Safety of School Transport Bus Fleet: Road Safety Authority

I welcome the witnesses from the Road Safety Authority, RSA, Ms Moyagh Murdock, chief executive, Mr. Liam Duggan and Ms Kathleen Callanan. Our discussions today follow on from an RTÉ report in September that cited RSA statistics which showed that more than half of all school buses, subject to road safety checks, had received failing grades over a 12 month period. The data released indicated that of the 873 buses tested, 445 had failed, 268 of which were operating with major defects and 37 of which had dangerous defects. The RSA data as reported are alarming and concerning. We welcome the opportunity, therefore, to explore these serious, important and urgent issues with the RSA.

School buses operated by dozens of private operators provide a particularly important service in rural areas where road conditions can be challenging. No bus should be operated on Ireland's roads in a dangerous condition. There have been some sad fatalities in the recent past and our sympathies go to the families of all those affected. It is an extremely serious issue and it has other implications for bus transport too because some of these service providers may operate outside of the bus transport school system on other routes.

By virtue by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Ms Murdock to make her opening statement.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I am joined by my colleagues, Mr. Liam Duggan, director of fatal testing and enforcement, and Ms Katheleen Callanan, who is responsible for enforcement operations. I thank the joint committee for the opportunity to address it on the matter of safety of the school transport fleet.

The responsibilities of the Road Safety Authority in respect of buses are confined to implementing and enforcing particular regulations for roadworthiness, drivers' hours, tachograph, operator licensing and driver certificate of professional competence. We also provide high-quality and reliable information to inform decision making, positive development and so on, and we collaborate with An Garda Síochána and other State agencies to improve enforcement and advocate improved road safety. From an institutional perspective, the school transport scheme is operated by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills.

The institutional, funding and contractual arrangements for delivering school transport, including services for children with special needs, are matters between the Department of Education and Skills and Bus Éireann. Aside from the Bus Éireann transport scheme, there are also instances where school transport services are delivered through a private arrangement with parents or schools outside of the Department of Education and Skills scheme.

From a large public service vehicle licensing perspective, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the National Transport Authority and An Garda Síochána each administer particular regulatory functions in respect of passenger vehicles. The role of the enforcement unit in the Road Safety Authority is to check the roadworthiness condition of buses at the side of the road in conjunction with the Garda and to act in an advisory capacity to An Garda Síochána by providing mechanical and expert assistance where required. In addition, we conduct inspections at operator premises to verify compliance with maintenance obligations for vehicles, driver and operator compliance with tachograph and driver hours and operator licensing as well as driver certificate of professional competence checks at the roadside and in premises.

RSA data for roadworthiness relates to buses generally rather than specifically buses involved with school transport because there is an overlap. We have set out in table 1, which is before the committee, the results of the past four quarters in compliance rates and compliance at first visit at roadside and during premises inspections. Committee members can see that for the year from July 2017 to the end of June 2018 there were 873 school bus inspections at the roadside. This resulted in an average compliance rate, excluding minor items, of 68%. Of the 873 inspections, 268 buses or 30% had a major defect and a further 37 buses or 4.3% were deemed to be dangerously defective. These roadside inspections involve a visual examination of the vehicle without the use of equipment. The most common defects detected related to tyres, brake lights and steering leakages. In the same period, we undertook over 1,063 premises inspections looking at maintenance obligations and their compliance. The average compliance on the first visit in these instances was 52% and this increased to over 63% at a follow-up inspection. This compliance data is not indicative, and should not be taken as reflective, of compliance of the national fleet. Rather it reflects our enforcement findings derived from applying a risk-based approach. Effectively, we go after the riskier operators in cases where we deem vehicles require further attention.

In the determination of defects detected during inspections our inspectors use the EU classification of defects. Under the EU classification a major defect is one that may prejudice the safety of the vehicle, one that has an impact on the environment, one that puts other road users at risk or where other significant non-compliance issues are at hand. A dangerous defect is one constituting a direct and immediate risk to road safety or having a direct impact on the environment such that the vehicle should not be used on the road in any circumstances. All our vehicle inspectors undertaking inspections are qualified mechanics and undertake continuing professional development.

In developing our strategic approach to enforcement we have a combination of regulatory tools to promote and encourage operators and drivers to improve compliance with legislation. The efficiency of these tools is kept under constant review and some new instruments may be needed particularly in respect of options for fixed charges, which must be effective and dissuasive. The tools available to us aim to put road safety first and encourage operators to apply good safety practices in their day-to-day activities. Such practices include walk-around checks, regular preventative maintenance and other measures to prevent collisions and incidents where vehicles breakdown and cause delays at the roadside.

A key part of this strategy is the application of a risk-based enforcement approach, as I have already mentioned. This operates at the roadside and at operator premises. Effectively, this means we are targeting those operators thought to be most at risk of non-compliance based on previous encounters and encounters based on the annual check. I have put together a table of the measures we operate in our toolbox with other stakeholders, including the Garda, the NTA, the Department of Education and Skills and the Health and Safety Authority. By applying this risk-based approach, compliant operators are inconvenienced to the least extent possible and thus our scarce enforcement resources are used where they are most needed. We are not stopping compliant operators on the roadside needlessly. We apply a risk-based approach in line with European and international best practice. Where defects are found in the course of roadside inspections, our inspectors, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána, may take steps taking account of the severity and nature of the defect. The steps may include taking the vehicle off the road, requiring the operator to present the vehicle for an immediate commercial vehicle roadworthiness test or requesting evidence of repairs or potentially required repairs to be completed at the roadside before we permit the vehicle to continue on its journey. Our inspectors highlight any major or dangerous defects detected to the garda attending the inspection so that consideration can be given to issuing a fixed charge or taking a prosecution against the vehicle operator concerned. Issuing of fixed charges is a matter for An Garda Síochána.

Our testing data show over 14,057 buses were tested under our commercial vehicle roadworthiness testing regime during the period from 1 July 2017 to end June 2018. The average pass rate of the vehicles was 59%. This shows an improved trend but it is disquieting that during this period 307 buses or 2.2% were identified as being so defective as to be deemed to be dangerously defective. Our data show that the older the bus, the higher the fail rate at the annual test. Hence, the importance of ensuring a proper and adequate preventative maintenance regime is in place for school vehicles.

