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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 Jul 1985

Vol. 108 No. 15

Transport Bill, 1985: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

CIE as an organisation are undergoing change in response to the transport and economic environments of today. The changes are influenced by the organisation's past — 1982 was the 13th year of losses escalating by a multiple of the rate of inflation — demand for CIE services and the need for a more dynamic organisation so as to compete effectively in the transport market. There is also the need to take account of the CIE social role.

When I came to office, my first priority for CIE was to create a new environment for CIE to operate within. A new five-year approach to ClE's finances had been decided on within six months of my arrival. The abandonment of the wishful thinking, the lack of control and the drift, which characterised Government's relationship with CIE for many years past, became a must.

The first set of changes was introduced in June 1983. This consisted of a package of measures covering a five-year period aimed at reducing CIE cost to the Exchequer and improving the organisation's performance. This package included new arrangements for determining the CIE subvention, which is now limited to the lesser of either half of the board's revenue or to one-third of their expenditure. For the first time ever payment of the subvention "above the line" was introduced in recognition of the provision by CIE of certain unprofitable but socially desirable services.

Once that package of measures was in place to take account of pressing short and medium term issues, there was an immediate need to look at CIE and their role for the longer term. Most of 1984 was taken up with that issue so as to build on the foundation laid in mid-1983. Conclusions on the longer term future of CIE, in the context of the McKinsey Report on CIE and other reports on the transport sector, were overdue. The Government initiated a fresh start for CIE in Building on Reality.

The new Government subvention formula effectively provided that one-third of ClE's expenditure would be paid by the Government provided that expenditure is reduced in real terms by 2½ per cent per annum up to 1988. This was extended to 1989 in the context of the national plan. That these targets have been met so far, and without massive redundancies or cuts in service, is testimony to the wisdom of the approach. Now CIE know well in advance what their allocation is and can plan to keep within it.

Previously, a figure — often bearing no relation to reality — would be notified to CIE two or three weeks before the commencement of the relevant financial year. This lack of notice and lack of reality were constantly rewarded, not surprisingly, by being ignored. As a result ClE's finances had rocketed almost out of control. The deficit for 1982 was in excess of £109 million. This contrasts badly with about £15 million, which would have been the deficit had it been kept in line with inflation over the previous 15 years.

The improvement now is perceptible and real. The years 1983 and 1984 have brought a 20 per cent reduction in real terms in the CIE deficit. This is good news, not alone for the board, management and workforce of CIE, but also for the taxpayer who has to fund them. While there is no room for complacency, I think it right that these achievements should be recognised and I want to congratulate again all in CIE for their efforts.

The financial provisions have been accompanied by a major overhaul and strengthening of the board of CIE. The introduction of the Dublin Transport Authority Bill and the Road Transport Bill are further steps in the creation of the new environment which I have set out to establish.

The Bill to reorganise CIE into three operating subsidiaries under a parent board is in preparation. I had hoped to have it before the House at this stage. That was not realised but it will be enacted as soon as possible and, in any event, before the end of this year. The whole purpose of the reorganisation is not to close CIE, as some pessimists fear, but to ensure their future by organising them in a way best suited to serve the customer, whose support is vital to any company's success. The completion of the reorganisation is in the best interests of the workforce and the travelling public alike.

All in CIE make their contribution not only to CIE services but also to the financial results. They have a major role in ensuring that recent encouraging trends in the CIE performance are consolidated and developed.

So far in 1985, the CIE financial performance is on target for a further reduction in the deficit in real terms. This with a deficit of £104 million for 1983 and an expected deficit of under £105 million in 1984, on the basis of excluding the special provision for capital interest charges on the DART system, represents a dramatic improvement after the trend of the previous 15 years. Inflation has been down to low single figures over the past few years and CIE are still beating it — a cause for much encouragement.

The decisions taken so far by the Government and the financial provisions made in relation to CIE were fundamental for creating a better operational environment for the organisation. Change in the environment is on-going. There is, however, no room for complacency. ClE's future must be one of efficiency and effectiveness with due regard to what the Exchequer can afford to bear. The measures which have been taken and are planned are in the longer term interest of CIE and their employees.

The Bill before the House is of significance for CIE's operations and capital programme. It is another constructive development in the creation of an improved operating environment for CIE.

The purposes of the Bill are, first, to enable CIE to convert £30 million of the board's temporary borrowings into a loan repayment over a period of ten years with the Exchequer providing £3 million annually for repayment of the principal of the loan and, secondly, to increase the statutory limits on ClE's capital borrowing power from £230 million to £250 million and the corresponding guarantee powers of the Minister for Finance.

Under section 4 of the Transport Act, 1983, CIE may incur with my consent and that of the Minister for Finance, temporary borrowings of up to £40 million. This borrowing power would normally be used by CIE to respond to short term cash shortfalls, to meet unforeseen payments and for normal overdraft purposes.

Between 1979 and 1983 the borrowing facility has been used, with Government approval, mainly to finance the difference between total CIE subvention and deficit, where the total subvention, made available was insufficient to meet the board's deficit on subventible activities. Since 1979 there was considerable expansion in the size of the shortfalls which led to the revision of the statutory limit from £5 million to £20 million in 1981 and to £40 million in 1983. At 31 December 1983 CIE had approval for temporary borrowings up to a limit of £36.245 million. ClE's temporary borrowings have remained at that limit in the meantime.

The shortfalls which arose in the period 1979-83 resulted from an assortment of reasons, for example, under-estimation by CIE, increased costs, including labour and oil charges, industrial disputes and fall-off in traffic. Other significant factors were delays in sanctioning increases in fares and rates and subvention provisions, which were not realistically related to CIE estimates of the board's requirements. Decisions to bring the deficits closer to the subvention limit set were unacceptable because they would have involved extensive cuts in jobs and services. Inadequate levels of subvention meant that the CIE financial objectives were unattainable and led to Government approval for financing shortfalls by temporary borrowing.

When I became the Minister responsible for CIE the subvention for CIE for 1983 had been already fixed at £86 million. In the review which took place immediately after the Government came into office it was clear that there was no possibility of increasing the subvention beyond that level, even though it was recognised that the board's deficit would exceed the subvention. In the circumstances the only real alternative was to let CIE carry the shortfall of almost £16 million in 1983 by temporary borrowing. This was the cause of the increase in the statutory limit in the Transport Act, 1983.

