prior to the Comptroller and Auditor General raising the issue of procurement of vehicles in 2020. In particular, new internal controls in accordance with best practice procurement procedures have been put in place. Additional resources have been allocated to the area and training has been enhanced. Insofar as this specific issue is concerned, it was identified as a deviation event through the Coast Guard’s deviation and risk management procedures. A corresponding investigation regarding the suitability of the assets procured in support of cliff rescue operations occurred on 4 February 2020. The recommendations of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report relate to specification of requirements, tendering supply and delivery of vehicles and procurement processes. These recommendations are accepted and are being implemented. The vehicles procured under the contract are currently fulfilling an operational role for the Coast Guard. The vehicles purchased are a considerable improvement on the previous vans in use by cliff rescue teams. This is because they have additional carrying capacity, improved storage of equipment, welfare facilities, air conditioning, dry equipment, additional radios and under chassis sealing. Coast Guard cliff rescue teams continue to rely on multiple vehicle types to respond to cliff incidents. The Coast Guard continues to review procurement procedures on an ongoing basis to ensure that they comply with best practice in the area.

I read the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. It highlighted to me a litany of issues around public procurement in the Irish Coast Guard. There are concerns that need to be taken back to the Department and acted on. The Minister of State will be aware of the range of other issues that have been raised in recent times about the Irish Coast Guard’s governance, structure, culture and morale, as well as a series of allegations which raise concern. I wonder if the Minister of State is aware of those. Has she met with the Irish Coast Guard about them? Has she met with the new group, Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association, the launch of which her party colleague and mine attended in recent weeks? Their own stated intention is to better the Coast Guard for everybody involved. That is a laudable ambition.

It is important to say that improved procurement procedures have been implemented within the Coast Guard area. In 2019, my Department’s internal audit unit carried out a procurement gap analysis, which identifies a number of areas with significant scope for improvement. The following eight recommendations are contained in the March 2020 audit report: the Irish Coast Guard, IRCG, procurement procedures are to be documented; there is to be better procurement documentation filing and retention; there is to be a live contracts register on finance and procurement SharePoint site; avoid appointment of contractors without competition; improve tender specification costs; improve contract management, contract planning; and carry out evaluations of procurements. These eight recommendations in the internal audit report on Coast Guard procurement were all implemented by the end of November 2020. A procurement manual was finalised in November 2020 which sets out the process from a formal assessment of operational leads to a business case.

Training and procurement workshops are available to all staff involved in the procurement process. The Coast Guard continues to revisit procurement procedures and updates the manual regularly to take into account new guidelines.

I appreciate that response, specifically about the Comptroller and Auditor General and procurement. My follow on question is that I am concerned that the procurement issues were a symptom of potentially wider issues within the Irish Coast Guard. We are hearing clearly about these issues from the new representative group, the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association. There was the resignation of volunteers in Doolin in recent days, as well as the standing down of the Coast Guard there. There will be significant implications on the services being provided. It also flags, in my opinion, problems within that service. I ask the Minister of State what actions are being taken. Has she met with the Irish Coast Guard? Has she or will she meet the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association which, as I said, wants to deliver a better Coast Guard for everybody involved?

It is critical that we have a robust and well-resourced search and rescue, SAR, capability in Ireland. We are all aware in our own communities of the excellent volunteers who do critical, Trojan work in coming to people’s rescue in their hour of need. It is critical. I am committed to ensuring that whatever resources and supports are needed are in place to ensure that we have continued service.

On the Deputy’s point about Doolin, search and rescue and the Department are engaged in providing whatever supports are necessary to help resolve the situation. We have good management teams right across the country. Where there are challenges, we need to address them. We need to ensure that they are resolved. That is my commitment. I have been liaising with officials in my Department. I will do whatever is needed, the Deputy can be assured, to ensure that we get a resolution. At the moment, however, I have been assured that there is adequate cover. From time to time, certain teams step down for different reasons, such as operational reasons. In those situations, cover is provided elsewhere.

I continue to monitor the situation and I understand the importance of this issue.

Road Network

Bernard Durkan

Question:

93. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport if the necessary roadworks will be allowed to continue in order to bring about all aspects of transport infrastructure such as roads up to a nationwide standard thus ensuring equal treatment throughout the regions while accepting the need to reduce Ireland’s carbon footprint; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52880/21]

This may seem peculiar at this particular time. There will be and is a necessity to ensure that all regions throughout the country have access to a reasonable road structure, with particular reference to those areas that have not experienced particular development but which will in the future.