It is evident from the number of dangerously defective vehicles detected at the annual test that there are several unscrupulous operators who fail continually carry out preventative maintenance. This is a systematic failure by the owners concerned. It is unacceptable practice and clearly a blatant disregard for road traffic law. It also reflects a failure to appreciate the potentially adverse road safety effects for the general public of using such a vehicle. Operators have a clear obligation to ensure vehicles being used on the public road are roadworthy at all times and not only for the annual test. It is an offence to use an unroadworthy vehicle on the public road. We take a stepped approach to enforcement involving an advisory approach first of all followed by other enforcement tools such as direction notices. That opens up the possibility of prosecution in cases of continued failure to comply with the legal obligation. In the vast majority of cases operators respond positively but the authority will not hesitate to initiate proceedings in circumstances where there is evidence of continuing non-compliance.

We have continuously reviewed the measures we use to improve compliance. I have set out eight such measures for the committee. These include direct awareness campaigns on the importance of roadworthiness and preventative maintenance. We have specific programmes on social media as part of the overall back-to-school awareness campaign. We focus on those directly hiring buses, whether they are parents or young people. We encourage them to seek assurance from the operator concerned about compliance and assurance that the operator is compliant with road transport law, including commercial vehicle roadworthiness law. We have a continued high level of roadside roadworthiness enforcement. We operate on a multiagency basis, including with An Garda Síochána. We have continued enforcement at the premises. Enforcement is targeted at those who we believe to be higher-risk. We use this to the maximum effect by using our commercial vehicle operator risk indicator. We have an enforcement presence in conjunction with An Garda Síochána to check the roadworthiness at key events, for example, at concerts and popular tourist destinations. We have continued engagement with Bus Éireann and the Department of Education and Skills to ensure all buses operating under the transport scheme are fully compliant with all relevant road transport and traffic law.

Arising from this engagement the RSA understands that Bus Éireann has updated the tendering process for the school transport scheme and now requires all bus contractors to submit a detailed questionnaire that includes specific questions regarding that operator’s maintenance regime. It has also updated the tendering process to a centralised model rather than being completed by local and regional offices, which Bus Éireann has advised should bring greater standardisation and consistency in the procurement of school bus services. We have engaged with the road transport operator licensing unit of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to agree a formal process for sharing of information by RSA with the road transport operator licensing unit. This information may be useful to the Department in the ongoing work in the area of operator licensing monitoring.

Bus transport is generally recognised as being one of the safest modes of surface transportation. The national bus fleet provides passengers with remarkably safe travel compared with other road vehicles. The children and students who use buses every day to travel to school or other venues, either through the school transport scheme or other privately operated services, are precious cargo and parents, children and students deserve the safest possible transport system. Every day parents and guardians put their trust in bus operators and drivers to get their children to and from school or other activities. This is a heavy responsibility and one that the authority, as well as other agencies and bus operators and drivers, must take seriously. We all remember the tragedies of the Kentstown and Clara crashes in 2005 and 2006, respectively, where young students were killed arising from issues relating to bus safety and maintenance.

Bus safety is a key part of our overall commitment to road safety and operators have specific responsibilities under road traffic legislation to operate safely and to use buses that are roadworthy all the time and not just on the first day of school and the day of the annual test. The majority of school bus operators take their responsibilities seriously and implement good practices in respect of the maintenance and roadworthy condition of their vehicles but there is no room for complacency. The authority encourages the public to tell it about any concerns they have about the standard of roadworthiness of buses. Despite high standards for safety and statistics that indicate bus collisions are rare in Ireland, any collision or incident involving any bus is a cause for concern, whether the incident is a minor one or a more serious event resulting in injuries or fatalities.

We and the Garda Síochána are working closely to improve bus operator compliance. We will be continuing our enforcement campaign and making use of new powers available to Road Safety Authority vehicle inspectors to prohibit, detain, immobilise and seize dangerously defective vehicles. Finally, the Road Safety Authority is dedicated to promoting improved standards of bus roadworthiness and improving overall compliance within the bus sector by collaborating with other agencies and stakeholders to achieve that objective.

I have a question on the statistics in the presentation. Does the RSA inspection data relate to buses generally rather than specifically to school transport?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Yes.

Does the table in the presentation refer only to school bus inspections?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

No, it is for buses in general. We do not have a specific table for school buses. The reason is there are so many school buses operating on a day-to-day capacity outside school hours as well.

Sure. Notwithstanding that, does the RSA have figures for school bus inspections? The statement indicates that of the total number of buses, those which are dangerously defective amount to 2.2%, with dangerously defective school buses amounting to 4.3%. Effectively, the statement is that school buses are likely to be twice as dangerous in the category.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

That figure comes from the annual test and generally speaking those figures relate to a much older vehicle than general bus operations.

Are they effectively twice as likely to be dangerous?

Mr. Liam Duggan

No. The data relate to the bus population in general and is not specific to the-----

I am not arguing with the witnesses but I am trying to clarify something. In the document it indicates that 4.3% of the buses were dangerously defective but later the number is 2.2%.

Mr. Liam Duggan

There were 873 bus inspections at the roadside and that concerned all buses. Of those, 268 were detected as having a major defect, with 37 buses deemed to be dangerously defective.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

The 2.2% figure is for buses that went through the annual test.

Right. On the one hand, school buses are likely to be older and more likely to have defects. There are no specific statistics for school buses.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

No, we have not called out such statistics. It is from experience that we know they are older.

There was reference to following up unscrupulous operators with poor preventative maintenance, systemic failures, unacceptable practices and blatant disregard, so the RSA is in such cases going after what might be called cowboy operators not part of the compliant companies known to the authority.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Not necessarily. These may be part of an official transport scheme but in our records we might deem them to carry a higher risk because of the performance of those buses going through the annual test. They are not outside the normal operations as such.

Mr. Liam Duggan

These would be bus operators. Any bus operator with poor records and maintenance standards of vehicles - with vehicles failing roadside checks or with major defects during the course of the inspection - would give us very serious concern, as the committee might imagine.

Of course.

Mr. Liam Duggan

I appreciate the Chairman's earlier comments in that regard. These are the operators we would target in our inspections. We do this through the use of our risk-targeting system. The information derived from that helps us to target our resources at those "unscrupulous cowboy operators", as the Chairman termed them. These operators could be doing any kind of transport service. It could be school transport or providing services to the Health Service Executive, for example.

There was reference to people supplying services to schools but who may not supply the school transport scheme. These are identified as known or unknown operators.

Mr. Liam Duggan

With school transport in general, there are those who are directly contracted by Bus Éireann as part of the scheme. They are known to us. There is a constituency where local parents or associations may make arrangements with individual operators to provide local services for the carriage of their children. It could involve a football club or it could be in bringing them swimming, etc.