Interest charges paid on the temporary borrowings, which fall to be met by the board out of their revenues, in the period 1979-84 amounted to almost £13 million. In 1984 alone the interest charges amounted to about £4.5 million. It was clear to me from the beginning that the interest charges on the temporary borrowings were a considerable burden on CIE. I felt that the board should not have to bear the handicap of interest and repayment costs, arising in the main from the failure of Government either to provide in the past adequate levels of subvention over a number of years or to take decisions which would have enabled CIE to move significantly closer to the direction pointed by the subvention limits fixed.

Furthermore, the costs of temporary borrowings are high because of the levels of interest demanded for short term loans and the associated roll-over costs. Additionally, the hard core nature of the debt was becoming a source of concern. I came to the conclusion that a substantial reduction at an early date of the principal sum outstanding was essential and saw an urgent need to relieve CIE of the bulk of the burden as quickly as possible.

In planning for ClE's future the Government decided to reduce the board's temporary borrowing by £30 million by re-scheduling £30 million of the £36.245 million borrowings into a ten year loan. The enactment of the relevant provision of the Bill is necessary so that CIE can raise a loan of £30 million repayable over a ten year period in equal annual instalments, financed by the Exchequer. The board will continue to be responsible for the interest charges on the loan as well as the balance, that is £6,245 million of the temporary borrowings, but the charges will decrease annually in line with the repayment of the principal. It is the board's responsibility to eliminate the balance of the temporary borrowings from their own resources. The existing statutory limit of £40 million for temporary borrowings is being retained.

The treatment of CIE temporary borrowings in this way will make a useful contribution to the regularisation of the finances of CIE by relieving the board over a period of years of substantial borrowings as well as easing the total CIE interest burden.

To complete the information on temporary borrowings, CIE will need to increase their temporary borrowings by £8 million later this year and by a further £8 million in 1986. This increase of £16 million was foreseen when the subvention allocations for 1985, 1986 and 1987 were being fixed. This will arise from the Government's acceptance of responsibility for the interest charges in respect of the capital investment in the electrification of the Howth-Bray line. These charges will amount to £16 million in each of the three years 1985-87. Because of the difficult financial situation it was possible to provide no more than £8 million in each of the years 1985 and 1986, but the shortfall in subvention of £16 million will be made good in 1987, when CIE will be paid £32 million in respect of the interest charges. These necessary additional temporary borrowings will be for a very limited period.

ClE's capital expenditure is financed from the board's internal resources, mainly depreciation provisions, borrowings, leasing arrangements and Exchequer capital advances. The borrowing arrangements require my approval and that of the Minister for Finance, who has power to guarantee them. ClE's total capital borrowings at 31 December 1984, amounted to £216.373 million. CIE need to borrow £15.416 million for capital purposes in 1985 so that by 31 December 1985, the board's capital borrowings are expected to amount to £231.789 million. As the statutory limit on capital borrowings is £230 million, it is necessary to increase that limit and I am now proposing an increase of £20 million to give a new limit of £250 million, which will be adequate to cater for the board's anticipated borrowings for the foreseeable future.

The board's original capital allocation for 1985 was fixed at £30 million and it had been expected that the existing statutory borrowing limit would have been adequate for the borrowing requirement involved in financing the CIE capital programme. However, in an effort to ensure continuity of employment at the GAC bus building plant at Shannon, the Government decided to reschedule the CIE capital allocation for bus building in the period covered by the national plan. As a result, £10 million from the 1987 allocation for bus building is being brought forward to 1985. This brings the total CIE allocation for capital purposes for 1985 to £40 million. This change created the need for increasing the board's statutory borrowing limit for capital purposes at this stage.

The Government, in recognition of this decision placing an additional financial burden on the board, decided that the extra financial charges arising should be recouped to CIE. As a result £0.5 million will be paid to the board in 1985. A similar arrangement will apply for 1986 in respect of the increased borrowing.

The Government have made provision for substantial capital expenditure by CIE over the period of the national plan. The board's capital allocations for this period amount to £93 million. Provision has been made for expenditure in this period of £36 million on the CIE bus programme, including bus acquisition. Almost £43 million will be spent on mainline rail and mainline carriage acquisition and just over £14 million will be spent by the board on their signalling/communications and normal capital programmes, including £1.16 million which has been earmarked for work to be carried out at Rosslare Harbour in 1987.

The allocations for bus acquisition will facilitate continuance of the board's current bus replacement programme which commenced in 1980. In February of this year replacement of the board's city single deck fleet was completed. In addition, 184 rural single deck buses have been programmed for construction and delivery in 1985.

The provision of almost £43 million for mainline rail, including carriage acquisition, will enable continuance of ClE's programme to construct 124 mainline carriages at Inchicore works by 1988. This programme which currently employs 61 persons was approved by the Government in 1982. The total cost of the project is estimated at £53 million in 1984 prices. The first of these carriages were put into service on the Dublin-Cork line in July of last year. A total of 34 are now in service on the Dublin-Cork, Dublin-Waterford and Dublin-Galway lines. The introduction of these new air conditioned carriages has reduced journey times and gives greater standards of passenger comfort than ever before.

The balance of ClE's capital allocations over the period of the plan, that is some £14 million, will be spent on signalling and communications and on the board's normal capital programme. The signalling programme which began in 1980 is scheduled for completion in 1988 and is designed to update the signalling system on the mainline railway. The board's long term capital borrowings are very considerable indeed. I am concerned about this level of borrowing which is a matter which will need to be given careful consideration at a future date.

I now wish to refer to rail safety about which I am very concerned. A few times this year rail safety, particularly in regard to the carriage of dangerous substances, made the news headlines. I know that the chairman of CIE shares my concerns and is willing to take any necessary steps to make good any deficiencies which are brought to light. Rail is a very safe mode of travel but continuous vigilance and awareness of the risks and dangers of rail accidents is essential. There is a need for an on-going search for additional improvements in the interest of safety. I am satisfied that current arrangements relating to the transport of dangerous substances by rail embody all reasonable and practical elements. Nevertheless having regard to recent events, I have instituted another look at all aspects of the question of the transport of dangerous substances and involving other Government Departments and other interests immediately concerned.

