Bus Unions: Presentation.

I am pleased to welcome Mr. Liam Berney, industrial officer, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Mr. Jack O'Connor, vice-president, SIPTU, Mr. Roger Hannon, Irish representative of the Transport Salaried Staff Association and Mr. Hugh Geraghty, secretary, CIE group of unions. You are all very welcome. Everyone present should ensure their mobile phones are switched off.

While members of the committee have absolute privilege, the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the long standing parliamentary practice that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Perhaps Mr. Berney will commence the presentation for which ten minutes will be allowed.

Mr. Liam Berney

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.

I welcome members of the group before us and thank them for their comprehensive presentation. Everyone agrees that bus transport has the potential, in the short-term, to relieve the congestion on our city streets in Dublin. The group is correct in saying the two key elements are investment and integration. They are vitally important. The group makes the point in relation to integration and the abolition of CIE that one cannot have integration with three separate companies. Is it not the case that the RPA has been given responsibility for integration and integrated ticketing?

The group might elaborate on the claims regarding the letters of comfort and their having a significant cost on the Exchequer. Perhaps the biggest fear facing the unions regarding the break-up of the CIE company is that it would weaken their ability to have large scale disruption of the public transport sector. Perhaps that is the big concern of the unions. Perhaps the delegation would comment on that. On tendering out and private operators coming into the system, 25% of operations in Dusseldorf are run by private operators. The figure for Flanders in Belgium is 45%. Is not the key issue whether we go for reduced cost and reduced level of service or increased investment and improved quality for the consumer? If we had a tendering out of 25% of the routes and services while maintaining the current complement of staff and buses within Dublin Bus for the enhancement of existing services and the development of new ones, it would be benefit to the consumer in that there would be an additional 25% capacity within the system. Do you feel that is the way the Minister is going on the tendering out of services?

On services outside Dublin, it is my understanding from the report that you will have four different tiers of organisation involved in regulation. There will be a regulator in Galway, Cork and Waterford for the regional cities; there will be a countrywide regulator regulating all services outside Dublin and an overall regulator controlling services within Dublin and outside it and on top of all that the Department. Do you believe that will result in the consumer having to pay an additional cost? I will give one example of where the service is currently working well. There are three operators on the intercity services between Galway and Dublin. They are providing an enhanced level of service for the consumer. If the recommendations of this report were implemented would it be the case that one operator would provide the type of service currently being provided by three operators?

I, too, welcome members of the delegation and thank them for their presentation which provides much needed balance to the debate on public transport. I hope our colleagues in the media are taking on board the well thought out points made here this morning. To date, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, has had the pitch to himself with support from many sectors in the media on the assumption that competition of itself has to be a good thing. There is no evidence that introducing the kind of competition he suggests, which is not real competition, it is a privatisation of services in the Dublin region, is going to be of any benefit to the travelling public. There is no basis for what he is trying to do other than an ideological hang-up with the notion of privatisation. I agree that this issue should be approached on the basis of what is in the best interest of the travelling public and what lessons can be learned from the mistakes that have been made in other cities.

I also think there is a problem with the image of public transport. Often the decision makers in Leinster House and those in the media have the least experience in terms of using public transport. I very much welcome the comments by Fintan O'Toole, as a regular bus user. There is no doubt but that bus services in the Dublin area have improved enormously in recent years. Only a modest level of subvention was provided in this area at one time. The Minister has failed to grasp the critical principle in relation to public transport that one simply cannot have good public transport unless it is adequately subvented. I note from the presentation that the average subvention rate is 50% in other European cities while it is less than 30% here. That is why we do not have an adequate service.

The issue of congestion was also raised. The delegation made that point very well. The biggest obstacle to good public transport in this city is traffic congestion. Obviously a private operator cannot travel any faster than a public one. What is the most urgent thing that needs to be done to tackle the traffic congestion problem in Dublin? Irrespective of the operator, it is a huge obstacle to efficient public transport. What in your view should the Minister do to tackle that problem? ICTU says it is not opposed to competition and it wants fair competition in the Dublin area. What the Minister proposes obviously is not fair competition. Does congress have in mind a particular model? Is it thinking in terms of something that has been tried and works in some other country? I find it difficult to see how the mix would work in the Dublin context.

