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Wednesday, 13 Feb 2008

Vol. 188 No. 12

Private Bus Operators: Discussion with Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland.

I welcome members of the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland.

I draw attention to the fact that members of the committee have absolute privilege but this same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person outside the House or any official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I welcome Mr. J.J. Kavanagh, chairman, Ms Cora Collins, chief executive officer, and Mr. Paddy Kavanagh and Mr. Feargal Barton, committee members of the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland. I propose that we listen to a short presentation from Mr. Kavanagh, to be followed by a questions and answers session.

I refer to a report which was carried out on the council's behalf by Goodbody economic consultants in January 2005. In that report, reference is made to a serious lack of transparency and delays in the issuing of licences. The report also refers to the way in which competition has worked and argues that the current licensing process for bus services in Ireland is anti-competitive in nature. We would like to hear from the council on those issues.

I also acknowledge some facts of which I was not aware, namely, that in 2005 there were 1,800 private bus operators in Ireland, with a fleet of 4,859 buses. Furthermore, there was a 71% increase in the size of the fleet between 1992 and 2003. This means the private bus operator sector is considerably larger than Bus Éireann and CIE. They are interesting statistics, of which I was previously unaware.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

On behalf of the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland, I thank the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport for affording us the opportunity to make a submission outlining the scale and type of service provided by privately-owned passenger road transport operations in Ireland.

The Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland is the representative body for independent coach operators who are dedicated to providing first class passenger transport services to domestic and overseas customers. Membership is restricted to coach companies which meet the strict standards criteria agreed between the council and Fáilte Ireland. The council operates the coach approvals and star classification system under licence from Fáilte Ireland.

There are approximately 1,870 businesses holding road passenger transport operators licences. Approximately 6,000 large public service vehicles are registered to these operators and their age profile is one of the lowest in Europe. There has been dramatic growth in the coach and bus fleet in recent years, with a 73% growth in vehicle numbers between 1992 and 2006. The sector employs 7,200 people directly, excluding owner-managers and family members, with a significant number of people indirectly employed as suppliers to the industry. Operators provide services in the areas of coach tourism, private hire, school transportation and licensed services.

In the area of coach tourism, the industry catered for 640,000 overseas tourists in 2006. This figure does not include domestic coach tourism passengers. The number using coach tours increased by 56% between 2002 and 2006, compared to a 25% increase in overall tourist numbers in the same period. In the private hire market, operators provide group transport services for corporate and incentive groups, social club outings, sports outings and school trips. The private hire market is serviced almost exclusively by the private sector. The private sector also provides in excess of 80% of school transport services nationally, under contract to Bus Éireann. A total of 2,300 privately-owned vehicles provide school transport services on a daily basis.

Currently, there are 617 routes licences issued to private operators. The licences can be categorised as follows: intercity; local rural routes linking villages to centres of population; high-frequency urban services; college services; school bus services; tour-related licensed activities; transport services for workers; and night services. All of the aforementioned services are provided on a commercial basis by the operators, without any assistance from the State. The commercial success of these services is due to providers responding to the needs of customers and providing quality transport at all times.

Our organisation is concerned about the impact transport is having on the environment, so we are working closely with Sustainable Energy Ireland to improve our operating efficiency. The environment will benefit from increasing the level and quality of public transport, thereby removing cars from our roads.

The successful expansion and development of our sector in recent years is sufficient proof that we can deliver a quality public transport service to areas with deficiencies. We can almost immediately deliver the 350 coaches required to expand the market in Dublin. We propose that an independent audit be conducted of the current service levels throughout the country to identify shortcomings in the present network. New route requirements identified by this audit should be put to tender under an independent process.

We have been involved in the integrated ticketing process since its inception. When the system is fully developed, it will have a positive impact on transport.

We do not seek the privatisation of the bus market nor do we consider deregulation to be the solution to our difficulties. However, we believe that an independent regulatory body should be established to take responsibility for developing and expanding the network.

In regard to the proposal on inviting licence applications from the private sector to provide peak time services on a commercial basis, what mechanism does Mr. Kavanagh view as the most appropriate for expanding licensing to the private sector? Europe offers several examples, such as competitive tendering in London, Lisbon and Sweden and direct awards with subcontracting in Barcelona, Paris and the regions in Belgium.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

Greater independence is needed in determining the level and quality of service required. The independent assessor should determine how and by whom services are delivered and the process by which licences are awarded, such as through tender or direct awards. We can supply the capacity to deliver on these proposals.

Ms Cora Collins

Our submission addresses the immediate needs identified by this committee. The Dublin market is estimated to require 350 to 500 additional vehicles. Nobody seems to have any ideas on how to move people from bus stops or acquire the additional buses. We have 6,700 buses which we could send to Dublin after making a couple of telephone calls.

The committee asked about longer term changes to the law and systems. We regularly refer to what happens in other European cities but 16 million people travel by public transport in London. Public transport systems work in London, Brussels, Copenhagen and every other European city. We are all agreed, however, that we have a problem in Dublin. In the period between 1996 and 2006, the number of journeys in the city has increased by in excess of 30% whereas bus usage has increased by a mere 2%. It is for legislators to decide how to develop the law but we would all agree that traffic has increased substantially in the 76 years since the enactment of the Road Transport Act 1932. It is time to update the legislation because we are facing serious problems in terms of climate change and fuel costs. Before we explore options for alternative fuels, we must better use the fuels available at present by persuading people to use group transport.

I welcome the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland. Are the representatives satisfied that all its members are properly licensed to carry passengers? I understand a number of prosecutions were taken over the past number of years against unlicensed private operators.

I agree with Mr. Kavanagh on opening up the market. Is it fair to say that Bus Éireann has a symbiotic relationship with independent operators who are contracted to carry passengers on specific routes? The routes between Drogheda, Dundalk and Dublin are often covered by private operators. I make my remarks in the context of co-operation between Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and private operators. The literature on the subject reveals firm views on either side but moving commuters is central.

I agree with Mr. Kavanagh on new route requirements but am I correct in saying that he wants to negotiate for peak time services as opposed to specific routes? Dublin Bus would argue that it must provide on and off-peak services and that an operator which solely provides peak time services does not have the same cost burden.

Some years ago, the Government wanted to open up the bus market, an ambition which Fine Gael supports. The council complained to the European Union about unfair subsidies for Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. We need more clarity on the two companies' operations so that we can identify the routes on which they are losing money by providing services to mature communities, as opposed to services on which they are using State money to increase their profits.

I welcome what Mr. Kavanagh said and support many of his ideas but would like more clarity. The best way forward is to serve the consumer, open the market and have fair competition. The private bus companies would not just have to take responsibility for peak time services but be the sole providers of services on a particular route. That would be fairer in the context of comparisons to anything else.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

Subcontracting is a business arrangement and goes on in all facets of life. Many private operators interhire too. It is not a fixed, ongoing process. There are many ad hoc arrangement in place. There is co-operation but it is only part of the overall parcel of service available. There is a requirement for additional capacity at peak time. The Chairman said there is a requirement for an additional 350 vehicles. We can deliver those immediately. If they can be deployed throughout the day, all the better, but if they are required at peak times they are available. We are not saying they are just for peak time, but we can use them for peak times. Availability is the order of the day. We can deliver the service.