The Government in charting the future for CIE have fully recognised the extent of the board's difficulties and in so far as possible special measures have been introduced to deal with the situation. The Government have also, of course, set very specific financial targets for the board but they have also made available financial incentives to help in their achievement. These targets will not be easily achieved but they are realistic and should be capable of being realised. It is now up to management and the workforce to ensure the future success of the organisation.

I commend the Bill to the House.

While understanding the Minister's commendation of the Bill before the House today I want to be very brief in my remarks. Despite all the statements by the Minister and the Government that they would no longer allow the CIE subsidy to rise — and much political hooray was made of this — whether we like it or not, this is just a different way of doing the same thing. Under this Bill the Government will be borrowing £30 million. The CIE board will be responsible for the interest on that and the repayments are at the rate of £3 million per annum. If we want the service we have to pay for it.

The Minister was not very specific regarding the legislation to divide CIE into three sections which he proposes to bring in. Can he tell us when he proposes to introduce this legislation? The DART service is going very well but in order to make it viable and profitable it needs a feed service. Can the Minister tell us when this feed service will be provided? Something will have to be done urgently about one-man buses if CIE are to retain some semblance of viability. The non-operation of the one-man service is making the service non-viable. When will the unions, CIE and the Minister work out this problem? Until that is done the viability of rural bus services is certainly not on.

Over the years because of the cost of transport services from rural parts of the country to Dublin and other major cities and vice versa a new service of private enterprise bus hauliers has grown up. That is divided up in two different ways. First, there are certain clubs and licensed hauliers who operate a daily service from rural parts of the country to Dublin at a very reasonable cost and it seems to be profitable for them. Their buses are packed each day. Secondly, there is the weekend service which they run, bringing civil servants, students, etc., from Dublin to their homes throughout the country. That seems to be a very viable operation from the point of view of the private haulier.

Is there not some way that we could have competition between the private hauliers and CIE which, in the long term, would give the paying public a choice in their transport? As it is now we have to go through twists and turns regarding the registration of those travel clubs. Those bus owners have difficulty in getting a licence to run a service which obviously is essential to the community. Otherwise they would not be applying for a licence. This matter should be simplified soon. It might be a bunch of nettles for the Minister to grasp, but there seems to be a glaring anomaly somewhere. CIE cannot compete with those masses of private buses which operate daily from rural parts of the country to the city. The Minister will have to do something about this soon because there is an outcry from the public. The fares on these private buses are so reasonable that CIE cannot compete and, because of that fact, which is the most essential fact to the ratepayer and to the taxpayer the choice must be given and the sooner the better.

I pass through this city at different hours of the day and over the past seven or eight months every time I passed by the bus depot on Conyngham Road there were on average 26 buses parked inside. Could somebody explain why this is the case at peak periods in this city when there are queues at bus stops for inner city services? How can CIE afford or how can this country afford to have 26 or 27 double decker buses standing idle in that one garage? We cannot afford the luxury of handing out money to CIE if they do not utilise the facilities given to them by the taxpayers over many years with a free hand. There is the occasional protest.

Tomorrow morning we will read in the national press that the Minister is giving another £30 million to CIE. What are the CIE Dublin city services doing to tighten up their whole performance instead of having the ludicrous situation where a bus depot can afford the luxury of having 26 or 27 double decker buses standing idle at all times of the day? That is a fact because I have counted them. It is time CIE got down to business and sharpened up the administration of that bus service. Something has got to be done about it.

There is also the question of ClE's effort to provide a rural bus service for the people who need it. In my own area a feed service to Galway city provided by private enterprise is now in operation. Every bus is maximised in its capacity. Every seat is full in all of those buses bringing workers in and out of Galway at a most reasonable cost per week. Why were CIE never able to see the potential for such a development? I will give an example to the Minister which I think it is worth noting. There is a bus service from Sligo to Galway city. At 11.15 a.m. it goes from Tuam town and Dunmore to Galway city. Who wants to go to Galway at 11.15 a.m. on any morning in the week? CIE should be able to do something about meeting the realities of the demands that are there. I do not say that as a criticism. I say that as a fact which has been proven by private enterprise. They can pack six or seven buses with workers to Galway city, provide the service at quite a cheap weekly rate and bring them home again in the evening at varying times so that everyone can be facilitated.

How is it that CIE and their staff could not see that? I am sure it is the same in every major town around the country. CIE should provide a service for those who need it rather than just giving a service for the sake of a service. That is a criticism I made here as long ago as 1971. I suggested that something should be done to provide a service for the working public into the major cities and CIE failed to capitalise on it. The Minister should state publicly and categorically that as they did fail, private enterprise who are offering this service should be encouraged to continue to offer it and offer it even at a stronger rate. If CIE have to come back here begging for money every year, we can highlight the reasons why. It is a turnover cash situation all the time. CIE do not seem to be able to increase it.

I should like to ask the Minister about the issue of passes for free transport for old age pensioners. Could the Minister tell me how much money CIE collect per annum from the Department of Social Welfare or the Department of Transport in respect of old age pensioners? The Minister may remember that some years ago before the creation of Bord Telecom there was a request from backward rural areas which did not have a bus service of any description, for the post van bus service. It was a lovely idea that the post van would carry old age pensioners or a person who wanted to go shopping on a Friday. The idea was that the postman would be allowed to have an adaptable post van in which he could carry two, three, four or five passengers. It seems to have gone by the wayside. It was a good idea for areas in the west coast, in the northern parts and the extreme south. Over the years we encouraged the Post Office to implement it. It was only a small service but it was worth mentioning because people living in very backward areas are starved of transport. That was an idea which I encouraged at the time.

The Minister also mentioned rail safety. This is very important, I want to bring the horror of that situation to reality today. We had an emergency just outside Athlone recently. The Western Health Board and the North-Western Health Board formed part of the national emergency plan which was put into effect. Since then a most horrendous situation has arisen in our health board area where half of our hospital services in Galway have closed down, both at Merlin Park and the regional hospital in Newcastle Road. We have a mixed situation, where men are in wards beside women. Half of the doctors are off duty. Half of the theatres in the two hospitals are closed down for the months of July and August.

If there was an emergency today in any part of the area from Athlone to Sligo, how could we implement the emergency plan? It is an impossibility. Staff who have gone on vacation for a month or two months, may be out of the country, and probably are because of the bad weather conditions we are having. Doctors have gone away for their two months' leave of absence, and theatre staff, I am sure, are also away. In the two major hospitals in the west coast how could we deal with the national emergency plan? That is a serious reality. It is a reality which the Government have not taken into account.