Commitments have been made by the Minister for Transport to engage in consultation with the unions. Regrettably he announced this plan as afait accompli without going through the normal agreed procedures and without bringing the unions along with him. His announcement at the end of last year to the public transport forum came by way of diktat rather than as a result of consultation with the people involved in the industry.

What communication has there been between the unions and the Minister since then? Is he engaging with the unions and learning from the experience of people who represent those who are working in the front line of public transport? Is ICTU hopeful in respect of that process?

As Deputy Naughten said, most people would agree that bus services outside Dublin have improved as a result of competition. I accept that the same model cannot be applied in Dublin. There is a lot of concern about the lack of proper regulation. There is a vague system of regulation within the Department. Bus Éireann has applied to operate new routes where there is an obvious demand and yet it was told it could not operate the service and the service is given to a private operator. In your view, what kind of regulation is required?

I join my colleagues in welcoming Mr. Berney and his colleagues. It adds to the committee's sum total of knowledge and appreciation of this issue. I apologise to our guests because I will be leaving the meeting shortly and may not hear their full response. I compliment Mr. Berney on his constructive contribution at a recent seminar held in Limerick on public-private partnerships where he described the ICTU model.

Most people recognise that in recent years, Bus Átha Cliath and Bus Éireann have substantially improved their performance and contribution in the area of public transport. They have encouraged more people to use buses and there has been a significant increase in numbers of bus passengers, particularly on the QBCs. The improvements are welcome, especially in the light of the increased investment and subvention.

On the proposals signalled by the Minister regarding Dublin Bus, Deputy Shortall continues to use the outmoded language of privatisation. The Minister explained to this committee in very clear language that he is not proposing privatisation. As we have all come to accept in the mid-west region, it is a dual gateway, not a stopover, we should use correct language to describe what we are talking about. Franchising and competitive tendering along certain bus routes is not privatisation. Privatisation encapsulates the notion that the private sector owns and runs a service. That is completely different from what the Minister proposes. I invite the delegation to contra-argue against that proposition.

The Minister made the point very clearly I thought. I was satisfied with his response in relation to any proposal to break up the CIE group that it would not involve, as Deputy Naughten suggested, a huge cost to the Exchequer in terms of buying off letters of comfort. Obviously ICTU has a different view and I would be interested to hear the delegation's views.

Some people suggest that there can only be a proper public transport service in an urban area if there is a high level of subvention. Such a view is missing the point and is wide of the mark. If a public transport system requires a subvention in order to provide the appropriate service, that is well and good and it would have my support. I do not accept for a moment that there cannot be one without the other. If we can reach a point where there is the same or an increased level of service with the same subvention or even a lesser subvention, which satisfies both the Exchequer and the user, that is the notion to which I subscribe, but not an ideological notion that we must keep pumping money into a system.

Senator Morrissey and Deputy Healy have intimated that they wish to put questions. It is up to those who have already asked their questions to decide whether all those questions will be answered together.

I suggest the committee follow the standard procedure and take the answers for the three questions that were asked.

Mr. Berney

I will address Deputy Power's questions first as he must leave early. The question of whether to privatise is a very important one. The Minister's proposals are very much proposals for privatisation. He proposes to privatise the work of a current State company. He will take 25% of the work done by Dublin Bus and give it to the private sector and indeed will give its buses to the private sector. If that is not privatisation, I do not know what is.

On the question of the break-up of CIE and letters of comfort, this is a very complex issue. In 1986, CIE as a company was reformed and three subsidiary companies were established. There were some concerns about security of employment in that context and a commitment was written into the legislation that if a subsidiary company was to discontinue operations, the employees of that company would revert to being employees of CIE. If the Minister abolishes CIE, what happens to that guarantee? If CIE were to disappear, those employees believe they should have some right to compensation arising from the disappearance of CIE. The value of that compensation has yet to be determined and I do not intend to speculate on that.