The Minister for Transport has responsibility for overall policy and Exchequer funding in relation to the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, and in line with the national development plan, NDP, the management and improvement of individual national roads is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with local authorities.

A key priority in the NDP, in line with the Department’s investment hierarchy, is to maintain the quality of the existing national road network. This consists of about 5,300 km of national roads, including 1,000 km of motorways, connecting Ireland’s cities and regions. I take the Deputy's point about ensuring that we have that connectivity. The NDP foresees Exchequer expenditure of about €2.9 billion on the protection and renewal of these national roads over the period to 2030. Such investment is required to keep the national road assets at a safe and robust level for all users. Investment in existing road assets can also assist in retrofitting them where applicable, for example by providing new bus lanes. Further, approximately €5.1 billion will be spent on new national road projects over the lifetime of the revised NDP to 2030. This funding will enable improved connectivity across the country, as well as compact growth, which are core components of the revised NDP.

The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each local authority and works on those roads are funded from councils' own resources, supplemented by Exchequer grants where applicable. Grant support provided by the Department under the regional and local road grant programme is focused primarily on the protection and renewal of the network and the NDP makes provision for expenditure of €5.35 billion on this in the period to 2030. Provision is also being made for expenditure of €677 million on targeted road improvements for that period. Within the context of the capital ceilings set for the Department and its delivery agencies, the funding allocation for new public transport and new roads is in keeping with the agreement in the programme for Government. A 2:1 ratio will be maintained between new public transport investment and new road investment.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply. Might it be possible to identify a national minimum standard for quality of roads to facilitate those parts of the country that will require access to markets for heavy transport vehicles and access to investment in their respective areas, having particular regard to the fact that in a line from Belfast to Cork, and to an extent to Limerick and Galway, there is no access to that level of quality? From the point of view of investment in jobs and employment, there is a necessity to do so in the future.

I thank the Deputy. Ensuring that minimum standards are kept is a matter for local authorities. Local authorities, with TII, identify roads that need to be further maintained. The maintenance, protection and renewal budget was protected, which recognises the importance of road connectivity and safety for all road users. It is critical that we have new road infrastructure built as part of that. Public transport uses roads. We also need to make sure that we maintain and upgrade our existing road network to ensure we meet the minimum standards and that we retrofit, where possible, by putting in bus lanes, for example. All of this will form part of our vision for ensuring that we are connecting Ireland both in our rural and urban settings.

Would it be possible to make contact with the respective local authorities with a view to identifying the precise requirements in that area? I am thinking in particular of the increased employment prospects, which we are trying to encourage outside the immediate Dublin area to alleviate traffic congestion and to encourage industrial investment and employment throughout the country on a more even-handed basis. Would it be possible to contact the relevant local authorities directly with a view to achieving that kind of minimum standard for connectivity to facilitate our growing population and investment in jobs in the future?

I thank the Chair for the opportunity to speak and I thank Deputy Durkan for bringing an important question to the House. I would like to speak in support of the points that Deputy Durkan is making. On the new 2:1 ratio of expenditure on public transport to expenditure on roads infrastructure, it is important that we prioritise many of the vital smaller schemes around rural Ireland. In my own constituency, as the Minister of State is familiar with, I have been seeking to have the Castlemartyr and Killeagh scheme prioritised to alleviate the 24,000 passenger vehicles travelling along national routes through small villages. It is important for the Government to fulfil commitments that have been made through the new NDP and in the engagement process beforehand to ensure that these types of projects get full prioritisation, funding and support from the Government. They are needed in addition to the welcome investment in public transport.

I thank both Deputies. A list of projects is mentioned in the NDP. Projects currently under construction are the M50 traffic control management unit, the N5 from Westport to Turlough, the N56 from Dungloe to Glenties, the N22 from Baile Bhuirne to Macroom, the M8 Dunkettle interchange, and the N5 from Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge. There are other projects earmarked to begin construction within the coming months, for example, the N59 Moycullen bypass and the Listowel bypass. Deputies may feel that other projects are absolutely critical. We all have our own views on our own areas that we are familiar with, including local employment, local education and the connectivity that is required. It is up to the local representatives, working with local authorities, to put forward proposals regarding further projects that may be deemed necessary, looking at demographics, employment and future prospects over the next few years. That is part of the national development plan too. It explicitly states that local authorities can put forward proposals on projects that may be deemed necessary for their areas.