It is an horrific thing to say that if a national emergency arose during the haulage of dangerous substances by CIE through the county of Roscommon to Sligo or Ballina at 1.30 p.m. today, we would not be physically able to bring into operation the national emergency plan. I would like the comments of the Minister on this aspect. Has he spoken to the Minister for Social Welfare on this aspect? Has he warned him — as is his responsibility — that the national safety plan is in jeopardy? Has he warned the health boards about such a situation? What could we do if such an emergency did happen? God forbid that it should happen, but if it did, and we know it can, where would we go? What would happen to the national emergency plan? We would have a public inquiry which would cost 70 times more than the amount of money needed by the Western Health Board to put the national emergency plan into operation. It is the old story — there is no point in closing the door when the horse is gone. In this instance the horse would definitely be gone and even the door might be gone with him.

There is one other point I would like to raise. There was a decision recently by CIE to change the railway station in Athlone town from the western side of the river to the eastern side of the river. I just want to ask the Minister an honourable, straight question which I know he will answer in the same manner if he has the facts. Is it proposed or envisaged in the foreseeable future to have mainline rail traffic to the west coast stopped at Athlone?

Thank you.

I am very glad to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Transport Bill, 1985. The Bill has to be seen in the context of the achievements of this Government in the period since 1982. For the first time, in 1983 the financial performance of CIE was controlled. We had 15 years of quite uncontrolled performance by CIE in the period before that. Not alone had we an uncontrolled performance in relation to the financing of that company but the management and this workforce seemed to neglect the need — which should have been apparent to the management and workforce of any company — to highlight progress, to develop facilities, to be imaginative in relation to what could be done in this area. An imaginative approach has certainly been adopted in the period since 1982. This can been seen in the decisions taken in the bus building programme, in the mainline carriage programme and also in the success of the DART project.

The message that went to CIE in 1983 was that the Government would come up with one-third of the provision for expenditure and they must reduce expenditure by 2½ per cent per annum up to 1988. The fact that that has been achieved and that we have controlled the deficit of £104 million in 1983, and an expected deficit of under £105 million for 1984, is very worthy of commendation. It augurs well for that company in the period ahead.

Why are we looking for £30 million today?

We are looking for £30 million today to deal with a situation which has developed over a long period and which the Minister will, no doubt, be able to deal with in some detail as time goes by. Very few companies have not built up deficits related to earlier commitments from which they cannot walk away.

A much more positive climate has begun to affect CIE, their operations, management and workforce in the past two or three years. This is very welcome and I hope it will lead to further economies and further development of facilities such as those mentioned by Senator Killilea in some areas. He mentioned the suggestion that CIE should involve themselves in catering for those in rural areas who want to get to work on time in the morning, who want to get home in the evening, who want to travel distances from cities to their homes. This is an area which has not been unexplored by CIE. It deserves to be developed. Senator Killilea commented on the need to encourage private bus companies. In a mixed economy I do not see any reason why they should not be encouraged. I would like to see CIE doing more in this area in the period ahead.

I mentioned the DART service a few moments ago. As somebody who lives fairly close to the DART service I should like to ask the Minister how successful that service has been to date? Has the usage of that line met the kind of target CIE hoped it would, or can he be happy about the trend, given the decision to spend money of the order which was spent? Of course this money was spent before the Minister took over the Department. I believe the DART service could have been achieved with a slightly less spend-free policy on the part of CIE and the Department of Transport as they were at that time. The decision to put all the capital money into one service was a mistake, given the need to develop other facilities such as rail connection — which would have been the first choice — for a link into Tallaght and the need for a community as large as Tallaght to have a proper transport system into the city. The provision for the service was already there. The land was acquired for ready access from Tallaght to the city. How successful has the DART service been and what do CIE feel about the improvement of usage of that line? I would also like an answer to the question posed by Senator Killilea about feeder bus services to the DART line. At what stage are the negotiations with the unions and when we are likely to have that feeder bus service developed?

The DART service will be seen, in due time, to be a very successful episode. I say that without taking away from my comments earlier on the scale of the investment in this project. We could have gone for a lesser investment than we did, but it is a very superior service. It transports people along from Howth to Bray but Dubliners from all over this city will be attracted to use that service during the holiday period in particular, to make their way to the beaches, to enjoy the advantages of Dublin as a seaside city. It will be an encouragement for leisure and activities of that kind. This will, in its own way, develop and improve the commercial interests of those who operate in towns like Bray and on the north side also.

In due time this will be seen to be a very successful and important development. It will also help tourism in this city where little has been done over the years. I will not expand on my thoughts on tourism just now, but this city needs to come to terms with the attractions it has to facilitate tourists. This DART project will give the people coming to our country — from the United States, from North America and from Europe — a feeling that we are a modern city and we go about our business in a serious way. It is an example of what can be done within urban areas generally and in other areas of Dublin, with a more limited and more careful approach to expenditure than was adopted to this project.

There is one small matter I should like to mention in relation to the DART service. It has been mentioned to me a number of times in recent weeks. Whereas the line itself and the carriages have apparently been respected very much by the citizenry and by others who use them, there has been a spate of malicious damage in the stations on the DART line in recent weeks or months which must be a cause for concern. I wonder if the Minister could take steps to ensure that a proper system of administration in these stations takes control of that situation before real and permanent damage is done to these stations which were built with some considerable investment on the opening of the DART line.

I would like, at this stage, and with the permission of Senator Killilea, to pay tribute to the Minister for Communications who is here with us today. We are very fortunate to have the Minister, Deputy J. Mitchell, responsible for this Department in that since he was in swaddling clothes — that is a fair illustration of what I want to say — he has known about CIE. He has lived in the home of CIE which, I think, would be indisputed as being Inchicore. He does not live there now, but there is a strong knowledge of himself and his family in that part of the world. It continues as a place of affection for him and the fact that we are going to be building 124 mainline carriages in Inchicore in the next period of years will be seen by the people of Inchicore and the people of the city as being part of the programme that he would like to see happen. Similarly, in the west, since Senator Killilea is concerned about the west, the bus building programme in Shannon is coming along.

Both were initiated by the one and only Albert Reynolds.