On the question of the level of subvention, I suggest Deputy Power takes the opportunity to visit some of the cities we are talking about and see for himself the quality of the public transport systems. Such cities recognise that public transport is a very important public service because it reduces congestion and pollution. Those cities have made a value judgment that investment in public transport improves people's quality of life. The question is whether one wishes to make the same value judgment. I would argue that public transport needs increased investment if we are to reach the standards and provide the same quality of service that is provided elsewhere. It is a policy matter, a question of choice and a question of what one wants to achieve in this city and in this country. I argue that public transport can be much better but it requires increased levels of investment especially if one wants to have a European model public transport system.

Will Mr. Berney distinguish between investment and subvention?

Mr. Berney

Subvention is a form of investment. No public transport system in the world operates at a competitive level. I defy the Deputy to point out one public transport system that operates without what I would term investment. It is not a subvention. It must have that money in order to operate. It is a question of what one wants to achieve. Evidence suggests that investment is necessary if one wants a high quality public transport system.

I wish to return to the question of privatisation before Deputy Peter Power leaves. It is clear that the proposed changes constitute privatisation - there is no other word to describe it. We are not just talking about 25% of Dublin Bus's current activity as the Minister for Transport plans to franchise out the entire Dublin bus market in segments. The private sector may have monopoly rights to run these segments of the market. It will be a private sector monopoly. I challenge anyone to convince me that a private sector monopoly is better, in terms of the public interest, than a public sector monopoly.

Deputy Naughten asked about the RPA. He is correct to state that the agency has been asked to examine the question of integrated ticketing. We will have to wait to see what it comes up with.

We will not hold our breath.

Mr. Berney

I have dealt with the letters of comfort.

I was also asked about the benefits that will accrue from private operators being involved in 25% of the Dublin Bus market. Deputy Shortall mentioned the Department's engagement with the unions in that context. I remind the committee that ICTU sought the establishment of the public transport partnership forum and, in that context, spent a good deal of time trying to find a way of getting the social partners to contribute to this debate. Our statement of April 2002 set out a range of measures we believed could represent a way forward but, as I mentioned, the Minister has set his face against that.

Following his statement to the public transport partnership forum last August, the Minister invited us into discussions on his proposal and the status of the forum. During an interview he conducted withThe Irish Times in the middle of the discussions, however, he said he was pursuing his proposals regardless of the outcome of the talks. He said his ideas represented the best way forward and, on that basis, we have to regard his statement to the partnership forum as a form of going through the motions with the trade unions. The Minister said he is interested in dialogue but he pulled the plug, in the media and in public, on ongoing discussions by saying that he intends to proceed with his proposals regardless of their outcome. We have to ask ourselves what are the Minister’s real motives.

I can deal with both questions about matters outside Dublin by saying that a number of different arrangements are required for different types of public transport. The inter-urban routes are largely deregulated as they are not affected by regulations. People have sometimes decided to establish Friday services without reference to any State authority and without their actions being controlled. The system needs to be reregulated to ensure that there is fair competition between operators on the inter-urban routes. There needs to be a serious discussion about the reform of public transport in the major urban centres outside Dublin. We need to determine how public transport can thrive in such cities. ICTU has made some suggestions in that regard.

ICTU is not opposed to competition but it has not yet been convinced that it has a meaningful role to play in this sector. It will be happy to be so convinced. The proposal that has been made in the guise of competition will lead to a private sector monopoly on certain routes. I am not an economist but I have some understanding of the way competition works. A private sector monopoly, by which I mean allowing the private sector to run a monopoly service on certain routes, cannot be said to constitute competition. I question whether parliamentarians regard giving the private sector the right to run a public service on a monopoly basis as the correct thing to do. I hope I have adequately addressed the issues.

I would like Mr. Berney to answer my question about the break-up of CIE. Does he feel it will weaken the power of the unions?

Mr. Berney

I point to the industrial relations record of the CIE unions in that regard - there has been one dispute in the last 15 years. Some 15 productivity agreements have been signed by the management of the various companies and the unions. The unions have no desire to disrupt anyone; they prefer to do their business. We have been in the business of participating in arrangements since 1987. We took risks by placing the interests of the country ahead of the position of our members. It is unfair, therefore, to suggest that all we are interested in is protecting our ability to disrupt the city, as it is not what we are about. We suggested the establishment of the public transport partnership forum in the spirit of social partnership to manage change and to find a way forward in public transport. The Minister has set his face against that and is now provoking a row with the unions. Given that he invited us to a summer of discontent in the article to which I referred earlier, who is the aggressor in this matter?

