Thank you, Chairman, for those kind comments about the way the service is developing. I would like to give my presentation specifically on the issues the committee asked me to comment on, but I am also happy to answer questions on any other issues that may arise.
I thank you for your invitation. I was invited to discuss our company's train fares in the context of the recent fares increase. I hope that through this opening statement and the subsequent questioning I can address the issues that arise. To go back to the fares increase, on 9 January 2008, in common with the other operators — Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and the Luas — we increased our fares by an average of 5%. We did that across intercity, DART and commuter services. Any company operating in the economy must obviously cover its costs either with its revenue or some other source of income. Our source is twofold: the fare box and the subvention we receive from Government.
In the last 12 months we have seen some of our costs increase dramatically, particularly fuel costs. Everybody is aware of the oil price increase which comes directly through to us in terms of our fuel costs for trains, but also in terms of our commitment to the partnership programme and the wage increases we have paid to our employees in time. Notwithstanding recent increases, our fares remain competitive and are much lower than the European average for train fares. With today's paper, I have included an appendix for committee members to study, which sets out the comparison of fares across what we call the EU 15 — the pre-enlargement countries. We have included journeys that are comparable with Dublin-Cork, Dublin-Galway and Dublin-Waterford looking at similar journey distances and intercity type journeys. Members will see from those comparisons that Irish fares are very much at the lower end of the range within Europe and below the European average. If members have the chart in front of them, they will see that the red bar is the EU average and the green bar is the Irish rail fare. Members can work out from the abbreviations the names of different countries. Members will see that Great Britain is much higher than anybody else, but there is a spectrum right through and they can see where we fit into that.
In addition, on a number of routes and individual services we also offer competitive discounted fares, day returns, returns for different off-peak times, discounts for students and so on. Providing those discounts is all part of our fare strategy. Increasingly, we are now utilising a new media, which is the website irishrail.ie, for fares-based promotions. Through our website we are mostly focusing on discounted single tickets.
Committee members will be used to a situation where in other transport fields it is quite common to find discounted single fares as the main vehicle to book journeys. The level of business on our website has responded positively to that and has increased by 80% over the past 12 months, and is continuing to increase. We do not believe by any means that this is a one-step change. Our website also now gives the opportunity to offer discounted fares and encourage advance purchase. That is helpful to us in terms of knowing what capacity we need, seat reservations and so on. We intend to use these promotions to offer further discounts to customers in a way that will benefit our overall revenue.
Moving to our commuter business, which is quite different from the intercity one in many ways, we have heavily discounted commuter fares in terms of season tickets. We are offering people who commute to major cities from the suburbs weekly, monthly or annual season tickets, which are competitive. They show competitiveness not only when one compares them with our near neighbours across the water, but also the longer the person books for the more competitive the fares become. For example, taking a 90 km journey from Dublin to Dundalk or Carlow, or vice versa, a weekly ticket would work out at an average of €6.40 per day. A monthly journey would work out at €5.42 and an annual one at €4.52. Therefore, the longer the season ticket, the better the value.
We have been helped significantly by the Department of Finance's tax-saver scheme, which encourages people to transfer to public transport. If employers register with the scheme for their employees, then commuters can buy the tax-saver monthly and annual tickets. That means they get tax relief depending on their marginal rate of tax. It could be up to 41% tax relief plus PRSI savings of 6%. If we take a typical 90 km journey, that brings it down to as little as approximately €2.40 per day if we take off the tax savings and the PRSI. That is very low. This is increasingly popular and many companies and their employees are signing up to the taxsaver scheme.
Appendix 2 shows the dramatic difference between our commuter season tickets in the greater Dublin area and similar commuter journeys across the water. Iarnród Éireann is currently Europe's fastest growing railway, although admittedly from a lower base than some of the much larger companies. However, we are growing at a faster rate than any other EU member state in terms of the number of people we carry. This is as a result of the support we have had for the Transport 21 project and from the EU.
In the past three years, our passenger numbers have increased from 34.4 million to 46 million journeys per annum. That is a 33% increase in just three years. I regularly meet senior members of the railway industry from across Europe and they are amazed at the scale of growth. Their first question is how is Iarnród Éireann dealing with it? Obviously, I discuss the greater frequency and capacity in which we are investing to cater for this growth.
In that context, I acknowledge the support from public representatives on this committee, from all parties and independents, for our investment plans. Many of the plans which members of this committee and others have supported us on have now been included in the Transport 21 programme. That is the vehicle by which we will deliver this greater capacity.
We now have a good track record in delivering projects on time and on budget. We are bringing that track record to the Transport 21 programme to ensure that rail can play the strongest possible role in meeting the transport needs of this State and all the communities we serve.
By 2015, we plan to have increased the number of journeys from the current 46 million to over 100 million. We have set ourselves a very tough target to more than double that number in the next seven years to 2015. We very much look forward to delivering continuous improvement in the quality of service we offer and in the value for money we provide to our customers and the many new ones we look forward to having in the future.