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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 14 Jun 2022

Vol. 1023 No. 4

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Public Transport

Kieran O'Donnell

Question:

63. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Transport if he will retain the reduced public transport fares to help with the cost of living in 2023; if he has further considered reducing public transport fares; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30734/22]

Alan Farrell

Question:

106. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Transport if he will consider extending the 20% fare reduction on public transport journeys beyond the end of 2022; if he plans further fare reductions in Budget 2023; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30547/22]

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Question:

122. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Transport if public transport fares will be reduced further; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30454/22]

I am taking Questions Nos. 63 and 122 in substitute for my colleague, Deputy Carroll MacNeill.

For the information of the House, there will be three times as much time allocated to these questions because they are grouped together.

Is it fair, a Chathaoirligh Gníomhaigh, that I take Question No. 63 on its own, that Deputy Farrell take Question No. 106 and that I then take Question No. 122 separately, which is six and a half minutes per slot?

We will deal with them separately and give them all the time that has been allocated to them.

I thank the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach. I wish to deal with what I regard as a very successful policy initiative on public transport where we have seen a 20% reduction in public fares. This has been a great success.

I have two questions. First, will the Minister of State look to extending the scheme beyond the end of 2022 and certainly into 2023? Second, has the Minister of State and the Department of Transport looked at further reductions in public transport fares? We want to encourage people to use public transport and to build on the positive initiative of this 20% reduction which is in place until the end of the year.

I thank the Deputy and am taking these questions on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Ryan.

We are acutely aware of the increase in the cost of living in recent months and the Minister recognises the impact that this has had on households across the country. For this reason, he was pleased to be able to introduce a 20% average fare reduction on public service obligation, PSO, public transport services until the end of this year.

This initiative is benefiting the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who use public transport every day. The Minister is delighted to report that passenger numbers are slowly returning to pre-Covid-19 figures. Last week, on average, PSO services carried about 84% of the numbers they carried before the pandemic. In fact, certain markets are reporting passenger levels well above 2019 levels, particularly on some of our Local Link, town and regional city services. All of these individuals are now benefiting from lower fare costs.

The 20% fare reduction comes on top of several other measures that we are progressing to encourage greater public transport patronage. For instance, there is the young adult Leap card, which provides an average 50% fare discount for those aged between 19 and 23 on both PSO and commercial services. There is also the Transport for Ireland, TFI, 90-minute fares scheme which means that adults now pay €2, young adults pay €1, and children pay just 65 cent to travel for up to 90 minutes on Dublin Bus, Luas and most DART, commuter rail and Go-Ahead Ireland services in Dublin. In May alone, the number of people who had a child Leap card, a student Leap card, or the new young adult Leap card increased by over 16,000, which is very encouraging.

While fare reductions are to be welcomed, the investment in additional services is also critical. For this reason, the Minister is committed to progressing core projects like BusConnects, Connecting Ireland and DART+, as well as improving existing services across the country.

That being said, public transport fare initiatives have a role to play in combatting the rising cost of transport and in encouraging modal shift. As such, the Minister would like to see the 20% fare reduction continue into 2023. He is acutely aware, however, of the competing pressures across the system and the finite Exchequer resources. The funding implications of all measures must be considered in the round so the Minister will work closely with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, and other Government colleagues, in the context of the 2023 Estimates process to see what we can do with regard to supporting public transport services.

I greatly welcome the commitment from Government and from the Minister for Transport to look towards extending the reduced public transport fares into 2023. This is a very welcome initiative both in the 20% general reduction and for the young adults, where that is effectively a 60% reduction because it is 50% after the 20%.

In my own constituency of Limerick City, adult fares have gone down within the city from €1.68 to €1.35 which is a 33 cent reduction. For young adults, one is looking at a reduction of 60%, where the fare has gone down to 65 cent, which is a reduction of over €1. These are very welcome initiatives.

When will we have clarity as to whether these reduced fares will be extended into 2023? Does the Minister of State see scope, apart from the current reduced fares, that there may be further reductions in the fares or of extending their scope and the percentage of the reduction?

The decisions on this will be through the 2023 Estimates process, when we will be discussing this issue with our Government colleagues.

It has only been a number of weeks since the 20% fare reductions have come into place on the young adult Leap card. The National Transport Authority, NTA, will be carrying out detailed research to determine the impact of fare reductions at that stage when the schemes have been in place for a reasonable amount of time. That will give us far more information. The fact that there has been significant uptake in public transport usage is a very positive indicator at this point in time. That NTA research will also inform our decisions on this matter.

The response of the Minister of State to the grouped questions is very welcome. The key question for us in the context of a cost-of-living crisis is to ask whether the fare reductions that have already been introduced are sustainable. I welcome the Minister of State's comments that she would very much like to see them being extended into 2023 but that is, I suppose, a budgetary decision that we will make in October. The statistics that the Minister of State has been supplied with by the providers across the country, and most acutely for me, by Dublin Bus, Luas and Iarnród Éireann, are very critical. Citing figures like the 84% and above rates of usage compared with pre-Covid-19 levels is encouraging.