I thank the delegation from the unions for making a presentation to the committee today. When the Minister was here a week or ten days ago, he said that all bus routes in Dublin, including the Stillorgan route which is supposed to be the premium route in terms of capacity, are losing money. I take a completely different view to that expressed by Mr. Berney in his answers to Deputy Peter Power's questions about privatisation. The routes in question are not being privatised; they are being franchised. Mr. Berney misunderstands that word. The private operator will not have a monopoly as he will not own the route, but he will have a franchise for a number of years.

My understanding of fair competition is that a private operator who wishes to operate on a given route, for example, from Newcastle to Lucan, has to provide infrastructure in the form of bus stops. I understand that each bus stop costs €1,000 and about 100 bus stops are involved on some of the routes. This constitutes a considerable level of investment in a public transport system on the part of a private operator. Private operators have to entice new patrons to use the route over a certain number of years in order to build it up. When I examine such figures I do not know why private operators want to invest so heavily in a system that may take a long time to provide a payback. However, they are doing so. I would like to know if Dublin Bus incurs similar costs - €1,000 per bus stop.

I wish to speak about Dublin Bus's existing routes. Can Mr. Berney clarify whether bus drivers are compensated when Dublin Bus extends an existing route by one or two bus stops? Are they paid more money for serving the extra stops? Would such an increase be paid by a private operator?

I wish to discuss benchmarking and productivity. I do not know if Mr. Berney heard Deputy Pat Rabbitte speaking on "The Last Word" yesterday evening, but I applaud what he said and the manner in which he set out his stall. He has come a long way and I ask his colleagues to try to acquire a transcript of what he said. If I understood Deputy Rabbitte's comments correctly, he said he would withhold benchmarking payments if productivity was not granted. That was the essence of what he said on the radio at 5.30 p.m. yesterday. What do the unions intend to provide in terms of productivity in return for benchmarking? A productivity allowance is provided for in the benchmarking process. What type of productivity do the unions intend to provide? I would like Mr. Berney to give a clear reply to my questions about the cost in terms of pay increases for bus drivers of extending routes. I understand that the Minister's plan involves franchising and most certainly does not constitute privatisation.

On a point of order, Senator Morrissey is straying into the industrial relations area in which the committee has no remit. The delegation is attending this meeting to talk to the committee about the Minister's proposals dealing with bus services.

Discontent was mentioned and the Minister was accused of being an aggressor. That is not industrial relations.

The invitation was made on the understanding that discussion would be of relations within the CIE group of companies. What was said was relevant.

I welcome the deputation and their presentation. While I hold no brief for Deputy Rabbitte, it is a bit Irish for the Government side to suggest that he represents them in this or any other area. I note the presence of Mr. Jack O'Connor whom I compliment publicly on his recent call at the ICTU conference for a major demonstration in the autumn in respect of health cuts. This is something I have suggested within the Technical Group of Independent Deputies and the group and I will support it.

The presentation made this morning was very fair. The deputation has indicated that it is motivated by the best interests of the travelling public and the need for fair competition. We have heard Government speakers say privatisation is not on the cards, but the proposals before us are for out and out privatisation. It may be dressed up in the language of franchising and competition, but there is no doubt that privatisation is what we are talking about. Senator Morrisey was here when the Minister last attended this committee to tell us quite clearly that he was franchising 25% of bus routes and would not allow Bus Átha Cliath to compete for them. If that is not privatisation, I do not know what is. It is clear the Minister's remit is to privatise. He has an ideological hang up and he intends to pursue this course.

My understanding is that investment in public transport services, in particular in bus services in Dublin, is significantly less than the European average. If we want an improved public transport service in Dublin and elsewhere, we must invest properly in it. What do the unions think are the parameters of the cost of the break up of the CIE group? I have heard this discussed in many fora, from the Iarnród Éireann perspective to that of Bus Éireann. There will be significant costs involved in any break up of the group.