I think we might clarify that matter at a later stage.

They are there going around the city.

By the former Minister.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator FitzGerald to continue without interruption.

The scheme was brought in by the former Minister, Deputy Albert Reynolds, that cannot be denied.

I would like to deal with a theme that I have been concerned about. The Dublin City Council and myself — originally it was an all-party group — tabled a resolution in relation to the Dublin Transportation Authority. The Bill is now with us and is to be welcomed. The need to come to terms with the Dublin transport problem is something which is long overdue. I will in due course, like Senator Killilea, be welcoming that Bill and giving it encouragement along its way. We have also the Road Transport Bill. There is one little matter which I came across yesterday which hopefully the Leas-Chathaoirleach will permit me to mention. I got permission from the powers that be in this House to leave the House for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon. I got to Suffolk Street, which is a tiny, winding street in the centre of the city at the bottom of Grafton Street, to see cars parked on both sides of the road on double yellow lines to see the new Dublin Gas doing a job on Suffolk Street, two traffic wardens helpless, unable to do anything to improve the situation. For 20 minutes I could not get through Suffolk Street. I would not like to see what might have happened if there had been an emergency. They could not get assistance from the Garda Síochána in relation to the units that come out to remove cars which, of course, should have been done in this situation. I travelled up to the unit at Christ Church Place. I met the sole policeman who was guarding four vehicles which were lined up without anybody to do the job. I assume everybody here would accept that this was a street which was impossible, not just for the gardaí and the traffic wardens, but equally for an individual trying to move from the bottom of Grafton Street into Dame Street. If there had been an emergency situation it would have been a terrifying prospect. I went to that place——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I did allow the Senators to make a comment but I think, perhaps——

We are dealing with the Road Transport Authority Bill. It was mentioned a few moments ago by the Minister. That Bill will presumably have some impact in this area. I was told by the Garda Síochána — and I communicated with the superintendent later in the day — that all his vehicles and all his men were out lifting barriers for the Rás Tailteann around this city. There was no vehicle there to deal with obstructions to the street system. The tiny street system of this city is a very worrying matter and I would ask the Minister to convey——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Perhaps the Senator would wait for the Road Transport Bill.

——to the Garda Síochána how this matter should be dealt with in future. They should stop this movement away from the central objective of keeping our streets open. If cars and bicycles are not able to operate in the tiny streets in the middle of the city there is hardly much point in the bus system operating there. I think there is a certain relevance. We are into the transport area and we are dealing with central city streets and I thought what I had to say was very relevant and should be brought to the attention at the highest level in the Garda Síochána.

There are one or two other matters I would like to raise. The Minister mentioned dangerous substances a few moments ago, and expressed his concern and the concern of the Government and I am sure of everybody here about safety in relation to dangerous substances. Senator Killilea also expressed concern about this matter. I am sure I do not need to say anything more about that because that is something we should all be concerned about now and always be very vigilant in this area.

One thing I do want to talk about is the matter the Minister was talking about earlier, about air conditioning in rail carriages. I happened to be listening to an RTE programme a short time ago when we heard of the unfortunate death of a man who was in what was supposed to be an air conditioned carriage — maybe it was not — but it got so hot that the man was lifted out and was found dying along the corridor. He had a heart condition and he was coming to Dublin for treatment. I do not recall at the moment where he was coming from, maybe it was Cork, but he died, unfortunately on his journey. The reason I raise this is in relation to safety. The point was made on the radio programme that the journalist who happened to be in the same carriage as this individual and who helped the man in his final minutes said that the guard told him that it was not possible to communicate with the train driver. The guard had no system of communication with the train driver. Whether that is right or wrong I do not know, but it seems to be an alarming situation. It is one thing to have problems, which we have had in the past, relating to external communication from Heuston Station to a train carriage or a driver and the failing of signals on the line, but it seems to be a vital part of any communication system in relation to railways that the personnel who are taking care of the passengers would be able — outside the point of emergency stops or of bringing the train to a halt — to have some radio or other communication with the train driver or with his assistant, or with somebody responsible for running the train. I would like to ask the Minister what is being done in relation to the safety of passengers to deal with this question of communication with the train driver, the person responsible for running the train, if we are told that a guard on a mainline, from Cork to Dublin, cannot communicate with the train driver. In every other way I very much encourage the passage of this Bill.

I would like to commence by joining Senator FitzGerald in complimenting and congratulating the Minister on his stewardship over the past two and a half years, particularly in so far as his Ministry concerns his responsibility, his statutory and Governmental responsibility, with regard to CIE. The Minister has brought to bear on all of us, not merely the management within CIE but on the public at large, a sense of realism in so far as the future of CIE is concerned. He has also ensured that an element of certainty has been created whereby the management of CIE can look forward to the next four or five years and determine what they have to do within particular confines and plan accordingly. More importantly, the Minister has ensured that the financial situation of CIE will no longer give rise to the kind of concern it gave in the past when the company and their board were allowed to gallop away like a runaway train without any sense of responsibility. The Minister stated that:

So far in 1985, the CIE financial performance is on target for a further reduction in the deficit in real terms. This was a deficit of £104 million for 1983 and an expected deficit of under £105 million in 1984 on the basis of excluding the special provision for capital interest charges on the DART system, represents a dramatic improvement after the trend of the previous 15 years.

We all agree with the Minister that that indicates a dramatic improvement and we compliment him. We also compliment the management of CIE on living now within the confines and the ambits imposed upon them.

More importantly the Minister's strategy has pulled CIE, I hope willingly, into the commercial world of the mid-eighties. The management of CIE now realise that they have to compete and be competitive and provide the kind of service which people require. That realisation may not have got fully through to CIE management at every level. CIE must be more aware of the kind of service which the public at large require. While I appreciate that transport services in a small country such as this have to be nationally based in one sense, on the other hand, it is extremely important that within every CIE management area, there is seen to be a management team who, within their own area, can operate in a way that relates to their community and responds to the needs of that community and provides the kind of service that is required in that community. I do not think that has been happening on the ground, and I speak particularly of the Mayo-Galway CIE area of which I have most knowledge. I do not feel that it is happening there to the extent that it should be happening.