In the context of full employment which we have almost reached, I would have thought that we might have been a little bit higher than that. Sustaining these fare reductions is not just good for public transport users but it is also good for the environment in respect of the unnecessary vehicular journeys that are taken when public transport is available. I will come back with further questions later.

On the question of people's working patterns now and hybrid working, I will furnish some further information. As I said, overall PSO passenger numbers are approximately 84% of pre-Covid-19 levels. Passengers are returning in good numbers in most markets with Local Link and Bus Éireann's town services in Limerick and Galway all reporting levels at or similar to 2019 levels.

Increasingly, it appears that the primary cause of reduced total passengers is office-based workers travelling less. This is consistent when considering that pre-Covid-19 analysis showed white-collar worker commuters to be 30% to 35% of total demand. A 50% reduction in these trips would account for 15% to 17.5% of overall demand. This supported the anecdotal evidence that many office workers are working a hybrid model of two or three days per week at home. Fare reductions are to be welcomed but investment in additional services is also valuable for customers and communities. We need to ensure that we maintain the right balance between those factors.

I thank the Minister of State again. It is essential that we as a Government support the reduction in the burden on people, particularly in the context of the cost-of-living crisis. I, of course, welcome the 50% existing reduction for students and the 20% reduction for everybody else and I would very much like to see that continue into 2023 and beyond.

If further scope is available to us in the sustainability of the fare reductions I would like us to do it on an ongoing basis and that it would become a cornerstone of the Department of Transport's policy to try to reduce the burden on people and to encourage them to use public transport rather than their own private vehicles.

The Minister of State mentioned the 90-minute scheme. Of course, it is extremely welcome but it does exclude two major commuter towns in my constituency in Dublin which is unfair. Skerries and Balbriggan are excluded from the 90-minute fare. I believe that if you are a Dub you should be treated the same as the other Dubs, to be quite frank. There are issues with fares increasing when you go into Meath and Louth where the fares jump quite a significant amount. I have said here before that I think people who are using public transport should not be unnecessarily penalised for a couple of extra kilometres to get to Laytown, Bettystown or other places like that. It is unnecessary. We need to encourage more people to use public transport, not fewer. I would ask that the Minister consider that in the context of budgetary discussions.

I agree. We want to encourage people to use public transport. That is the aim with the 20% price reduction and the young adult card. I will relay his point on those issues to the Minister. No matter where you draw the line there will be someone outside it but I hear exactly what he is saying. We want to get people out of their cars and incentivise them to use public transport where they can and make it more affordable for them to do that.

I want to take the opportunity to raise an anomaly for public transport users. With the 90-minute TFI fare at the moment, someone is better off if they pay for their bus journey by Leap card than if they had purchased in advance the annual tax-saver ticket. In fact they are 20% better off. The tax-saver scheme was introduced to provide a tax-efficient benefit to commuters. It is no longer fit for purpose. It is 20% more expensive to use it twice a day five days a week. We need to fix that and reduce the cost for commuting for people across Dublin.

I am taking this question for the Minister so I will raise that with him and ask him to respond to the Deputy directly.

Transport Policy

Catherine Connolly

Question:

64. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Transport further to Parliamentary Question No. 113 of 26 April 2022, the status of the upcoming review of the Galway Transport Strategy; the timeline for same; the timeline for the feasibility study for light rail; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30706/22]

Tá an cheist seo faoi chúrsaí iompair i nGaillimh agus tá a fhios agam go bhfuil an-taithí ag an Aire Stáit faoi chúrsaí tráchta i nGaillimh. Baineann an cheist seo go sonrach leis an athbhreithniú atá beartaithe maidir le light rail, leis an an staidéar féidearthachta agus leis an athbhreithniú atá beartaithe ó thaobh cúrsaí iompair de i nGaillimh.

I understand that the National Transport Authority expects to engage support services later this year to undertake the review of the Galway transport strategy and commence the review process at the end of the year. The review will be led by the NTA in co-operation with Galway City Council and Galway County Council.

The review process will include consideration of all potential transport modes including light rail. As part of the strategy review work, assessment work will be undertaken in relation to light rail. As I have noted previously, this approach will allow for a multi-modal perspective and integration within an overall land-use plan.

The NTA expects to publish a draft updated transport strategy for Galway for public consultation in quarter 3 of next year. I agree with the Deputy on the need to increase sustainable mobility options in Galway and to consider the merits of light rail as part of those options. We need to shape the city around public transport rather than roads. The review of the Galway transport strategy will look at population projections, development density, employment forecasts and travel demand patterns. This analysis will be used to reassess the public transport needs across the city and the potential role all modes of transport, including light rail, can play in meeting those needs. In the meantime, implementation will continue on the current Galway transport strategy. This includes the Galway BusConnects programme with key elements like the Salmon Weir Bridge, the cross-city link and the Dublin Road corridor advancing. Further projects include the roll-out of improved active travel infrastructure, redevelopment of Ceannt Station and the improvements planned for Oranmore station and rail track infrastructure.