I understand. They are regulated separately and do not feature in the annual test.

Mr. Liam Duggan

They are all subject to the same regime.

There are people registered with Bus Éireann for the school transport scheme. They meet certain requirements. The other bus services meet other requirements but not those applying to the school transport contract.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Yes. Bus Éireann has modified its tendering process and people coming into that scheme must meet certain conditions. We are talking about people outside the scheme and we are trying to raise awareness among parents in schools and get them to use the same approach with their contracts.

Every contractor must be safe. Is there a case for new instruments of enforcement? Is there a need to register services if a school uses any operator outside the school transport scheme? Should there be further regulation or even knowledge of who the operators are?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

There should certainly be more knowledge and awareness. We have a very robust campaign every year to try to raise this awareness with boards of schools and educational authorities.

The onus is on them now because they are outside the school transport scheme. It is just as important for them to make sure they vet the people who come forward to offer a bus for a school trip or a trip to the ploughing. We have a checklist that we give to schools so they can ask to see a driver's annual roadworthiness certificate and compliance with the roadworthiness Act. I do not believe it requires further regulation at this point but-----

Mr. Liam Duggan

There are clear obligations under the Road Traffic Acts and consequently the priority is to ensure they are complying with these rules. Our role is to enforce this, with assistance from the Garda and other State agencies.

Our next speaker is Senator Feighan followed by Deputy Troy.

Deputy Troy wants to go first.

Senator Feighan is allowing me to go first because I have to be in the Chamber at 10.30 a.m. I welcome the witnesses. It is very important that the RSA has appeared before the committee. As we know, the Joint Committee on Education and Skills had a similar meeting with departmental officials and officials from Bus Éireann following the report during the summer. That report raised legitimate concerns among parents and it is only right and proper that these concerns are addressed, alleviated and removed. One of the issues raised at the time was through the freedom of information request for a letter sent by the chairperson of the RSA to Bus Éireann. While the figures quoted in the RSA's presentation today account for all buses they are not specifically for school transport. A letter was sent by the chairperson to Bus Éireann that pulled out school transport and specifically addressed the RSA's safety concerns about school buses. Is the RSA satisfied these concerns have been addressed satisfactorily? Why does the RSA not share its risk index with Bus Éireann? The witnesses have indicated it is because of GDPR. Has the RSA received advice on this regard from the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner? If so, will the witnesses share that advice?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Our chairperson wrote to the chairperson of Bus Éireann in May 2017. At that time, through roadside inspections and the annual commercial vehicle roadworthiness test, we saw a worrying trend that the rate of improvement was very slow and we were not satisfied the improvements required in school transport were happening as they should. As Bus Éireann was at the time, and still is, the main provider of the school transport scheme it was incumbent on it to ensure it had a robust procurement practice in place to ensure anybody tendering for a school transport contract met a minimum standard of roadworthiness. At that time, we did not believe robust enough measures were in place to do so and that it was playing catch up with the operators who had contracts and were already out there providing services. Since then, it has adopted a very different approach to tendering and people must demonstrate before tendering that they meet the minimum standard instead of winning the contract and then trying to establish whether they are safe operators.

If I may interject, I participated in the meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills and we were advised that one of the supporting documentation requirements in submitting for a tender is an up-to-date valid road worthiness certificate. Ms Murdoch is saying something a little different now, in that someone could win the tender-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

In the past, and if-----

When did that change?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

As I understand it, the contracts are awarded for five years. They go out late in the year and are awarded in the early part of the year for the following school year. The chairman of the RSA wrote to Bus Éireann in May and the contracts were already in place. It is the next tranche of the contracts that will reflect what I have told the Deputy, which is they require-----

If the contracts are for five years, how many contracts are in the old tranche and how many are in the new tranche?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I do not have that information but those in the old tranche still have the same obligations to be roadworthy and to have a valid roadworthiness certificate. However, the actual mechanics of establishing this mean it is more difficult to chase after a contract that has been awarded to see whether it is still valid instead of awarding a contract to someone who has presented all the information upfront. That was accurate at the time and new practices are now in place. We are satisfied, having been in touch with Bus Éireann, that it has changed the tendering process for all contracts awarded.

That changed this summer.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

As far as I am aware.

Mr. Liam Duggan

Yes. To answer the Deputy's earlier question, Bus Éireann plans to retender 20% of the services every year. I do not have the exact number-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I believe it is 20%.

Mr. Liam Duggan

It works out at approximately 20% over a rolling five-year period

For five year contracts.

Mr. Liam Duggan

Exactly. What we understand is that Bus Éireann is working to make sure the operators who are in the second or third year of a contract also have safe vehicles and comply with the requirements we have been emphasising they should as part of the tendering process. Bus Éireann has taken a lot of action to address many of our concerns and we welcome this. With our enforcement and that of the Garda, we expect to see some improvements in the quality of vehicles in bus services generally and those employed on the school transport scheme.

With regard to the risk index assessment-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Is that in terms of sharing that data?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

It is personal data between the operator and ourselves. However, it falls within a tendering process to tell an operator he or she needs to submit the risk indicator to comply.

Ms Murdoch stated the RSA was prevented from doing so by GDPR. Has it sought confirmation-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We have sought legal advice-----

-----from the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and, if so, will the witnesses share it?

Mr. Liam Duggan

We have sought our own legal advice in this regard and I do not believe we are entitled to share it. We have not specifically gone to the Information Commissioner but I remind the Deputy that the risk indicator has its origins in EU legislation. It was originally intended that the provision was to facilitate member states in targeting enforcement and was to be used for this purpose only. It is not actually an indicator of compliance per se. It just indicates to us there are operators out there who possibly need to be looked at in a more intense way and to be targeted for the purpose of inspections. It would be dangerous to disclose that information other than between ourselves and the operator concerned for data protection reasons and in terms of commercial sensitivities. We have to have regard to this because operators are entitled to have their good name with regard to how they conduct business. All member states use their risk systems for the purpose of targeting. It is not generally made available. What some countries, such as Ireland, have done is made that information available to the operators concerned so they can see for themselves where they are non-compliant and their status and give them an indicator as to why we target them as part of our normal inspection programme at the roadside and at the premises.

My point is if operators are on a risk indication index list it is because of non-compliance so if they are compliant, they have nothing to worry about.

Mr. Liam Duggan

Exactly.

