Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009: Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to introduce the Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009 for the consideration of the House. The Bill is the second phase in the Government's public transport legislative reform programme which commenced with the enactment of the Dublin Transport Authority Bill last year. The Bill follows and builds on the enactment of that legislation and, together with that Act, presents a comprehensive framework for the future regulation and control of public passenger land transport. It is particularly appropriate that the Bill should commence its Oireachtas journey in Seanad Éireann as it was here that the Dublin Transport Authority Act was first presented to the Oireachtas. We had a very good debate with very constructive suggestions and a number of amendments were subsequently taken here or in the other House. I am delighted to come back to have the Bill scrutinised for the first time by the Seanad.

The immediate primary focus of the Bill is to establish a new modern legal framework for the licensing of commercial public bus transport services with the objective of promoting regulated competition in the provision of licensed public bus passenger services on a national basis, as well as the further promotion of integrated, well functioning and cost efficient services. The legislation has been drafted in a manner to ensure it complies with EU law, in particular, EU Regulation 1370/2007.

In association with this, the Bill also provides that responsibility for the administration of the new system will be given to the Dublin Transport Authority as it is now known. The transfer of the bus licensing function from my Department to the authority establishes a synergy with the current role of the authority under the Dublin Transport Authority Act. That Act put in place a legislative framework to support the procurement of public transport services by the authority by way of public service contracts within the greater Dublin area. That latter role is also being expanded through the Bill to apply nationally. In effect, the contracting arrangements in Part 3, Chapter 2, of the Dublin Transport Authority Act are being extended nationwide.

The Bill will also realise the transfer of the Commission for Taxi Regulation to the authority. The amalgamation of a number of important functions relating to the regulation and control of all land-based transport modes on a national basis within the authority has prompted my decision to confer it with the title of National Transport Authority. The Bill also contains a number of miscellaneous provisions regarding public transport.

When the Government launched the ten-year, €34 billion capital Transport 21 investment framework in November 2005, it was recognised that there was an urgent need for institutional reform, as well as infrastructural renewal. An Agreed Programme for Government in 2007, therefore, incorporated the commitment to reform bus route licensing to facilitate the optimum provision of services by providing a level playing field for all market participants, whereby both private and public service providers would be licensed and operate under the same rules. The Bill before the House today therefore establishes a new bus route licensing regime replacing the Road Transport Act 1932, which currently governs the licensing of commercial bus services provided by private bus operators, and also replaces provisions of the Transport Act 1958 which relate to bus services provided by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. The provisions of the 1932 and 1958 Acts have long been recognised as being in need of significant reform. The 1932 Act in particular was designed primarily to protect the then rail network but has never been amended in light of changed economic and social circumstances. It is recognised by all consumer groups and stakeholders in the bus sector as a body of legislation which is unsuited to modern conditions for the regulation of a public bus market which has many different characteristics — interurban, suburban, rural, local and community — all of which serve different needs. It deals only with the licensing of private operators on routes and applies criteria which are totally outdated.

The 1932 Act does not apply to services provided by Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann, which are authorised separately under the Transport Act 1958. Under existing arrangements, proposed new services or changes to existing services by either company must be notified to my Department under an administrative procedure. My consent is required under section 25 of the 1958 Act where a new service or an alteration to an existing service would give rise to competition with a licensed service provided by a private operator. Neither Act provides a legislative basis on which to regulate both public and private operators in the market in accordance with current EU regulations regarding monopoly and exclusive rights and direct award contracts.

In accordance with the commitment in the programme for Government, the proposed bus route licensing regime in respect of commercial bus services will provide a level playing field for all bus market participants. The new licensing structure will apply in respect of all commercial bus passenger services, including those provided by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. It will establish a clear structure against which applications for bus route licences will be considered, as well as a modern system of penalties and associated powers for revocation of licences. The new regime will operate side by side with a new contractual regime to apply in respect of bus and rail services which are the subject of public service obligations, PSOs.

The Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 established a contractual framework for the procurement of public transport services by the authority in respect of services which in EU terms are defined as PSOs, and a basis for a new performance-based and transparent contractual structure relating to the provision of bus and rail services in the greater Dublin area, GDA, deemed to be the subject of a PSO. This will ensure the best value for the travelling public and the taxpayer from the still significant subvention being provided by the Exchequer for public bus services operated by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann or indeed other service providers in the future. The Bill provides that the contractual framework under the DTA Act for the future subvention of non-commercial bus services and rail will be extended to apply to such services nationally. Parallel with this Bill, work is proceeding in my Department in drafting direct award contracts with Bus Éireann, Bus Átha Cliath and Iarnród Éireann with a view to having such contracts concluded in the coming weeks.

In a wider strategic context, the reform of the legislative framework must also be viewed against the background of the substantial investment in infrastructure which has been completed or is currently under construction or planned under Transport 21, which remains the most significant and sustained transport capital investment programme in the history of the State and will rectify deficits in transport infrastructure which, if not addressed, could seriously undermine our competitiveness, discourage inward investment, slow our economic growth and retard the future potential of the economy. Population and employment growth and the associated increase in car ownership, even if moderating in the current recession, have placed the transport infrastructure under severe pressure. This is most evident in the GDA where deficits in the transport infrastructure, even during periods of economic contraction, have resulted in congestion, increased journey times and an ever-expanding urban sprawl.

The bus network provides the backbone to the public transport system in Ireland, particularly in the GDA, with almost 150 million passengers carried by Dublin Bus in 2008. This accounts for nearly half of all public transport passengers in the State. However, the provision of well-functioning bus services is at least as important in areas outside the GDA because in general there are no other public transport facilities available, save for limited suburban rail services provided in respect of certain cities. Legislative reform, through replacement of the Road Transport Act 1932, is an essential part of the interrelated structural and regulatory modernisation process of public transport.

It is recognised that taxi, hackney and limousine services comprise a significant element of the national public transport service. Accordingly, it is appropriate that the regulation of this sector should be undertaken by the authority that is being given responsibility for the regulation and control of all other modes of land-based transport in the State. The Bill therefore provides for further rationalisation of the institutional arrangements in the public transport sector by proposing that the Commission for Taxi Regulation be amalgamated with the DTA to form a single entity.

I will now discuss the main provisions of the Bill, which are outlined in the explanatory memorandum that has been circulated to Senators. Part 1, preliminary and general, is standard in all legislation and includes the interpretation of specific words and phrases that have a particular relevance to the provisions in the Bill as a whole. Part 2 establishes a new regulatory regime for the licensing of commercial public bus services. As I adverted to earlier, its immediate focus is the replacement by a single licensing regime of the existing legislative regimes that separately authorise the provision of bus passenger services by private and State-owned public operators, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. In replacing the existing codes, especially the Road Transport Act 1932, this Part will address fundamental problems that have served to stifle rather than support the instigation of new bus services.