Congestion is a huge problem in Dublin and I would like to hear the views of the union representatives on the extension of quality bus corridors.

I welcome the group. I have a small point about the proposed one-day action for this month which involves a plan not to charge for the use of public transport. That would be a step backwards and I urge those involved to look at the matter again. For a long time we failed to invest properly in public transport but we are beginning to address the issue. As public transport needs to be funded further, one day of free fares will not help to convince the Government of the need to properly fund services. It will also damage the image of public transport which is quite bad as it is. We need to encourage more and more people to use public transport on a daily basis which is why I urge union representatives to re-examine their proposal at this late stage to come up with an alternative plan. They stand to lose much of the good will which has been generated in this area over the last few years. Speaking as a taxpayer and as someone who wants to see public transport develop and grow, I feel the proposal represents a step backwards.

I must apologise for missing part of the earlier presentation. Our timetable this morning was different to the one I expected. I will take away the document submitted to the committee and read it.

When citing examples of what he wishes to achieve, the Minister often mentions London. We all recognise that outside London privatisation in England has been a disaster. The Minister refers to London as an example of the benefits privatisation can bring. Do delegates have examples or experiences to relate to the committee in respect of circumstances in London? What have been the experiences of workers and customers? I would be interested to hear of these as London is the example to which the Minister constantly refers.

Have unions been given any indication by the Minister how he will allocate the 25% franchises in terms of routes? Will they be in one section of the city or will the routes be disparate? Perhaps delegates have as much idea as we do.

I take the point that there has been only one industrial dispute in the last 15 years, but to customers and others involved in transport issues over the last few years there seem to have been difficulties with regard to flexible arrangements involving Dublin Bus. I would be interested to hear the views of the delegation in respect of the difficulty there has been in having the rear doors of buses opened. The example has always been cited in discussions over the last five or six years of how difficult it is to put new arrangements in place. Provision was made to allow customers to exit through the rear doors of buses, but it was not happening in practice. Customers had to file through the bus to get off at the front. What was the reason for that? Was it an example of inflexibility?

Have unions estimated the cost to CIE of the one-day free travel proposal?

Delegates have been asked to comment on the London experience, but can they also refer to Copenhagen? Copenhagen and London are the two models the Minister says he wishes to emulate.

Mr. Berney

Senator Morrisey and I will not agree on the question of privatisation. With all due respect, his comments are not borne out by the experience in other places which I will deal with in a moment.

So the Minister is wrong?

Mr. Berney

He is. I have no idea of the costs Dublin Bus will incur as a result of the one-day action. I am not here to speak for Dublin Bus in respect of the erection of bus stops. That question should be addressed to the company.

I am not here to talk about benchmarking, but I refer members to section 19 of the Sustaining Progress document which details the flexibilities the trade union movement has agreed.

Bus route extensions——

Senator Morrisey should allow Mr. Berney to finish. We can return to that matter.

Mr. Berney

Regarding bus route extensions, I assure the Senator that there have been 19 productivity agreements between the unions and Dublin Bus over the last 15 years. A range of flexibilities has been entered into and no payment has been made in respect of most of them. I suggest the Senator makes a significant analysis of the level of productivity of Dublin Bus workers. On the question of whether Dublin Bus workers receive a payment for extending routes, I remind the Senator that if Dublin Bus proposes to extend a route, it must go through an extensive process to obtain the permission of the Department of Transport. That process is often very lengthy though this is not the experience of private sector companies which very often create routes without reference to anyone simply because they choose to do so.

There would be varying costs to consider in the break-up of the CIE group, but we are not privy to information which would allow us to estimate them. There are significant issues which need to be dealt with which will incur significant costs. For instance, the pension scheme which is currently operated in CIE is operated by the holding company on behalf of the three subsidiary companies. If that pension scheme were to be placed in the three individual companies, I suspect that transferring the responsibility would have a significant cost. There is a range of other issues, including which companies share property, which owns the property and so on. There is a significant cost, although I do not know what the cost is in the final analysis, but we will no doubt find out in the near future.

