I thank the Chairman for the invitation to address the committee on the draft public transport Bill 2015. Due to the nature of the Bill, comprising entirely of amendments to existing legislation and providing for no new policy provisions, it had been substantially drafted in advance of submission to Government and is before the committee in draft Bill form, as opposed to the more usual heads of Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny.
The Bill provides for amendments to the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, the Taxi Regulation Act 2013, the Road Traffic Act 1961, the Railway Safety Act 2005 and the State Airports Act 2004. It is a short Bill comprising just seven sections, including one providing for the short title and collective citation, with one each for four of the five Acts being amended and two for amendments to the Taxi Regulation Act 2013. I will give an overview of the main amendments being proposed, but I emphasise that the amendments proposed are technical amendments to existing legislation and do not involve any new regulatory policy.
Section 1 relates to the public transport infrastructure functions of the National Transport Authority, NTA. The proposed amendments to the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 will ensure that the NTA can develop and deliver public transport infrastructure such as bus rapid transit, BRT, in the event that it is decided to proceed with such infrastructure. The amendments are required to address certain issues identified by legal advisers to the NTA as potentially precluding the NTA from providing such projects. The proposed amendment ensures that the NTA would have the necessary powers to deliver required public transport infrastructure but does not involve a commitment to the development of BRT. No decision has yet been made with regard to any of the BRT projects proposed by the NTA.
In particular, the amendments in section 1 address a constraint in the existing legislation which creates a differentiation between public roads existing before the establishment date of the NTA and public roads which were developed after the NTA was established. The advice of the Office of the Attorney General confirmed that a technical amendment would be required to the 2008 Act to address this differentiation and provide that the NTA would have equivalent vires to provide public transport infrastructure on public roads that were constructed either before or after the establishment date of the NTA.
Section 1 also provides for an amendment to section 44 of the DTA Act 2008 regarding the performance of a "function" by the NTA. The amendment removes a doubt that has arisen over whether it adequately addresses the situation where only part of the function is required to be performed. This means that a likely case of the NTA intending to undertake certain aspects of a function, while the other statutory party continues to carry out all of the remaining aspects, may not be permissible, or may carry the risk of a successful legal challenge.
Sections 2 and 3 provide for amendments to the Taxi Regulation Act 2013. That Act was introduced primarily to give legal effect to recommendations of the Taxi Regulation Review Report 2011 relating to increased enforcement measures, including a demerit scheme to deal with recurrent breaches of small public service vehicle, SPSV, regulations; the issue of on-the-spot fines for an increased range of offences; and a proportionate system for mandatory disqualification from holding a licence on conviction for a serious criminal offence. The 2013 Act also repealed and replaced the Taxi Regulation Act 2003.
The amendments in section 2 can be grouped into those which provide greater precision in the 2013 Act relating to certain provisions; provide more specific enabling powers under the 2013 Act for certain matters which the NTA may provide for in regulations; and relate to punctuation and textual corrections and refinement. Some of the main amendments providing greater precision in the Act provide for the inclusion of a requirement that the licensing authority may only grant a licence to drive a small public service vehicle to a person who holds a driving licence to drive such a vehicle; the automatic revocation of a SPSV licence on surrender of the licence by the licence holder; and the non-application of the representations and appeal procedures under the Act to decisions of the licensing authority to refuse to grant a licence or to revoke or suspend a licence, arising from a vehicle not meeting the required standard for SPSVs.
Without this amendment, the licensing authority's decision does not take effect until the appeal procedures have been exhausted, which takes around two months, during which the licence continues and the vehicle can be used as a small public service vehicle, SPSV, despite failing the vehicle standards test. It is proposed to extend the current three-month timeframe to nine months from the date of the death of a licence holder, during which the nominated representative of the deceased licence holder may apply to the NTA for the grant of a licence of the same category. It is considered that in the circumstances three months is too short a period. The final amendment relates to the applicability of the dispatch operator licensing requirements to technological intermediaries. An argument has been put forward that such intermediaries do not provide a booking service, which is the term used in the 2013 Act; rather, they provide a platform whereby intending passengers can directly contact vehicles. The proposed amendments to sections 2, 7(2)(c) and 22(5) of the Act will bring certainty on this issue.