Senator Killilea mentioned a postvan bus service. I do not remember that scheme in great detail. That is the kind of scheme that would have a certain relevance in the west of Ireland. I knock on doors in places like Killeen and Drummond and in parts of Ballycroy in west Mayo where people never see a bus. That is the kind of service they would like. They live 20 and 30 miles from the nearest town but never see a CIE bus because the roads are not capable of taking a bus. I would like to see CIE developing a regular mini bus service in the remoter rural areas. I do not see why the population of the remote regions should be deprived of a public transport service. The Minister might draw the attention of his people in the Galway-Mayo area to this. Even if a once a week small bus service could be provided to bring the people from these areas into the towns, I do not think the cost to CIE would be all that great.

Reference was also made to the private enterprise bus system. This is something which the area management of CIE might look at. I find it very hard to understand how every weekend half a dozen buses or more leave Castlebar for Dublin and charge £8.50 or £9.50 for a return fare. If it is profitable for private enterprise to do that, why is it not profitable for CIE to do it? The point I am making is that the opportunities are there. People are getting into the transport market. Unfortunately, CIE who for so long have been buoyed with the assurance that Governments would dole out money to them when the need arose, have not considered it necessary to get into this whole area of competitiveness. They should be encouraged at local level. We should develop within each local CIE area a type of management team to go out and try to sell their srvice and ascertain the type of service needed in their area. That would be a good idea. It would be good for those involved in CIE. It would create a sense of enterprise for them. It would create a sense of usefulness in the broadest sense. It would be beneficial to everybody.

I want to make a few other brief points. In relation to the rail service, we in the west benefited in November last year from a form of very cheap service. I can never understand the rail fare structure because it can vary between £10 and £30. Last November we had a much publicised reduced rail fare service from Westport to Dublin. Every day the train was full. Every day coming home the train was full. It appeared to operate in a very satisfactory way. The whole fare structure should be explored. Are we charging too much for the service we provide when trains which are not full are travelling from Westport to Dublin? On the other hand, should not trains which are full charge a rate that is reasonable? We should also ensure that the best possible dining car service is provided on these trains.

The final thing I want to say in relation to the rail service is that the service should seem attractive. I do not understand why most of our railway stations are painted in the dullest Office of Public Works grey when they could be brightened up with greens, yellows and reds and made attractive. When I was a child, and that is not very long ago, CIE stations could get a prize for the most colourful and best kept station. They have now become dismal places which look a bit like the old workhouses of the 19th century. They should be brightened up. They should be encouraged to plant flowers and make the stations attractive.

There is one other matter which I tried to raise on the Order of Business some weeks ago. I have communicated with the Minister's office about it, that is, the closure at very short notice of the Westport bus office by CIE. This bus office was situated adjacent to the Central Hotel in Westport. It provided information and a baggage service and many other services. At very short notice it was closed by CIE. The Westport Urban District Council and the Westport Chamber of Commerce have communicated with the Minister about it and I have written to him. We have had very little response. The reopening of this bus office should be considered. I do not think it cost CIE very much to have it there.

The question of rail safety, was mentioned. I would like to make one brief point on that. CIE should take urgent steps to paint all the rail crossings. A Member of this House died tragically at a CIE rail crossing about 15 years ago. I had an experience recently at another rail crossing which was so badly painted that I very nearly drove through it on a misty night. Since then I have examined other manual rail gates, and the need exists to paint all of these and illuminate them suitably.

The final point I should like to make is this. The Minister is Minister for Communications and his brief includes transport in its broadest sense. The time has come for us as a State — a small State geographically — to ask ourselves the question: Can we afford the best bus, rail and air services with airports springing up all over the place, with ports all over the country which we are still maintaining, a road system we are trying to maintain, and taxi services we do not recognise? The Minister must examine the whole level of transport services we are providing. We must take difficult decisions and get our priorities right as between the various services and their relevance to the people.

I should like to welcome this Bill and to support the Minister and the Department, and to encourage the reorganisation they are trying to implement in funding CIE. Over the years CIE have had some notorious loss making and, indeed, the people involved there have not been encouraged by the huge amount of adverse comment which they actions or inactions invariably attracted. I firmly believe that the time has come for major reorganisation of the entire organisation. I wish the Minister well in the task that he has set himself.

I believe that the monopoly situation should be looked at very closely. Obviously, if we are to take the bus service, we assume there will hardly be competition on the rail network, except we read of some organisation trying to muscle in on that whether they are successful or not. As far as the bus services are concerned, certainly it would appear that the private bus companies are able to provide what would appear to be a similar service at less than half the charges which CIE are imposing. This is a pity. I often thought that in the rural areas CIE might, perhaps, consider introducing smaller vehicles, maybe a 30-seater bus or a 20-seater bus or even a 14-seater mini-bus, to service the people. They have been plying these routes for many years now and surely it is not beyond the capabilities of the management of CIE to be able to identify a vehicle that would be most economical and best suit the needs of a particular area.

Last month I was very disappointed to see that CIE withdrew their bus service which has been operating in south Laois for quite a number of years back. It is a detour that the Waterford or Kilkenny bus to Dublin made which took in Crettyard, The Swan, Wolfhill and Stradbally in County Laois. They are replacing that according to the information I could glean from the bus service with an express bus service which would stop at Crettyard and Ballylinan. This is an outrageous withdrawal of service because it means the villages of The Swan and Wolfhill and, indeed, the town of Stradbally, which has almost 1,800 people, are left without any public service, good, bad or indifferent. Yet if we are to accept and support the Minister's proposal, the taxpayers in general are making a contribution to the refunding and the reorganisation of this service. Yet you have half of County Laois without any sort of service. This is unacceptable. Either CIE must accept that they are in the business of providing a service or else let them allow the private sector to take over the routes and the areas on which they claim to have a monopoly.

I note that in Portlaoise CIE employ quite a number of people in different areas and they certainly have an excellent workforce there, especially in the rail section where they fabricate the continuous rail, make sleepers and have an industrial section like that. These people certainly do an excellent service and I would hope that work would continue and that the same kind of employment would be provided there.