At the outset, Part 2 sets out certain fundamental elements for an appropriate licensing system, addressing issues such as the requirement to hold a licence, a description of the service to be provided in terms of route, frequency, timetables, etc., categories of licence, and the form of application that must be followed. Senators will note that in establishing these and all other elements of the proposed system, the Bill is particularly descriptive. It does not mandate the making of regulations or orders by the authority but directly addresses issues and allows the authority to make determinations on an ongoing basis on a range of matters so that it may adapt the system to meet changing demands and consumer needs. However, those powers are tempered by the mandatory requirement for the authority to consult broadly in its activities.

Bringing the needs of consumers to the centre of the consideration of the overall licensing system is a particular theme of this Part. I am particularly grateful for the advice and support given by the Competition Authority in the development of that theme. In that context, I direct Senators to two sections in particular — sections 10 and 23. Section 10 is a pivotal element of this Part in that it sets out the general provisions for the consideration of applications for licences. The section places that consideration within the parameters of the general objectives of the authority, thus highlighting the importance I place on ensuring the provision of properly regulated commercial bus services will be central to the future growth of passenger services. Having regard to those objectives, the consideration of applications must take account of the demand that exists for services, with particular reference to the needs of consumers.

The authority is then given latitude, as far as it considers necessary, to address a range of other matters. For example, it may consider the potential impact of a proposed commercial bus service on existing transport services being provided under contracts, the need to increase the availability of transport and the promotion of integration and competition. In addition, it can bring more general factors to bear such as the national spatial strategy, planning guidelines and the sustainable travel and transport action plan.

Senators will note that there is a wide menu provided for the authority in the consideration of applications. They will also note that subsection (6) specifically requires the authority to inform applicants of the reasons applications are refused.

Section 23 provides that the authority must prepare and publish guidelines in relation to this Part of the Bill. The guidelines must, in particular, set out how the authority will consider applications under section 10. It is my view that this pivotal element of the overall licensing framework must be pursued in an open and transparent manner. Accordingly, drafts of guidelines must be published. Specifically, they must be submitted to the Minister for Transport and the Competition Authority for their respective views. This will ensure that at all times the approach to licensing is in line with national transport policy and competition policy generally.

In regard to this Part of the Bill, I point Senators to sections 19 and 24 which, respectively, identify a range of circumstances where licences can be revoked and establish a system of very significant penalties for those who breach mandatory elements of the overall licensing system. This has been in need of urgent reform for some time.

Part 3 of the Bill which consists of sections 28 and 29 provides the framework for the refocusing of the Dublin Transport Authority into a national body. That refocusing is prompted by the fact that as a result of the Bill, the authority is being vested with a range of new functions that have national application, in particular, the bus route licensing system, as outlined in Part 2. The advent of that system and the linkages that naturally arise between it and the provision of subvented bus services through contracts provide an immediate logic to the authority taking responsibility for its administration nationally.

Under the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, the authority will, on its establishment, be responsible for the contractual framework for the provision of land transport in the greater Dublin area. With the addition of the bus route licensing functions under the Bill, it is clearly appropriate that the authority's engagement in contracts for transport should also apply nationally. Section 28 provides for that linkage. I recently announced the appointment of Mr. John Fitzgerald as chairman of the DTA and he will now work with my Department in making the necessary arrangements to set up the DTA on a formal basis in the coming months and, when the Bill is enacted, in assuming the additional responsibilities in it.

The result of this initiative is that the regulation and control of all bus, rail, metro and light rail services will be centred in one national authority. Against this background, there is a clear logic in further expanding these linkages to incorporate the regulation and control of taxis, hackneys and limousines. Therefore, section 28 also provides that the functions currently carried out by the Commission for Taxi Regulation are being subsumed into the overall remit of the authority. To reflect the significant broadening of its the role, section 28 also amends the application of the authority's overall objectives to ensure they are relevant to the carrying out of the new functions it will have to carry out nationally.

Section 29 specifically provides for the renaming of the authority as the National Transport Authority.

Part 4 of the Bill consists of 11 sections which address practical and legal issues that arise as a result of the transfer of the functions of the Commission for Taxi Regulation to the authority. I refer Senators, in particular, to section 30 which provides for the dissolution of the commission; sections 38 and 39 which address the transfer of both the employees of the commission and the office of commissioner and section 40 which gives overall effect to the transfer of all the commission's functions.

Part 5 of the Bill which consists of three sections and two associated Schedules provides the basis for amendments to a number of existing pieces of legislation. In particular, the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 is the subject of a series of amendments. In the first instance, section 41 addresses the repeal of provisions relating to the establishment and governance of the Commission for Taxi Regulation consequent to the amalgamation of that body into the new National Transport Authority. Second, section 42 provides for necessary changes to titles and references in that Act that also arise from the proposed amalgamation.

Part 1 of the First Schedule presents a series of amendments to the 2003 Act which have arisen as a result of recommendations by the Commission for Taxi Regulation. In particular, a restatement of section 43 of that Act is proposed to ensure the prohibition on providing a service without the necessary licences applies equally where a vehicle is the subject of a lease arrangement and to give powers to authorised persons under the Act to seize and detain vehicles being used in the commission of offences established through the section. Parts 2 to 4, inclusive, of that Schedule address minor amendments to the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001 and the Roads Acts 1993 and 2007.

The Second Schedule provides for a further range of changes to provisions in the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 that provide for the substitution of the existing references to the commission to references to the authority in respect of a range of functions currently carried out by the commission. It also provides that the existing Advisory Council to the Commission for Taxi Regulation will be known as the Advisory Committee on Small Public Service Vehicles.

Section 43 provides for amendments to the Planning and Development Act 2000 to give the authority a role in regard to the preparation of regional planning guidelines outside the greater Dublin area. The Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 already provides that the DTA will have involvement in the planning processes in the greater Dublin area. This involvement is mandated primarily by reference to the requirement imposed on the authority to make a strategic transport plan for the greater Dublin area under section 12 of the Act. Given the importance of co-ordinating transport infrastructure and strategies and the lead-in time for their implementation, I consider that the DTA should have a limited role in regard to land use planning issues outside the greater Dublin area. Accordingly, following consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Bill proposes to give the DTA a role in relation to the preparation of the regional planning guidelines outside the greater Dublin area through amendment of the Planning and Development Act 2000. All regional authorities will consult the authority when they are preparing the guidelines for their areas and include a statement of proposed actions to ensure effective integration of transport and land use planning. The amendments are modelled substantially on the relevant provisions of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 in regard to the greater Dublin area.

Part 6 of the Bill addresses two separate issues. Section 44 deals with a legal obligation under EU law to provide for the transposition of Article 6 of EU Directive 2001/14/EC on the allocation of railway infrastructure capacity and the levying of charges for the use of railway infrastructure and safety certification into Irish law. It designates the Minister for Transport as the competent authority in this regard.