A way to get around that might be for Bus Éireann to have it as part of its tendering process. It is free to share that information. We are talking about ensuring we have vehicles of the utmost quality, thereby ensuring road safety. I suggest the witnesses check with the Data Protection Commissioner's office on the availability of sharing that information because it might eliminate rogue practices, although I am well aware that not everybody is involved in that and that it is a minority of cases.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We recognise that an operator could have a once-off dangerous defect on a roadside inspection and we do not see that as a permanent blight on their record. They put measures in place to rectify whatever happened. It is in the interest of fairness that people are not permanently labelled as a red or an amber operator. To be fair to them, they can fix the problem and get back into the green category with improved practice. It is taken into account that it is not a life sentence as such.

How many registered buses operate in the country?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Depending on the size of the vehicle, we have approximately 16,000 buses but they could range from the nine seaters up to the large public service vehicles.

In terms of the 14,057, there are a number of people who do not-----

Mr. Liam Duggan

Those are tests.

It is a requirement to carry out an annual test.

Mr. Liam Duggan

Yes.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

There are definitely operators who are outside the annual test.

In terms of prosecution-----

Mr. Liam Duggan

It would also be new vehicles, which would not necessarily be obliged to test in the first year. The obligation only arises in respect of vehicles one year old.

Can we identify the number of vehicle owners who are not complying with this requirement?

Mr. Liam Duggan

It could be the case where many vehicles could be off the road for particular reasons. They may not be used by the operator. That does happen. The population of vehicles in use at any one time is difficult to ascertain. Even though we may use the taxation of vehicles as an indicator, it is a difficult number to pin down exactly.

If someone is paying their road tax, they are not paying it to leave the vehicle parked in a lot somewhere.

Mr. Liam Duggan

I agree completely, but there are people who may be using-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We can come back to the Deputy on that figure. It would still be an estimate based on the fact that they may have changed-----

Mr. Liam Duggan

Ownership.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

-----ownership or whatever. We can come back to the Deputy with the figure on that.

In terms of the inspections carried out, the Road Safety Authority, RSA, has identified the number of failures and the different categories. How many prosecutions has it taken?

Mr. Liam Duggan

We do not take prosecutions in terms of roadworthiness. The Garda has that remit. It is something we will have in the future. The Minister signed new regulations recently which will allow us detain, immobilise and remove vehicles from the road. That is a significant new power we will have and we are preparing the system changes and arranging the training of our people in that. It is hoped that in 2019 we will be able to initiate our own prosecutions in that regard but at the moment-----

The RSA did not have the power previously-----

Mr. Liam Duggan

No.

-----but in terms of carrying out roadside tests with gardaí, can Mr. Duggan identify the number of prosecutions the Garda took?

Mr. Liam Duggan

I cannot tell the Deputy that. That is a matter for the Garda. We act in an advisory capacity to the Garda in that regard.

That can be asked of the Garda, if that would be helpful.

Mr. Liam Duggan

That is probably the better way to-----

I am surprised Mr. Duggan is unaware of the figure because the RSA has responsibility for road safety.

Mr. Liam Duggan

Of course.

Prosecution is the greatest deterrent of all and I would have thought Mr. Duggan would know the number of prosecutions that have taken place.

I apologise but I have to leave, and I thank Senator Feighan for allowing me to contribute. To go off track slightly, with regard to the story last week about roadside drug testing and the fact that we are not meeting the target set down when this was originally identified because a very low level of roadside drug testing is being done, I would appreciate it if Ms Murdock would revert to me in writing on the reason for that and the measures that are being taken to address it.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Drug testing is a matter for An Garda Síochána. Is the Deputy referring specifically to school buses, buses in general or drug testing in general by An Garda Síochána?

I refer to general drug testing. A target was set but it is said that the equipment being used is too expensive and the target set down is not being met. I seek the RSA's opinion on that.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I attended the 50th anniversary of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety last week. I do not believe it was mentioned that the equipment was too expensive. That is news to me. I would not have thought so. I am aware that the number of drug tests are increasing from what was probably a slow start. Once the training was put in place-----

I have to leave so Ms Murdock might come back to me on that.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Okay.

I have a question arising from Deputy Troy's contribution. The witnesses referred to operators in the red, amber and green categories. Do they have statistics on those that they can give us?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

It operates on a percentage basis. It is a percentile. Ten per cent of operators are in the red. It is a peer review so they are compared as a percentage across the others in the same sector. The most compliant, most roadworthy operators rise to the top-----

How many are in the green category?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Based on the numbers that have gone through the test, we are probably talking about approximately 1,400.

I am sorry. Statistically, what is the percentage?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Ten per cent.

Ms Kathleen Callanan

There are 30% per cent in the green, 60%-----

Ninety per cent in the green.

Ms Kathleen Callanan

No. Thirty per cent of the risk rate percentile would be in the green section.

They are clear and top of the range in terms of compliance.

Ms Kathleen Callanan

They would be considered to be the lowest risk category if we think of it in those terms. The amber category would account for about 60% and would be allotted an amber colour, and 10% would be in the red category.

Are they operators or buses?

Ms Kathleen Callanan

All operators.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

The same per cent applies to buses.

In other words, if I am a red operator, I have red buses. That is why I am in the red category. I appreciate Senator Feighan has been patient. How does that compare with figures in other jurisdictions internationally?

Mr. Liam Duggan

It is very difficult to compare data across the European Union in terms of the risk rating systems because each country has different arrangements. Some countries will take account of matters regarding overweight vehicles. They could even take into account matters relating to animal transport. Our system is constructed on a simple basis in terms of drivers' hours, operator licensing, driver CPC and roadworthiness related offences.

How do the RSA's figures vary, say, from-----

Mr. Liam Duggan

It is constructed each year in terms of each operator. If they have a serious offence in this calendar year in terms of whatever band, it does not make any odds. That will decline next year.

To put it a different way, and I appreciate it is not just a matter-----

Mr. Liam Duggan

We can come back to the Chairman on that.

If we take the past five years, how do the reds, the greens and the ambers vary?

Mr. Liam Duggan

The rating system is only up and running in the past 12 or 15 months.

The RSA has it anyway.

Mr. Liam Duggan

Absolutely, yes.

I thank the witnesses very much for a very detailed submission. I had many questions but they have been asked so I will not keep the witnesses too long. I want to raise a few issues. What is the rate of provision of school transport as between public and private operators? When I come down the road I see the new Bus Éireann school buses, which are great, but has the rate increased or decreased-----

Mr. Liam Duggan

Is the Senator asking about the actual tender rate?