The Chairman's question is whether Mr. Kavanagh is in favour of getting a franchise for a specific route.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

Our wish is for an independent audit of the existing network and requirements. There are probably many areas where the service level is inadequate for reasons such as the difficulty in obtaining licences and the application process. The service is being driven by the private operators if they require licences. If a private operator sees a gap in the market he or she applies for a licence. There is no joined-up thinking in the process. We are there on an ad hoc basis. The private sector holds 617 licences but there is no connectivity between them. They are applied for on a one-off basis. We need somebody to identify the level of service required in the market. That is where we can work with the independent regulator. This would give much better value for money. Much can be done on the cost of provision.

We must have some system. The private sector is accused of cherry picking. Operators want to get on the routes that are profitable but are not interested in unprofitable routes. We would like some system. We would like Mr. Kavanagh to tell us what he feels is the proper mechanism. It is agreed that the 1932 legislation must be updated and that will happen. It is also agreed in the Department that there must be some form of controller or commissioner. However, there must be some regulation and we need to know what the private operators propose. There are ample examples of bad practice. I see Bus Éireann and two private operators on the Dublin to Galway route with buses chasing to beat each other to a point. That does not make sense. We have heard many complaints from Dublin Bus and the unions on the one private route that operates from Lucan. That does not appear to work as efficiently as it could. The best and most efficient form of transport is to have one company running a route. A number of orbital routes in Dublin are not serviced. Would the private operators be interested in getting involved in those?

Mr. Paddy Kavanagh

Cherry picking is a red herring because since 1932 the private sector has provided bus services in rural areas where the State was unwilling or unable to provide services. The growth in inter-urban services was driven by the private sector. Only when the private sector got involved did the State companies respond and get their act together. The Chairman mentioned complaints on specific routes but the other side to that story has not been heard.

What is the other side of the story?

Mr. Paddy Kavanagh

Perhaps Mr. Barton could comment on it. There is evidence of over supply by the State company on that route and continuous pressure — I will not say harassment — on the licensed private operator to make it unprofitable for him to continue.

To follow up the Chairman's point, did the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland make a submission to the Department of Transport outlining the kind of system it wants in the Dublin Transport Authority Bill or if there is to be a national regulator? Did it propose an ideal system whereby competition could be permitted? The Chairman is asking if it knew what format it wanted.

Those of us who represent Dublin constituencies know from bitter experience that, as Mr. Kavanagh said, we needed 350 new buses and now need 500. Of the 350 buses the private sector could provide tomorrow, would they be new and accessible like the fleet Dublin Bus is rolling out?

Do all the members of the council recognise trade unions? Is there full trade union recognition across the sector? How is vehicle testing carried out across the private sector fleet? There was ferocious criticism of heavy goods vehicles in the statement last week by the Minister for Transport. In that area, all the testing was done by the companies and because of this self-testing there were difficulties when we went abroad. How is the private fleet kept up to scratch?

Mr. Kavanagh's submission mentioned the school bus scheme that has served the country well. In CIE's tour company some buses, although they fly the colours of Bus Éireann, belong to private contractors who subcontract to Bus Éireann's related company. Does Mr. Kavanagh see this as the way forward? Does he consider people would proceed with the subcontracting route? How would licensing be done?

This returns to my first question. In my constituency we had an orbital route called Aerdart which the Crossan Truck and Bus company established. It ran from the DART station to the airport across the back of the city where we were supposed to have a Luas. It was a difficult route to establish. It ran for a couple of years, facilitated by Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council and then disappeared, leaving the small number of commuters who were getting used to it high and dry. How do we know the private operators will not operate like that in future in any other routes they might have under their remit?

We discussed critical safety workers. Has the full impact of recent legislation relating to testing for alcohol and drugs been adopted for the critical safety of the workforce?

I find it astonishing this group was not consulted about the QBCs and the QBN. I am not sure how much consultation has gone on with the group with regard to park and ride facilities, which is of interest to the Chairman and the rest of the committee. Perhaps the witnesses will expand on what they would like to see done in those areas.

Ms Cora Collins

I will respond first to Deputy O'Dowd's questions. He asked how we know people are properly licensed. In order to put a vehicle on the road, one must have a European Community licence issued by the Department of Transport. If a driver does not have that, he or she cannot operate because it would be impossible to get insurance.

On a point of information, I have the numbers of prosecutions from the past few years. There have been dozens of them, although not for last year. Some 40, 50 or 60 people have been prosecuted. Is it a requirement of the organisation that a driver be licensed? I am not saying people go around checking this.

Ms Cora Collins

It is a requirement for our organisation.

That is the point I wished to make.

Ms Cora Collins

Safety standards and proper insurance etc., are also required.

The Deputy spoke of the Dundalk-Drogheda corridor and I am from that area. He also spoke of subcontracting issues but there is nothing wrong with Bus Éireann subcontracting vehicles.

I am all for it.

Ms Cora Collins

With regard to cherry-picking peak-time services, we were responding to a presentation and discussion in this committee two weeks ago when we were told the taxpayer is subsidising peak-time services because those buses can only be used at the peak period. Common sense would say they must be procured at the least cost to the community, which is EU laws. We have joined the EU so we must put up with its laws. None of us is above the law. We are not looking for the peak-time services. This committee identified the issue as a problem.

When we get a route we service it completely, so we are the operator of last resort, first resort and every other resort. In other words, we run in the morning, during the day and at night. We give a complete service on a route and if we did not, the public would not travel with us.

The cherry-picking issue is a bit of a red herring, as Mr. Kavanagh stated. In the presentations from the past two weeks we have been told the Government is subsidising peak time services. When people are queuing up for cancer services, there cannot be justification for full buses needing to be subsidised. Something is seriously wrong with that.

I am somewhat constrained in what I can and wish to say with regard to the European Commission matter as it is the subject of a major ongoing investigation. We were not complaining about how much CIE got but it should be done in compliance with EU law.

The EU has concerns this is not the case. A public service contract must be put in place and that must be clearly defined. Successive Ministers have indicated that an amount of money is given to the CIE board and it is up to them to do with it what they will. That is illegal. I am sure members are not suggesting the Government be allowed to operate in this way.

I agree with an opening of the market and with the need for much greater transparency from Bus Éireann on the routes. I referred to mature routes, which is another term for non-profitable. We must know about these. Ms Collins should not misunderstand me, as I am in favour of liberalisation and opening up the market under certain criteria.