I welcome some of the improvements that are taking place, albeit belatedly. The Minister of State will know that Galway is going under with traffic. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the country which is thriving in terms of employment but it is absolutely bogged down in traffic. The Minister of State knows that if I showed her a photograph of all the reports from my 17 years on the council it would almost reach the ceiling. We had smart travel that was anything but smart, the Buchanan transport study and now we are in 2022. The Minister of State was there with me when the council unanimously agreed to put in park and ride in 2005 which was never rolled out. Here we are and the NTA in its latest response to me tells me that it is only looking at the east of the city. Every time I ask a question the situation seems to deteriorate without any recognition of the urgent need to take bold brave steps with Galway city and roll it out as a green lean city. The first thing is a feasibility study on light rail.

I must say I agree about park and ride and the urgency of identifying sites if we want to encourage people out of their cars to use public transport. I understand that the NTA is developing its park and ride strategy for Galway and will present it to Galway City Council and County Council in July.

As I am sure the Deputy will know, a feasibility study for light rail in Galway will be carried out as part of the review of the strategy and will be considered in the overall framework of the strategy. That will allow for a multi-modal perspective and integration within an overall land use plan.

There is no sense of urgency with the NTA. Absolutely none. It is 2022 and it is slowly looking at park and ride on one side of the city when in 2005 the elected members voted to roll out park and ride. A climate emergency was declared years ago now and then there is biodiversity yet we are still looking at unsustainable levels of traffic in Galway and no bold measures. I have absolutely no confidence that the NTA will carry out a feasibility study for light rail because it is clearly on record as saying that it will not suit Galway. The people of Galway have led us as the Minister of State knows. Some 22,000 people signed a petition imploring the then-Minister to carry out a feasibility study. We cannot blame motorists if we do not offer them alternatives. We must lift the traffic off the road. I am a cyclist but we are getting bogged down in minutiae of small cycling, little stretches, without looking at the overall plan of a sustainable city with sustainable transport. People will move if we provide that.

I share the frustration about the progress on public transport options in Galway. There has been the cross-city corridor, the Salmon Weir Bridge and there is some movement with BusConnects but it needs to continue and move faster. I understand the NTA will present the strategy on park and ride sites to both councils in July and that the feasibility study for light rail will be done as part of the overall framework for the Galway transport strategy. That will ensure that it looks at a multi-modal perspective and integrated approach that includes an overall land-use plan.

Questions Nos. 65 to 67, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Bus Services

Bríd Smith

Question:

68. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Transport when works are expected to commence on the necessary infrastructural provisions for the dedicated BusConnects corridors in Dublin; the liaison and consultations that will take place between the National Transport Authority and households that have had compulsory purchase order notices on foot of the proposed works; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30736/22]

Emer Higgins

Question:

86. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Transport the timelines for the implementation of BusConnects in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30692/22]

The question relates to the implementation of BusConnects in Dublin.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 68 and 86 together. I am responding on behalf of the Minister.

As the Deputy may be aware, the BusConnects Dublin preliminary business case was approved by the Government on 8 March of this year, on the Minister's recommendation.

Approval of this business case allows the 16 core bus corridors to enter the planning process. The NTA will submit the 16 corridors as 12 applications to An Bord Pleanála. The first of these, from Clongriffin to the city centre, was submitted in April and the second, from Belfield or Blackrock to the city centre, was submitted in early May. Two further applications, the Blanchardstown to city centre scheme and the Liffey Valley to city centre scheme, will be made in June, with the remainder to follow during the second half of 2022. In parallel, a construction strategy is being developed for all corridors which will include the commencement of the procurement of contractors. The timing of the construction contract award and commencement will be determined by the decision timeline of An Bord Pleanála with regard to the planning consent applications.

If the compulsory purchase order, CPO, is confirmed by An Bord Pleanála and subject to any legal challenges by way of judicial review, a document called a notice to treat will be served on each landowner whose land is being acquired. Following service of the notice to treat, the landowner will be required to submit a claim for compensation, at which stage the NTA will engage with all landowners with regard to their specific requirements. The NTA is available to discuss the CPO process with any resident who may have specific queries or concerns.

As with all schemes where roads and streets are being upgraded, there will be some temporary disruption and alterations to on-street and off-street parking provision and access to premises in certain locations along the proposed scheme. Local arrangements will be made on a case-by-case basis to maintain continued access to homes and businesses affected by the works, where practicable. Details regarding temporary access provisions will be discussed with homes and businesses prior to construction starting in the area.