The train service is excellent where it runs. I know from travelling on the intercontinental expresses in Europe that the express trains can fly into a station and literally stop for only one minute and people are able to get on and off in that time. I do not know what the length of a stop is in ordinary small stations across the country here. When one sees so many trains not stopping at the majority of stations on the main track, one wonders if the company are endeavouring to get every possible passenger facilitated and also to get them as fare paying passengers. I do not know what the views of the management and the people who are in charge are, or how much they appreciate and how much value and worth they place on the patronage of the ordinary fare paying passenger. Sometimes one is led to believe that in this semi-State organisation the service provided to potential passengers would appear to have a very low priority indeed. This is where the great difference between the public sector service and the private sector service lies. The private sector service is provided by private carriers who certainly go to the places where the public would seem to want to go and be able to meet whatever demand may be there from one week to the next. This is a matter with which the management of CIE should certainly try to cope more readily.

To travel by train is a very nice way of travelling but I had occasion a few years ago to write to the former chairman of CIE about the fact that a train was not very clean. He wrote back and said that these trains were washed inside and outside after every trip. I do not know on which floor in Kingsbridge this guy has his office but, obviously, it was not in the train. If that was the case, then clearly middle management was involved. I do not blame the man who sweeps out the carriages but there must be a supervisor over him and there must be a middle management guy over him. So it is on management that we must lay the blame. They are not insisting that the work for which the company are obviously paying is not being carried out. If that work is not done, it means that the public are getting a poorer service and a lower standard of service. This is where this country as a whole falls down, that people are too complacent and they seem to accept lower standards or, indeed, no standards at all.

I hope that this will be the start of a re-organisation of the entire monstrosity that we know and accept as CIE and that the end product will be a better and more economical service for the public. That is important. The poor people who cannot afford their own transport must have adequate transport facilities available to them. There is no doubt that there are more buses and trains passing through the midlands which stop to facilitate the people living there. For many years I have had an ongoing battle with CIE to have an early morning commuter train into Dublin to facilitate people who are working here in the public service or, indeed, in the private service. Some few years ago they put on that service which certainly would appear to be very profitable to CIE as a large number of people avail of that each morning and evening. This company are certainly slow to respond to public demand. I hope that the recent success of the new commuter train system in Dublin — at least from a public point of view it is successful — will encourage the company to get into a modern transport business and insist on a high standard within the service. This is very important. If the general public see that the board of CIE are making a major effort to provide a top class service they will not be despondent. The Irish people, in general, are most understanding and will make more than enough allowances for the limitations under which organisations such as CIE have been constantly labouring.

In conclusion, I wish the Minister well in the task he has set out to do. I hope this is the first of a series of legislative measures which he will introduce in order to provide the public with better transport facilities.

First, I would like to thank Senators for their contributions to this debate. I note that in this House, as well as in the other House, there was a tendency for Members to concentrate on the problems in their own neck of the woods. I suppose that is understandable but, in truth, one of the problems which has beset CIE over the years has been a preoccupation on the part of politicians and Ministers in making sure that different representations made by Deputies and Senators are met rather than allowing decisions to be made on the basis of objective transport criteria. That factor alone is one of the most significant contributary factors to the monstrous escalation of deficits by CIE between 1969 and 1982.

It is quite a scandal what happened. Of course, it was a period of very sharp increases in oil costs. It was also a period in which labour costs nationally went up at a rate much greater than the rate of inflation. This was not just in CIE but across the board in all areas of the economy. In any event, it was a period of as high a rate of inflation as the country has ever known. Even allowing for inflation, the losses in 1982 should have been of the order of £15 million, had they merely gone up by that very high rate of inflation from 1969 onwards. But we know the loss was £109.2 million, seven times what it should have been. That cannot be explained away by the oil shock. It was a refusal to face up to the fact that there was constant interference by politicians with CIE. The Government were setting unrealistic subvention limits in the closing weeks of one financial year for results to be achieved in the next financial year. Of course, everybody just scoffed at the figures because they were unrealistic. As I said in my opening speech, they were rewarded by not being observed. There were no realistic targets. The thing escalated out of control. That was the story for 15 successive years until 1982 when we reached the pinnacle of deficits at £109.2 million. We have got that under control. It reduced in 1983 and in 1984 in real terms and it will reduce again this year in real terms.

That reduction has been achieved to the enormous easement of the taxpayer without any massive cuts in services or in redundancies. The House will, therefore, forgive me for ignoring those local points made by Senators and, indeed, by Deputies in the other House. That local pressure to have all sorts of services provided, regardless of objective criteria, got CIE into financial trouble over the years and I am determined that this will not happen to CIE again.

That is a generalisation.

I made a decision when I became Minister that I would not deal with representations or receive deputations in relation to the operational matters in CIE. That seemed very hard. It affected my own constituency where some changes had been made in the area of bus routing. It has paid off as far as the taxpayers are concerned. We should ponder that, had the trend of 1969-1982 continued, this year we would be talking of losses of the order of £150 million. The out-turn for 1985 will be something of the order of £104 million. So we are talking about dramatic savings in one year alone. This serves to highlight and very much support the change made in that regard. Finances have been got under control. This has been achieved without massive cuts in services or redundancies in CIE. We have gone some way towards creating a new environment. This Bill goes a step further.

Senator Killilea said it was just a way of giving CIE more money under a different name. This is not the case. What we are doing in this Bill is two fold. First, we are making provision to give CIE £30 million which they should have been paid in the years preceding 1984 because allocations were made in the last few weeks of December of one year for application to the next year. Not only was this unrealistic but if CIE made any attempt to live within that figure their moves were constantly resisted by politicians. Take the example of what happened in December 1981. The subvention set for 1982 was £96 million. That was done around Christmas, 1981. They were to live within £96 million. The out-turn was £109.2 million. CIE had applied to the National Prices Commission in the meantime for an increase in fares. Because of increased costs they could have got approval even for a 50 per cent fare increase but they applied for a lesser increase than that.

The National Prices Commission approved an increase of 25 per cent at a time when inflation was running close to that figure. The then Government for political reasons — and I am not pointing the finger at a Fianna Fáil Government; this was the trend of Governments at the time — delayed this increase. Of course, it cost CIE £12 million in that year. There may be some doubt as to whether it was already clear in December 1982 that the out-turn would be £109.2 million, but with inflation running at a high level close to 20 per cent, the Government in settling the Estimates for the following year set an estimate of £86 million, which was £23 million less than the out-turn of the year just ended. If you add 20 per cent to £109 million you would be talking about £132 million for 1983, requiring almost £50 million to close the gap in one year. What is more any proposals made for reducing the subvention needed involved massive reductions in the numbers which were employed and in services and so were refused. They were even refused minor changes in services.