Section 45 seeks to clarify the powers of local authorities to provide bus priority measures and cycle facilities and, where necessary, provides a step-in power for the DTA. The section exempts bus priority measures from regulations applying to local authority developments under section 179 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, known as the "Part 8" procedure. The Bill proposes that bus priority measures will be delivered under the road traffic legislation as an executive function of the relevant county manager, with the exception of such measures involving road widening. The purpose of these amendments is to streamline the delivery of bus priority measures.

The primary focus of the Bill is the replacement of the current outmoded and inadequate licensing regime that has applied to the authorisation of bus routes for some 77 years. The passage of the Bill presents the ideal opportunity not only to modernise the current licensing system but to provide for the rationalisation of the regulation and control of all land transport modes under one body. Subsuming the regulation of taxis, hackneys and limousines within the same body also supports that rationalisation. I remain convinced of the robustness of the reasoning and need for the establishment of a body to oversee the co-ordination and control of both the delivery of the major programme of transport infrastructure and the integration of transport modes in the greater Dublin area. In the Bill before the House I am not seeking to expand these roles to the rest of the State. However, through section 29, the prospect for the further expansion of the remit and functions of the authority can be pursued against the background of the experience gained by the authority in pursuing its initial remit role in that regard. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister. I acknowledge the value of the introduction of this legislation in the House and the positive experience we have had in relation to Bills in this area during the past two years.

I agree with the Minister, who stated at the outset of his contribution that legislation in relation to the regulation of transport in Ireland has been fraught. Such legislation has been, at times, outdated and irrelevant to the challenges faced by modern public or private transport and changes often have been incremental and frequently inadequate. At other times a tango has taken place with one step forward in terms of dealing with transport policy issues and two steps back owing to a change in philosophy on the part of the Minister or Government.

I would like to deal now with the legislative background in which this Bill is being introduced. Key legislation on the regulation of the private and public bus market in Ireland dates back to 1932. The integration of transport planning was really only grasped last year with the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008. Prior to that we had the Dublin Transport Authority Act 1986 which was repealed in 1987. The crucial issue of the integration of transport planning with land use planning was only dealt with in the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 and even then only in respect of the greater Dublin area, as acknowledged by the Minister in his contribution. There is a need for us to update and make relevant legislation in this area even in the changed economic climate in which we find ourselves.

On the philosophy behind this Bill, two objectives deserve to be acknowledged and welcomed. There has long been a contradiction in the regulation of the bus market with a particular Department bearing responsibility for the companies providing public transport and also making decisions on regulation in that regard. This legislation will resolve that contradiction and ensure we have in place a regulator that differs from the owner. That is to be welcomed. The objective this legislation presupposes of regulating competition within the bus market is also to be welcomed. My party has long argued for this. A move to an environment wherein one will have regulated competition, and in particular the prospect of competition even if that prospect does not materialise, will lead to a better use of taxpayers' money, the better development of routes and will ensure the needs of passengers and commuters are better met than is currently the case.

That being said, there are seven areas in which this legislation is deficient. These are the issues on which I will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage. The first issue is the steps forward in the Bill in terms of the integration of land use planning and transport planning. The legislation gives the national transport authority the power to get involved in the consultative process and to make observations not alone on regional planning guidelines but in regard to the development of area and development plans. However, the authority does not have this particular power outside of the greater Dublin area. We are creating within this legislation a two-tier environment with which the authority must work. It will in relation to the greater Dublin area be able to comment on and make observations and recommendations on the development of county and city development plans but will not be able to do so outside of the greater Dublin area. In this regard, its ability will be confined to the development of regional planning guidelines. We all acknowledge that a lack of this type of integration is responsible for some of the horrific planning decisions made, examples of which include estates and homes with no public transport. That the Bill does not tackle that issue is a grave concern. I am astonished to hear that while the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was consulted on this matter it expressed no observations on it. I cannot see how the Bill would not be improved by at least giving the national transport authority the power to make selective observations and contributions on the development of county development plans. It is the county and city developments that deal with the real issues facing us. This is an issue on which the Green Party has spoken passionately and at length throughout its entire existence and I wonder whether it has gone missing in action. Where in the legislation is the action in this area?

The second issue is the role of a directly elected Lord Mayor for the greater Dublin area. In May this year, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government issued a press release to the effect that the chairperson of the national transport authority would be a directly elected Lord Mayor for Dublin. The DTA is being subsumed into the national transport authority. However, the legislation makes no reference to the directly elected Lord Mayor and what role he or she will play in this area. What does this mean? Does it mean we will have a directly elected Lord Mayor for Dublin who is chairperson of the national transport authority or that no directly elected Lord Mayor will play a role in this area? I strongly believe that the development of the role of a directly elected Lord Mayor will be a big step forward for local government. However, this legislation makes no reference in this regard. Again, where is the Green Party on this particular issue? Given the Minister's commitment to local authority development and his work in this area under previous portfolios, what role will a directly elected Lord Mayor play in respect of the provision of transport, in particular given it has been established that directly elected Lord Mayors worldwide tend to be more effective when they have a role to play in transport provision?

The third issue is the subsuming of the taxi commission into the new authority, a dissolution which makes complete sense and which I support. Legitimate issues have been raised in regard to what is currently happening in the taxi market, in particular in Dublin. It is a real tragedy to see reported in the media during the past couple of days the number of people involved in the taxi market who have taken their own lives. While I am not suggesting they have done so because they were taxi drivers, there is huge pressure on people involved in that industry, an issue into which the Joint Committee on Transport has put a great deal of work and made a number of recommendations on.

The Bill acknowledges that regulated competition is the way to deliver transport needs for markets. This applies in respect of buses and all other forms of transport. Surely, some form of regulation is also appropriate for the taxi market. I am a believer in free markets. I also believe that competing individuals will deliver in the common good. However, there are pragmatic measures that could be included in this legislation, namely, the new transport authority could be given the power to make observations on whether capacity has been met within the market of a particular county or city and the ability to declare a limited time period within which issues must be dealt with. For example, the authority could be allowed to tackle a situation where a particular individual is in possession of a large number of taxi licences which he or she is renting out to others. One would have to be blind not to be aware of the legitimate concerns in the area of taxi regulation. This legislation offers an opportunity to acknowledge these concerns and do something about them, but the Bill, as drafted, is inadequate in this regard.

A fourth issue of concern is the investigation of public transport accidents. In the last two days there have been four accidents in Dublin involving buses and last week there was the awful incident involving a collision between a bus and a Luas tram. In this context, it is appropriate that the new authority should have a role to play in regard to passenger safety on public transport. In the case of bus accidents, my understanding is that the ensuing investigation is largely undertaken by the bus companies. There seems to be no statutory provision whereby the conduct and findings of such investigations must be made public. Given that passenger and public safety must be the number one priority for any company involved in the provision of transport, it is somewhat strange that the Bill is silent on this subject. Will the Minister consider including a provision whereby the new authority would have a function in initiating or reviewing investigations of public transport accidents?