The C spine is up and running in Lucan. It has been a very big change and there are definitely still some teething problems but, by and large, many people have felt the benefit of it. The night-time schedule has been especially welcome. People who have not felt the benefit are those used to having a bus service to the city centre but no longer do so. I am talking about people living in places such as Doddsborough, Hillcrest and Laraghcon. Those of us who use the C spine, especially during rush hour or on busy weekends when there are concerts in town or matches, can clearly see that there is still a need for better frequency on the route. However, the fundamental concern I have is that areas that had a direct link to the city centre are now underserved, to put it mildly. That is not progressive. It is regressive. Senator Currie and I had a number of meetings with representatives from the NTA but it was not meaningful engagement because the bottom line is that nothing has changed for those residents. They still do not have a service and neither do the people who were promised the W8 orbital route, such as those working in Greenogue or Citywest or those living in Saggart, Newcastle or Rathcoole who may be going to college in Maynooth or Tallaght, because that service is yet again being delayed. Will the Minister of State give me an update on this for my constituents?

While BusConnects is controversial in certain places, it really is not in others. We cannot wait for it on the north side, if I am quite honest, although there are a few pinch points along certain routes such as the Swords Road and the Malahide Road. I asked the NTA recently about the Swords Road. It serves Dublin Airport and is critical in serving the emerging city that is Swords. I was told it would be the end of 2024 before we would see that route being introduced. I must admit that this is a little bit of a disappointment, given that it is our national airport and in light of the delays to the delivery of MetroLink. Will the Minister of State ask the Department to redouble its efforts with the NTA in terms of the Swords spine, which is essential in serving upwards of 300,000 people along its route? Given that MetroLink is proposed to serve 500,000 people along the route, this is not dissimilar. I very much welcome the delivery of this particular BusConnects spine as soon as possible.

I thank the two Deputies for their comments, which I will relay to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. The BusConnects network redesign for the entire bus network in Dublin, as overseen by the NTA, is being rolled out in 11 phases. It began in 2021 with the launch of the first two phases: the H spine from Howth or Malahide to the city centre in June, and the C spine in November. Phase 3, which was launched in May of this year, consists of two northern orbital routes: the N4 from Blanchardstown to Point Village and the N6 from Finglas to Howth junction. A further two phases will be introduced later this year and all 11 phases are due for completion by 2025. I will raise the issues highlighted by the Deputies with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and I will have him come back to them on the matter.

I will also take this opportunity to bring to the attention of the Minister of State the withdrawal without any prior notice of a very important bus service in my area. On 6 June, I got a note from a commuter who used the 68X every morning to get to work. He was letting me know that after a full week of going down to the bus stop and waiting for his regular morning bus to get to work, it had not shown up once. He wondered what had happened to the 68X that week. Unbeknown to us as local representatives and without any communication whatsoever to the people using this service, Dublin Bus had cancelled it overnight. It gave no notice or communication. Eventually, it replied to my representations and directed me to a statement in which it had announced this withdrawal. Dublin Bus issued this statement one week after the 68X service had been cancelled. I was absolutely lost for words and will instead read the words of one of my constituents:

This whole episode is embarrassing, subpar and really needs investigating and some strong inputs from our Minister for Transport. If left unactioned, where is the next cut going to be? How might that affect the next group of employees trying to get to work and pay their taxes? Can you raise this with Minister Ryan, please?

This communication with commuters who are trying to travel to work does not sound in any way acceptable. I will certainly raise this with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who I am sure will raise it with the NTA.

Transport Costs

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Question:

69. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Transport if there is scope to extend the half-price public transport for young people to include more age groups; the take-up of the half-price public transport for young people to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30453/22]

I am asking about the initiatives that have reduced public transport fares, especially the initiative to extend half-price public transport for young people. That is effectively 70%, because it is 50% after a 20% general reduction. Is the Department giving consideration to extending that to other age groups, such as young adults who have just left college and are taking up their first jobs? What has been the take-up of the half-price public transport measure for young people?

The young adult card was launched on PSO services on 9 May, with more than 1,000 applications received by the NTA on the launch day alone. We are currently working on broadening the initiative to include commercial bus services, with the aim to have that in place before the return of third level colleges. This will mean that, nationwide, those aged between 19 and 23 will be able to avail of an average 50% discount in their public transport fares.

The initiative, as the Deputy will know, is aimed at supporting our young people to establish strong and sustainable mobility habits. Setting public transport fares at appropriate levels is key to achieving this objective. I am pleased to say that since April, when a further 20% reduction in PSO fares was introduced, all passengers under the age of 24 in possession of a Leap card now travel on PSO services at significantly reduced rates.

Under the TFI 90-minute fares scheme, a young adult aged between 19 and 23 pays just €1 to travel for up to 90 minutes on Dublin Bus, Luas and most DART, commuter rail and Go-Ahead Ireland services in Dublin, while a child pays just 65 cent for the same trip. Child fares are available to everyone under 16 and to those aged between 16 and 18 when paying with a personalised Leap card. For those paying with cash, the child fare is only applicable to under-16s. As such, I strongly recommend that those in the 16- to 18-year age bracket apply for their personalised Leap cards which can be done easily on leapcard.ie.

In response to the Deputy's question regarding the uptake of the young adult card, it is important to stress that the initiative has only been up and running for a matter of weeks. After a reasonable period of time, the NTA will carry out detailed research to determine its full impact. I will report that in May alone, the number of people who had a child Leap card, student Leap card or the new young adult Leap card increased by more than 16,000, which is extremely encouraging.