The Chairman and I are on the same lines on the franchising of a complete service, as opposed to any other aspect. That was the proposal put forward for the Government in studying the market. I am not being critical of the witnesses but I am trying to get their views and what they would prefer to happen.

To clarify, one of our main concerns is that we get a significant increase in off-peak frequency.

Ms Cora Collins

As the members can see from the presentations from the past couple of weeks, there appears to be a peak-hour problem as well. We were trying to address that. A service should be comprehensive.

To follow up on the Deputy's question, if extra buses were to be provided at peak time to run on routes licensed to Dublin Bus, how would the witnesses propose to do this? They stated earlier they could put many buses on the streets in Dublin very quickly. There must be a proper mechanism and we should not have a repeat of the Lucan corridor case.

In our recommendations to the Minister, the key issue is to propose the best mechanism to open up the market, as both speakers have said, while at the same time ensuring the competition is not any more negative than it is currently. The Lucan corridor seems to be part of the reason the witnesses have gone to the European Commission.

Ms Cora Collins

No, the Chairman is wrong. The issue with the European Commission is illegal State aid. I do not know what that has to do with the Lucan corridor.

I was working from my notes with my previous meeting. I apologise.

Ms Cora Collins

I do not know where that comes in. Perhaps it is time we put the Lucan corridor issue to bed. I have documentary evidence on this so I do not make spurious allegations. At one stage the people in that area wanted a service to get to work. They wrote to Dublin Bus, who told them it did not have the resources to provide the required level of service but that the then Minister, Deputy Mary O'Rourke, had promised buses. If Dublin Bus got these buses, it would not forget Lucan.

The people contacted public representatives like those on this committee and got the same reply. They approached Paul Morton to provide a service, which he did. We have recorded route saturation through vehicle numbers and statements from drivers. We have all the evidence we need. There is now a service every 1.3 minutes on the Lucan corridor.

I do not want the company denigrated again. The Chairman stated committee members are not supposed to mention companies by name but mention was made that a Circle Line bus arrives five minutes ahead of Dublin Bus, which was described as "absolutely outrageous". What is outrageous about a bus every five minutes in Dublin? Could Dublin Bus not provide a service five minutes before the Circle Line bus, with Morton's five minutes before that? What is outrageous about a service licensed by the Department of Transport operating in such a way? Dublin Bus is operating alongside that, using free buses and subvention.

The answer is to franchise the service completely. There should be one operator, which would solve the problem.If there is a licence or franchise to run the service, and if it meets off-peak and peak needs, that should be it, whether the service is private or public.

Ms Cora Collins

It should be but it is not.

That is the way it should be.

All we are saying is the system operating on that route does not work. They have a franchising arrangement in London, where the private sector comes in. Several private sector companies run various routes in London, although one company runs the same route.

It strikes us that it is not possible for private companies to come in to operate on the same route as Dublin Bus. This matter goes back to the 2004 discussions which took place between the Department, Dublin Bus and the unions. I do not know if Ms Collins was involved.

Ms Cora Collins


Those meetings discussed the possibility of the next 15% of buses coming on the Dublin Bus system going to the private sector to be put on radial routes, which are not being adequately served currently. I will be asking the representatives at the end of the meeting to formulate a proposal for a radial route from Tallaght to Blanchardstown, for example.

There was a radial route from Kilbarrack to the airport and when it suited the operator, it abandoned the people. This is the problem we have with some of the companies the witnesses represent.

Ms Cora Collins

Can the Deputy lower his voice? I will answer his questions in a moment as I first wish to address another Deputy's question.

We have heard about Lucan and now we should hear about Kilbarrack.

Ms Cora Collins

The service the Deputy refers to in Kilbarrack aimed to serve the DART station at Howth Junction but he seems to have conveniently forgotten that Iarnród Éireann ceased services on the northside because it was upgrading the DART line.

That is total nonsense, cock and bull, and I do not understand what Ms Collins is referring to. DART services did not cease.

Ms Cora Collins

Can the Deputy lower his voice when he is talking to me?

When it suited the company in question, it abandoned the route.

Deputy Broughan will please show the witnesses respect and address the chair.

I wish to point out that the company had an orbital route that was withdrawn when it suited it. I asked a list of questions relating to the company's fleet, its age, safety, accessibility and trade union recognition. None of those question have been answered.

Ms Cora Collins

I wish to answer questions in rotation and, having dealt with Deputy O'Dowd, I will now answer Deputy Broughan's questions.

Deputy Broughan raised the DoE, Department of the Environment, test issue with regard to the safety of the fleet. A report carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that some DoE test centres were carrying out DoE tests on their own vehicles, including buses and trucks. If evidence showed that these vehicles were not tested properly then we would feel that such centres should be shut down, rather than suspended. We have always found it unacceptable that Bus Éireann can test its own vehicles and it is unacceptable for private companies to test their own vehicles.

In the report, a number of vehicles should have been audited to see how test centres were operating but instead anecdotal evidence was used. Those compiling the report sought the opinions of owners of test centres who felt that since people were driving by to use other test centres nearby, those test centres must have been doing something wrong. These allegations were spurious and the report should have stuck to the facts. The Road Safety Authority has taken responsibility for DoE testing and is correctly seeking to raise standards.

We have a responsibility to examine the overall level of accidents. Some 88% of road traffic accidents are caused by driver error, not DoE testing stations. Technical problems with a vehicle account for 0.4% of accidents and 2% of fatalities are caused by problems with the vehicle. In this regard, casualties among public service vehicle users is at a level of 1.2%. With all this in mind I do not want a message to emanate from this committee that public transport is not safe, as that would not be true. A level of 1.2% is still too high but it is, nonetheless, an excellent record that we seek to improve.

I do not know anything about the route served by Sean Crossan except that major works were carried out on the DART line and it stopped running at weekends. Committee members may check this because I would not tell a cock and bull story here or anywhere else.

The DART never stopped running.

Ms Cora Collins

The DART did stop running.

We can check this assertion.

Ms Cora Collins

The line was being improved so people were offered a bus service instead.

Trade unions have a place and a job to do and they rightly raised workers' standards, pay and conditions. Everyone deserves a proper day's pay for a proper day's work and we have no difficulty with the trade union movement; if an individual seeks to join a trade union we do not object. It is the democratic right of trade unions to negotiate for their members and we uphold this right. In excess of 7,200 people are employed by companies we represent, not including owners, their families and those indirectly employed. If these people were not being treated properly they would not stay with the companies in question.

I have four courses in employment legislation running at the moment in our association to ensure members keep up to date because if they do not know the law they cannot comply with it. We have made every effort to ensure members comply with legislation and, as I said, people would not stay with these companies if they were not properly treated. Our association did not have a problem with the retro-fitting of seatbelts — the private transport sector was not involved in using South African employees on a Government contract for this purpose, paid at a rate of €2.80 per hour.

I had a question relating to 350 vehicles.

