Thank you, Chairman, and members of the committee for giving members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions the opportunity to present their views on future developments in the bus industry. As I have supplied to members a detailed submission, I do not intend to read it through. I want to focus on some of the key points made in the submission and I will be happy to take any questions that may arise.
It has been widely recognised that public transport is a very important public service. Members of the committee will be aware that a number of bodies have made significant comments on the importance of public transport as a public utility and an economic tool which ensures that people have an opportunity to work and participate in society. This point has been made in the first section of the submission.
I want to turn to the future of bus based transport in the greater Dublin area. As members will be aware, this has been the subject of much media comment, including in both in the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister, Deputy Brennan, has proposed to franchise out 25% of Dublin Bus's current activity, with annual progress thereafter to a fully franchised market in the Dublin area. Any fair analysis of the Minister's proposals will recognise that two of the most important aspects of public transport are missed in his proposal, namely, investment and integration, two vital elements in any successful public transport system.
The Minister proposes, in effect, to privatise the system. Privatisation will not remedy the problems caused by decades of under-investment. Every country in the developed world invests significantly in its public transport system. Even though the level of investment here is growing, it remains considerably lower than in other European countries. The average level of investment in the European Union is 50% of operating costs as against 30% in the case of Dublin Bus.
On the question of integration, one of the benchmarks used to measure the effectiveness of public transport systems is the degree to which modes and ticketing are integrated. The objective should be to establish the administrative system which most facilitates the synchronisation of rail, bus, taxi and other road transport, extending to the rules governing the apportionment of road space. Any citizen should be able to traverse this city using different modes on one integrated ticket. Far from remedying the current inadequacies in this regard, the Minister's proposals will serve to make the situation much worse by segregating providers through dismantling CIE and introducing a plethora of private operators. There is wide comment on the actual cost of the dismantling of CIE. Some people reckon it will be quite substantial.
The Minister's proposals claim to have two versions. The first is the question of choice for consumers and, second, the promotion of competition which will provide better value for money for taxpayers. My colleagues and I have studied these proposals in detail and there is no objective basis for any such assumption. On the issue of choice, a public transport user will not be able to choose between a service provided by Dublin Bus and another operated by the private sector. The proposal would give the private sector monopoly rights to run a service previously operated by the State provider. It can hardly be argued credibly by any member of the committee that the travelling public will be better served by a private rather than a public sector monopoly.
On value for money, I would like to use an example to illustrate the point I wish to make. If a driver employed by a private company were to make the journey from, say, Palmerstown through Ballyfermot and on to Sandymount - the current No. 18 bus route - through rush hour traffic, will the private sector operator be able, through rush hour traffic, to run that service quicker and better than a Dublin Bus driver? I contend they would not. It could do it cheaper if drivers were paid less and had no or inferior pension rights, fewer holidays, worked longer hours without overtime and did not have the right to articulate their grievances through a trade union. Aside from the concern for standards and conditions of employment, what would be the longer term consequences for quality and standard of service? It might not be much cheaper for transport users who would have to pay for the duplication, triplication and more of the administrative structures which would come about as a result of the Minister's proposals. We, as a trade union movement, are not opposed to the concept of competition. We have embraced and dealt with it in many other sectors. However, we are opposed to unfair competition. We are in favour of fair competition but opposed to unfair competition. The Minister's proposals are profoundly unfair.
Cities like Paris and Toronto - I do not know if members of the committee have visited these cities; I visited one of them - have long and effective public transport systems provided by State owned enterprises which work extremely well. It is absolute nonsense to suggest that privatising buses will magically produce a better transport service for Dublin and its citizens. What is important is generating the conditions in which public transport can thrive and provide an even better service and addressing the fundamental issues of under-investment and integration and critically important while, at the same time, working to ensure that measures are promoted which will ensure buses can move efficiently in a congested city.
While we were asked to comment on the question of bus based transport outside the greater Dublin area, before I move on to that issue I want to refer to one other red herring, that is, the Minister's proposals being a requirement under EU regulations. People who have been following this topic will know that there is no such requirement at EU level. There are two regulations under discussion in the Council and the Commission that purport to make some reform under the co-decision making process. The Minister's proposals go way beyond these proposed reforms. Last month the European Commission produced a Green Paper on the service of general interest - public sector speaks for its public services - which could profoundly affect the way member states are allowed to provide public services. The Minister is rushing ahead of the game. His contention that this regulation will be brought upon us by Europe has no factual basis.
Turning to the question of bus based transport outside the greater Dublin area, we have not commented very much on this issue because there are no real proposals to reform the existing service. The Department of Transport commissioned Steers Davies Gleave to make recommendations in this regard. Media speculation has almost put an end to these proposals. However, we have offered comments in this submission which we also made to the Department in respect of comments in the Steers Davies Gleave report. A couple of points on how we proceed from here are contained in the submission.
We recognise that change is inevitable. Congress was to the fore in preparing for that change in suggesting under the PPF that we establish the public transport partnership forum. The forum came forward with suggestions in respect of how the situation might be reformed but the Minister has turned his face against the social partners' suggestions, as is his right. However, during the discussions which resulted in the national agreement, Sustaining Progress, we sought an overall commitment on the State's role in the economy. The Government did not accede to our demands. However, we did receive a commitment from the Taoiseach to a protocol and engagement on matters relating to State companies based on certain provisions. These are extremely important provisions in that they are commitments from the Taoiseach.
We should have a strategy for sharing information and analysis about issues and options facing each major State company and sector in which it operates. This should include systematic learning from the experience of other countries as a guide to dealing with issues that may arise. The engagement should be such that the Government's thinking is shared at the earliest appropriate opportunity and that our policy will in all cases be based on serving the public interests, in particular in meeting the needs of people to best effect without any ideological assumption as to what corporate structure or strategy best meets this objective. All of this engagement should be based on a recognition that public interest is best served by a culture of innovation, flexibility and cost effectiveness in the operation of our State companies.
Only last week the Taoiseach reiterated this commitment to these principles during his address to congress during a conference. I ask members to examine how these commitments fit with the Minister's current policy of pressing ahead with his proposals regardless of the views of the social partners as outlined inThe Irish Times some time ago. The Taoiseach declared he has no intention of pursuing a policy which will erode the wages and conditions of public transport employees in some sort of race to the bottom to reduce operating costs. The reality is that this would be the inevitable consequence of the implementation of the Minister’s plans. There are no proposals of any detail about how this pernicious development could be avoided. What we require is a process where everyone could re-establish trust and where everyone could roll up their sleeves to find an honest solution to the difficulties we face. We are more than capable and willing to enter such dialogue.
The final part of my submission is a quotation from a journalist inThe Irish Times whose recent experience on Dublin Bus speaks for itself. He talks about the improvement in service, the good job being done by CIE and Dublin Bus. I contend he is right. It is important we do not dismantle the good work being done in this area by Dublin Bus, CIE and other State companies simply because the Minister wants to pursue an ideological objective of his own.