Cycling Facilities

Marc Ó Cathasaigh

Question:

94. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Minister for Transport the status of capital spending on walking and cycling infrastructure allocated by his Department for 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53503/21]

In the programme for Government, this Government committed to investing €360 million per year throughout the life of the Government on active travel infrastructure. In the recent national development plan, that was extended to 2030. This is welcome. It aligns with the United Nations recommendation. Few countries are actually doing this. I ask the Minister of State for a status update on capital spending on walking and cycling infrastructure. There is an allocation from the Department for 2021 and I ask the Minister of State to make a statement on the matter.

As the Deputy knows, and this is probably the reason he is asking, in the programme for Government, we committed that €360 million in cross-Government funding will be spent on walking and cycling infrastructure per annum over the lifetime of the Government. This investment will help to support the delivery of about 1,000 km of new and improved walking and cycling infrastructure by 2025 as well as additional investment in greenways. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that this year, we have seen a significant increase in funding in line with the Government's prioritisation of active travel and greenways. My Department provided approximately €287 million in funding this year to the National Transport Authority, NTA, for active travel projects. This allocation is enabling investment in the greater Dublin area and the regional cities along with an additional investment in projects in 19 other local authority areas. The latter funding stream constitutes the first ever major active travel investment programme for rural Ireland. A further €70 million was allocated to greenway projects.

The significant increase in funding requires additional capacity and resources to be made available in the local authorities to deliver the projects as planned. To this end, earlier this year, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, wrote to the County and City Management Association to advise that approximately 250 additional staff would be allocated to local authorities around the country to work on the delivery of active travel projects.

I understand the recruitment process is ongoing and I hope to see all the staff in place by early 2022. As we emerge from Covid, we have a major opportunity to change the way we travel in this country and I am pleased to say that, despite the challenges of Covid as well as the need to recruit additional staff in the local authorities, it is expected that 80% of the total active travel financial allocation will be spent by the end of this year.

I am pleased to hear that €287 million is being spent. It falls short of the €360 million but we have to recognise it will take time to build up to that and it is with the local authorities to develop the pipeline of projects. It would be good if the Minister of State could speak to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and ask him to consult the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on pushing the local authorities to develop that pipeline.

I welcome the Minister of State's point about 1,000 km of active travel infrastructure to be developed by 2025. I think we can be even more ambitious. That figure is predicated on a very high standard, which is needed in our towns and cities, but if we want to have more extensive networks across all our towns and villages, we can go for a standard of infrastructure that would not cost €1.5 million or so, which is the basis for the 1,000 km. It comes down to reallocating road space and making difficult political decisions around that. We need to address that.

I think €287 million or quarter of a billion euro is a significant figure, especially in the context of Covid-19, given that greenways, which are part of this, were not considered essential works during the lockdown. That may have brought the figure down slightly but as the resources are allocated to local authorities in relation to active travel projects, we will see - and we will monitor this - an increase year on year in the roll-out of active travel infrastructure.

I note what the Deputy says on rural towns and villages. It is important to say that additional funding of €72 million was announced in March for 340 sustainable transport projects in 19 local authorities outside the greater Dublin area in our regional cities. The NTA originally earmarked €50 million for the scheme but it was increased due to the volume of proposals. That shows there is an appetite to roll these out in our regional cities, towns and villages. I encourage local authorities to continue to do that but we need to resource those authorities around that.

It harks back to my earlier question about the sustainable mobility policy which is in development and which the Minister of State told us we will have by the end of this year. That is welcome. The policy and the investment the Minister of State spoke about is important because we have a car-oriented society which has developed over the last 40 years or so. Some 74% of all journeys are made by private car. In my city, 70% of all journeys under 3 km are made by private car. We have to transition. They are journeys that can be transitioned over to walking and cycling, if not public transport. There has been a slight turn in recent years, which is positive. I acknowledge the Limerick school cycle bus and there is a successful cycle bus in Galway as well. We should not need cycle buses and would not if we succeeded in providing active travel infrastructure.

Absolutely. It is said by people who engage in and spearhead cycle buses that hopefully one day we will not need them and will have safe routes to school and protected infrastructure such that parents feel confident to let their children cycle to school appropriately. What is important about the safe routes to school programme is that the schools are actively involved in these solutions. It is not just the local authority coming in and proposing something outside of the school space. It is the schools working with parents and the real leaders are the students. They say what they require, be it cycle parking or a walk and stride facility. Our commitment is to roll out that €360 million per year on walking and cycling facilities. This is just the start and it will ramp up. If we get good examples in urban, rural and suburban areas that can be replicated across the country, and if leaders roll out schemes in areas where it was thought not to be possible, that will encourage others to do the same.

Questions Nos. 95 and 96 replied to with Written Answers.