I refer to the provision of school transport-----

Mr. Liam Duggan

The fleet.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I am aware anecdotally that Bus Éireann's fleet has diminished and that it is retiring buses because of their age. I believe it has between 400 and 500 large school buses and another 800 or 900 commercial coaches that serve schools.

It probably has 35%.

Mr. Liam Duggan

Bus Éireann has 1,100 and Bus Átha Cliath has 1,300. It might be the other way around.

Is it the case that the ratio of public to private buses is diminishing?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I believe it is. There is no strategy for that, but I believe, based on resources available, that the Bus Éireann school bus fleet is slightly diminished. It is responsible for its own commercial fleet, and the National Transport Authority is responsible for the provision of the large public service obligation vehicles. Some of those go to Bus Éireann and some now go to Go Ahead. Dublin Bus is in the same boat.

The average compliance rate was 68%. This means that 268 buses, or 30%, had a major defect, and 37, or 4.3%, were deemed to be dangerously defective. The witnesses have told us we are moving in the right direction, but how does this compare with other European countries? Are we moving up the ladder? Do the witnesses have that information? We were quite loose with our public and school transport 30 or 40 years ago. I always want to know if we are moving up the European table. There is a difference between different routes and between public and private schemes

Ms Moyagh Murdock

There is no hard statistical information available to us, but I know anecdotally that the school transport system in Ireland is unique and well respected in other jurisdictions beyond European borders. Countries with major population densities look at the method we use to get our kids to school. It is one of the safest systems in the world. The UN and the World Health Organization say that it is one of the safest schemes they have seen. In terms of our road safety performance in general, Ireland has incrementally improved its position over recent years. The year 2017 was our safest on record, and we were fourth in the European table of road safety performance. That table covers all areas, including fatalities arising out of a car crash or vehicles, buses or commercial trucks. We compare quite favourably with other European jurisdictions in that regard, but we cannot become complacent. One incident might cause a significant number of serious injuries and fatalities. Just because we have improved does not mean we can stop investing in the national fleet because it requires upkeep. As our statistics demonstrate, the older the bus, the more likely it is to be found to have a dangerous or serious defect at tests or at a roadside check.

Is a member of An Garda Síochána brought to every inspection?

Mr. Liam Duggan

Yes. RSA vehicle inspectors do not have powers to stop vehicles and, consequently, we rely on An Garda Síochána to assist us. It is very co-operative. We agree a detailed plan with An Garda Síochána at the beginning of each year, setting out a schedule of inspections to be carried out over the course of the year for all commercial vehicle types, including buses, trucks and large trailers. As Ms Murdock and I mentioned in our earlier remarks, An Garda Síochána takes charge of prosecutions. It is something we should be able to do next year.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We are meeting our colleagues in the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, with a view to setting up a blitz campaign which would look at all aspects of road safety and health and safety requirements. There is an obligation on an operator to report a serious injury or incident on the road involving either a death or serious injury to the HSA. Unfortunately, we do not believe that loop is always closed, so we will be looking at that area to ensure it is closed between the Road Safety Authority, the HSA and An Garda Síochána. Our checkpoints are multi-agency. Revenue is involved, which has its own objectives. It looks at diesel, VAT and tax. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is also involved in terms of employment law. The checkpoints are multi-agency to ensure we get as much as possible from them.

If I am a parent of a young child and there is a faulty tyre or a break disc on a public bus, how is that inspected? Does the child tell the teacher in the school or do schools notify the RSA? Is there a whistleblower's charter? I know that the information can be disseminated with modern communication techniques, but what does the RSA advise a parent or student to do?

Mr. Liam Duggan

We run various media campaigns to promote the message that we encourage the public, in societies and clubs, to inform us if they have a concern about particular vehicles. That is happening, and we encourage people to use that option. There are also options such as reminding operators of their obligations if they have a concern about a particular vehicle. We know that people are becoming much more cognisant of this, and we welcome that fact. We investigate all reports and follow up on the complaints we receive. At the end of the day, however, responsibility for safe buses rests with the operators. Our objective is to target those causing the greatest risk from a road safety perspective. We are tasked with doing that, and we will do it in conjunction with An Garda Síochána, the HSA and others. The first port of call for anyone who notices a problem is to let us know about it. We encourage people to pick up the phone. It does not matter to me whether five parents or ten parents make the same complaint. I welcome that, because it gives us information on which we can follow up.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We have a confidential helpline to which people can make reports. We also write to all schools every year with a template that they should request a bus operator to complete before agreeing to engage with it. That falls outside of the school transport scheme and covers things like ad hoc school trips or swimming pool trips. We keep communication with the schools going all through the year.

The witnesses have a very onerous and responsible duty, but I wish them well.

Looking at the statistics provided, it appears 873 vehicles were stopped by roadside checks in one year, which is roughly 15 per week.

Mr. Liam Duggan

The Chair is fairly good at mathematics.

There are 26 counties, so many buses are not being stopped. This is a huge issue.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Those stoppages happened at targeted checkpoints. We see buses coming through, and buses which do not flash up on our risk indicator are waved through.

The number of buses that are stopped and examined per week is less than one per county. I am not saying that is a fair way of looking at it but it seems like a very small number to me.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

It seems like a small number, but every single operator premises has been inspected, and that includes all the vehicles. All of the vehicles are at the premises when they are inspected. We aim to get there when the buses are there.

The point I am making is similar to one that was made earlier about-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Is the Chair referring to resources?

The point is that all the annual tests produce the finding that 2.2% of buses are defective or dangerous.

Thankfully, the roadside test has a much higher volume at 4.3%. As such, the targeting is actually working very successfully in that twice as many cowboys are being caught. Is that not it, really? The question is, therefore, about the scale of that and the number of buses that are actually stopped on the road where these issues are then gone through. It has been successful and there is a significant outcome, but the authority's rate is very low. It is just a fact and I do not necessarily mean it as a criticism.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

It is a fair point.

What does the authority need to get? I appreciate Ms Murdock stating that the red zone is 10%. If there are going to be 1,600 people in the red zone, then the authority is catching a very small number of them. How do we ensure that the authority has the resources? Obviously, it has the right policy. What additional resources does the authority need?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Part of the challenge with which we are faced is that once non-compliance with driving hours and operator licence issues are detected, we take a prosecution. Unfortunately, the courts process can be very onerous and tie up resources of personnel who would otherwise be out conducting checks. The additional powers, if and when we get them, will free up front-line resources to be able to issue on-the-spot fines.

It is like a garda who stops a bus and must then sit in court.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Absolutely. It is a big issue.