The fifth issue of concern to me is that the Bill has nothing to say on the subject of rural transport. I understand most rural public transport services are provided by Pobal, under the aegis of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Given that this legislation deals with national transport regulation as opposed merely to regulation within Dublin or particular cities, the new body should have a role in overseeing rural transport services. This should be done either through a stronger and tighter legal relationship with Pobal or by ensuring the Department of Transport and the new authority throw their collective influence behind ensuring rural transport needs are met and the appropriate services are in place. My colleague, Senator O'Reilly, spoke passionately about this issue yesterday. There is surely a role for the new authority in this area.

Sixth, we will have to examine the role of the new transport authority as a provider of last resort. In our debate on the legislation establishing the Dublin Transport Authority the Minister scaled back its capacity as a provider of last resort in amendments he accepted in this House. He recognised there could be a conflict of interest where a body functioned both as regulator of a service and a potential provider of that service at some point in the future. While the legislation before us is to be welcomed in removing one potential conflict of interest, in terms of the Department of Transport simultaneously owning public companies and acting as regulator of those companies, it seems risky to allow scope for a similar potential conflict to arise.

The seventh issue of concern relates to the licensing and procurement of bus services. There is much to be welcomed in the Bill regarding the clear statutory footing provided for the licensing of bus services. The crucial issue will be the licensing guidelines the Department produces in order for the Bill to be implemented. The last set of such guidelines from by the Department was issued only last month. Under these guidelines, the stated principal consideration when deciding upon whether a new route should be provided is whether there is an existing service. It is imperative that we deal with this issue. It should be a case of taking a step back and asking whether a particular sector of the market is currently in operation. While the Bill offers the framework for that to happen, the guidelines published last month seem to be at odds with this.

In regard to regulated competition, there is provision that bus routes operated by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann will be protected for five years. I have little doubt that when regulated competition is introduced, these providers will continue to win most of the contracts because they are generally very good at what they do. However, we should take this opportunity to put in place on a statutory footing the performance measures that will be required in order to win these contracts. While researching the Bill, I looked at what Transport for London, that city's equivalent of the Dublin Transport Authority, was doing. That organisation publishes figures every month on its website indicating how the various bus companies are performing in different areas, on the basis of such measures as reliability, the amount of miles lost due to congestion and so on. No such information is available for bus services here. Introducing a statutory provision to ensure such data are published is essential to ensure the legislation works as we want it to.

As I outlined, while there is much to be welcomed in the legislation, it does not go far enough in several aspects. This is particularly so in regard to the issue of integrating land use and transport planning and the procurement and licensing of bus services.

Like other Members, I welcome the introduction of the Bill. The establishment of an effective public transport regulatory system is long overdue. During the years various bodies have had responsibility in this area, including the Department of Transport, CIE, Bus Éireann and so on. The 1932 Act was introduced at a time when there was no such thing as competition, with CIE essentially enjoying a monopoly of all types of transport in the State, whether passenger, commercial or otherwise. Some of us are old enough to remember how drivers who applied for licences in rural areas to undertake certain haulage work were left on tenterhooks for years before a decision was made.

It is important that we ensure there is full transparency in all these matters. The Bill stipulates that any transport provider whose application is refused must be given full information on the reasons for that refusal. However, it seems no appeal mechanism has been provided, either to the Minister or the courts, for unsuccessful applicants who consider themselves to have been unfairly treated. This is something the Minister may be able to clarify at a later stage. As politicians, it is inevitable that we will be approached by constituents whose licence applications have been refused. Some of us know it was right and proper to refuse them in some cases but in others one might wonder if they were fairly treated.

Will the Bill also cover character references for people who seek licences? I am aware of the problem that has arisen, with which the Minister is dealing, regarding operators of haulage licences. There is a need to ensure those who operate on behalf of various transport agencies, particularly bus drivers, have proper clearance. While a person or company might be the licensee, the people who operate for them should be listed and receive full clearance from the Garda authorities and others. Everybody is aware of the fear people, particularly women, have of taking taxis at night in this city. There have been a number of serious incidents. It is important, therefore, that there be full character references and checks carried out with regard to those who operate in this area.

There will also be an onus on providers. Those granted licences are getting an opportunity to operate and will have to provide a service that will cater for people's needs. When discussing this issue and providers, we tend to focus on the main providers, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. However, we must also begin to consider the provision of services in some of our larger towns, where there is no internal transport service. There is probably enough business in many of these towns to create such a service. In doing so, we do not want a situation where ten operators are given routes when there is only sufficient business for one. On the other hand, where there is business for one operator, we do not want that operator to abuse his or her position with regard to charges and so forth. This is something that must be monitored.

The enforcement of regulations has always been a problem, regardless of what regulations are introduced. Will there be sufficient powers of enforcement? The Garda will have to become more active than at present in enforcing regulation. In some cases it does not provide the enforcement necessary. Sometimes one is told it is due to a lack of resources but I have seen many cases where the resources were available but regulations were still not enforced.

We are aware of the problems that have arisen with the taxi regulator regarding the number of taxi licences issued and the viability of the business. It is a problem, but we should recall what happened prior to that, when one could be seeking a taxi in this city on a Friday or Saturday night and one would be lucky to get one by Monday. Perhaps too many rushed in to obtain licences when they became unemployed. There is definitely a need to re-examine the situation and I am aware the Minister is trying to do something about it.

Rural transport affects all rural communities. In some parts of the country there is still a lack of taxi or hackney services at night. All the operators want to work Friday and Saturday nights when there is plenty of business but if one is looking for a taxi on a Monday or Tuesday night, one just cannot get one. I accept the operators must make a living but is there a need to make it mandatory that they provide a service for a certain number of hours over the week rather than allowing them to work Friday and Saturday nights before returning to their ordinary jobs for the rest of the week? It annoys people in rural areas that when they are seeking a taxi or hackney, they cannot find one because the operators do not work on a particular night. I accept it is a person's prerogative, especially if it is a one-person operation, to decide when he or she wants to work. This issue will have to be examined in granting licences. There might even be a case for providing that when licences are granted, a commitment must be given by those who receive licences to operate a service in non-high profit hours rather than just in high profit hours. Perhaps the Minister might consider this and discuss it with the Taxi Regulator or those who will be responsible for enforcement.

I referred to rural transport. I compliment the Minister on receiving a briefing from his colleagues in the parliamentary party on the retention of the rural transport scheme which has been a tremendous success in alleviating the isolation of older people in rural areas. Many of them can continue to live in their own communities because of this facility rather than ending up living in institutions and costing the State a great deal more money. All public representatives have met the transport groups in the past couple of weeks. There has been much talk about the McCarthy report but if Mr. McCarthy had been sent to visit some of these groups, he would not have included them in his list of proposed cuts. For older people the service means they can collect their pension, do their shopping, meet friends and make new ones. If a person had a feeling for rural Ireland, he or she would not include it in a list of proposed cuts.