The Minister of State spoke about the scheme being extended to commercial bus services. When does she anticipate that will happen? This scheme is for those aged between 19 and 23. Many young people have left college and are starting or already working in their first jobs. There are various categories of young people. Will the Minister of State consider extending this scheme to include those in that group? We want to encourage more people to avail of public transport. When will the scheme come into place on commercial bus services? The Minister of State referred to that in her initial response.

I welcome the Minister of State's response. I understand the need to carry out further research when the scheme is bedded in. Two or three weeks ago, I raised the need to ensure certainty for the second half of the academic year in 2023. I encourage the Government to make a policy decision on ongoing fare reductions, as long as it is sustainable to do so, as I outlined in my prior remarks on the subject. To pick up on Deputy O'Donnell's point about private operators, there is a fantastic operator in my constituency, alongside our Local Link services and the Swords Express. Private operators are at a significant disadvantage when fares are reduced for public transport providers. Regardless of who owns the service, they are providing a public service. We should offer fare reductions across the board and include those private operators.

This is a welcome initiative. In the budget, the Government did much to focus on young people, including changes to the Student Universal Support Ireland grant for those going to college, free contraception for young women and this youth public transport card, which is offered at a substantially discounted rate. As we approach the next budget and budgetary discussions begin, should we look at extending this beyond the 19- to 23-year-old age cohort, as my colleague, Deputy O'Donnell, said? I would be interested to see if there is cause to extend this to renters who, as we all know, are struggling with the cost of living. Would the Government consider that as part of the budget for 2023?

I thank Deputies for their comments on this. It is clear that we need to look at ways to encourage more people to use public transport. That is an aim and objective of Government. We will look at the NTA's research on it. We can all see the positives anecdotally before even seeing that research. This will be broadened to include commercial operators as quickly as possible. The NTA is currently assessing the deployment options. A working group has been established to expedite the roll-out of this scheme to commercial bus operators.

Obviously, we cannot expect decisions to be made today, but will the Minister of State commit to speaking with her colleague, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, about extending the age groups covered by the scheme? It could have significant value if it was extended to those aged up to 25. The Minister of State spoke about extending the general scheme, which includes the 20% PSO fare reduction, to commercial operations. Will she be extending that to commercial routes and operators in general? It is important to have consistency in these schemes.

I will raise the expansion of these services with the Minister. He is also looking at the matter. This all comes down to budgetary constraints. The youth travel card has been extended to commercial bus operators. There are currently no plans relating to the 20% PSO.

Transport Policy

Neasa Hourigan

Question:

70. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Transport the measures that his Department is taking to curb new sales of larger cars given the environmental and road user safety issues with such vehicles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30620/22]

Brian Leddin

Question:

91. Deputy Brian Leddin asked the Minister for Transport the steps that he is taking to address the uptake and sales of larger, heavier, energy inefficient vehicles on roads, their impact on road safety and health outcomes of road traffic collisions and the liveability of town and city centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30699/22]

What measures will the Department take to curb the sales of larger cars, considering the environmental and road safety issues with such vehicles?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 70 and 91 together.

My Department is currently focused on delivering a number of existing measures in our climate action plan, sustainable mobility policy and road safety strategy, none of which propose the introduction of a curb on new vehicle sales on the basis of a vehicle's size. However, our existing approach to the taxation of motor vehicles through vehicle registration tax, VRT, is already designed to encourage a shift to improved emissions performance and my Department continues to engage with the Department of Finance on further possible improvements. I note that budget 2021 introduced a revised charging structure for VRT bands based on the new worldwide harmonised light vehicle test procedure, WLTP, emissions test to better reflect real driving data, which follows the introduction of a nitrogen oxide surcharge in budget 2020.

I am also aware of recent studies which reflect the fact that while the standards imposed on vehicle manufacturers have led to an overall reduction in tailpipe emissions in new vehicles, an increasing trend towards the purchase of larger vehicle models can bring significant environmental and air quality risks with the increased shedding of toxic particulate matter through increased tyre wear. This is a risk which may also apply to heavier electric vehicle models.

Given the increased risk to vulnerable and other road users involved in collisions with heavier vehicles, I believe we need to take a wider holistic approach and shift to more sustainable transport modes and reduce our level of private car use more generally, which will improve overall well-being and make our urban centres more attractive places to live.

My Department’s recently published sustainable mobility policy and Five Cities Demand Management Study sets out the vision and actions we will take. I recently established a leadership group and delivery team to oversee and drive implementation of the sustainable mobility policy and delivery of its action plan over the next three years.

