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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 26 Apr 2022

Vol. 1021 No. 1

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Road Network

David Stanton

Question:

91. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Transport the current status of the proposed upgrade of the N25 national road between Midleton and Carrigtwohill, County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21022/22]

David Stanton

Question:

126. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Transport if his Department will provide additional support to allow the proposed upgrade of the N25 national road between Midleton and Carrigtwohill, County Cork, to proceed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21021/22]

Will the Minister outline the current status of the proposed upgrade of the N25 national road between Midleton and Carrigtwohill? He will be aware, of course, that Cork County Council and his Department had agreed that this should be a very important upgrade, so much so that they have spent €1.2 million on a feasibility study.

I think €1.2 million has been spent so far on a feasability study. Perhaps the Minister can let me know if that figure is correct, and where he plans to go with it now.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 91 and 126 together.

As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for overall policy and Exchequer funding regarding the national roads programme. Once funding arrangements have been put in place with TII under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, and in line with the national development plan, NDP, the planning, design, improvement and upgrading of individual national roads is a matter for TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. TII ultimately delivers the national roads programme in line with Project Ireland 2040, the national planning framework and the NDP.

In the new NDP launched in October 2021, approximately €5.1 billion is earmarked for new national roads projects to 2030. This funding will facilitate improved regional accessibility and will also support compact growth, both of which are key national strategic outcomes in the national planning framework. The funding will provide for the development of a number of national roads projects, including the completion of projects which are already at construction stage and those close to it, as well as the development of a number of others. The N25 Carrigtwohill to Midleton project is included in the list of projects to be evaluated for potential prioritisation during the period covered by the NDP.

Due to the fact that the greater portion of the NDP funding for roads projects becomes available in the second half of the decade, there is a constraint on the funding available for new projects this year. However, most national road projects in the NDP will continue to be progressed in 2022. Projects such as the N25 Carrigtwohill to Midleton road, which do not have the required funding to progress this year, remain part of the NDP and will be considered for funding in future years. With regard to the current status of the preparatory work on the project, I am advised by TII that technical advisors have completed their assessment of the route options for the N25 project and have determined the preferred solution. Improvements to crossings over this busy section of the N25, to improve safety and enhance active travel, are being considered as part of the scheme. Given funding constraints, it will not be possible to progress the project to design and development of the business case this year. The delivery programme for the project will be kept under review for next year and considered in terms of the overall funding envelope available for the national roads programme.

I am aware that the Deputy raised this issue on Leaders' Questions. I think he was concerned that the Department had not responded to him. I wanted to find out about that and went into it in some detail myself. Indeed, I happened to have a meeting with TII today, where we discussed this and other projects. There are a number of projects - around eight - on the NDP which are not proceeding with further funding this year. That does not mean that they will not proceed in the future. We have a particular problem with the cost inflation that is happening now. We will not be able to build a fraction of the roads projects that are at various planning stages. It is important that we manage our budget and funding, and do not create false expectations in that regard. In respect of two of those projects, namely, the N24 from Kilkenny-Waterford towards Cahir and the N4 Longford to Mullingar, we agreed to complete and conclude some of the work there because those projects had not come to a final preferred route selection. It was unfair, particularly with the likes of the N24 project, where there might be six route corridors where land would be frozen, and people and farming and those looking to build housing would be affected, and so on. It was agreed to complete those projects to the final stage to get them to the same stage at which this particular section of roadway is, where there is a preferred route. I have looked at the red route - the Deputy obviously has detailed knowledge of it - that runs parallel, in effect, to the existing dual carriageway which would be converted to a local road system. I will come back to the Deputy on the detail. I have looked into it in quite some detail and I know the area well. It is one of those roads. We are going to have the problem that with cost inflation in road construction and with the huge number of projects that are at various stages in the planning process, we will not be able to build everything immediately. We should be open and honest about that.

There are a few issues that I wish to draw the Minister's attention to, and ask questions about. First, is he aware of the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, project and the plan to build thousands of houses and housing units close to the railway line at Water-Rock? Is the Minister aware that the road infrastructure that he has spoken about is not up to standard, and that TII has objected to the housing close to the railway line because the road infrastructure is not up to standard? One half of the Government is not talking to the other. I understand that over €4 million has been made available through LIHAF. That project may not happen. Some €1.2 million has been spent already on the road project that may not happen. There are people whose houses are on that preferred route. They have not been contacted or notified yet as to whether or not their houses will be bought or taken from them. It is a mess. In addition, is the Minister aware that there are 30,000 car movements per day on a very dangerous road?

I am aware. I said that I looked, in real detail, at the project. There is significant housing development planned. There is controversy in that regard not just in respect of the housing development, but also in respect of retail developments in that area. We have to be careful here because it was the subject of a court decision. The national Planning Regulator has been very specific in raising certain concerns about the nature of some of the planning in this corridor, and how it might lead to further increase in the volumes of traffic in the area induced by long-distance retail shopping. It is complex. There are safety issues. When I met with the chair of TII today, I said that we need to look at all options in terms of how we address safety concerns not just on this section of the N25. The N11 is another example that we are looking at currently, where there are slip roads onto dual carriageways, which were state-of-the-art when they were built, but are now coping with very difficult circumstances. I will be honest. The concern I have, when I look at some of the developments in the area, is that we may be looking at further induced traffic, which would actually exacerbate some of those problems.

For the Minister's information, the development to which I was referring is in a different place. It has nothing to do with this particular land.