Ms Cora Collins

That matter came up in this committee and the question was whether we need 350 or 500 vehicles. Writing the cheque for this will take around 30 seconds and it can then be given to Dublin Bus. There seems to be a problem with this option. Members of this committee were elected to their positions; if their constituents are kept waiting at bus stops, such as at Howth Junction, they should see that buses are provided for them. They must be provided at the least cost to the community as that is the law, though I am not suggesting buses should be sourced from us.

Can Ms Collins answer specifically? Is she prepared to put the next 15% of buses on orbital routes that are not serviced adequately by Dublin Bus at the moment?

Ms Cora Collins

I do not think the Chairman got the proposals from the Department of Transport that we received. The proposals we received said Dublin Bus would get a direct award contract for its entire fleet which, at the time, comprised of 1,062 vehicles. In addition to this, profitable services grant further rights to 30 to 40 buses. The next 15% of an expanding market would be tendered out to the private sector, up to a maximum of 160 vehicles but nobody told us where these routes would be. Dublin Bus would be paid to do a network review and it would decide the routes it wanted and the routes we should get.

It is clear to us that the areas of the city most in need of expansion, which Dublin Bus cannot provide, are the orbital routes. Is Ms Collins prepared to put the 160 buses she referred to on orbital routes?

Ms Cora Collins

Is the Chairman asking whether we mean to apply for commercial licences? There are quite a few applications submitted for different routes but I cannot say which ones specifically, as separate companies are involved.

In principal, the council Ms Collins represents is prepared to——

Ms Cora Collins

We are prepared to apply for licences and operate services in the Dublin market if we are allowed.

I am referring specifically to orbital routes.

Ms Cora Collins

I do not know which routes in Dublin are regarded as orbital but there is no point in us applying for licences for services alongside Dublin Bus.

Does Ms Collins accept she will not be given licences to operate radial routes that are already being operated by Dublin Bus?

Ms Cora Collins

There is no need to give licences for them.

We are, therefore, discussing new, largely orbital, cross-city routes to link areas such as Tallaght and Blanchardstown. In our view this is where there is an immediate requirement for extra buses and services and the private sector is ideally placed to provide those buses if agreement can be reached.

Ms Cora Collins

If buses can be operated commercially on those routes we will do so. However, will the Government apply a public service obligation subsidy to these routes if they cannot be operated commercially, as it does every route operated by Dublin Bus?

I thank the delegation for its presentation. It never surprised me that the AerDart service from Howth Junction to Dublin Airport ceased. I saw the bus in question almost every day because I work in the area and there was hardly ever anyone on it, be it a Sunday, Saturday, Monday or Tuesday. The bus went from Howth Junction to the Airport and its purpose was, supposedly, to get people there using public transport. It was under used and I believe the only way the service could function would be for an operator, be it Dublin Bus or a private company, to be subsidised. I never saw more than three people on the bus as it left the airport. It went down the N32, a road I use frequently, which had a quality bus corridor that was cancelled only recently. Even after the service was dropped, Dublin City Council maintained the QBC. It is an absolute waste of road space.

The possibility of inviting licence applications for peak-time services was mentioned. I believe that park and ride facilities will be provided by the private sector and, equally, new services will more likely be provided via the private sector. I say this because even though Dublin Bus is getting extra buses, if it is to provide the service the public expects, those extra buses, or certainly their first phase, will be used for existing routes. There is a gap in the market. The representatives here today are from the private sector. Why are there not people within their operation who recognise the importance of establishing park-and-ride facilities on the outskirts of Dublin?

In my own region of Dublin North, somewhere north of Swords where there will be a metro station and a park and ride facility, one could build a park and ride tomorrow morning with a private operator collecting people and bringing them through Dublin Port tunnel into the city. It would take thousands of cars off the road and provide a facility with which, based on my discussions, I think Dublin Bus would not have a problem. Dublin Bus believes that it has different priorities. It surprises me that there are not a number of people within the group who intend to go out there, lease the land and provide a park-and-ride and a bus service into town. That could happen all over. The other Deputies can talk about Kildare, Meath, Wicklow and so on.

The connection between the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann was mentioned. Given that the private companies have the buses, and Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann do not need licences to operate existing services, surely, from a business perspective, there is a case to be made for approaching Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann and offering buses for their use. For example, if Dublin Bus is short 350 buses, the private company could offer to supplement its service. With a bit of negotiation, the company will get business. Dublin Bus already has the licence so there should not be a difficulty.

The issue of subsidising peak services was mentioned. However, the peak service pays for itself. Buses are full and people are left at bus stops. There is no need to subsidise them. Subsidies are really needed in the off-peak times such as mid-afternoon, mid-morning and late at night. Nobody wants to run those services because only half a dozen people will be leaving at those times. That is where the emphasis should be in terms of subsidies. We should insist on that service being provided either by public transport or by private companies. If they cannot sustain those routes with the fares they collect, they should be given a subsidy.

Over the years I have discussed transportation issues with many members of the public. I meet very few people who tell me they want to get from Blanchardstown to Tallaght, Tallaght to Blanchardstown or Swords to Blanchardstown. There are few places in between these centres. Many of the businesses in my region provide private buses to collect workers and bring them into the business park. Again, this is just an observation. I do not see these routes as a priority and I would not like that message going out to the group. Rather, the priority should be the expanding residential areas in north Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. Analysis of growth in house-building activity will show that regardless of whether we like it, the vast majority of people work in Dublin city. That should be the target market — places such as Balbriggan, Swords, Donabate, Rush and Lusk. I will let the other members speak for Kildare and Meath.

There is a huge market and it is growing. One can look at Fingal County Council's development plan and see the projected house growth in these areas. Thousands of houses are to be built, and there will be thousands of people who want to use public transport. They will do so if there is a good service. The reason I say this is that a new private service from Swords has been introduced by a company called Swords Express. I am sure the representatives are aware of it. It charges more than Dublin Bus — it is €3 from Swords to the city using the Dublin Port tunnel. However, one gets into town in 25 minutes — less, on some occasions. People are prepared to pay the extra euro because to go the traditional route, as Dublin Bus does at the moment, takes an hour and a half at the minimum or maybe longer if it is a rainy day or there are traffic jams. People want a service at the time at which they want to get in to work, at 7 a.m. until 8.30 or 9 a.m., and 4.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. That is what is needed. I would welcome the suggestions of the representatives.

The Deputy knows Dublin much better than I do, but if the M50 is anything to go by, there is huge potential between Tallaght and Blanchardstown, two large centres of population.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

I thank Deputy Kennedy for his understanding. He has painted a very good picture and said a lot of the things that we have been talking about, such as the need for direct services and the fact that it is aspirational to have orbital routes. The cost of provision of any service is quite staggering, and it is the same cost to us as to any other provider. Therefore, if we are to take on a route we must have a commercial viability plan. There is no point in saying that we will run from Tallaght to Blanchardstown if there are no people wishing to avail of the service. As the Deputy said about the Howth Junction-Dublin Airport service, one never saw more than three people on the bus. It has to be commercially viable and demand-driven. We are very conscious of that aspect.