I thank the Minister of State. There are some encouraging points. Realistically, the current scheme for reducing larger vehicle numbers is not working. Sales of sports utility vehicles, SUVs, are going through the roof. SUVs emit more pollution. They are more likely to hit pedestrians and are more likely to cause serious injury. We need to curb the sales of SUVs, especially in built-up areas. Other jurisdictions are looking at this. Authorities in Washington DC want to charge residents more for heavy trucks and SUVs, including for all the reasons that the Minister of State mentioned, such as particulates. That is a perfect example of why electric cars are not the panacea we think they are. There has been much talk in here tonight about encouraging people to use public transport. There has been a lot of strong support for public transport, the measures to cut fares and to incentivise public transport. We need a carrot and a stick. We need to get serious about the ever-growing size of SUVs and do something that actually works to reduce them, while also continuing with the carrot of public transport, which we have all supported this evening.

We need to re-evaluate the carrot approach in order to remove people from larger electric vehicles. The electric equivalent of even the smallest combustion engine car on the market is heavier and that applies in the vast majority of cases. The approach of using existing taxation to help people to purchase a particular car because that is their tax point, as well as the taxation effect that affects the ability of people in the upper echelons to purchase a vehicle, needs to be re-evaluated as the State's means of discouraging people from purchasing larger cars. It needs significant research. It would be premature for us to start talking about those discussions. I stress that I am talking about electric vehicles, not petrol or diesel vehicles.

I hate to disagree with my more learned colleagues on this subject, but I know a little about it too.

We need to be careful not to scare people away from the remedy to our issue, the emissions. The way to do it is by electric vehicles. Whether the car is large or small, it needs its space on the road. More importantly, at the present time we need to encourage car users and owners to move in that direction in the knowledge that we are doing something to reduce emissions and doing it now.

I thank the Deputies. It is clear from their contributions that we need to take a wider holistic approach to this. We are doing an awful lot in respect of public transport and active travel. There was a question today, for which the Deputy was not present, about electric vehicle charging points and the roll-out of charging infrastructure. It is very clear that a large part of reducing emissions here will be the roll-out of electric vehicles particularly for people in rural Ireland who may not always have access to public transport.

On the VRT charge on cars, it is calculated using carbon dioxide emissions. The higher the car's emissions, the more VRT is payable. It is also important to acknowledge new research indicating that almost 2,000 times more particle pollution is produced by tire wear than is pumped out of exhausts of modern cars. This is new research that we all need to take on board. The Fit for 55 package of measures includes a proposal to revise the carbon dioxide emissions standards for cars and light goods vehicles as currently set out in EU regulation 2019/631. The Commission has proposed an outright ban from 2035 on the sale of new ICE cars and vans coupled with a strengthening of emissions reductions targets for vehicle manufacturers ahead of that date. A number of measures are coming in at EU level as well, further reducing carbon dioxide emissions and stimulating a wider deployment of zero emissions vehicles by triggering manufacturers to increase the supply of zero emissions vehicles.

The best thing we can do is not go electric. Particularly in urban environments, the best thing we can do is support active transport and public transport, things this Government is doing. Supporting public transport runs into road blocks when we have bigger and bigger cars on the road which are taking up the spaces buses and bikes should be in and contributing to pollution and traffic than people on buses or bikes will. We are supporting public and active transport. Everyone here has been arguing for that in their questions since I came into the Chamber tonight. We need to do more. As well providing support, we need to be looking at the harm that is being caused by more and more vehicles, which are getting larger and larger, on our roads. They are having a serious deleterious effect. They need to be addressed at the same time as all the sustainability, public transport and activity transport work that we are doing and that is welcome.

Electric vehicles play a central role in COP 21 with a target of 175,000 EVs on our roads by 2025 and 945,000 EVs on the road by 2030. There are currently more than 58,000 EVs registered on Irish roads. That is since the end of April 2022. By 2030, the abatement impact for an additional 845,000 passenger EVs is estimated to be about 2.5 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. This figure is informed by the Department of Transport's modelling of the projected car fleet profile for the climate action plan 2021. It is important to say that it is a combination of measures, a multi-modal transport system, including public transport, active travel and electric vehicles. Road safety is obviously critical to that. We have a very ambitious road safety plan. All of those measures are going to be important to have a sustainable transport network. It is not just one form of transport that will see us meeting our climate emissions reductions.

Dublin Airport Authority

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

71. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Transport if he raised concerns with the Dublin Airport Authority in relation to the high volume of security staff who were let go over the past two years; if he expressed concern that letting staff go during this period was unfair and opportunistic; and if he raised the likely scenario that this would affect Dublin Airport’s ability to deal with a full return to aviation activity. [30616/22]

Bernard Durkan

Question:

76. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport the way and the reason that the Dublin Airport Authority was able to qualify for the employment wage subsidy scheme while at the same time making employees redundant while also launching a recruitment campaign; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30690/22]

Duncan Smith

Question:

89. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Transport the role that his Department had in the approval of the voluntary redundancy schemes implemented by the Dublin Airport Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30650/22]

Has the Minister raised concerns with the DAA in respect of the high volume of security staff who were let go over the past two years? Has she expressed concern that letting staff go during this period was unfair and opportunistic? Has she raised the likely scenario that this would affect Dublin Airport's ability to deal with a full return to aviation activity?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 71, 76 and 89 together.