It is not that far away from it.

It is. It is on the other side of Carrigtwohill. It is west of Carrigtwohill. It is not between Carrigtwohill and Midleton. That is what I am talking about. The LIHAF project is at risk.

The developers tell me that the development of thousands of houses may not go ahead. TII has objected to the development. It has written to me and told me that the road is unsafe. It has asked the local authority to carry out safety measures on that roadway which could cost millions of euro. Could the Minister not allow this route to progress to make the road safer and to allow the housing development to go ahead? Housing is the biggest crisis that we have at the moment. Is the Minister aware that for the last 12 years, one of the largest industrial sites in Munster has been frozen because the road access is totally inadequate at Ballyadam? There is a proposal to open it up, which is not going to work either. It is going to drive more cars into Carrigtwohill, which already has cars being driven into it because of the inadequate nature of the road infrastructure. This whole thing came as a bolt out of the blue to the local authority last December. It was not expected. A lot money has been spent on this project and on the LIHAF project. That is all at risk now.

I will go back to the point about not creating false promises. There is an issue in terms of the fact that we have a roads programme that is the length of one's arm and beyond, and a budget which, this decade, will not be able to deliver a fraction of it. That is before we look at the examples of these additional roads projects which are not at as advanced or developed stages as others. Therefore, it is difficult. If we were to give the false promise that we can provide all the housing and address all the issues, in my mind, it would not be an accurate assessment of what is happening. There are other developments in the area. I have heard what the Deputy has said about TII's view on how we could develop housing around the upgraded rail line and the much better services it will provide. They will provide real potential route options to take some of that traffic off the road and to actually really develop around the rail system. I believe that will be an investment that can transform the area, help reduce the volume of traffic and improve safety on the adjacent roads.

Is the Minister aware that the road is already at capacity?

That is the reason TII has raised issues with respect to its concerns regarding the operational safety of the national road network. It is located in an area considered for a future national road scheme. The proposed development could prejudice plans for the design of this scheme. However, it will not allow the scheme to go ahead. It is a catch-22. It is objecting to the housing development because the road is not to be allowed. It will not allow the road to go ahead, so the housing development cannot go ahead. It is a mess. It came out of the blue last December with no warning. I have written to the Minister twice about the issue and I have met him personally in the corridor to discuss it. I have received no response from the Minister or his Department. When I was Minister of State, I always ensured that any Deputy or Senator got at least an acknowledgement. That did not happen, where I was concerned, in this case. I got no acknowledgement from the Minister's Department, no letter back to me and no invitation to the Minister's office to discuss it.

That is why I was concerned. I apologised at the time.

The Minister did apologise.

My understanding is that a reply was sent.

I will have to go back and double-check that.

I will continue to engage and, as I said, to look at those safety issues and look to see are there ways in which we can address some of them without necessarily having the full road scheme, which I do not believe would be able to get the budget within the constraints that I see ahead of us for the next ten years. Yes, we do want to address those safety issues and see if that can be done in an alternative way.

I will go back and double-check but my understanding is that there was a reply. If there was not, I will find out why it was not sent.

Is the Minister happy that the work done to date may be wasted? He is talking about managing budgets. He is now telling me that this may not happen for years without giving any indication. Can he in some way let the people on the route know whether or not their houses will be subject to a CPO? The route has been identified but it is very wide. There has been no contact with the people and it is not definite yet. I cannot find out and I cannot tell my constituents whether their house is going to be taken from them this year, next year or the year after. That is very unfair. There is a lot of uncertainty. A lot of money has been spent already and a lot of effort made by the local authority, local councillors and everybody else to get this right and, at the very last minute, without any warning, it was pulled.

As I said, we are very clear that we are not saying that road will never proceed. However, it does have to be within an overall budget and Transport Infrastructure Ireland will have to assess how it will manage and deliver projects, so it has not completely gone to waste and it could well be used.

My understanding of how this process works is that the CPO only comes in at the very later stages, when it gets through planning and through the various stages at Government, tendering and the other processes, and when there is a clear idea about those CPO arrangements. I do not believe that, at this stage, the CPO process would start for houses along the route because it is so far away from those sort of detailed tender and post-planning arrangements that this is not when the CPO process would apply.

Question No. 92 replied to with Written Answers.

Haulage Industry

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

93. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Transport the status of his engagements with truckers in relation to the rising cost of fuel which is pushing businesses to the brink; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19652/22]

I want to ask about the Minister of State's engagement with the hauliers. The rising cost of fuel is impacting hugely on all of us but we are talking about businesses that are on the brink. I would like to have a statement in regard to what has been done for them but, beyond that, what are the plans to ensure we keep an absolutely necessary cohort in the economy up and running?

I thank the Deputy for the question. The European and global oil markets are currently volatile due to the conflict in Ukraine exacerbating pre-existing market shortages, primarily of diesel. This has caused a spike in the price of crude and of refined products on the retail market.

The Government is fully aware of the significant financial impact that rising fuel prices is having on the haulage sector and has been engaged with sectoral representatives in that regard. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and I met the IRHA on 10 December 2021 and again on 10 February 2022 to discuss the issue, as well as the need for the heavy goods vehicle sector to make progress towards decarbonisation. With the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine however, fuel prices escalated further. We met the IRHA again in that context on 9 March last. Recognising that this sudden increase in fuel price was a problem in particular for the licensed haulage sector, on 15 March 2022, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and I proposed to the Government an emergency support measure, namely, the licensed haulage emergency support scheme. The scheme will provide support of €100 per week for eight weeks for each eligible heavy goods vehicle, HGV, authorised on the licence of a road haulage operator as of 11 March 2022. The scheme is being administered by the Department of Transport.