I apologise to Deputy Shortall for not addressing her views on congestion when I answered her earlier question. We have seen the experiment of quality bus corridors and how marvellously it has worked. At this time, it should be the Minister's priority to ensure that such conditions exist in the city that public transport can thrive and extend the experiment to other cities where there is congestion, such as Limerick, Cork and Galway as well as other urban areas. The experiment of giving priority road space to public transport is important and we fully support it.

In regard to our knowledge of the experience in London and other places, I refer members to a report which was undertaken on behalf of the public transport forum by a group of consultants called NERA in co-operation with a group of consultants called TIS. The report examined the experience of public transport in various cities and concluded that the best form of publicly owned and operated transport is in Toronto. I urge members to examine that informative report. The Minister has cited London as an example of franchising. However, there are serious downsides to the London experience. The private sector attacked the wages and conditions of employees, resulting in many people leaving the industry for jobs elsewhere. The office of the Mayor of London has had to subsidise the wages of people in the transport companies in order to get people to stay within the industry. The situation is far from perfect and we have suggested to the Department that, rather than speculating, we should undertake a real evaluation of what is going on in London to see what we can learn from the experience.

Franchising was also introduced in Copenhagen and the private sector has now come to own the entire system. From the perspective of the public interest rather than an ideological view or one that seeks to protect vested interest, one must ask who best operates public services - the public or the private sector? I contend that it is the public sector.

In regard to the cost of the one day dispute, the trade union movement is happy to reconsider its position in respect of that matter. Before Senator Morrissey leaves, I wish to point out that I did not accuse the Minister of being an aggressor. I asked who was the aggressor. We are faced with a situation in which the Minister, in the middle of dialogue about the future of Dublin Bus, said that regardless of that dialogue, he was proceeding with his plans for reform. Despite the fact that we have a commitment from the Taoiseach about engagement in the future of the semi-State companies and the fact that we were engaged in that consultation, the Minister publicly declared that he is proceeding. I am happy for the trade unions to re-engage with everyone in the spirit of partnership, to rebuild trust and to find a way forward. In that context, all of these issues can be addressed.

What about the question of rear doors?

Mr. Berney

The rear doors issue has to do with health and safety concerns. If someone exits from the rear door of a bus, they can often find themselves in a perilous situation because they may be stepping down onto a roadway or where a bicycle or motorbike might be coming up on the inside of a bus. The convention across Europe is to do away with rear doors or side doors.

Can Mr. Berney provide a copy of the consultants report to which he referred? Is it widely available?

Mr. Berney

It is available on the website of the Department of Transport. However, if people have difficulty locating it, I would be happy to provide it.

A number of members have queried our degree of communication and dialogue which has been in play and references have been made to no fares day and so on. Many of the questions about the best way forward from the point of view of the provision of public transport and dealing with the process of putting in what is necessary is set out clearly in the national agreement and in the terms of the Taoiseach's letter of 10 February, which deals with the way we should go about learning what we should be doing and how we should go about doing it. We are quite prepared to adhere to that, which addresses a range of issues, if the Minister is prepared to engage similarly in good faith. Our problem is that he is not doing so.

In regard to competition, we do not believe that what is proposed is about competition, rather that it is about privatisation and we do not believe that competition is necessarily the best way forward in the Dublin Bus case. However, we might be wrong and if there is engagement along the lines of the Taoiseach's letter which is part of Sustaining Progress, it is possible a mechanism could be found to address the reasons put forward by the Department for seeking to go down this road - which is about being able to compare whether the best value for money is being achieved. I suggest to the committee that this is the best way forward before reckless decisions are taken which take many years to rectify.

Benchmarking does not apply to the people in Dublin Bus. A Dublin Bus driver after four years is on a weekly wage of €583 and he or she works five days over seven for that. If they work Sunday, they are on €666, after four years. There may be some confusion in this regard but benchmarking does not apply to Dublin Bus people.

Can I take it the decision to have a no fares day is not yet final and that the trade unions are open to persuasion? If the Minister intervenes or enters into meaningful dialogue at this stage, will it be called off?