The DAA introduced a voluntary severance scheme, VSS, during the summer of 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 crisis as part of the cost-cutting measures deemed necessary to secure the continued viability of the company. This was at a time when the DAA was losing €1 million per day, passenger traffic was substantially reduced, and there was uncertainty around the timing of a recovery with 2019 levels of passengers not envisaged until 2024 or 2025.

The DAA took a number of measures to address its cost base of which payroll was its largest cost. At the time all staff were working a four day week and salaries were reduced to 80% from normal levels, giving rise to significant savings. However, even with these temporary measures in place and given the dramatic fall in passenger numbers, the DAA advised that it needed to urgently reduce staff numbers to align with the reduced volume of business. The DAA was seeking to avoid the need for compulsory redundancies, wholesale lay-offs and permanent reductions to pay which it was ultimately successful in achieving.

Given the extremely serious situation that the DAA was in, at the height of the pandemic in 2020, the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform approved the terms and conditions of the VSS proposed by the DAA as required under the code of practice for the governance of State bodies. The VSS was closed to new applicants in December 2020 and the DAA did not start any significant external recruitment until quarter 3 of 2021 as public health restrictions on travel began to be partially lifted.

It is quite clear with the benefit of hindsight, at least, that the DAA cut too deep. I would argue that it should have been better informed and prepared and have had better foresight of what the prospective return to aviation would look like. There is a clear charge, which I think is a logical and substantiated one, that this was opportunistic. The nature of the cuts by the DAA was not haphazard but deliberately targeted at the highest earners with the most experience. That had a direct impact on the ability of the organisation to ramp up capacity. What involvement did the Minister of State have in that decision making process? Did she agree with the DAA's analysis? Did she have to sign off on those measures?

I would be concerned about the way in which it was handled. It was quite possible to project forward what would be required in the future, knowing what had prevailed and knowing as well that there were considerably generous subventions from Government to ensure that positions of employment were retained and the service was able to continue in the face of serious trading challenges. What really takes me to the fair is the bit where at the end of the day, it would appear that the DAA was declaring people redundant while at the same time it was recruiting other people to replace them, presumably at a lesser rate. When the time came to facilitate the passengers, they were left stranded, bunged up at the airport with nowhere to go. They could not get in or out, or move forwards or backwards.

It has been clear in the past couple of weeks that the DAA's effort to rightsize its workforce — to use its word — was not about reducing the overall numbers because it has since said it is trying to hire at the pre-pandemic level. Therefore, it was about reducing the levels of pay and the terms and conditions. The question we are asking today, which is important, is whether the Minister of State, the Minister for Transport or the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform raised any flags. The long-term goal of the DAA never changed. It is still moving ahead with its north runway and still has projections for 40 million-plus passengers moving through the terminals in eight, nine or ten years. Its long-term goals always remain the same, as do its infrastructure investment goals. Its staffing level will now be the same, but with staff on reduced pay and worse conditions. It is clear that the Government did not call it out on that.

The difficulty many of us have, which we have articulated here or at meetings of the committee over recent weeks, is that whatever about the redundancies offered in 2020, the DAA knew by 2021 that it was looking at an uptake in numbers. Therefore, it was completely illogical for it to have 1,400 passengers miss flights in May 2022 as a result of its inaction over the previous 12 months. It just does not make any sense. Representatives of the DAA told us at one point during the course of last week or the week before that it did not know how many passengers were going to show up. I do not like using foul language and am not going to, but that is BS and they know it. For them to tell us they did not know how many passengers were going to show up when they had seats and slots booked and airlines expanding their routes just makes no sense. Therefore, there is more to this than we are being told or the DAA representatives let on before the committee.

I commend the Deputies, including my constituency colleague, for the questions put because this matter is really troublesome. I said two weeks ago in this Chamber that I would have serious concerns about the operations at Dublin Airport if the response I have mentioned was the response to a crisis and if 1,400 people missed out on their flights because of a failure to do the very basic thing, which is airport operations.

I thank the Deputies. As I said in response to a previous question, what happened on 31 May at Dublin Airport was completely unacceptable and fell well below the standards expected. We have engaged in our weekly meetings on this. The DAA has put in place a plan and presented it to the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. It is critical that the DAA, which has statutory responsibility to operate and manage Dublin Airport, including in respect of required staffing levels, security staffing and the screening of staff who are needed, does what is required of it.

On the VSS, the terms and conditions are agreed by the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. That is required under the code of practice. However, regarding the number of staff targeted under the scheme, staffing levels are a matter for the DAA. Ministers or Governments do not run airports; that is the statutory responsibility of the DAA. That is what I have said at my meetings. When I met the chair of the DAA, I was very clear that the authority needs to restore the confidence of the travelling public to ensure everyone who turns up at the airport gets their flight on time. That is the role of the authority. I continue to be clear about that.

When we had representatives of the DAA before us, they said they were relying on information from the best sources they could get, including the Minister of State's Department. Therefore, I will ask my question again: did the Minister of State agree with the DAA's analysis of the nature of the recovery? If so and if she was relying on the same evidence from her Department, does it mean its mechanism or market analysis needs to be reviewed?