In addition, the Government has provided for an excise duty reduction on mineral oil taxes with effect from 10 March. This saw a 20 cent reduction in the excise rate for petrol and a 15 cent reduction on auto diesel. These measures were VAT-inclusive and were proposed to last until 31 August. On 11 April, the Government extended the period of the reduced rates out to budget day. This measure is a benefit to all citizens and businesses to mitigate the impact of recent fuel price increases. However, it should be noted that the causes of these increases are not within the control of the Government and are being directly influenced by external factors, including the Ukraine crisis.

We all accept there are factors beyond the control of the Government. We came out of Covid and we had the issues of Brexit, which impacted on the supply chain and are impacting us all greatly, and this was then followed by a huge global crisis, in particular a European crisis, with the war in Ukraine. With regard to those factors the Government has control over, are we looking at an extension of the €100 payment? I know many hauliers have spoken about the fact they do not believe the diesel rebate scheme is fit for purpose. Is that going to be looked at? We are then back to the question we have all had over many months in the House, which concerns the possibility of room for movement in regard to VAT specifically in regard to hauliers and fuel.

We all accept there are external factors here. The Government can do so much in regard to cushioning people from the rising cost of fuel but there is also a strong recognition from the Government of the importance of the haulage sector, in particular for our essential supply chain. That is why I, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Government moved in regard to this scheme, which is being processed at the moment and the deadline for that is 29 April. We also have the diesel rebate scheme, which was introduced back in 2013, extended by the Minister for Finance and then, in 2020, due to concerns around Brexit, extended further. This is going to be constantly reviewed. I and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will continue our engagement with the haulage sector because we know how vital it is in regard to the supply of essential goods across the country and beyond.

The Minister of State said it herself. It is about ensuring we can move the essential goods we require because we need to keep the show on the road. I will go back to the point that it is the future plans. Are we looking at extending the €100 payment and what other factors are we looking at? Are we going to properly look at the diesel rebate scheme and update it? On the wider question of VAT, is there any room for manoeuvre? Beyond that, if the Minister of State has time to deal with this, are we any further on in regard to resolving the issue of work visas for people who came here looking to work as truck drivers, given there were ongoing issues?

We have to acknowledge the work that is ongoing within the Department in regard to the current €100 per week scheme. Those in the haulage sector are applying for that. It is going to run for an eight-week period and it will be reviewed thereafter. As I said, we will continue our engagement, as we have done, with the Irish Road Haulage Association and the wider sector in regard to the needs around logistics and the supply chain, as well as working on the ten-year road haulage strategy. We are also working with the Department of Social Protection around recruitment and with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment on work permits. Significant work has happened around the work permits and also in regard to the diesel rebate scheme. As I said in my earlier contribution, there have been reductions in excise that will not only benefit road hauliers but wider business as well in regard to the rising cost of living.

Question No. 94 replied to with Written Answers.

Public Transport

Duncan Smith

Question:

95. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Transport if his Department plans to provide free public transport to refugees who are arriving in Ireland from Ukraine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20887/22]

I would like the Minister to comment on his plans in regard to Ukrainian refugees; their access to free transport and public transport in general; how his Department is operating on the ground with Ukrainians where they are, particularly those in reception centres, and where they are going to be for the short, medium or long-term; and what his plans are to ensure their time there is not as challenging as the first few weeks have been so far.

In line with the whole-of-government approach, my Department and the National Transport Authority have been working on practical and meaningful responses to the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis. From the beginning of the crisis, newly-arrived Ukrainians have been able to avail of free travel from their port of entry to the end destination on any public service obligation or Local Link service.

Indeed, many commercial bus services similarly offer this assistance in getting people to a safe location.

I was delighted to announce last week the provision of emergency public transport services to refugees housed in rural or isolated locations to ensure better access to our local communities. This will be achieved through an acceleration of network improvements identified through the Connecting Ireland public consultation, including additional stops, route modifications and more services with the aim to increase connectivity. Areas such as the Ring of Kerry will avail of such improvements, in practice catering for both existing demand as well as responding to the increased pressures on services where the local population has grown after the humanitarian crisis.

Additional bus services will also be deployed to cater for those housed away from the existing public transport network. The NTA is examining options to provide transport from the Earl of Desmond hotel, where many refugees have been accommodated, to Tralee town. Such measures will provide better access to a range of amenities, employment opportunities and to onward public transport connections to larger centres.

A community transport fund is also being established to support occasional travel requests. This will be operated by the Transport for Ireland, TFI, Local Link offices and will enable our Ukrainian guests to join in the many activities that are available in our towns, in particular activities focused on youth, integration, culture and education. Collectively, these endeavours aim to support integration of our Ukrainian guests into the local communities that are hosting them. We will keep the issue of transport provision under review as this situation evolves.

As one of the three most senior people in government, I need to outline to the Minister the experience I am having on the ground in respect of transport and other areas as well. We have children who cannot get to school places. If they get a school place, they are not able to get to the schools. We do not have a co-ordinated response on that which is a problem today. The remedies the Minister has outlined will take a few weeks to roll out or be delivered and that is being optimistic. However, we have problems today.