The Deputy mentioned park and ride facilities. I was involved in a project ten or 12 years ago which sought to provide a park and ride facility at every artery coming into the M50, but it was turned down by the Government when we brought it to the then Minister. These are things that can and will work and will help alleviate traffic problems, but we must be mindful of where the demand is based. There is no point in providing a service where there is no demand.

The Chairman mentioned that we would not take on any of the loss-making routes. Any of our members who is guaranteed a subsidy to provide a service will take on any route. If the cost of provision plus an element of profit is included in any service provision, we have no problem taking it on. That is where the independent regulator comes into play. The regulator identifies the profitable and loss-making routes and we go from there. However, to say that we will not take on loss-making routes is not the case. Certainly, I will not throw away money every day by doing a run, but I will do a run if I am subvented by the State for making the provision. If it is a PSO route I will take on Tallaght-Blanchardstown or any such route.

I did not say anything about loss-making routes. I would not be so foolish as to suggest that any commercial enterprise would take on loss-making routes. The figures show that Tallaght-Blanchardstown is undoubtedly a route with significant potential. There are traffic congestion issues to be dealt with and so on, but my problem with the representatives — this is my only problem, because there are also many positives — is that they have not been proactive in considering the opportunities that are out there. They have wanted certain routes and have contributed significantly on some routes they have been assigned. It would be useful if they researched some of the potential routes that might also be profitable. I ask them to look at the Tallaght-Blanchardstown route, for example. The committee has asked Dublin Bus to examine a number of new routes and, having studied them, to report back on the service they would provide, listing full details of frequency, costs, etc. The private bus operators should also do the necessary research.

I suggest they look at expanding residential areas in north and west Dublin, and counties Meath, Kildare and Wicklow where there is now more demand during the day.

I thank the delegation. I appreciate the service in my constituency where private operators provide a badly-needed service for two third level colleges and to the airport. I agree with Deputy Kennedy that we probably need a better service to Dublin. When I referred to Celbridge, I was not referring to a bus every five minutes because such a service is not provided. At peak times a bus is provided every half hour and during the day the service is hourly. There is no sense in having the two services in the area operating within five minutes of each other every hour or half hour.

Ms Cora Collins

Is the Deputy criticising the officials who issued the licence?

I am, because that seems to be the condition under which the licence was issued.

Ms Cora Collins

That man is working according to his licence.

That would be my finding. I am interested in hearing about the obstacles private bus operators face. I understand oversupply by the State is possibly one such obstacle. I understand the lack of park and ride facilities is a significant obstacle for all bus operators. People travelling from Naas to Carlow Institue of Technology, for instance, find there is no connectivity to Naas from surrounding towns. If students decide to drive, there is a consequential parking problem. Therefore, in Kildare North we have problems with the lack of park and ride facilities which I see as presenting a huge obstacle for private bus operators which have mentioned the oversupply of State-run services. How many licences awarded to private bus operators have not been taken up?

Ms Cora Collins

Private bus operators must first apply for a licence. Depending on the complications involved, it can take up to two years to have a decision made. Once the letter of offer is received, an operator has 21 days to accept or reject it and, after acceptance, four months to get the service up and running. At that stage, if the route applied for requires 20 buses, the operator has to have those buses built. There is a requirement to go to the Gárda Síochána to have bus stops approved. Drivers must also be found. It is often impossible to have 20 buses delivered within four months. I believe it takes Dublin Bus 18 months to obtain 100 buses, not all of which may arrive in that time. It is possible to ask the Department of Transport for leeway of another two months if the correspondence and contract for the building of the buses can be shown. This extension will generally be granted but after that the offer lapses and the licence is offered to the next person in line.

There was an accusation made at the committee a couple of weeks ago that 50% of licences were being sat on by the private sector rather than being utilised and that the bus operators were making millions by doing this. If that were the case, everybody should run down to Kildare Street and obtain these €7 licences — there is one for everybody in the audience. There is no value in the licence — it is not worth the paper it is written on. The value lies in whatever investment is made in the route by buying vehicles, running the service and praying to God that somebody will actually use it; otherwise the bank will foreclose on the loan. Companies have been taken over and bought out in the same way that a shop can be bought and sold. However, a shop is not a State asset; niether is a sheet of A4 paper.

All bus operators suffer traffic problems. There is constant talk of the effect of gridlock on Dublin Bus but private operators are affected in exactly the same way. A Deputy raised the point that private operators were not consulted about QBCs. When the Luas was being built — it was not as extensive a digging operation as the one expected in a year or two — private bus drivers reported pulling into a street and finding the bus stop in the front bucket of a digger. People, usually from the country, were running after the digger, afraid to lose sight of it in case they lost sight of the bus. Private operators are not consulted by Dublin City Council when bus stops are moved. Neither are they consulted about traffic management. They are not consulted about anything, although they are more than twice the size of the combined CIE companies. That simply would not do because they are seen as get rich quick merchants. In the case of Celbridge, the man concerned is licensed for a particular time to which he sticks. The officials who issued the licence were merely implementing the law made by the Legislature. They have no axe to grind.

Every member of the committee knows his or her constituency and wants what is best for it. If I were in their position, I would be doing exactly the same. However, there is a clear need for an independent regulator to examine the provision of services nationwide solely from the point of view of the public, not merely from the operators' or politicians' viewpoint. That voice is sadly lacking. The best thing the committee could do is call for such a regulator who would have the staff to look at routes on a national basis, see what is needed and procure those services.

I will reply to the Chairman's point about lack of research on the part of private operators. If they were to do such research in Tallaght, for instance, they would still have to queue again for a licence. Within the two years it would take to have the application decided, the area would have experienced many changes.

Perhaps Ms Collins might comment on the length of time it takes for licences to be granted.

Ms Cora Collins

The licensing section in the Department of Transport is grossly understaffed. I wrote directly to two Ministers and the Secretary General of the Department asking that help be given to that section because at one stage the officials concerned were working 12 to 14 hours a day. They are doing their best to implement several laws and find the task impossible. They may have to deal with a notification from Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann and licence applications from up to three operators from the private sector for particular routes. When there is an overlap between them, it takes a long time to have a decision made. There is not enough staff to monitor services.

How long does it take, on average, for a licence application to be considered?

Ms Cora Collins

The average would be between 12 and 18 months.

The committee will take up that matter with the Department.

Ms Cora Collins

It is not a matter of officials not doing their job. The market is expanding and the Department has not expanded with it.

As I said, the Department acknowledges that there is need for a new licensing regime and an independent regulator. We have been assured by the Minister that these are coming. On the particular licence discussed, the committee will ask the Department why two buses are running at the same time.