The other question I asked was on Deputy Naughton's oversight, as Minister of State, with the Minister for Transport, of the redundancy package. What was her involvement? Did she share the DAA's objective on it?

On the Minister of State's weekly meetings, the end of the month is when the DAA says it will be on track regarding its staffing complement. We had concerning scenes at Dublin Airport in recent days in that there were very fine margins. How many security staff are currently employed?

I was very clear on the role of the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The terms and conditions of the VSS were approved by both Ministers.

On staffing levels, the take-up under the VSS is completely a matter for the DAA. It runs the airport. It is looking at projections for passenger numbers. It is predicted that the return to the levels of 2019 will be in 2024 or 2025, but that is a matter for the DAA. It runs the airport, not the Department and certainly not Ministers. In fact, it would not be appropriate for a Minister to intervene in the operations of a commercial State body. That is the DAA's function.

To put the matter in context, the CEO said at the meeting of the joint committee that if he knew at the time what he knew now, he would not have made the decisions, but they certainly involved operational and management matters for the DAA. The Minister for Transport and I engage weekly with the DAA on the roll-out of the plan.

Since October 2021, 346 of the 370 additional security staff identified as required have been recruited, and the DAA expects to fill the remainder of the roles by the end of June. These figures were provided to me by the DAA. Of the 346 staff in place, 96 are still in training and these will be incrementally deployed as they complete their training and are certified. I have been told that once the 370 staff are deployed, which is to be by mid-July, the DAA's security staff level will be the equivalent of that of 2019. Again, these are operational issues for the DAA. Ensuring that passengers travelling through the airport make their flights on time is its role and responsibility. I have been categoric with the chair and management on that.

I appreciate that the body charged with running the airport is the ultimate authority. Unfortunately, it did not seem to plan for what was happening and what everybody knew what is happening. The effect of Covid was that certain payments were made that were to be made to many employers throughout the country. A generous subsidy was invoked. However, it would appear that the airport authority seems to think it has got away with what occurred and walked clear and that it was able to explain it away. I would not advise a repetition of the performance, because it was not good enough. It would not reflect well on the country's ability to run a major company, particularly a very busy airport.

The Minister of State has said in response to parliamentary questions this evening and at other times that the responsibility and priority of the Minister and Department is to ensure passengers' efficient travel through the airport. It has to be more than that, however, because we have to look out for the workers and the facility. Air travel is being driven by the low-cost airlines, which want to drive down the cost of flights and airport charges. If that happens, there will be underinvestment in our airport's facilities, infrastructure and staff and we will end up with terminal buildings that are just like sheds, with lines that stretch right down to the Cloughran roundabout and beyond. That is not where we need to or should go. Air travel should not be a race to the bottom. I am using the phrase in the broadest sense. We should value the workers and air travel. The aviation industry has a responsibility regarding the climate, employment and driving economic recovery and success in this country. That is where the bar has to be for the Minister of State, the Minister for Transport and the Government in general.

I agree with the Deputy on ensuring we have a functioning airport.

It is not just about people getting their flights, although that is an absolute because it is the key service, it is also about staffing. It is about ensuring that the infrastructure is in good repair. It is about a whole range of issues that the DAA is well equipped to deal with, given that it knows both its role and function. I am ensuring that, through these meetings, this continues to happen.

I absolutely agree with the Deputy that the DAA fell way below the standards. What happened is unacceptable, particularly on the weekend of 31 May, and we need to ensure it does not reoccur. That is my point. We are all on the same page. The DAA is on the same page with regard to ensuring that we have a successful airport that is safe for everybody, namely, those who work there and those who pass through it.

We have one minute left for the question and the answer.

There is no point repeating the question. On the DAA, we all accept that it was a disaster and that the authority is paying for some of the sins of the past. The Minister of State referred to mid-July. Does that mean that by mid-July every one of the additional 370 staff previously identified as being needed will be in place, trained and certified? Anybody who has been in the airport recently will have noticed that it is getting by on a wing and a prayer. There is a sense that every other service, from cleaning to everything else, has probably fallen to one side, whether people are flying in or flying out.

The marquees in terminal 1 and elsewhere are covering up the disorganised chaos we saw that Sunday in May. It is now organised chaos. While 1,400 people might not have missed their flights, turnaround times at the airport are unreasonably long because the DAA still does not have the necessary staff. The end of the month is rapidly approaching. A commitment from the Government and from the Minister to really ramp up the pressure on the DAA in regard to what we might expect in July is of key importance at this stage.

In the context of the 370 staff, the DAA has told me that they should be deployed by mid-July and that, at that point, it should have security staffing levels equivalent to 2019. Again, I want to reassure Deputies of my engagement and that of the Minister with the management and with the chair of the DAA in this regard. It is about increasing security staffing in particular at the airport in order to relieve pressure. There are contingency plans in place through the triaging that the DAA feels will be adequate in ensuring passengers will be able to make their flights on time. We will continue to monitor this.

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