There are social protection schemes but we do not have means to get these people into Intreo centres. We are having to organise Citizens Information staff to visit reception centres to talk to people. We have health issues. We do not have access to primary care. GPs are unable to take people on. Certain schools are not taking people. The Minister talks about a whole-of-government response but we are not seeing that on the ground. I am not trying to score points here. This is the reality I am experiencing.

It is a huge challenge and it was always going to be such for Ireland and every other European country. We are not alone. We have taken in some 25,000 people. The State we heard today is housing 16,000 to 17,000 people. There are real challenges in that because there are stages. Someone might arrive at Dublin Airport, Rosslare Port or another port and stay in Citywest for a period, then transfer to another location. There is a significant management task in this.

There is a large percentage of primary school children, in particular, but also secondary school children. Accommodation, education and other services have to be matched. It has to be recognised that for a family a hotel bedroom may not be the optimal. At the same time, congregated settings in this instance may be something that is very good and give people a sense of community and helps them get their feet on the ground.

I know that my colleagues, especially the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, and his Department are absolutely flat out. They are giving their all to make sure we have enough accommodation and working with the Minister for Education to make sure we match schooling and with the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, to match health services That is not easily done when 25,000 people-----

-----are arriving within a short number of weeks but our goal is absolutely to make sure that it is an integrated all-of-government response.

This is a monumental challenge. I have not even mentioned accommodation because that is the greatest challenge of all. However, in terms of managing what is happening on the ground now, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has been very receptive to my representations and I commend him on that but we need experienced State officials. I am thinking of community welfare officers and people who work in Citizens Information offices who could be a regular presence in the reception centres, be they hotels, decommissioned religious centres or whatever the case may be and are able to point these people in the right direction. They are able to point them to local transport and Intreo centres and solve the problems that exist on a day-to-day basis. This is a small ask but it has to be put in place. I beseech the Minister to bring this back to Government. The local authorities do not have the competency for this. They do not have competencies in social protection, transport, education or health. I am worried with the community fora being put in place that they will not have the adequate skills to meet the challenges.

The Cabinet discussed this at length earlier. The experience on a smaller scale but similar in terms of the need to give those integrated connections, from Syrian refugees arriving, is that local authorities can play a role, especially where they combine with the community, voluntary and other sectors. They have a key role in it. There will be a real role in terms of the director of services in particular within local authorities working with the community and voluntary sectors to provide exactly that sort of guide, connections and real quality information as people settle to whatever varying time they stay. I accept the Deputy's point. We need that level of engagement. We are committed to providing it. Local authorities will have a role working with the community and voluntary sectors.

Question No. 96 replied to with Written Answers.

Transport Costs

Steven Matthews

Question:

97. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Transport the steps he is taking to ensure that there are appropriate youth travel public transport fares available for 16- to 18-year-olds across all types of public transport modes in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20701/22]

What steps is the Minister taking to ensure there are appropriate youth travel public transport fares available for 16- to 18-year-olds across all public transport modes in Ireland? I note a significant reduction for under-24s was introduced and I want to ensure that goes to all youths in the country.

I recognise the importance of incentivising our young people to use public transport to establish sustainable habits from an early age. Setting public transport fares at appropriate levels is a key element to achieving this objective. The Deputy will be aware that a suite of measures is being introduced by Government to help with the rising cost of living, including a 20% average fare reduction on public service obligation, PSO, public transport services until the end of 2022.

Currently, on all PSO public transport services, child fares are available to young people aged between 16 and 18 when paying with a personalised Leap card. For those paying with cash, the child fare is only applicable to those under 16. As such I strongly encourage those in the 16- to 18-year-old bracket to apply for their personalised Leap cards, which can be done easily on leapcard.ie. Further, the NTA previously introduced a single flat fare that allows those 18 and under with Leap cards to travel any distance on Dublin Bus, Luas and all DART and commuter rail services within the Dublin area for 80 cent. This represents a 20 cent reduction on the previous Leap fares.

From 9 May, the child fare rate on PSO services will reduce even further to 65 cent for the remainder of this year, due to the introduction of the 20% average cost-of-living fare reduction. Child Xpresso fares and child cash fares will likewise benefit from the 20% discount. Leap fares in Dublin are also included in the 90-minute fare initiative, enabling children to transfer to another mode of public transport without incurring additional costs within 90 minutes of initially tagging on.

The NTA is working hard to ensure that appropriate fares are available for young people on our PSO services. Paired with the significant increase in investment in vehicles and infrastructure, we continue to make public transport a more attractive means of travel. Finally, with the ongoing roll-out of BusConnects across Dublin and regional cities, it is intended that passenger fares will be further streamlined and rationalised as part of this process.

The Minister said quite clearly that when someone forms the habit at a young age of using public transport, it will extend into later life. The introduction of the fare reductions recently has not been well publicised but it is a significant decrease in public transport fares of 20% for everybody, but a 50% reduction for under-24s, which seems to have gone under the radar a bit. We need to publicise it and get people back on to public transport because of the emissions and congestion associated with transport.

However, advances are being made in transport and that is why it is so important to get young people on to and using it now. I look to measures such as the DART+ extension and expansion and the significant investment in BusConnects, Connecting Ireland, the rural bus system and the expansion in Cork, Galway and Limerick rail. I note the article today about new stations in Moyross and Ballysimon.

They are all important additions to the public transport network and that is why it is so vital we get young people on the system and that we encourage them onto it.