Mr. Feargal Barton

I will comment on some of the points made by Deputies Brady and Kennedy. We spoke before about subcontracting with regard to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann and how and where that was proving effective. This organisation would hate to see private initiatives stifled. There are issues concerning the Lucan service and the Swords express service, both of which were started by private operators which considered there was a niche in the market. The most recent of the two, the Swords service, was granted a licence only because it was proposed to use the port tunnel which was not being serviced. Locations such as Maynooth, Kilcock and Naas that are serviced by Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann offer similar opportunities. The Swords-Dublin service now operates on a regular basis. If a private bus operator were allowed to provide a different service, perhaps an express or luxury service, a premium rate could be charged. There would be a market for such a service. Currently the private operator is not allowed to create those services or even to seek a licence for those services.

With regard to the Lucan service, as Ms Collins mentioned, several years ago the public came to the operator seeking an increase in service. They wanted the service to go into estates and wanted an express service. The first xpresso service in the country was the 67X from Celbridge and that was a direct response to a private operator putting a direct route there. We have orbital routes coming in from Carrickmacross, Dundalk and such places but when Bus Éireann operated there the first service was at 8 o'clock in the morning. Sub-contracting has a place but remember private operators started these routes on their own initiative with their own vehicles.

We have no difficulty with that and certainly we would not wish to stifle that.

Mr. Feargal Barton

It is not possible to stifle that. There will be some form of competition, why hand it all to Dublin Bus or to Bus Éireann?

There is no issue about stifling anything, even from Deputy Broughan who would be the person most animated on this issue.

Mr. Feargal Barton

We do not represent Crossan's. They were not a member of our association. Presumably at some point somebody went to that private company or they saw a niche in the market and said "we should try that". Dublin Bus may have been able to provide that service; I do not know why they did not.

The association says it is interested in orbital routes and I am giving an example where a company had one. Apparently — I have been checking it — the licence is still there and somebody is saying they still might activate the licence. That is what we hear from the Department of Transport.

Mr. Feargal Barton

Is the Deputy suggesting it is wrong for an operator to seek a location and—

No, but when you are given a licence—

Mr. Feargal Barton

—to put his money where his mouth is and go an do it and to fail rather than not to do it at all?

I am saying an operator is right to go and do it, but this is an example of where an operator did it but did not keep it up. The point is that Dublin Bus runs an 8.50 p.m. service each night to south Finglas and there are certain routes that are difficult to carry.

Mr. Feargal Barton

Yes, and those routes are all under public service obligation.

They are totally ignored.

Mr. Feargal Barton

They would all be under public service obligation.

Yes, we hope they would but we do not know what will happen.

Mr. Feargal Barton

Private operators would love to get the opportunity to quote and tender for those.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

We need an independent audit and verification of the whole network to see what is profitable and to see what routes need a public service obligation. Then we can expand and grow the market dramatically. Under the present system Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and private operators have to determine where the demand and the market are. We need to be told where to tender, where the new routes are, what the requirements are and where the market is growing based on the development plans for the various regions and areas in the country. This is not just for Dublin but throughout the country.

As Ms Collins said, we were never consulted about the quality bus corridors, or by the various authorities despite the fact that we are twice the size of the State carrier. That is why we need this independent audit. To suggest we apply for a licence to operate from Tallaght to somewhere will not solve any problem or make the system any better. We need to get the system right once and for all.

We made proposals when there was talk about opening up the market. Our proposals were discussed and every time we went in there were more buses given to Dublin Bus, so we gave up going in. It is not possible to provide the service if it is not clear what we have and what we require. That is where the problem lies today. Unless we do that now we will not go anywhere.

I was in my office listening to the discussion on the monitor and I want to clarify some points. Ms Collins referred to the Lucan corridor and the history behind it. I have no difficulty with that. However, she spoke with a degree of authority and mentioned a figure whereby on average there is a bus every 1.2 minutes, is that the case?

Ms Cora Collins

It is 1.3 minutes.

Is 1.3 minutes a current or a historical figure?

Ms Cora Collins

It is current, for peak times.

At 8 o'clock in the morning?

Ms Cora Collins

Exactly, seven until nine. It is independently verified and it is the subject of a major international investigation so that is as far as I can go.

I will not get into that. That verification comes from somebody who has gone along, monitored and taken notes of the operations be they Dublin Bus, Circle Line 1 or whatever. Is that independent verification available, or can it be made available to this committee?

Ms Cora Collins

I imagine the European Commission would have made it available to the Government. Whether it would have come to the committee I do not know.

Is the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland in possession of it?

Ms Cora Collins

It is.

Is the council in a position to make it available to the committee?

Ms Cora Collins

The case may end up going through the courts so I cannot answer the question at the minute, but I can go back to the operator and discuss it with him.

Will the secretariat of this committee see if that information is available to us as a committee, and perhaps Ms Collins might check if it could be made available? Obviously if there is a legal impediment I fully understand, but if it is a relatively public document, she might confirm that it can be made available.

Ms Cora Collins

The Department of Transport is investigating it and it has a great deal of documentary evidence on this, if that would be quicker. I have no difficulty in seeing what I can make available to the committee.

If someone could make it available that would be appreciated.

That is what I referred to earlier but the council seemed to disagree with me.

Ms Cora Collins

We might have been at cross purposes. The EU complaint is a major one, they would not take up the issue of one corridor in Dublin. There is a bigger issue.

Is the council familiar with the terms of the licence and in particular how frequently buses should run in that corridor at peak hours?

Ms Cora Collins

I am familiar with Circle Line's licence and what it is licensed to do.

Ms Cora Collins

I do not have the licence with me, but I can tell the Deputy Circle Line is sticking rigidly to it.

I am not asking that I am asking what the service is.

Ms Cora Collins

Does the Deputy mean the departure times?

Ms Cora Collins

I am ill prepared for that question.

Mr. Feargal Barton

Should the question not be the Dublin Bus licence?

Mr. Feargal Barton

We are implying and the documentary evidence is implying that Circle Line is running according to its timetable, but Dublin Bus has increased its capacity and the number of coaches on that route over and above its timetable. These coaches or double-deckers are taken from other routes and saturating that route to try and put an operator out of business. That is the bottom line. Circle Line is operating according to the licence and Dublin Bus is not. Surely the line of questioning should be directed at Dublin Bus?

Dublin Bus is not in front of me today and it is being dealt with in another way. The point is there is a bus passing every 1.3 minutes. I am trying to start with what is in front of me and to understand the licence of the private sector and how it balances with 1.3 minutes. I cannot ask Mr. Barton about Dublin Bus. I am not at this point looking at the legal challenges, I am looking at the service. The opening comment about 1.3 minutes is fine and I am taking that as a given but now I am going back a step. What are the components of that? Can the people in front of me today tell me, from the private operators point of view, what its service is? I am not doubting that the operator is meeting its commitments, I am asking a factual question. Does the council have that information?