Where is that request at in the political process? How can we help to accelerate matters? That is what I want to know.

Mr. Liam Duggan

I am very pleased to report that we are actively engaged with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in implementing the options available under the Road Traffic Act 2010, which will allow road safety officers to impose fixed charges for certain offences.

That is on-the-spot fines.

Mr. Liam Duggan

It is a fixed charge. It is the same as if one was caught speeding by a garda. As the CEO just stated, it will be a significant change for us. There is little point taking someone to court two years after an event. It has lost its deterrence value at that stage. It is much more likely to have a deterrent effect if it is immediate, timely and dissuasive. There is not much point in penalising a large bus or truck €200 or €300. The fines must be at a dissuasive level to obtain the change in behaviour we need. I hasten to add, as the CEO said, that there are many fine operators out there.

I accept that.

Mr. Liam Duggan

There are operators there who will stand with anyone in Europe in quality and safety practices. We want to increase the level of compliance and to ensure that compliant operators are not undercut by the cowboys to whom the Chairman referred earlier and who are creating the road safety risk.

They come in with lower tender prices.

Mr. Liam Duggan

Absolutely, and that is unfair. It undermines those compliant operators who have good practices and who put in place proper systems and incur the costs of doing the right thing. It is grossly unfair that these people can do that. The committee has always been very supportive of us in targeting them and ensuring that we have the necessary powers and systems in place to do so. We are engaging with the Department on adopting fixed charges for offences. Those charges will be a significant game-changer.

How many inspectors does the authority have?

Mr. Liam Duggan

We have 13 vehicle inspectors, ten of whom are involved in direct enforcement activities, two of whom are on special projects and one of whom is a supervisor. We have 15 transport officers and two inspectors and we also have an outsourced contract with a company, Bureau Veritas, which conducts inspections for us at operator premises to ensure compliance with maintenance and repair obligations. The company also carries out testing centre inspections on our behalf to ensure that standards are being implemented correctly by those centres.

I thank Mr. Duggan. I appreciate Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's patience.

I declare that I am a school bus contractor, as was my father was before me from 1956 onward. We have been involved in the business for 62 years. I am very proud to be involved in the transport of children to schools which is something I take very seriously.

The Chairman indicated that what we are discussing is the safety of the school transport bus fleet. That is what is on my agenda also. However, there are certain instances where school transport cannot be differentiated from bus operators providing other services. While we are dealing with what is on the agenda, all bus transport in whatever area contractors are operating should apply the same standards. We are, however, talking about bus contractors, many of whom have been seriously hurt and feel undermined by the reports and questions regarding their integrity and the way they operate school contracts. I know nearly all the contractors in Kerry and I know how they behave. They provide an excellent service. Cowboy operators have been mentioned here and that word certainly does not apply to the contractors I know in Kerry. It certainly does not apply to the Bus Éireann operators who are in charge of the school bus contracts in Kerry. Nothing like what is being discussed could happen at all with the strict regime that is applied in Kerry. I am a bit worried about the ulterior motive for all this. People are talking about roadside inspections for buses, but there is no mention at all of roadside inspections for commercial lorry transport or other vehicles on the road. School buses seem to have been selected-----

In fairness, while I appreciate and welcome the Deputy's presence, I want to provide the facts. I welcome the Deputy. It is great to have him here, particularly as he has a personal knowledge of the business. The committee asked to talk about the report that was published in The Irish Times. We have no control over the RSA, but it is replying to the question we asked it. The RTÉ report stated that over half of all school buses had received failing grades over a 12-month period. That is what we sent to the RSA. What the Deputy is reading is its reply. The discussion is about that but if it is helpful, the committee might be able to agree to have a meeting about all of the issues in respect of other vehicles on the road. Today, and in fairness to our guests, we are just dealing with this.

When the RSA released the information earlier in the summer, there was no mention of anything other than school bus contractors.

What we have is the RTÉ report which specifically stated that over half of all school buses which were subjected to inspection received failing grades and that is what we wanted to discuss. Obviously, I am not going to talk on behalf of the RSA.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I can clarify that. The RTÉ report was on foot of a freedom of information, FOI, request which specifically picked out school buses. The FOI request was for the minutes of a board meeting. There were other things mentioned at the meeting, but the report specifically homed in on the school buses.

It is a very high figure.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We have no control over that. I think it was Justin McCarthy who chose to report on that aspect. The nature of school bus transport is that those passengers are our most precious cargo and the public interest really lies in ensuring that they are safe. We would be happy to provide similar information on commercial vehicles in general and the profile of-----

The heavy volumes and the-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Absolutely.

That is hugely challenging.

That explains where it started. That is fine.

Ms Murdock said there were 873 bus inspections carried out at the roadside and it was discovered that 268 vehicles had major defects and 4.3%, or 37 vehicles, were deemed to be dangerously defective. What happened to the dangerously defective buses? Were they allowed to drive off? Was there some other facility to take them away from the roadside? What actually happened? That needs to be explained.

An article in today's edition of the Irish Independent states, "It is evident from the number of dangerously defective vehicles detected at the annual test that there were some unscrupulous operators who are failing to continually carry out preventative maintenance' the statement reads." When a car, or a bus or whatever goes in for an NCT or other test, the owner corrects as much as he or she things is wrong with the vehicle. It is tested and checked. When it goes through the rigours of a test and something is discovered, the owner goes off and deals with whatever was identified and then comes back. The vehicle is retested and is then legally on the road or has passed the test. Is that how the Ms Murdock understands it?

It is unfair to remark that these vehicles that are recognised as defective at the annual test are operated by unscrupulous operators who are failing to continually carry out preventative maintenance. That is unfair. It raises concerns about the integrity of school bus operators, which is unfair. As already outlined, one does as much as one thinks is necessary, or as a mechanic suggests, but then something is found. One could come out of the test today and something happens in a week's time. One keeps checking one's vehicle but if someone else goes at it, things can be found in a week or a fortnight. Does Ms Murdock agree?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I will draw on a bit of history. In the past, bus operators all over the country would have used the annual test as a diagnostic tool. They would send in their vehicles and see what came out of it. They would go off and fix what was picked up on that test. In those days, buses would have come in with a lot of dangerous defects. We have changed that culture now so that people realise they must keep their vehicle roadworthy at all times of the year. That is still not hitting home at this point. We have put in a table of statistics for the roadside compliance rate. The results are always better in the third quarter than they are as the year goes on because that is the beginning of September when the schools are back. Meetings would have been held over the summer. There is a deterioration of the standard of the fleet on the road in the other three quarters of the year. That is because operators get their vehicles ready tor the back-to-school operation and then take their eyes off the ball and it starts to deteriorate. The operators then prepare again for their annual test, whatever time of the year that is. We want them to be roadworthy at all times of the year.