The no fares day has come about as a result of the Minister's unilateral approach in defiance of the commitments entered into in Sustaining Progress. We find ourselves having to resort to traditional mechanisms which are not pleasant from ours or anyone else's point of view. However, if the Government enters into an agreement in good faith and not without risk because it is not a popular agreement, and then flagrantly defies it, we are left with little option. The no fares day is a way of highlighting what is going on without penalising the public. It is clearly a matter for the Government to act to avoid that and in accordance with the provisions of the national agreement.

In regard to the no fares day, is there a problem with insurance when fares are not charged to people travelling on public transport?

There is a debate going on about it. We have difficulty understanding how there could be a problem about insurance when there is no problem with insurance and liability applying to people found anywhere on CIE's property without tickets. It even extends to include people who might be committing robbery on the property.

I saw that happen in another jurisdiction. On that point, have you been given legal advice to the effect that this is all right? I would not like a situation to arise where unions or potential claimants find they are not covered. Have you had legal advice on that point?

The issue of being covered is one thing. It is a matter for CIE to establish precisely what the position is and CIE has not told us that is the case.

Newspaper reports stated that legal advice had been given to the effect that the union could be liable.

As far as I am aware that is not the case.

No legal advice has been sought so far?

It is a trade dispute within the meaning of the Industrial Relations Act 1990.

Does the use of a vehicle, which is not being used for the prescribed purpose for which it is assigned, leave the employees in a vulnerable position? The bottom line is that a driver is assigned a bus to carry passengers and collect fares. If the driver decides to wilfully carry passengers without collecting fares, is he not in a problematic position?

Mr. Berney

It is a trade dispute under the meaning of the Industrial Relations Act 1990.

No one is disputing that. The problem is that as the drivers are not doing what they are supposed to do, that is, carry passengers for reward, they are taking a bus with the intention of not doing what their employer tells them to do.

This line of discussion is taking us nowhere. If the Minister engages in discussion and honours the commitments he has given on consultation, this situation can be avoided.

We would love to see it avoided, Deputy Shortall.

This committee would be better employed urging the Minister to do that.

I have no problem with that. What I am doing is asking a question from the consumer's point of view, when they step on a bus in the belief that they have the same level of insurance as they would on a normal fare paying journey. This is what we are trying to clarify. We may not be able to clarify that point today but the witnesses may be able to come back.

Pensioners do not pay on a bus at present. Are they legally covered?

The Department of Social Welfare makes the contribution for their fare.

There is no actual collection of fare.

No, but there is a mechanism there. We are back to what was said earlier: if somebody gets on a bus without paying a fare and falls when disembarking, they can sue Bus Éireann. That has happened. My point is that if the driver takes out a bus without doing what he is supposed to do, namely, collecting fares from the passengers, is there not an awkward situation regarding insurance?

With respect to the Chairman, the question is better put to the Department and CIE.

I totally agree.

We have not been advised of that and we are approaching this according to the legislation as it applies to trade unions. That legislation is the Industrial Relations Act 1990.

On the issue of dialogue and engagement, we are referring to serious dialogue within the terms of the national agreement. We are not interested in being a pawn in a game. I was in that situation recently in the context of the Aer Rianta issue. I do not want to have to learn the same lessons twice.

Surely the purpose of the no fares day is to highlight the Minister's failure to address the unions' concerns and wider concerns about public transport. However, an unfortunate consequence of the no fares day could be that the public will have a better opinion of the Minister, Deputy Brennan, as they will regard him as the Minister who got them a free bus journey for the day. The point is that this should be looked at one more time. It will be counterproductive. Ultimately, it will not serve to increase public awareness of Deputy Brennan's failure as Minister for Transport particularly in the public transport sector.

The group is rightly critical of the current Minister's plans. We have not been given any details of those plans, which is one of the most critical points in this matter. We do not know what the Minister is talking about. Is this about reducing the cost of public transport in Dublin through franchising or is it about increasing investment to improve the quality of service? That is what the public want. The examples of London and Copenhagen, which the Minister refers to now and again, are dangerous examples as they are completely privatised operations.

What does the delegation see as being the key steps to improving the current level of service to consumers in Dublin? They stated earlier that they were not opposed to competition. In that case, what do they envisage as the mechanism which would allow that to happen? In theDublin Buzz magazine this month the example of Oslo, Norway, was given. Perhaps that could be elaborated on, or more information be given to the committee.