From 9 May, these 19-to-23-year-olds, those who are 24 and under, will also be able to avail of 50% discount fares across all services, including city, intercity and rural services. The NTA is working to assess deployment options in this regard. A working group is working with the commercial bus operators to see how this could also be rolled out into the commercial sector. Therefore, a range of measures is being undertaken, particularly for younger people and those who can access Leap cards. I refer as well to the young adult card. This is on top of the general 20% reduction in fares, which started on 18 April last outside the greater Dublin area. It will proceed inside the greater Dublin area from 9 May. I hope this combination of measures will have the effect of getting people back onto public transport as we come out of Covid-19 and that we see those numbers using the services begin to grow.

The importance of the Leap card cannot be underestimated. It is a simple and easy process to pick one up. We must, however, also explore more integrated ticketing. I note there are also plans to enable people to pay for their tickets with a credit card, and that makes perfect sense. In some cases, though, anomalies exist in fares across the rail network. It may possibly be the case with the bus network as well, but I am more familiar with the rail network. I recently investigated one such anomaly where people in Greystones were being classed as zone 6 for travel into Dublin city centre. I discussed this issue with representatives of the NTA. I am glad they agreed with my analysis of the situation and that Greystones has now been reduced to zone 5. It has resulted in a significant decrease in rail fares for people from Greystones travelling into Dublin city. A similar problem exists with the fare from Wicklow town. I studied that and it also seems quite excessive. There is an opportunity now for us to examine rail fares. I understand there are separate rail ticketing systems, but we must address these anomalies in the system and get more people back using public transport.

I am glad the NTA saw the sense of what Deputy Matthews was saying about that trip. I happened to use the DART to Greystones a good few times recently for various reasons. Not only is it good value in that regard, but it is also probably one of the most spectacular train journeys in the world as one comes out of the tunnels through Bray and Killiney heads. This is not the only location where this issue has arisen. In Mallow, we studied a situation and extended the scope of those areas covered by the metropolitan rail service. The Deputy is right to cite Limerick. There is potential to create a metropolitan rail network in the city, where a series of stations would be connected. A new station in Moyross, for example, would provide the potential to transform the way Limerick develops and the way public transport is seen. This should be the case across all our cities. I happened to visit Cork last week, where I considered the transport plans there in the context of BusConnects Cork. Integral to that endeavour is the new ticketing system to ensure we get exactly what the Deputy mentioned regarding having an integrated network. I refer to designing our bus networks to connect to our rail system and local links. That is all in train, if the pun may be excused.

Public Transport

Bríd Smith

Question:

98. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Transport if he will raise with the Minister for Social Protection and the National Transport Authority the difficulties faced by those with free travel passes in using privately operated bus services, especially in rural areas in regions in which Bus Éireann has withdrawn or curtailed its services; if he will support the extension of free travel to all bus services licensed by the National Transport Authority regardless of whether they receive Public Service Obligation funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20975/22]

We have had much discussion about rural Ireland today, but my question concerns bus services in rural areas run by private operators and how accessible they are to users of the free travel scheme. About five years ago, the National Bus and Rail Union, NBRU, warned that the significant cuts then being made to services would lead to many areas being neglected and there are now many areas where private operators do not accept free travel passes.

The free travel scheme is a non-statutory scheme administered by the Department of Social Protection. It is available to people aged 66 years or over permanently resident in the State, and to all carers in receipt of carer's allowance. The scheme is also available to certain people with disabilities and people receiving certain welfare-type payments. The fundamental principle of the scheme, as originally envisaged, was to utilise spare capacity on public transport services which operate, in any case, with or without eligible persons, but there are also strong social benefits from providing this service to people.

As the Minister for Transport, I am responsible for policy and overall funding for public transport; however, I am not involved in the day-to-day operational matters of the public transport operators, including those related to the operation of commercial bus services, their fare structures or the acceptance of free travel passes. Furthermore, the NTA also has no direct involvement with the free travel scheme on commercial services. While all public service obligation, PSO, transport services, including rural Local Link services, provide free travel to eligible pass holders, my understanding is that only some commercial operators provide the service. Those private bus companies that have chosen to opt into the free travel scheme are reimbursed for carrying non-fare paying passengers at a discount to reflect the fares foregone nature of the scheme.

Any assessment regarding new private operators seeking to enter the scheme or extending the scheme to all bus services licensed by the NTA would ultimately be a matter for the Department of Social Protection. Such determinations would need to be cognisant of likely cost implications. Since 2019, approximately €95 million in Exchequer funding has been allocated annually to operate the free travel scheme. Any decision to potentially extend the free travel scheme to include more privately-operated commercial bus services, including those operating in rural areas, would require significant levels of additional State funding to implement and operate. This must be a matter for discussion between the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

This is exactly my question. I wish to know if the Minister will raise this issue "with the Minister for Social Protection and the National Transport Authority". People in rural Ireland are facing difficulties in respect of their free travel passes not being accepted by some private bus companies. To reiterate, this is more disadvantaging of the people of rural Ireland. Those who live in our cities are likely to be able to catch a Bus Éireann bus, a Dublin Bus, a Luas or a DART and those who qualify for the free travel scheme will have their passes accepted on all those services. There are, however, chunks of rural Ireland where the services do not accept the free travel pass. The Government itself has stated a limited number of private operators accept the free travel pass. Again, there is a need for some joined-up thinking in this regard. Will the Minister raise this issue with the Department of Social Protection and the NTA and try to resolve the difficulty?