There are some unscrupulous operators. It is a small number, as we explained. It is about 10%, so there are 90% that are better than that, either very good or there are other things that they can do to improve their performance. We specify that there are a small number of unscrupulous operators. We recognise we get great support from the vast majority of operators out there for this approach. It levels the playing pitch. There are guys who are cutting corners and putting cheaply kept vehicles on the road and hoping for the best, that it does not get picked up in an annual test. We want to eradicate that.

The Deputy referred to someone who brings their vehicle in and it passes the test and fails a day or two later. There is a concern as to why that would happen. There is a robust oversight of all the commercial vehicle centres.

That is not what I said. The vehicle will pass today but, in a week or two weeks-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Something could happen.

-----something else comes up. Our roads are not up to standard and many of the roads on which school buses travel are certainly not up to standard. There are sloes and bog ramparts and most of them are sunk down after the weather this summer and that will manifest in problems for all vehicles travelling those roads in the coming weeks. It is wrong to say that some bus contractors are in some way cowboy operators. I have to point out that, along with the departmental test, the Garda has to check public service vehicles. Bus Éireann also employs Freight Transport Association, FTA, at least in Kerry.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

That has absolutely nothing to do with it. That is a commercial entity employed by Bus Éireann and that is just-----

In fairness to everybody here, I want to make one point. We are happy to talk about what we have in front of us. I must be clear with Deputy Danny Healy-Rae.

It is part of the regime relating to school bus contractors.

The point is that the address from the Road Safety Authority makes it clear that the processes and procedures are with Bus Éireann. The committee is dealing with the road safety and the point is that if a bus is dangerous, it should not be on the road. The problem must be addressed, ideally on the spot, if it is dangerously defective. If it is not, a reasonable time is afforded to put it right. That is why Ms Murdock is here. That is why this meeting is taking place. All those other issues are important, but the primacy must be the child or adult on the bus, full stop.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I fully accept that things can happen a few days or a week later and the roads can cause a vehicle to have a steering problem or a damaged tyre. However, there is still a legal obligation on the driver to do a daily walk around check and to pick that up. There is no excuse. They must do that, and keep a record that they have done that every day before they take it into operation. That is how to avoid a vehicle with a dangerous defect being in service.

That is being done and it is part of the contract. I must point out to the Chairman what the FTA is about. It is involved in-----

I wish to make something clear. When we begin our meetings, we read out a note on privilege. We ask that anybody who is not here and who is not the subject of our deliberations-----

It is part of the school bus testing.

The phrase used is, "Members are reminded of the long-standing practice that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable."

I will be quite happy if the Deputy wants to send something into the committee. We will ask if there is an issue but I will not deal with it today because I do not know anything about it.

I mention no name but it is a question of the safety of children on buses.

I ask the Deputy to write to us about it and we will raise it as an issue.

This lady knows that these buses are being tested by this company as part of ensuring the school bus fleet is up to standard. All the contractors have to abide by the rules. If a number of things on the bus fail the first test there is a chance to fix it, but if fails a second time the bus is off the road. Is the fleet of private contractors' buses getting older?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I do not know if it is getting older or younger but I do not believe it is any less roadworthy than the Bus Éireann fleet, which is getting smaller as a result of getting older. A private operator invests in its fleet and I cannot answer the question as we have not analysed the data in that way. We could try to get back to the Deputy with an age profile for the vehicles in the school transport fleet and the Bus Éireann fleet. The average age of the buses on our risk indicator is simply a statistical fact.

Do we have any information as to whether the cost of contracts with private school bus operators has gone up or down?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We have no view on that at all as it is a commercial arrangement between suppliers of the fleet and Bus Éireann. I am not sure what they are paying.

It might be an appropriate question to put to the companies.

All right. How many Bus Éireann buses were stopped in the roadside tests?

Perhaps Ms Murdock can give us a breakdown of the numbers. It is a very good question.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I would need to confirm it but I believe approximately 48 Bus Éireann school buses have been stopped so far.

Is there any information as to the status of the vehicles? Were they defective, dangerously defective or just fine?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I do not think it would be appropriate to tell the committee this information as it is between the operator and the Road Safety Authority.

It might be helpful if the authority could give us an analysis of the school buses that were stopped.

Mr. Liam Duggan

That presents significant challenges because there are so many buses which are multi-use.

The 40 buses from Bus Éireann might not all have been school buses.

Mr. Liam Duggan

Yes. They could be used for other purposes than school transport. We can look at the statistics and get back to the committee on it.

It will give a benchmark and will help to inform us.

If they are involved in school transport they should be included in the figures. It was said that Bus Éireann was operating a new system where, if a school run is up for tender, the contractor has to present the bus and everything, such as the commercial vehicle roadworthiness, CVR, tests and the public service vehicle, PSV, tests, has to be right even before the contractor gets the contract.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I am not aware that there is a physical inspection of vehicles but I am aware that the contractor must be able to demonstrate that the fleet is compliant with the Road Safety Authority (Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness) Act 2012 and up to date with the annual test. A questionnaire must be filled in before they can complete the tender.

Bus contractors have buses of different sizes and a route may be advertised for a small or a large bus. It is not practical to ask a recognised contractor to have a specific bus for a specific run before he gets the contract. I agree that contracts should be advertised early in the year to be in place for September but it is not practical to suggest that a contractor has to have the bus before a contract is given. It will only give a chance to someone else who has the bus.

Whatever view one may have about what the Deputy is saying, the RSA has no role in this.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

That is the case. Previously, there was no focus on roadworthiness and only limited questions were asked. It was for the operator to self-declare as compliant with the roadworthiness Act but individual vehicles were not tested. There needed to be no breaches of driving hours and operators had to have been compliant in general with the roadworthiness Act but there was no need to procure a new bus before tendering for a contract.

I was driving somewhere recently and a bus was travelling at a very high speed as it went into the port tunnel, which was very dangerous. I was concerned for the passengers and everyone else so I rang the Garda to make a complaint. I was told that, because the journey was less than 60 km, the regulation did not apply. The tachograph would show the speed at which the bus was driving but members of the Garda could not look at that. If someone is travelling under a certain distance, he or she is not subject to tachograph rules.