My predecessor deserves credit for this aspect. What happened was that the 25 per cent fare increase was not approved from 1 July 1982 because of the very balanced situation in the Dáil. The then Government did publish a programme called The Way Forward in the course of the general election of November 1982 and that included a provision for the 25 per cent fare increase from January 1983 — a six month delay. My predecessor, Deputy Wilson, was asked during the course of the election campaign about this and was honest about it and said, “Yes, there is a 25 per cent increase from 1 January 1983” and he deserves credit for that honesty. Since then a very firm policy decision made by this Government is that if fare increases are applied for and if they are approved by the National Prices Commission, we are not going to interfere and this was written into the Government decision relating to the rearrangement of CIEs finances and giving them a five year profile. If we do make decisions or fail to take decisions on matters like this, we have to pick up the tab right away. That is a discipline for the Government. No application for fare increases has been interfered with since. Some people might say it is a good thing, others might say it is a bad thing. If Governments in future are to stop fare increases, which have been justified before the National Prices Commission, the Government are going to have to pick up the tab. It is only fair to CIE. Much of the £30 million we are talking about is to repay CIE what it should have been paid long ago by Government. Governments avoided by fair means and foul giving the subvention which was required to provide that type of level of fairness. That is why there is provision in this Bill to provide £30 million over a ten year period. We pay £3 million a year. That is to correct the imbalance of the past. It is not a subsidy for services for this year or future years. It is to pay for past services.

Senator Killilea asked when will the restructuring Bill be here. The restructuring Bill should be before both Houses of the Oireachtas very quickly after the summer Recess. I am very anxious that we get the restructuring Bill setting up the three subsidiary companies passed quickly so that the final phase of the new environment, which I have been trying to create, will be put in place hopefully by the end of the year. I know that there are quite a number of people in CIE very worried about their future because of these changes. It is only human to be concerned when there is uncertainty. That is natural. I want to end the uncertainty as quickly as possible by bringing forward the Bill and implementing the restructuring as quickly as possible, hopefully by the end of this year. People will be much more relaxed and enthusiastic once the restructuring has taken place. What has been achieved in the past two and a half years so far, and what will be achieved in the remainder of this year is nothing less than providing an exciting new future for CIE which most people would have thought impossible two and a half years ago, when things looked very gloomy and the whole show looked like going over the cliff.

Both Senator FitzGerald and Senator Killilea asked about feeder commuter services for DART in general. In 1983, pre-DART, the total number of rail passengers on the Howth to Bray line was 5.39 million; in 1984 it was 7.5 million. The feeder bus services for DART is something that I have spoken about on a number of occasions in the past and I am very concerned that they have not yet been agreed. This is intolerable. I told the chairman that I expect this problem to be resolved quickly. There is a huge public investment in the DART system. There is a great deal of public excitement about it. Mosy people find the DART system very acceptable and a very agreeable addition to our transport infrastructure, even if it is costly. In order to minimise the losses we have to have the feeder services. It is ludicrous that there should be so much resistance within CIE to those services. I would appeal to everybody concerned to come to agreement quickly on providing the feeder services. It would appear that this problem is tied up with the one-man bus question, which has been going on for a long time also. These two questions ought to be tackled.

We will get it in the time of the exciting new future. Hopefully we will get it in the next few months.

Senator Killilea and others raised the question of private bus operators. Could this competition be legalised and simplified? At the moment, there are quite a number of private bus operators licensed for different routes. This is governed by the 1932 Road Passenger Act. There is a review of this Act now almost completed as part of the overall review of national transport policy which I intend to address in a Green Paper, which I expect to publish in the next month or so. The final version of it is on my desk. It will be going to Government shortly.

At the moment there are two schools of thought about this. One says remove the restrictions completely, let everybody just compete freely. The other school of thought is that that is "for the birds". The fact is that commercial operators will have no problem in providing bus services when they are ensured of having their buses full — weekend travel in particular — Dublin to Tuam on a Friday evening, or Dublin to Ennis, and back to Dublin from those places on a Sunday evening. That is no problem. What about all the off-peak services that CIE have to operate? No private operator is going to operate many of those services because they are intrinsically——

There are daily services.

Many of the services provided are intrinsically loss-making and are intrinsically social by nature and they are not economic propositions. This is the whole issue.

None of the private bus operators will run an uneconomic bus service.

That is a fact.

But they are still running routes that CIE would not run.

That is true also. There is room for CIE to get their cost down and a great deal has been achieved in the past two and a half years in the provincial bus operation as in all the other operations. There is still a great deal of scope for further reduction in their cost so as to make services more viable. There are, undoubtedly, a number of services which no private operator could touch because they are intrinsically services of a social nature. This is the dilemma. Do you give the potentially profitable services to the private operators with CIE left to provide the social service at a cost to the taxpayer or do you say no, we are going to have profits within the provincial bus services?


What competition would you have on the Wesport to Newport route?

You have competition from Dunmore and Milltown to Galway city.

This is a problem. You will have it on the higher density routes; you will not have it on the lower density routes. This does not apply to provincial bus services only, it also applies to air transport. This is one of the features of transport. You will get plenty of people to provide services on the high density routes. You will not get many looking for the lower density social routes. That is not to say that there is not a middle point. There probably is and we have looked extensively at the question and will be addressing it in the Green Paper.

Senator Killilea raised the question of the Athlone railway station change in location. There is no significance in that in relation to rail services to and from Galway or the west. CIE thought it necessary to provide the best site available in the general area and that was east of the river rather than west of the river and I know that that was a matter of some disappointment.


An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Gentlemen, I know this is a very nice Chamber but I wish the Minister would just get back to replying and we would conclude. On Committee we can discuss section by section.

I take the point. Senator Killilea asked about the cost of transport as far as other Departments are concerned. The Department of Social Welfare in 1984 paid CIE £21.568 million in respect of free travel for those who were entitled to it under the social welfare code. The Department of Education school transport scheme cost £29.382 million in 1984 and the Department of Defence free travel scheme cost £1.751 million in 1984.

I thank Senators for their contributions and interest in this debate and I hope that when I come before the House again on this matter it will be on the restructuring Bill. I hope that the progress that we are reporting to the House today will be sustained and that the future of CIE will look rosier than now.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.