People should realise that the McCarthy report is a proposal, not a definitive position. Every part of the report will have to be examined in detail to assess the social, community and economic effects. It should be remembered that it might look good on paper to cut something but the knock-on effects in terms of what it would cost the State indirectly could be ten times more than the amount saved. The Leader has given a commitment to have a debate in the House on the report prior to the budget. It is important in that context to ensure the knock-on effects of doing something are assessed as much as the savings that can be made. It is possible to be penny wise and pound foolish, as one can see with a number of proposals made in the report. However, we are not here to discuss the McCarthy report but the regulation of transport services.

The Bill will have a big influence on development and proposed development, even in smaller towns and villages. I hope there will be tight control of the length of time the authority will have to reply to queries sent to it by local authorities. It is imperative that there be a maximum period of either 30 or 60 days in which to respond. It will have to be in conjunction with the planning laws to ensure people will not find that their planning application fails because the authority has not replied within the prescribed time. This is very important where the responsibilities of the authority are concerned. If it is given an open-ended period of time, there will quickly be major problems with planning permission either being granted by default or refused by default due to the authority not responding. This has happened with the NRA — queries were raised recently about the authority not replying with regard to Iarnród Éireann and a bridge in Athenry. This matter must be examined. These bodies must have that statutory responsibility. They should face the same requirements as pertain in the planning laws. In other words, if someone does not respond within the prescribed period, he or she should be precluded from having a second bite of the cherry. The Bill does not appear to provide for a statutory responsibility to respond.

A transparent system must be established for the selection of routes because without transparency major problems will arise. The body will be required to outline the reasons an application for a licence is refused. Licences should also be granted for a specified period of between five and ten years. Licence periods of less than five years will not lead to competition as people would be reluctant to become involved in the process. No one will invest in vehicles to provide services without certainty that he or she will be permitted to operate the service, subject to meeting the relevant conditions, for the lifespan of the vehicle, which is between five and ten years.

It is also imperative that high standards apply to the quality of vehicles. While I am aware that a variety of tests are carried out on vehicles, a roadworthy vehicle may not be suitable for the function for which it is licensed. It could, for example, be uncomfortable or too large. Some of the routes will probably only be viable if the service is provided using minibuses rather than 40 or 45 seat coaches.

While I fully support the concept behind the Bill, the nitty gritty of its implementation will be of the utmost important and some fine-tuning will be required. Individuals should have a right to appeal a decision to the Minister or, preferably, to the courts. One can license a person to serve a route with a passenger capacity of 15 or 20 people per trip. If one stipulates that the individual must provide a 40-seat bus on the route, he will not be able to do so. Given the competition which will exist for these routes, one option available to those who wish to eliminate a competitor is to undertake to provide a 40-seat bus on routes where the competitor offers to provide a 20-seat bus. While 20 seats may be more than sufficient to do the job, the individual offering to provide a 40-seat bus will secure the licence. As his or her service will not be viable, it will fail.

An open system will be required for tendering. This could involve the use of local public notices or a requirement that individuals submit their names to be placed on the tender list. This could avoid the considerable expense of public advertising in national and local newspapers. All organisations have websites and even the most computer illiterate of us is able to perform basic computer tasks. Every week, newspapers publish large public notices targeted at a limited number of people involved in the business in question. These individuals will already be aware of the contract being advertised and others who wish to enter the business will be aware that the information they require can be downloaded from the relevant websites.

Every week, Departments spend substantial sums advertising contracts. If this money could be diverted to fund services, for which funding will soon be tightened up, it would make a considerable contribution and reduce costs. If one lifts a national newspaper today, one will see a number of major notices on various issues. The cost of these notices to the State is much higher than the funding provided to some of the agencies and groups involved. While this legislation is a positive step forward, its implementation and the operation of the authority will have an important bearing.

I welcome the Minister to the House and Senators will appreciate his decision to introduce the Bill in the Seanad. The Minister noted that he accepted a considerable number of amendments to the most recent Bill he introduced in the House. I hope he will consider doing likewise with regard to this legislation. Our efforts are focused on improving the Bill.

I learned from my experience with the Minister when he introduced a levy on plastic bags which, as he will have noted, is due to increase to 44 cent. At that time, I objected to the Minister's proposal and told him the levy would not work. He listened to my objections and those voiced by other Members and found a solution for each of them.

Did the Senator eat humble pie?

Yes. The Minister addressed my concerns and the plastic bag levy is a good example of how to achieve a specific objective. As a member of the boards of a couple of international bodies, I have become an advocate for similar legislation elsewhere. I fail to understand the reason other countries have chosen not to adopt the plastic bag levy and have opted instead for other measures.

The legislation before us is tricky because the Minister must take into account previous legislation, both comparatively recent in origin and Acts dating back to 1932 and 1958. Senator Ellis noted that some of us were old enough to remember certain things. I am not old enough to remember Dublin in the 1930s but, as my father told me, no one queued for buses at that time. As a result, CIE appointed inspectors to visit bus stops to get people to queue. Within a few weeks, the practice of queuing became established. It may be necessary to have inspectors do this again because I understand some newcomers from countries without a tradition of queuing engage in battles to board buses in the centre of Dublin and elsewhere. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of that.

The provisions of the Bill raise the question as to what the Department of Transport does and whether we need a new quango. We have become accustomed to establishing State agencies to perform functions previously done by Departments. While I am an enthusiast for transferring departmental functions to State agencies, I question whether it is always the correct approach.

For obvious reasons, I welcome the recognition in the Bill that we need transport to be devolved to local government rather than centralised. I am concerned, however, that the Minister has indicated his intention to give the new national transport authority a nationwide remit. This means the new authority will be responsible for commercial bus route licensing and the allocation of public transport subventions nationally. It will also oversee local and county development plans. This decision runs contrary to the decision to establish the Dublin Transport Authority in the first place. The capital needs a transportation authority, as do all large metropolitan areas. I hope Dublin's needs will not be marginalised as a result of the establishment of the new national transport authority.

The Bill includes many positive developments. Are there plans for improving the service for customers of Dublin Bus or bus services in general in an upfront and tangible manner? Ireland lags behind in certain areas, for example, in introducing a system of real time electronic timetables under which an estimated time of arrival is provided at each bus stop. Such a system would not be difficult to introduce in such technologically advanced times. There is already such an efficient system in place in Vienna, Austria, where the buses actually arrive at the time indicated on the electronic timetable. I have also seen a similar system in Munich. It is probably used in many other European cities also. Such a system would greatly benefit bus passengers here, so I would like to know if the new national transport authority has plans to introduce a system along those lines.