We have overlooked a point that was made in the submission on the role of public transport in social inclusion. We are all familiar with the easy option of running profitable routes, such as the Stillorgan Road with lots of fare paying passengers on which anybody could make money. I am concerned with the disadvantaged areas and the importance of providing access to people on low incomes. That means access to jobs, shopping and families.

An issue in my constituency, and many others in Dublin, is the problem of anti-social activity which disrupts bus services. We have seen this happening in a lot of different areas where young people, without any reason, stone buses and jeopardise services. It is true to say Dublin Bus make enormous efforts to deal with these social problems, to the extent of going to schools with gardaí to talk to young people about the importance of maintaining the bus service and preventing damage. There is no prospect of a private operator doing that. They are not interested in the part of the business relating to social infrastructure. It is our responsibility as politicians to take the wider view and ensure that we have good public transport as an essential part of the public infrastructure.

As the Chairman is the only representative of the Government here I put it to him that it speaks volumes that there are, regrettably, no Fianna Fáil members here, apart from Deputy Peter Power for a short period. We are discussing a major public issue on the future of the bus services in Dublin and the rest of the country without a single Government Deputy or Senator being present. That is scandalous.

With all due respect, the Deputy should address her questions to the witnesses.

I put it to the Chairman as the representative of the Government here——

I will make no comment.

——that the big problem is going to be in cherry picking. The private operators will only be interested in the profitable routes.

I am not the arbitrator.

The other areas will be forgotten. I hope we can come to a conclusion on the basis of today's session. There is no point in allowing groups to make presentations and questioning them without us, as a committee charged with responsibility for influencing policy on transport, coming to a conclusion. I hope the Chairman will allow time at a future meeting, hopefully before the summer break, to discuss what we have heard today to allow the committee to come to conclusions and make recommendations to the Minister. We are possibly facing a summer and winter of discontent, largely caused by the Minister, which can be avoided if this whole issue is approached on the basis of partnership. The Minister speaks a great deal about partnership but does little in respect of partnership in practice when it comes to implementing any changes. We should call on him to do that.

I was hoping to respond to an earlier question from Deputy Naughten in relation to our main concerns. Our main concern is that the effect of this measure will be twofold. First, it will drive down wages and conditions and terms of employment and standards of employment in the Dublin Bus service. That will be the inevitable consequence of it. In his statement to the congress conference last week, the Taoiseach said that was not his aim or his intention. I believe him. However, the aim and the intention is one thing, the effect is another. At this time we have no proposals, suggestions or ideas from the Government as to how that might be avoided. Our second major concern is that the recklessness with which this issue is being pursued will result in decisions being made which will take a long time to remedy. We are talking not only about 25% but a systematic process over the next four years which amounts to 100%. There are countries such as New Zealand with small open economies like Ireland, where experiments were carried out, and they are now trying at considerable cost to the taxpayer to retrieve the situation. Those are our concerns.

There is a tendency nowadays to analyse everything in terms of how it meets the requirements of competition and to represent trade unions as people who represent "vested interests", although there were no other vested interests. It is probably an understatement to say the unions organised in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have in their membership one out of every two, if not more, of the people who travel on those buses every day. We have campaigned vigorously in recent years to try to achieve an improvement in the quality of life and the standards of living of working people in Ireland. We see public transport as an essential aspect of that and to recklessly dismantle it on the basis of some ideological whim is not good policy.

Mr. Roger Hannon

A number of questions were raised and I am not sure if we have delivered our message. One was in relation to the key steps for improving the bus services in Dublin. Clearly the prioritisation of the roads for bus services is the essential need. The introduction of private services will not of itself improve the actual standard of those services. In relation to how we would be prepared to facilitate competition, the public transport partnership forum has published the agreement on how that will move forward. It is printed in its first report which, regrettably, the Minister sought to ignore and made a public announcement in the face of that report that he was proceeding with the proposal we have discussed today.

On behalf of the joint committee I thank Mr. Berney, Mr. O'Connor, Mr. Hannon and Mr. Geraghty for their attendance, all of whom have given the joint committee food for thought.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.55 a.m.sine die.