As regards those amendments providing for more specific enabling powers for certain matters which the NTA may provide for in regulations, the key amendments relate to section 7 and provide for the requirement for prescribed written declarations or undertakings to accompany a licence application - for example, that the applicant has not been convicted of certain offences specified in the Act and that his or her health or mobility does not affect his or her ability to drive a small public service vehicle. There are also a number of amendments relating to punctuation and textual corrections and refinement.
Section 3 provides for the substitution of section 48 of the 2013 Act relating to fixed payment notices for small public service vehicles. Section 48 provides that when a person is issued with a fixed payment notice he or she has 28 days, beginning on the date specified in the notice, during which he or she may pay the prescribed fixed payment amount. That is the first payment option. If the person does not pay the prescribed fixed payment amount during that first 28-day period, he or she may make a payment of an amount 50% greater than the prescribed fixed payment amount. That is the second payment option. However, the timeframe for the second payment option is not currently prescribed in section 48 - it is prescribed in the fixed payment notice issued to the alleged offender. Legal advice is that it is preferable that the period for the second payment option be prescribed in section 48. In this amendment, the opportunity has also been taken to provide for greater precision in certain aspects of the wording of section 48 - for example, the addition of the words "specified in the notice" to subsection (1)(a), and the addition of the words "duly completed" to subsection (1)(b).
Section 4 provides for an amendment to the Railway Safety Act 2005 to change the name of the Railway Safety Commission to the Commission for Railway Regulation. The Railway Safety Commission was established under the Railway Safety Act 2005 to foster and encourage railway safety and to enforce legislation relating to railway safety. Directive 2012/34/EU establishing a single European railway area, which must be transposed into national law by mid-June 2015, requires each member state to designate a regulatory body to monitor competition in the rail services market in the State to ensure non-discriminatory access to railway markets. The regulatory body will have a monitoring function and the role of hearing appeals made by railway undertakings and other interested persons.
Draft regulations that are under preparation at present to transpose the directive provide for the assignment of the functions of the regulatory body to the Railway Safety Commission. The effect of this will be that, in addition to the regulation of railway safety, the Railway Safety Commission will have statutory functions in respect of regulation of the rail services market. It is considered, therefore, that it would be appropriate to change the name of the commission to Commission for Railway Regulation to best reflect the broadening of its remit. It is proposed that the date for the change of name be appointed in an order to be made by the Minister to ensure that the timing of the change of name can be carried out in a planned and organised manner.
Section 5 provides for a purely technical amendment to section 27, as inserted by section 51 of the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014 into the State Airports Act 2004. The amendment will bring the provisions of section 27 in line with similar provisions under the Road Traffic Acts as operated by local authorities and the Garda Síochána, and clarifies that the payment accompanying the notice cannot be accepted unless all the required information has been completed on the notice.
Section 5 also provides for an amendment to section 48 of the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014, which sets out the basis on which authorised officers can act in the interest of the proper operation or the security or safety of an airport, or the security or safety of persons, aircraft or other property at an airport. The amendment provides for the inclusion of an offence under section 47 of that Act in the various offences for which an authorised officer at an airport may arrest a person without warrant. An offence under section 47 relates to a case in which an authorised officer at an airport finds a vehicle remaining stationary or parked in a place in contravention of airport by-laws and the driver does not comply with the requirement of the officer to move the vehicle.
Section 6 is essentially a technical amendment, correcting section 106 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, which deals with duties on the occurrence of an accident. It was amended in 2014 to introduce new offences for hit-and-run incidents causing death or serious injury. The Attorney General's office has since advised the Department that the amended version of the section contains an implicit contradiction. The new hit-and-run provisions are indictable offences, but they come under a section heading referring to summary offences. The Attorney General's advice is that the intention of the law is clear in spite of the error, and the DPP is continuing to take prosecutions under this legislation. However, it is also the Attorney General's view that the error should be corrected at the earliest available opportunity, and that is what we are doing here. At the same time, we are rectifying an omission in the 2014 provisions. When the new hit-and-run provisions were introduced, there should have been an associated amendment to state that there would be a consequential disqualification for those who were convicted under the new provisions. As that was not done at the time, we are doing it now though section 6(b) of the present Bill.