I am grateful for the invitation to address the committee.
The aims and objectives of the NTA focus on the development of public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure and the supporting services nationally to achieve greater sustainability in transport usage, thereby enhancing the environment and people's quality of life.
In seeking to reduce transport emissions, there are three key areas to tackle: avoiding or reducing travel; shifting travel to sustainable modes; and improving vehicle technology to reduce emissions. The following sections address those areas within the ambit of the NTA. On reducing or avoiding the need to travel, Project 2040 is an important step in establishing the principle of integrating land use and transport planning to reduce travel demand. The plan places a key emphasis on enabling people to live closer to where they work, moving away from the current unsustainable trends of increased commuting, securing more compact forms of urban development in all types of settlements and regenerating rural Ireland by promoting environmentally sustainable growth patterns. Consolidation of development and the reduction of unsustainable car-based commuting are critical if a reduction in transport-related emissions is to be achieved.
The NTA's Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016–2035, while it predated Project 2040, has the same objective and sets out a detailed plan for transport infrastructural development and complementary measures to support a shift to sustainable modes. The NTA is obliged to review this strategy every six years, and the first review is under way. This review must take into account any new policy and Government objectives, such as the targets set for the reduction in carbon emissions. The NTA will have a draft strategy developed and public consultation on it commenced by quarter 3 of this year.
The NTA has also developed a transport strategy for Galway city and the Cork metropolitan area in association with the city and county councils for those areas. We are working with the regional cities of Limerick and Waterford to produce integrated transport strategies, all with the objective of supporting the consolidation of development close to existing and proposed public transport links, and improving the public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure to encourage modal shift.
On shifting to sustainable travel, the work of the NTA has many facets that together aim to improve the offer and attractiveness of walking, cycling and using public transport to effect modal change and enable the transport system to operate more effectively. We recognise, however, that the quality of our public transport services has to take a significant leap forward to meet the demand for travel in the future and support the economic growth of the country.
Under the national development plan, €8.6 billion has been allocated towards sustainable transport measures. The three largest projects are MetroLink, the DART+ programme and BusConnects. Strategies are also in place to deliver much-improved cycling infrastructure in our cities. The investment is now being made by the Government. It will see an acceleration in the delivery of that vital infrastructure by local authorities.
All three of the major programmes - MetroLink, DART+ and BusConnects Dublin - have been progressed to the extent that, subject to Government approval, the railway order planning process will be commenced later this year for MetroLink and for the electrification of the first DART+ line. The planning process for BusConnects Dublin bus corridors will also commence later this year, if approved by the Government.
Galway City Council has commenced many of the projects that make up BusConnects Galway. The NTA has appointed specialist teams to redesign the bus network in Cork and to commence the designs for bus priority measures. The NTA is also working with Transport Infrastructure Ireland on the identification of an alignment for the proposed Luas for Cork, which could be developed if the densification of development in Cork city occurs.
On improving the bus fleet, the NTA is committed to a transition of the urban bus fleet to low- and zero-emission vehicles. The NTA has a framework contract in place for diesel electric hybrid double deck buses and has ordered 280 of these buses to be operated by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. The first 100 of these vehicles have been delivered and are being commissioned, and they will be operating in Dublin and Galway shortly. The authority is completing the procurement of single-deck, fully electric vehicles and has published the tender for fully electric double-deck vehicles. The authority has also purchased three hydrogen-fuelled electric buses, which Bus Éireann will operate to trial this technology. While the battery technology has advanced significantly in recent years to enable longer bus trips in an urban context without requiring a recharge in service, the future fuelling of long-distance coach travel in an environmentally sustainable way is challenging because of the distances involved.
On the rail fleet, electrification substantially reduces the use of fossil fuels in public transport. There has been significant progress with the introduction of the DART and Luas, and the national development plan provides for further such public investment in the greater Dublin area. We are working with Iarnród Éireann on the DART+ programme. We are prioritising the purchase of fleet in this programme, which will add much-needed capacity to commuter rail services. It is proposed to purchase battery electric hybrid train carriages as part of the initial order. They can operate without the electrification of the lines and can then switch over to fully electric vehicles when line electrification has been delivered. It is planned, subject to Government approval, to place the first order in quarter 2 of this year.
With regard to other improvements, while the focus on this statement has been on meeting travel demand in the cities, because this is where the investment could return the largest modal shift, the authority continues to work on improving the Local Link rural bus services and the supporting infrastructure across the State. Connecting Ireland is the NTA's programme to address the gaps in connections to local and regional centres in rural areas and to allow for the possibility of access to local services without the need for a car. It is proposed to finalise the network of services on a county-by-county basis in consultation with local authorities and to undertake a full public consultation on the proposals commencing in quarter 3 this year. As resources allow, we will implement the final proposals. It is also planned to transition to low- and zero-emission fleet wherever practicable in these areas. The pilot operation of an electric bus on routes in Dingle will assist us in the development of those plans.
Transformation of the transport sector is vital to enable Ireland's transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy. This must be achieved notwithstanding the context of a recovering economy after the pandemic, with an increasing number of transport trips being generated every year. To achieve this aim, significant investment is needed in our public transport infrastructure and services, in addition to sustainable transport measures to promote walking and cycling as carbon-neutral ways of travelling. The NTA will continue to work towards promoting mode shift to public transport, walking and cycling and investing in the infrastructure and services necessary to achieve this. I thank the committee.