I note that the new head of the national transport authority has already been appointed, but surely we should also look to European cities to see how to run a transport network efficiently. What we have had to date is a light rail system with two lines that do not interconnect, and so-called quality bus corridors, which do seem to work. Some €19 million of taxpayers' money has been spent since 2002 on an integrated smartcard ticketing system that will not be fully available to commuters in Dublin until next year at the earliest. I would like to know if we will be getting any real experts from Europe to show us and the national transport authority how they do it elsewhere, taking inspiration from others and adapting to what the private sector is all about. The public sector must do the same.

With this Bill we must ensure public transport licensing for new companies is fair, efficient and speedy. I get frustrated at the length of time things take. As we all know, getting decisions on such matters usually takes several months, if not years. Perhaps an amendment is needed to the Bill to put a time limit on how long the national transport authority will have in order to consider applications for public transport licensing. I wonder how efficient the new national transport authority will be in this respect.

I welcome the fact the monopoly of Dublin Bus is being tackled. The Bill recognises that its special treatment needs to end. However, I am concerned that certain private operators could be favoured and allowed to cherry-pick their routes. It was interesting to hear Senator Ellis who spoke about the need for tendering and avoiding political cronyism in future.

When I became chairman of what was then called An Bord Phoist, which later became An Post, I could not get over the number of letters I received seeking jobs and particular favours. I remember being very blunt in my answers, which said "No". The Minister at the time asked me to be a bit less blunt, saying "Don't you know that when the local TD writes to you, he really is not expecting anything other than to be able to go back to his constituent and say ‘Look, I did write to the chairman and got a letter back'?" Such letters were often written in first name terms. The Minister asked me to be less blunt, even though he said he was not expecting me to do anything. I fear the danger of cronyism occurring at some point in the future.

An efficient transport system is vital to our economy, but it is estimated that Bus Éireann will not have a fully integrated ticketing system until 2012. This means it will have been ten years in development. It seems to take so long. I hope the new NTA will be more successful in resolving such matters.

I wish to raise one or two other issues. The Minister has not indicated whether the new NTA legislation will slow down the establishment of a much-needed transport regulator for the greater Dublin area. He has also failed to provide a timeline for establishing the NTA or to report on how it will be financed. Perhaps the Minister did so, but I may have missed it.

Many taxi drivers have indicated that they hope the development will provide an opportunity for serious reform of the regulatory system that oversees their industry. The taxi system has been hugely improved in recent years. It is fair to say that this is the result of work by the previous Minister, Mr. Bobby Molloy, and that his PD colleagues pushed hard for it. I can remember attempting to bring a big conference to Dublin in 1999 or 2000. In the week the decision was due to be made, the chief executive came from Paris and had a lovely meal. He then asked for a taxi to his hotel but was told he might have to wait two hours because it was not possible to get one. We must recognise the huge benefits that have come about from deregulation. I do not have much sympathy for those taxi drivers who say it is not fair, that there are too many taxis and they have to wait too long for fares. It is almost like saying we should put a restriction on the number of grocers because it is not fair to grocers who cannot survive because other grocers are taking business away from them. I am fully in favour of deregulation and competition. Those who succeed will be those who provide the best service in some form or another.

I am concerned about the need to cut costs, although it will have to be done. To what extent is the free travel scheme being questioned? I cannot remember whether it is in the report of an bord snip. When it was introduced it was a simple decision, originally for the elderly who were to travel only in off-peak times. Obviously, if there were empty seats it made sense to fill them. Over the years the scheme was increased and was very welcome. I came across somebody recently who is not badly off and who goes on holidays to Kerry for the summer. However, because she has free travel, she always takes the train from Killarney to Dublin and the Luas to Dundrum just to visit her hairdresser. It is a nice way to spend the day. I mention that because there is clearly a cost to us if seats are filled and have to be used. I am not advocating that we should step away from free travel but perhaps it is time to examine whether we could be more efficient in operating the scheme.

I welcome the Bill's objective and believe the legislation can be improved. I am sure the Minister will listen attentively to amendments on Committee Stage, as he has done in the past. The Bill will be improved by such amendments.

I wish to share time with Senator O'Donovan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I envy the Minister his job as he will go down in history as the man who finally brought the Irish transport service up to date. To have finally dispensed with the 1930s legislation will be as significant as the introduction of the smoking ban by the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin. I am delighted this Bill is finally being produced. Residents of Dublin in particular, but elsewhere also, have suffered as a result of outdated legislation. I know the Minister has been trying for a long time to bring this legislation forward. In his speech, the Minister said this was the second part of the modernisation plan for transport infrastructure. It is long overdue. I was delighted to hear Senator Donohoe largely welcome the Bill. Other speakers have said it will be improved by discussion here. I was impressed by Senator Donohoe's points in particular, which included matters I had not thought of. He is right to say the Bill can be improved by the introduction of some amendments.

The Minister said we need to put customers at the heart of the transport system. He also stated:

An Agreed Programme for Government in 2007, therefore, incorporated the commitment to reform bus route licensing to facilitate the optimum provision of services by providing a level playing field for all market participants, whereby both private and public service providers would be licensed and operate under the same rules.

Will both public and private operators have equality in terms of benefits? I did not see any reference to that point in the Minister's speech. I am referring to the advantage public service operators have in fuel rebates, so will we see an end to that?

I intend to participate in great detail in the debate on Committee State. We finally have this Bill after 70 years and it is so important to get it right in case it takes another 70 years for the next one to be published. We must allow flexibility in the legislation and give the authority freedom to operate as it sees fit. I am encouraged that the Minister is cognisant that we cannot allow the current policies of public transport service providers, particularly, those operating buses, to continue. The policies are from another era and consumers have been left high and dry. It is intolerable that services are provided for operators, not consumers. That is fundamental to my thinking as the Bill progresses through the House.

Senator Quinn mentioned licensing and the experience of operators in the current system whereby there is no limit on the time it takes for a licence application to be approved. That needs to be addressed because it is unfair to keep businesses hanging on when a licence is pending. This proposed legislation was one of the reasons for delays in approving licences recently but it has been published and a timeline needs to be provided for how long it should take to issue a licence. I also have reservations about the granting of licences. I refer to section 18(4), which relates to the sale of a service. I am worried that when an operator is granted a licence, he or she can sell it on quickly. A monopoly may recur. We need to protect against that and I will seek to ensure that happens.

I refer to the integrated ticketing issue. All of us who have travelled to cities in Europe have experienced other public transport systems and lament our failure to introduce a similar system. Our transport infrastructure has come on in leaps and bounds. It is another reason I am annoyed when people say we have no legacy from the Celtic tiger era. There is a legacy and one will experience it on public transport routes throughout the country. When tourists visit Ireland, they find the system antiquated because they cannot transfer from one public transport service to another seamlessly. In Belgium, for example, a user can purchase a ticket that lasts an hour and so on. The situation is intolerable and while significant investment has been made in researching integration and problems were experienced when the current dominant bus service provider was asked to share information about bus routes, that cannot be allowed to continue. I hope the legislation heralds an era of public transport for the public and not for the operators or their workers. Special attention needs to be paid to how service providers can be obligated to be fully integrated. Is the Minister thinking about this?