I will, but as part of an integrated assessment and modernisation update review, including how we are providing school public transport. That aspect must also be reviewed and improved. I refer as well to how our PSO system is working. The many supports in place during the Covid-19 pandemic helped us to get through those difficult times. We now need to undertake a complete review of our PSO services. We will be doing that in a context where we are also introducing many more bus services, particularly for rural Ireland, in the Connecting Ireland programme. A whole range of funding requirements is needed in that context. There is a need to encourage as many private operators as possible to provide concessionary travel for those eligible, but also to provide new services. It is about getting this right. It must also be recognised that we have introduced fare reductions for those aged under 24, and, indeed, for everyone. This is about the best use of resources to maximise public transport, especially in rural areas.

There is a degree of discrimination here because in parts of rural Ireland people have no choice but to avail of privately-run public transport not supported by the PSO levy. Many people find they cannot access this great scheme providing free travel for people aged 66 and over, and others, as the Minister outlined, such as carers or those with disabilities, etc. The problem is they cannot access the scheme. Therefore, surely this is a form of discrimination against them. I ask the Minister to attempt to close this loophole that leads to discrimination by opening discussions with the Department of Social Protection and the NTA and considering honestly the difficulties faced by some people in rural areas of the country where it is not possible to use free travel passes on bus services. Regardless of whether they are availing of PSO funding, those operators should be made to accept the free travel passes, or some scheme should be brought in to cover the provision of free public transport for every person entitled to it.

I agree. In any budget discussions, ultimately the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is going to have to help cover the costs here. As I said, in any Government at any period in time there are myriad desires, to pay for childcare, to improve our education and health systems and so on, and also to improve and increase the provisions for public transport, particularly those who are dependent on it and do not have alternatives. The answer is "Yes". That has to be in the balance of also providing additional services, PSO services and fare reductions such as those we mentioned earlier on. It is getting the balance right between that mix of things. That is what we would seek to do.

Question No. 99 replied to with Written Answers.

Airport Policy

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

100. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Transport if he will ensure that his Department officials urgently engage with their counterparts in the Department of the Taoiseach and the board of the City of Derry Airport to provide financial assistance to the airport utilising the shared island fund. [21017/22]

The City of Derry Airport is a really important resource to the people of the north west of Ireland. Some 40% of the passengers who use the airport are from Donegal, flying to Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London Stansted and other locations across Europe. The Irish Government has not funded this airport for about a decade now. It is an absolute disgrace. This has to be sorted out. Will the Minister work with the Taoiseach to do so?

I thank the Deputy for his question. The shared island fund is allocated by the Department of the Taoiseach to approved collaborative North-South projects that implement the Government’s investment commitments and objectives on a shared island as set out in the programme for Government and the shared island dimension of the revised National Development Plan 2021-2030, including the Government’s commitments under the New Decade, New Approach agreement of January 2020.

There is no Government undertaking to provide financial assistance to City of Derry Airport. Under the New Decade, New Approach agreement the Government committed to conducting a review of the viability of air routes from Dublin to Derry and from Cork to Belfast, which has been progressed by my Department in consultation with officials in the Department of the Taoiseach. I and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, are considering that review in consultation with Government colleagues, and the Government will continue to engage with the Northern Ireland Executive and UK Government as appropriate and with stakeholders in the north-west region on this exercise.

As the Deputy knows, the regional airports programme supports regional connectivity to the north-west region. We have a PSO air service between Donegal and Dublin. I know the Deputy is very familiar with it. This marks the Government's commitment to ensuring continued connectivity to the region for the next three years. That commenced on 26 February. Also in line with the Government's commitment to regional balanced development, that Donegal-Dublin PSO air service supports the growth of the economy through tourism, supporting the region, providing really critical travel needs to those travelling to Dublin for medical and other important appointments. This review is ongoing within our Department. I and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will be working with the Department of the Taoiseach and my Government colleagues regarding the other services.

Donegal Airport is a superb airport in west Donegal, no doubt about it. Just to outline geography, there is a reason 40% of the passengers in City of Derry Airport come from Donegal. It is only half an hour from my home in Buncrana to get to City of Derry Airport while it is about an hour and a half to west Donegal. That is the reality. In the Inishowen Peninsula, Letterkenny and Finn Valley people use City of Derry Airport. For a very large section of Donegal they use Donegal Airport.

Derry is the fourth largest city on the island with 500,000 people in the region. The Irish Government has removed funding now for a decade. The Minister of State has given me a more hopeful response today, I must say. In recent responses to parliamentary questions, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was refusing to even meet with a cross-party delegation of councillors from Donegal, Derry and Strabane. The Taoiseach was recently in Derry. He said to councillors at a meeting that the shared island unit may well be a source of income. Will the Minister of State work with the Taoiseach on the basis of that assurance and try to solve this conundrum for us?

As I said, what I and the Minister have committed to doing is conducting that review around the viability of those air routes between Dublin and Derry, and Cork and Belfast. We are working with the Department of the Taoiseach in respect of that. It is also important to say that the City of Derry Airport is already in receipt of funding support from Derry City and Strabane District Council and has received funding from the Northern Ireland Executive and the Department of Transport in the UK, including most recently a £3 million grant announced by the Northern Ireland Executive last month. The Deputy can be assured that the work is ongoing. The Department of the Taoiseach is involved in this as well and there will be a governmental decision with the Department of Transport in respect of these routes.