Ms Cora Collins

We can certainly supply it to the committee reasonably fast.

I would appreciate it because the opening comment was that the service was 1.3 minutes.

Ms Cora Collins

I meant the service in total, adding Dublin Bus and Circle Line together.

I understand what was meant and the private sector is one half of the equation.

Ms Cora Collins

Of course.

As a public representative for the area, I must point out that the constituents who are coming to me are not happy that the service is at the freqency referred to. I have grave doubts about it. That is what provoked the line of questioning. I am not picking on the delegation but I am making the point that the constituents raised. It is a major bone of contention that the level of service is not meeting the demand. I accept the delegation is only one half of the equation but I was astounded to hear that the frequency was at 1.3 minutes because that is not what people on the ground are telling me. Any documentation, to try to piece together where I am coming from would be appreciated. I fully accept the delegation is only one half of the equation.

I wish to refer to orbital routes. I represent the Clondalkin and Lucan area. I agree with the Chairman there is a huge amount of traffic on that corridor for Tallaght, Clondalkin, Lucan and Blanchardstown going on to the M50. One has only to look at the traffic flows in and out. The metro west will link those places. Clondalkin and Lucan are wedged in the middle, there are shopping centres, hospitals and third level colleges in Tallaght and Blanchardstown. Deputy Kennedy referred to people working in the city. There is also huge employment in areas which Circle Line services, Citywest and Parkwest. The orbital issues, in other words, routes not just in and out of the city, are very much alive. I do not have the quantifiable evidence but I believe there is significant traffic in that direction.

I wish to make one point about peak service and, perhaps, I am looking at it from the wrong perspective. It is easy to get a single bus out at 7.30 a.m., fill it and head to Clondalkin, Lucan or Tallaght but if one is to service the entire demand it means that a bundle of buses is required at that rush hour in the morning. While they may be profitable at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. what does one do with the driver and the capital investment for the rest of the day? Sometimes it is misleading to say that meeting a peak demand is profitable. It is profitable at that point in time but maybe not over an extended period. It may be that ten buses are needed to leave Clondalkin or Lucan between 8 a.m. and 9 am. I do not know what are the figures. A substantial number of buses is needed and they can all be full, but at 11 a.m., 12 noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. if those buses are on the road in a corridor they are picking up small money. To physically meet and satisfy peak demand is profitable at 10 a.m. if it is brought back to an hourly rate but if extended over a longer period it may not always be profitable. Sometimes the argument is slightly confused. I do not know if Ms Collins agrees.

Ms Cora Collins

I can only go on the presentation made by the chief executive of Bublin Bus to this committee where he said a run could bepublic service obligation in the morning because it was peak, it could be profitable during the day and it could revert to public service obligationin the evening because extra capacity is needed at the peak. He is correct in that. We are all faced with that problem on the longer distance routes on Friday evenings and Sunday nights and we have to double the capacity. That loss has to be spread over the week in the hope that in the bigger picture at the end of the week or the end of the month it has actually paid. It does not pay one to hire in an extra bus on a Friday or, as the CEO from Dublin Bus said, when he has to put on extra capacity in the evening but he cannot necessarily use that during the day. He still has to pay his driver.

Can I take you up on that point because I disagree with Dublin Bus and I disagree with you on that issue.

Ms Cora Collins

You are not a bus operator.

I came out of Heuston Station yesterday at 4 o'clock and boarded the 92 bus to take me to Leinster House. There were six people on it. There were four Luas trams outside Heuston Station travelling in both directions and people were falling out of the doors. To say that people are not interested in off peak service is not true. They are not interested because the services are not available. The services are not provided by Dublin Bus and you certainly are not interested in putting them in place. I appreciate the reason, but we have got to change that and that is one of the issues for this committee. The Luas is packed during off peak times because it is reliable, frequent and its gets people to their destination.

Mr. Feargal Barton

One also avoids the traffic, which is a major issue.

That is correct. This is a big issue for us on this committee and we will come to that. The point being made is that if there are good quality, frequent, reliable services people will use them. They are not in place at present and there are a number of reasons for that. That is the issue we are trying to tackle. There are many routes in this city, as pointed out here, that are very profitable and which we would hope the delegation would look at and which Dublin Bus does not have the capacity to consider. We will try to assist you. Deputy Curran and I have provided examples, as have numerous others who know what they are talking about.

There is also the issue that if any route is franchised there should be competition for that route, whether public or private. If the level of frequency is decided — off peak, high peak — it should be possible to compete on a tender process with whoever for that route. The delegation should be able to do that and not just for the orbital routes. It should be involved as a business and so far as the taxpayer is concerned, that is what we must do. The problem is that if one does not agree with franchising it will not work. Where there are other competitors on the same route the situation gets ridiculous. The delegation should be able to become involved. I strongly urge that should happen.

That would be the direct award and I put that question to you. If agreement can be reached to subcontract in buses to Dublin Bus, under the direct award type of contract, it seems to me, in view of what is being developed across various European countries, that is the most efficient way to allow the private sector to come in on a competitive and co-operative basis with the existing State bus company. I feel that is the solution to the problem.

Ms Cora Collins

The answer to that question is that I am sure there are private sector companies who would be willing and happy to subcontract buses into Dublin Bus but one cannot confine a whole sector—

That is okay.

Ms Cora Collins

—to be subservient to one company.

We are not suggesting that.

Ms Cora Collins

The answer to your question is "No". They are welcome to subcontract as much as they want. Certainly the Bus Éireann contract needs to be seriously looked at but I do not know how one could call that competition.

I will come to that point in a moment. You are misunderstanding me. In the case of the extra buses which are now required in Dublin would you be prepared to subcontract in, under the direct award system, extra buses to Dublin Bus in a competitive situation? I am not talking about any other issue other than Dublin Bus requirements for extra buses.

Ms Cora Collins

I am sure there are companies that would hire in at a competitive rate as has been done with the schools in Dublin.

Mr. Paddy Kavanagh

How does that create competition? With whom is the competition between in those circumstances?

If one is able to hire in a bus and a driver for a day at a cheaper rate than Dublin Bus is prepared to provide it, that is competition and it shows up Dublin Bus inefficiencies.

Mr. Paddy Kavanagh

Who is going to determine the—

You are hiring in the bus, as you subcontract in to Bus Éireann at present, where that bus will run, even using the Dublin Bus livery if necessary.

Mr. Paddy Kavanagh

With respect, the only competition that would create would be between already impoverished private operators between themselves, chasing after badly paid routes.

In that case why do you do the school bus service?

Mr. Paddy Kavanagh

There is a history with the school bus service. For ten years the school bus operators did not get an increase.

The important thing here is that we will not have private bus operators operating services on the radial routes where Dublin Bus is operating. It is not going to happen.

Mr. Paddy Kavanagh

We are not asking for that.