Mr. Liam Duggan

Speed enforcement is a matter for the Garda and each bus is fitted with a speed limiter which limits its capacity to go beyond a maximum speed of 100 km/h.

This was going into the port tunnel at 80 km/h or more.

Mr. Liam Duggan

Then the driver has a case to answer.

Yes. That is why I reported it.

Mr. Liam Duggan

If a operator was involved in a regular service to passengers on a particular route, it would be exempt from the obligation to have a tachograph fitted. We recommend the use of a tachograph for a vehicle at all times because it gives a clear record of the speed of the vehicle.

If it was going 10 km further it would require a tachograph.

Mr. Liam Duggan

It would be obligatory to fit a tachograph.

A significant number of buses on shorter routes can break the speed limit without it being recorded by a tachograph.

Mr. Liam Duggan

They are not allowed to break the speed limit at any time.

No, I am not-----

Mr. Liam Duggan

There is no obligation to have a tachograph on what the RSA calls a regular service, which is a set service provided for fare-paying passengers within a 50 km radius. Take a service that runs for 50 km from point A to point B. It is conceivable that a new service licensed by the NTA could then run from point B to point C but, to then go from point C back to point A, which would be more than 50 km, there would be an obligation to have a tachograph fitted for the whole journey.

I accept that nobody is entitled to exceed the speed limit at any time. I travel the roads a lot and I know that it is rare, but a bus that does exceed the speed limit is extremely dangerous. Going into the port tunnel at speed is a recipe for disaster.

Mr. Liam Duggan

Absolutely.

Members of the Garda rang me back to say they did go to the company. They had no way of knowing other, than what I told them, although there is no doubt about the veracity of it. How do we change that and make it safer? I appreciate the law is A, B and C.

Mr. Liam Duggan

Enforcement of that is a matter for An Garda.

I am talking about tachograph elements.

Mr. Liam Duggan

There is an EU exemption from that. It applies EU-wide.

It is an EU exemption?

Mr. Liam Duggan

It is an EU-wide exemption.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I am aware that many of the operators' vehicles, especially newer vehicles, come with the telematics already fitted onboard. While it may not be a matter for the Garda, the operators would have fitted telematics for a reason and they can check that to tell the speed and location of the vehicle. They need to take that up internally with their driver and many of the operators do that.

Mr. Liam Duggan

This is what An Garda told me. They did not-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

If it was a new bus, I imagine that system was fitted. They come almost as standard now and the vehicle can be interrogated straightforwardly to get that information. One often sees a sign at the rear of vehicles, "How is my driving?"

That is an issue though.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Absolutely. We have tachographs on all our own fleet.

Must Bus Éireann tender for its runs? How is that managed?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I do not know.

That is a question for the National Transport Authority.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Is the Deputy talking about school bus runs?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

That is a matter between Bus Éireann and the Department of Education and Skills as to what runs it does.

One law for one and another law for another.

I merely raised the issue of the spotlight being put on bus contractors and the media attention. I accept it was through RTÉ's freedom of information request. I am in no way suggesting that the transport sector is doing anything out of the way. I know the providers are being tortured and tormented daily on the side of every road, even though they may have new vehicles. The vehicles are hauled in by the RSA and made go through further checks. I see no need in the world for bringing that sector before this committee because the operators I know are doing their best to uphold the law to the best of their ability. They are being tormented enough without being subjected to any other checks or committees or anything else. I have full confidence that all the operators I know are behaving properly and doing their very best to abide by the law.

I am glad to hear that.

Can I say, before we finish the meeting, that I absolutely reject what the Deputy says about the role of the RSA? Regulation is passed by the Oireachtas and any powers the RSA has comes from there. I would like to see greater enforcement, not less. As for the loss of anyone's life as a result of dangerously defective buses or cars or of dangerous driving, the pain and suffering of those families is at nothing compared with the fact that buses should be and must continue to be regulated in a fair and objective manner.

I will close this part of the meeting.

I apologise for being late. I do not want to ask a question because I was not present.

That is no problem.

I have the presentation and will go through it to see if I have follow-up questions.

I want to ask a question. The witnesses might revert to me if they cannot answer it now. I recently heard a suggestion about the national driver licence offices going online or that some of them possibly may close down. Is that true? Is it just rumour? Is there an issue there?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We have gone online.

I know the RSA is online.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We have postponed any decision on front offices at this point in time.

I would be particularly concerned for older people who may not be computer friendly and have to renew their permits. They provide a valuable service. I just wanted to ascertain what the situation was.

On a good and happy point, I had to renew my driving licence recently at the Drogheda office and the lady behind the counter could not have been more helpful and friendly. It was an excellent experience. The customer service is excellent.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Did the Chairman not try the online service?

I had to go in with-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

A bit of a change.

How recently has it gone online?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We had a soft launch because we were conscious there could be a few little glitches. We went live in June and about 150 people a day are applying online. It is still restricted to people who are renewing and have no change of category, or requirement to have a new medical form and who have a public services card and registered at www.mygovid.ie. It is simple and has been successful.

Will the uptake of it decide what happens down the line?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

It is our intention to bring everyone online in order that everyone can go online if they wish. We want to introduce the postal service by the end of the year so that if, as the Senator said, people are not that comfortable with computers or do not have the access, they can make a postal application as long as they have a public services card. Most of the elderly, with their pension entitlements, already have a public services card so it will be straightforward for them to apply online.

Is the message here that there will be changes?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

There will be changes. The RSA is constantly evolving. It would like to be able to provide an online service for the vast majority of people. That is dependent on the platform it will operate from and at the moment about 10% of people are eligible to apply online and can do so at any time up to three months from their licence renewal date. Feedback shows it is going well and about 150 people a day apply. There could be more applications if people realised they could do it online. There is a lot of ongoing ICT work to develop it further and integrate the whole journey along the way. If people get a learner permit or a theory test, we want to make it as seamless as possible for such people, when they eventually do their driving test and get their licence, not to have to come into an office but to be able to get it from the system. The system will know that he or she has passed the test and the licence will be sent out.

It raises concerns for our elderly population.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We appreciate that.

I thank the witnesses from the Road Safety Authority for coming here. I thank them for their attendance and replying to the committee's queries. The witnesses have taken note of further questions the committee has asked. With the consent of the committee, we will arrange a further meeting about the broader questions about heavy goods and commercial vehicles-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I am happy to do that.

-----with a particular emphasis, if the witnesses do not mind, on what can be done to ensure that, if the RSA needs new or extra resources, the committee can push that agenda.

That is hugely important.