What makes it more important is that we have been heartbroken by what has happened with the A5. We were supposed to have a motorway. There is no direct rail connection from Derry and the north west of Ireland. There is no direct motorway connection and no direct air connection. It is a mortal sin what is happening to us. We have been waiting for this motorway. There is no connection. If we have an air connection from north Donegal and County Derry, the entire county, and west Tyrone, it means people can get not just to Dublin but to the world via Dublin Airport. This is about equality of access. Someone can travel half an hour to an airport, fly to Dublin and connect to nearly anywhere. There is certainly massive connectivity to the world. Tourists coming into Ireland can fly to Dublin Airport and connect to Derry. The Minister of State can see how crucial this is. We have let this go now for ten years. I appeal to the Minister of State. She knows about geography, representing a county like Galway. We need to get access into Derry and north Donegal, equality of access for our people to the rest of the country.

I thank the Deputy. Again I want to say that as part of the programme for Government regional connectivity is absolutely critical. There have been limited funding resources even around the regional airports programme and there are lots of requests to come in under that, including for the City of Derry Airport. To be very to the point, there are limited resources. Particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic we wanted to try to support our regional airports as much as possible in the midst of a crisis. I can say to the Deputy that the review is currently under consideration and I and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, are working with the Department of the Taoiseach and will be looking at those routes as well. They will be under active consideration.

Transport Policy

Steven Matthews

Question:

101. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Transport the steps he is taking to decarbonise last-mile deliveries in town and city centres and in particular to use smaller and lighter vehicles, including e-cargo bikes and trikes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20702/22]

I want to ask the steps the Minister is taking to decarbonise last-mile deliveries in town and city centres and in particular to use smaller and lighter vehicles including e-cargo bikes and trikes, and if he can make a statement on the matter.

As in passenger transport, enabling the freight sector and businesses to avail of cleaner and more efficient delivery alternatives will be necessary to reduce Ireland's transport emissions and meet our climate goals. Currently, heavy goods vehicles account for around 20%, and light goods vehicles for 18% of national transport emissions. In the coming months, my Department will publish a ten-year strategy for the haulage sector. The Government's aim is to develop a strategy that will focus on generating efficiencies and improving standards. This strategy will include considerations on the decarbonisation of last-mile deliveries. Work on the strategy is ongoing with a plan for further consultation with the public and stakeholders in the coming months.

While emissions reduction for our HGV sector has particular challenges given that low-emissions technology remains in development, electrification is a realistic option for last-mile deliveries in our towns and urban centres. Our Climate Action Plan 2021 targets 95,000 electric vans in use by 2030. In that regard, the cross-departmental electric vehicle policy pathway working group will consider the regulatory, financial and taxation policies to help achieve this target. For urban commercial journeys, the Government will also continue to promote greater sustainable mobility by encouraging the use of e-cargo bikes. The public sector will have an important role in leading and encouraging businesses to make this shift, and a number of local authorities have already introduced e-cargo bike pilots for local businesses that are proving popular. I would also note in particular the example of An Post's efforts in attaining zero emissions delivery status in our major cities. These examples demonstrate that shifting to cleaner last-mile delivery options makes sense for business and will help to make our urban centres safer and healthier. All of these measures will continue to be supported by the enhanced investment we are making in walking and cycling infrastructure across the country.

I welcome that. The Minister of State has identified that there is a ten-year strategy and that it will incorporate parts of the last-mile delivery concept. I will quote some figures from the World Economic Forum, which refers to the increase in online shopping and the demand for e-commerce. The forum estimates that the increase will result in 36% more delivery vehicles in inner cities by 2030 and that, as a consequence, emissions from delivery traffic will increase by 32% and congestion will rise by over 21%. The Minister of State quite rightly pointed out the importance of reducing fossil-fuel emissions and of the transition to electric vehicles. The noise of vehicles travelling around our urban centres must be considered. There would be a negative impact on air quality. We have been discussing air quality a lot in the past two weeks. There is also a road safety aspect. Couriers work hard. They work long hours and are under a lot of pressure, but having so many large vehicles in our urban centres and residential areas creates a safety issue.

Much really good work is happening across some of our local authority areas. There are pilot schemes in place. Dún-Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is piloting cargo bikes for businesses. It is a six-month cargo-bike pilot scheme. Cork City Council has the cargo bike library. In this regard, some €45,000 has been provided by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with the aim of establishing a cargo bike fleet library. Businesses and community groups will be allowed to borrow a bike for six months as part of a trial scheme to determine whether a cargo bike could be used daily. Dublin City Council has a pilot for e-cargo bikes for businesses. It was launched late last year following the success of the Dún-Laoghaire Rathdown pilot. A similar scheme was launched by Fingal County Council.

It is important that we acknowledge the leadership shown by An Post. It has over 1,000 electric vehicles, including 155 e-trikes. An Post is the first postal service in the world to attain zero-emission delivery status in all the major cities.

I thank the Minister of State. She is quite right to point out the good work being done by An Post. Any Deputy who sits on the north side of Leinster House 2000 building will note that a courier company operates there. A 40-foot truck arrives on one of the evenings in the week and all the parcels and packages in it are decanted into smaller vehicles, including e-bikes and e-trikes, like An Post vehicles. This shows that there is willingness to do what I propose. It also makes economic sense. Economic sense underlines this a lot.