Senator Donohoe stated the Bill seems to allow for the continuation of two types of service operators for five years, although I understood the period involved to be two years. All types of licences will eventually be uniform. Will there be a difference between the licences given to Dublin Bus and to private operators during the two-year period? Competition is good for all operators, including Dublin Bus, which will rise to the challenge. When competition emerged at the Spencer Dock development site, the company recognised it was likely to lose the contract. It upped its game and that demonstrates that when competition is introduced for a service and the incumbent is threatened with losing a licence it has held for a long time, it can up its game and put the customer first.

A 24-hour bus lane should not be provided for when there is not a 24-hour service. That does not make sense. Can this be outlawed? I hope the legislation will also outlaw predatory practices. Private operators believe a cowboy operation is in place, which is not the case. Safety standards apply uniformly to public and private transport providers but predatory practices are used by the dominant incumbent and I hope that will be outlawed. I look forward to further discussions on the Bill.

I thank Senator O'Malley for sharing time and I welcome the Minister. I broadly accept the thrust and principle of the legislation, which is forward thinking. I appreciate the Minister's effort in bringing it forward at this time.

I come from a rural area and I urge him to be kind to the rural transport system. While it is not covered directly by the legislation, the rural transport scheme would be a significant loss to rural Ireland it if were abolished on foot of the bord snip report. The scheme works extremely well in west Cork where I live.

Will the proposed national transport authority have control over metro north? As a tourist destination, Ireland should have had an integrated ticketing system before now and I welcome the provisions in this regard. I hope the Minister will fast track it.

How does he propose to deal with land acquisition for the underground link between Dublin Airport and the city centre? What are the proposals? Bord Gais built a pipeline between Kinsale and Dublin. When the Joint Committee on the Constitution examined property rights, legislation was proposed. The concept is one owns one's property from the sky to the core of the earth. Undergrounding has legal implications where land acquisition is concerned. Dr. Gerard Hogan, who advised the committee, believes it is possible under the Constitution to legislate that property rights would only cover the first 10 metres underground, for example, and that would allow for the fast tracking proposals for underground works. If one had to deal with every householder between St. Stephen's Green and the airport in the context of the underground metro, it would be a logistical nightmare. The Minister and his officials will be aware of this issue but it was an interesting proposal and the representatives of many transport providers were before the committee to participate in that debate on property rights. The committee's report might be worth considering in that regard.

I thank the Minister for bringing the Bill forward. Will the national transport authority have control over transport nationally or just in the greater Dublin area, GDA? On the basis of the documents I have read, it will primarily deal with the GDA but in the development of policy its remit should extend nationwide.

A number of bus routes in west Cork are inefficient. Almost nobody uses one route which operates only on a Saturday and I raised this issue with CIE in Cork. The bus was rerouted and people still did not use the service. It is a 42-seater bus which uses particularly bad roads. Something like a small minibus would be much more efficient. There are probably several such routes and the situation should be examined.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and his officials back to the House. I broadly welcome the publication of the Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009, which has been promised by the Minister and his predecessors for many years, because it brings some sense to the whole bus licensing regime. The time for reforming the antiquated 1932 bus licensing laws is long overdue. The different arrangements for CIE and the private operators, as defined in the 1932 and 1958 Acts, made no sense whatsoever. Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and private operators have often been precluded from offering new services to commuters because of the outdated and cumbersome bus licensing system overseen by the Minister and the Department of Transport.

The Public Transport Regulation Bill will establish a national transport authority and transfer the responsibility for bus licensing for the whole country to the NTA. It is also proposed that the Dublin Transport Authority and the Commission for Taxi Regulation will be subsumed into the NTA. It is to be hoped that the new NTA legislation will not slow down the establishment of a much-needed transport regulator for the greater Dublin area. I have not seen any mention of a timeline for establishment of the NTA and some other Senators have mentioned this. Is it in the Bill? I would be interested in the Minister's comments.

The explanatory and financial memorandum states that there will be no immediate significant financial implications for the Exchequer as the authority will rely on a surplus from the Commission for Taxi Regulation to fund its operation. I have serious reservations about this and if a body such as this is to achieve anything it must be properly resourced. Might the effect of this be that taxi regulation licence costs will have to remain high to maintain the revenue stream necessary to fund the authority? I would be interested in the Minister's comments on that.

The new bus licensing regulations contained in the Bill will have a profound effect on public transport bus services. Section 10 is entitled "General provisions for the consideration of applications for grant of licenses" and will require a good detail of teasing out on Committee Stage. Many things contained in that section can be discussed. There must be a level playing field in all of this and there must be no ideological bias in favour of private operators. There must be no opportunity for cherry-picking of routes by private operators, as other Senators have said. There must be no hiving-off of profitable bits to private operators. There must be fair play for all operators.

We saw what happened in Swords where, because of the licensing of the Swords Express, Dublin Bus was restricted from changing anything on its services out of Swords for fear of any impact on the private operator concerned. Regulation of competition should not overly limit the possibility of a competitor modifying its service offering. That is very important. It is also essential that the needs of passengers are put at the centre of bus route licensing and the Minister referred to this in his speech. How is this to be properly addressed? In planning legislation, with which the Minister is familiar from his past responsibilities, there is a requirement for consultation with local people on planning matters, but my sense is that in a lot of cases, while people make submissions or whatever, they are totally ignored and people do what they planned to do anyway. I hope some mechanism is put in place so that the needs and views of people are taken into account properly.

Buses can provide an excellent service if that service is properly designed in consultation with public transport users. The people from my constituency in parts of Dublin North such as Lusk, Rush, Skerries and Balbriggan have in recent times, following the collapse of the Broadmeadow viaduct and its impact on the train service, seen what a good bus service can be like for the first time and many have taken a liking to it. I have been out in the early mornings talking to people as they used the alternative service on offer, so I have a real sense of what people are saying.

People in Lusk and Rush, for example, while the rail service is down, no longer have to walk or drive a couple of miles to the station, find parking spaces, pay for it and have to stand all the way into the city centre. With the alternative bus service now in place, many commuters have only a short distance to walk to the nearest bus stop to pick up a bus and have a seat on an express bus that goes through the port tunnel and gets them to work in a comfortable and speedy fashion. I would recommend to the Minister that he request larnród Éireann and Dublin Bus, in consultation with his departmental officials, to take the opportunity during the next number of months, while the viaduct is being repaired, to seriously survey commuters as to how their needs might be better met with a redesigned service.