The alternative to that—

Mr. Paddy Kavanagh

We are asking for an independent scientific study to determine where is the demand and that it be put out to proper tender under an independent regulator.

I am suggesting that in other routes, such as the orbital routes, you have the opportunity to provide your own service where it is not provided at present or, as Deputy Kennedy said, in areas of increased population where there are not adequate bus services. There is ample opportunity around this city.

Mr. Paddy Kavanagh

The peak demand is for 350 vehicles. Why is that not put to independent tender?

It is not peak demand that is the problem but the fact that buses are lying idle during the off-peak period.

I will be brief, as I am not a member of the committee and am mainly interested in the next item. The transport service in my area of east Meath has been transformed by the intervention of a private operator, who is providing a fantastic service, which I use. The State failed in terms of Bus Éireann to provide an adequate service to people. With this operator, people have a bus service every half hour at peak time and every hour during the day. There seems to be a good take-up of the service and a good demand for it. The area it serves is one of the development areas to which Deputy Michael Kennedy referred. This company is exploring the possibility of operating other routes from east Meath and elsewhere in County Meath to Dublin. However, there are quirks in terms of the conditions attached to the licence awarded to that operator which seem to favour Bus Éireann that I will not go into and there are many issues regarding the length of time it takes to obtain a licence. It took a long time for the operator to be awarded the licence. This is a major issue for the operator and it also inconveniences the passengers who avail of this service.

Mr. Kavanagh referred to new districts but he did not explain how he will provide 350 buses and if they all will be wheelchair accessible. There is a vast new urban territory not only in east Meath but in north Dublin. Did the council submit a tender for a route to serve that area, the centre part of which was developed by Gerry Gannon in Clongriffen? It is a new cross city route in Dublin. A private operator, provided by the developer, served the area, but there was a high demand by the people in the area for a bus service. Has the council tendered for that service?

There are examples of similar service provision throughout the country. In the case of the bus service from Tullow to Dublin, the Department deliberately tried to ensure that a private operator would be awarded the franchise and that Bus Éireann would be impeded from being granted such a franchise.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

Will the Deputy repeat his point? What is he inferring in his reference to the Dublin to Tullow bus service?

Is that not an example of routes where Bus Éireann wanted to—

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

It is operating that route.

I know it is but I am speaking about an enhanced franchise.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

Therefore, it is operating the route.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

It has been operating the route.

Yes, but we have a concern in this regard, given that the privatisation of services in the UK resulted in a reduced standard of service and there has been a return to municipal and state companies as a result of what happened there over two decades. Did the council or any of its members tender to operate a route to serve the vast new territory in the my constituency of south Fingal?

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

There is not a tendering process in this regard.

Did the council apply for a licence?

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

To what area is the Deputy referring?

The new 128 route.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

Who is operating that route?

It is being operated by Dublin Bus.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

Is it subvented?

It serves an area of 20,000 homes.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

Is it a PSO route?

It is part of the Dublin Bus network.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

Therefore it is a PSO route.

Did the council or any of its members apply for a licence to serve that route which covered a new territory?

Ms Cora Collins

If it was a PSO route, why would we provide it for nothing when Dublin Bus has been paid to operate it?

It would appear to be a hugely profitable route.

Mr. Feargal Barton

Dublin Bus operates the route and even though it is hugely profitable it is still benefiting from a PSO to provide it.

The point I am making is that this area has been developed for some five to seven years, but a service was not provided on that route for a good while.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

In making that point, the Deputy has hit the nail on the head. He has said what we have been saying since we came in here. We need an overall strategy to devise the network requirements for public transport.

Yes, but where there are opportunities, did the council apply-----

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

The Deputy has said what we have been saying, that we need a proper structure in place.

No one disputes that.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

That should be the Government's priority.

It is our priority. We have been asking for the introduction of the DTA Bill for the past six years.

Mr. J. J. Kavanagh

As Deputy Thomas Byrne mentioned, one of his constituents is providing a fabulous service in County Meath. Of the 617 licences issued to private operators, 240 to 250 of them are basically to carry students only, be they students at primary, secondary or third level, and the operator cannot carry any other passengers on those vehicles. Many of those are tour services, therefore, the availability of service licences to provide a public service is limited. Without going through each licence, I estimate that approximately 200 licences of a public nature have been issued and, of those, I imagine that serious restrictions have been placed on 50% to 70% in terms of where passengers can be picked up or set down. That is the regime with which we have to contend on a daily basis. We provide a commercial service and try to make it pay, but we are significantly impeded.

I know of a case where a licensed operator applied for a licence to provide a service from Naas to Liffey Valley, serving Hewlett-Packard, Intel and all the big employers in that area. A condition of the licence granted was that the operator could operate the service from Naas to Liffey Valley, but the operator could not pick up or set down passengers at Intel or Hewlett-Packard which employs thousands of people in Senator Brady's constituency. For a private operator, is that kind of licence worth having? Those restrictions were placed on it for whatever reason with no service originating in Naas to serve that area. For a private operator to take on a licence such as that would be tantamount to committing commercial suicide. Those are the types of difficulties we experience in trying to survive in this market.

The Deputy said that we did not examine the new route to which he referred, but we need to be told there is a requirement in that area. If Dublin Bus operates a service there under a PSO, why can we not apply to be part of that PSO and save money for the Government and for the taxpayer? In terms of saying Dublin Bus is great to take on this route under a PSO, as I said to the Chairman, I would take on any route on which I could secure a PSO.

We have carefully listened to and will reflect on what the representatives have said. I believe the overarching body they requested to be established will be announced by the Minister responsible shortly. We appreciate that the council operates 6,000 large vehicles as opposed to the approximately 3,000 operated by Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus.

Ms Cora Collins

Dublin Bus has just fewer than 1,200 vehicles and Bus Éireann has in or around the same number.

That factor is not appreciated. I was not aware that the council had such significant numbers of large buses. We want a strong private sector bus service developed and we want the council to expand its services. We want competition introduced in this market but we want such competition to be sensible and result in a more reliable and cost efficient service.

As I requested Dublin Bus, I request the council to report back to us. There is proposal to site a park and ride facility in Lissenhall, north of the airport. We suggested to Dublin Bus that it put forward proposals for the servicing of that facility through the port tunnel and perhaps with a new quality bus corridor down the north quays as far as Butt Bridge. We also requested Dublin Bus to consider a few proposals and we request the council to examine the Tallaght to Blanchardstown route and report back to us with the specifics of how it would provide such a service.

Mr. Feargal Barton

Without a PSO?

Yes, without a PSO. If the council's first reaction is that there is not sufficient business on that route, its representatives can state that and we will try to disprove it.

I thank the representatives for attending. We appreciate the good work the council is doing. A huge expansion in bus transport will take place in the next few years. Therefore, there is no need for the private sector to row with the public sector over it. Everybody should be able to be accommodated in a more reliable service.