The trial of cargo bikes or e-bikes is a great idea. Anybody who has ever tried an e-bike will have noted how much it could extend his or her commuting distance. That has genuinely positive impacts for how all of us will travel. If we can provide safer infrastructure, I have no doubt that the take-up of e-bikes and e-scooters will result in benefits not only in haulage and distribution but also in general transport.

The EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme focuses on optimising logistics. This is all part of what we are looking at through the ten-year haulage strategy. The programme is called SENATOR and the aim behind it is to create a new urban logistics model for enhancing city sustainability. The project will develop a smart network operator as a control tower supported on an ICT platform that will work as a support tool for decision-making, integrating and the planning of logistics operations. These are the ideas we are looking for in the public consultation on the ten-year haulage strategy. It is for the industry to come forward with its ideas so we can integrate, consider schemes, run pilots and determine what works. We call on everyone in the supply-chain sector to feed into our ten-year haulage strategy. That will lower emissions, but also improve efficiencies within the sector.

Public Transport

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

102. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Transport if a reduction in Expressway bus fares, such as on route 40, Tralee to Cork, and route 51, Limerick to Cork, can be considered as part of the cost-of-living package to facilitate the large population of students that commute along these routes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21070/22]

The 20% reduction in the cost of bus fares made a meaningful difference to the cost of living for many travelling daily to college or work. However, it is not available on every bus service. Some communities have only the express bus available to them. Is there a way in which communities served only by express buses will have an opportunity to avail of the cost-of-living measures?

The Government is strongly committed to helping to combat the cost-of-living rises experienced throughout the country. As part of the suite of new measures being introduced, a 20% average fare reduction on all PSO public transport services is being made available nationwide until the end of the year. The discounted fares will benefit the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who use PSO public transport every day. The Government allocated €54 million in Exchequer funding to provide this measure; however, this funding does not include an extension of the scheme to commercial operators, such as the Expressway services from Cork to Tralee and Cork to Limerick referred to in the Deputy's question.

Bus Éireann Expressway is a commercially run business that operates in competition with private, commercial operators in the licensed bus market. As such, decisions related to fares are made directly by the company itself. However, in recognition of the importance of incentivising young people to use public transport, I was delighted as part of budget 2022 to secure funding to provide for the introduction of a young adult card, YAC, on both PSO and commercial services. This exciting initiative will entitle anyone between the ages of 19 and 23 to discounted travel costs and to increase the level of discount over and above the current student discount level to an average of 50% across all services, including city, intercity and rural services. The discount will initially be made available on all subsidised PSO bus, rail and Luas services next month. It will then be broadened to include commercial operators, such as Expressway, later this year. Intensive work is under way with representatives from the commercial bus sector, the National Transport Authority and the Department to devise a mechanism to implement and expedite the deployment of the YAC in the commercial bus sector. I hope to have arrangements in place before students return to third level education after the summer break to ensure they can avail of the initiative. It is important to establish sustainable travel habits if we are to meaningfully reduce our transport emissions and reach our climate objectives.

Reducing the fare is a huge help in making public transport more attractive. Establishing a pattern of using public transport from a young age is so significant. It really adds to the benefit.

I acknowledge the 50% reduction. It is very significant, much ahead of the 20% reduction. It is important that it be available to students as soon as possible. Many of them are finishing up college at the minute. It is important that the ticket be available to them when they return, or at least before the summer. What steps are being taken to have the 50% reduction in place, especially for those who have not been able to avail of any reduction? The 20% has been available to some students but not others. Can the latter be prioritised in the roll-out of the 50% reduction?

The key is to deliver it before next September to benefit those going to college. It is equally important that young people travelling to work benefit. However, the return of college is the deadline by which we have to have the reduction in place for the commercial operators. Included in this is Bus Éireann.

It is a matter of differentiation. Ideally, we would prefer to apply the reduction to every bus service straightaway but there are characteristics of commercial operations to be considered. We do not set the fares. We do not monitor, regulate or check in respect of cash and other fares of private operators, so it is not as easy to apply the reduction. We can and will do it with regard to the youth travel card, however. It will be done in the September timeframe to allow those going to college at that time and young workers to avail of it. There is a working group established with the commercial operators to deliver it in a timely manner.

Is mór an ní é go mbeidh laghdú 20% ar na ticéidí bus, go háirithe ar cheantair cosúil le Baile Bhuirne, Baile Mhic Íre, Gleann Fleisce agus a leithéid, áiteanna nach bhfuil an bus eile ar fáil dóibh agus nach bhfuil ach an express bus ann.

Molaim é sin agus is maith an ní é. Bheadh sé tábhachtach é sin a thabhairt ar aghaidh chun cinn go tapa, go háirithe nuair a bheidh na daltaí ag filleadh ar an gcoláiste i dtreo deireadh an samhradh.

Can the Minister outline who will be involved in that consultation group, how quickly it will be up and running and how will he ensure that services such as the No. 40 Ballyvourney and Ballymakeery service is in place as well as the Cork to Limerick service? As the Minister knows, these areas do not have alternative services for which people can avail of a discount.

The working group includes three representatives from the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland, two further representatives from the commercial sector and a representative from my Department. It is up and running. I appreciate the Deputy's support. We are make sure that, in particular in areas like Ballyvourney, where there is nothing but a Bus Éireann service, that people can avail of lower fares.

Is féidir teacht ar Cheisteanna Scríofa ar www.oireachtas.ie .
Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
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