Electric Vehicles

Duncan Smith

Question:

97. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Transport his plans to incentivise the purchase of electric vehicles by introducing a vehicle scrappage scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53212/21]

I ask the Minister of State what plans the Government has to incentivise electric vehicles, EVs, by means of a scrappage scheme.

I thank the Deputy. Providing a sustainable low-carbon transport system is a key priority for the Department. The programme for Government commits to 7% average annual emissions reductions to 2030. Ultimately, the goal is for a zero-emission mobility system by 2050 and electrification will be key to achieving that in the transport sector.

EVs are the most prominent transport mitigation measure in the 2019 climate action plan and Ireland has set an ambitious target of 936,000 EVs on our roads by 2030. This target is challenging but indicates the scale of the transformation needed across all sectors if Ireland is to achieve its climate targets in the coming years. To this end, my Department has convened the electric vehicle policy pathway working group to produce a roadmap to achieving the 2030 EV target. The working group comprises senior officials and has considered regulatory, financial and taxation policies to help to drive a significant ramp-up in passenger EVs and electric van sales.

Scrappage schemes were discussed as part of these considerations. The working group considered the potential of this incentive but concluded that a general scrappage scheme would entail significant additional costs. However, the group concluded that niche market scrappage schemes could potentially play an important role, such as in the small public service vehicles, SPSV, sector. Furthermore, considerable progress has been made as a result of the work of the low-emission vehicle task force to ensure conditions and policies are in place to support citizens in making greener vehicle choices.

A comprehensive suite of measures is available to EV drivers, including purchase grants for private car owners and taxi drivers, VRT relief, reduced tolls, home charger grants, favourable motor and benefit-in-kind tax rates, as well as a comprehensive charging network. These measures have contributed to increased take-up of EVs in Ireland in recent years, albeit from a low base, to around 45,000

I thank the Minister of State. We sell 7,500 EVs per year and another 7,500 on top of that but it is 7:1 compared with diesel and petrol. We will not hit the target for 2030. The scrappage scheme is important because it will tackle the affordability anxiety people have. We do not have range anxiety in Ireland; we have affordability anxiety. The vast majority of people, even with the measures brought in by the Government, still cannot afford to switch to an electric vehicle. Something has been brought in for the SPSV sector. That is a good thing. There are other sectors and other ways of bringing this in. The Minister of State mentioned the word "niche". We can look at older cars. We can look at areas and at people living outside of public transport nodes who do not have access to bus and rail and incentivise them through scrappage schemes.

The other thing about a scrappage scheme that is important is that there is no use having an electric vehicle if the vehicle it replaces in the family home is sold as a second-hand vehicle and remains on the road somewhere else or is given to an adult child in the household. The emissions will be the same.

The Deputy made some valid points in relation to looking at other areas. Preparations are under way to establish an office of low emissions vehicles. This office will play an important role in our transition to zero-emission vehicles and will co-ordinate measures to support the uptake of EVs and the roll-out of charge point infrastructure.

In the context of rural Ireland, we spoke about Connecting Ireland, which concerns a public transport system across rural Ireland, but we have to be realistic. We will not have public transport in every area of rural Ireland. It is not feasible. We know this clearly. We need to look at ways to help people to move to a more environmentally friendly vehicle. I would like to see the office of low emissions vehicle looking at that. The move to electric vehicles will be a critical part in emissions reduction.

We are not there with a general scheme yet but it can be rolled out over the next few years and I hope it is kept under constant review.

I represent a constituency that has a large rural area. I also represent an awful lot of people who are on low incomes who live in those areas. People who are on low incomes cannot afford newer cars or even more fuel-efficient diesel and petrol cars. They are driving older cars with higher carbon emissions. This is where we need to look. This is where we can be brave and ambitious in the area of electric vehicles.

I commute by car and bus. I hope in the next few years it will be by electric car and bus, but there are people in my constituency who do not have bus access and they need their car. People with disabilities have no other option but to use a car. Incentivising them and bringing them in early to a truly affordable scrappage scheme so they can buy an electric vehicle would be in the spirit of what we are trying to achieve through COP26. What we are trying to achieve globally and nationally would be a really good tool for this country.

I agree that we must consider targeted measures based on service provision across the country. There will be people who will need a private car. The evidence is there regarding emissions reductions with electric vehicles. In particular where people have no other alternative, we must look at measures in that respect. I will not go into the grants. Deputy Duncan Smith is very well aware that there is going to be a concerted public service element as well, including for taxis. The public sector is leading the way. An Post, for example, has invested hugely in electric vehicles for its fleet. We must lead as well, but also look at supports and targeted incentives for certain sectors and regions that may need extra help.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.