Rather than just reverting back to the services that were being offered before the viaduct collapsed, efforts should be made to try to redesign the services being offered to provide the optimum offering of a mix of rail and bus for the north Fingal travelling public. Maximum use must be made of the port tunnel for high-speed public bus transport. Bus and rail services must be developed continually if commuters are to be enticed out of their cars and on to public transport. The delivery of metro north to the airport and Swords will play a significant part in all of this, but in the meantime buses will play a major part. It was important that the Minister spoke positively about metro north and other Transport 21 infrastructure. It was astonishing, therefore, that the Minister allowed Dublin Bus to take buses out of service during the past year. There was much comment on that so I will not go beyond that at this point.

I welcome the appointment of John Fitzgerald, former Dublin city manager, as chairperson of the Dublin Transport Authority. His experience of planning and development in Dublin will be of enormous benefit to the authority. However, no sooner has the appointment been made than the Minister proposes to subsume it into the new NTA. Is he to be chairman of the NTA? It seems from the Minister's statement that he is. The Minister might clarify that issue.

Although the DTA is to be subsumed into new NTA, the powers given to the DTA, such as in the areas of transport infrastructure, integrated ticketing, traffic management and land use provisions for the greater Dublin area, have not been extended to cover the rest of the country. I am interested in the Minister's comments on that. This will mean that the NTA will have these powers in the greater Dublin area but will not have them outside this area. I ask the Minister to explain the reasoning behind this decision because it seems strange to me. Most of us in this House, notwithstanding certain reservations and amendments tabled and hard fought for, welcomed the Dublin Transport Authority. It is now gone before it even starts. When subsumed into the national transport authority, it will not have the optimal and singular focus that is required to resolve Dublin's transport problems. Dublin still needs a transport authority. I ask the Minister to clarify if it is the case that the remit of the authority remains exclusively for Dublin until it makes a recommendation to extend its remit to the rest of the country. If so, when is that likely to happen? Is it the case that, to all intents and purposes, the NTA remains Dublin-focused until such a recommendation is made by the authority?

This Bill will also see the role of the Commission for Taxi Regulation being merged into the NTA. However it makes only few changes to the taxi regulatory regime. The only significant change is an increase in sanctions for unlicensed taxi operation. There is concern within the taxi industry — the Minister will be aware of this — that the current regime will lead to an oversupply of taxis in the market and there is much evidence of this already. Many taxi drivers have informed me they hoped that the development happening in this Bill would provide an opportunity for serious reform of the failing regulatory system that oversees the taxi industry. The Commission for Taxi Regulation does not have the power to limit the number of taxi licences and this Bill does not change the powers of the regulator in this regard. This is unfortunate. An opportunity has been missed and I ask the Minister to give this some consideration as I am giving consideration to tabling an amendment on Committee Stage to provide such powers for the regulator. The powers might never be used, but if the commissioner sees fit, he or she should have available to him or her the power to act if he or she considers it appropriate.

The consultative powers given to the NTA on planning guidelines are similar to the powers given to the DTA. However, less extensive powers are given to the NTA regarding development plans and local area plans. Why should this be so? If it made sense for the DTA, then why not for the NTA? Is it a question of resources and is the Minister bringing forward non-optimal legislation because of a lack of resources? The possibility of a directly elected mayor of Dublin, which was referred to by Senator Donohoe, becoming chairperson of the Dublin Transport Authority is now gone out the window with the merging of the DTA into the NTA. This is also unfortunate.

There is much to be welcomed in this Bill, but as I have said, there are some missed opportunities. I will go into greater detail on Committee Stage. I compliment the Oireachtas Library and Research Service on its comprehensive digest of this Bill, which has been prepared and made available in recent days. I ask the Minister not to take too seriously Senator Quinn's advice that he should examine the free travel scheme. It should be left alone.

Regardless of where people are coming from in this debate, it is clear this country's approach to public transport has improved in recent years. Despite our straitened economic circumstances, the balance between expenditure on public and private transport is better than it once was. It is nowhere near equality, but it is better. The Minister's recent announcement of new Luas routes shows that this imbalance is constantly being examined. I listened carefully to Senator Donohoe's usual erudite contribution at the beginning of this debate.

What is coming next?

While he made many fair points, he was slightly disingenuous when he said he believes this Bill can solve problems in all the areas he mentioned, such as spatial planning. I am confident that many of the issues he raised will be dealt with in parallel legislation, such as the new local government Bill and the two planning and development Bills. The fruits of this approach are evident in the amendments that have been made to the National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009. The issue of spatial planning and the role of transport in bringing about sustainable communities are at the heart of much of our legislation. The Bill before the House is similarly well intentioned. I agree that the establishment of a national transport authority is important as a precursor to our future debates on the administration of this country's transport policy. We need to consider our expenditure on infrastructure and our approach to organisations like the National Roads Authority and the Railway Procurement Agency. I would like to see more cohesion in the latter instance. There may be scope for a single entity to be developed. The Bill before the House allows such matters to be considered in the medium and long terms. I agree with Senator Ryan that much of our transport policy has developed in a radial fashion from Dublin to the rest of the country. As a representative of this country's second major urban centre, I believe there continues to be a huge imbalance despite the additional resources that have been used to improve the scale of our public transport network and to offer more public transport choices in all our major urban centres. I hope this can be addressed through the establishment of a national transport authority. The provision in this Bill to integrate the Commission for Taxi Regulation with the authority has its own inherent logic. We need an integrated approach to transport if we are to achieve sustainable policies in the transport area.

Senator Donohoe started his contribution to this debate by saying the devil was in the detail. Many people would agree with the Minister that public transport routes and choices need to be expanded greatly. We can have a debate on who should provide public transport services. Consideration needs to be given to the effect of the introduction of new routes on the network in general. The introduction of additional routes, which would offer more opportunities and allow more people to use public transport, needs to be done in a cautious and careful manner. I hope the national transport authority can facilitate that. Existing routes that are viable may be undermined if people choose other options. The need to strike a balance in such cases is at the heart of this legislation. I hope the Minister will examine such detail on Committee Stage to ascertain how the Bill can be made more effective in this regard. I generally welcome the broad precepts of this legislation. I recognise that it is part of a package of measures that aim to make this country's transport system better and more democratic. The Bill is based on an acceptance that we need sustainable planning if we are to avoid repeating many of the mistakes that were made in this country in recent decades.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. I would like to give a broad welcome to the intent of this Bill. I would like to speak about a couple of aspects of the rural transport issue. My colleagues have already highlighted some of the points I intended to make. A recent Central Statistics Office survey emphasised the real need to retain the rural transport service, which offers rural people a consistent means of accessing local services. When I used local buses over recent weeks, I realised that it can be difficult for rural people who may live eight or ten miles from an urban centre or even a village to access shops or doctors' surgeries. It brought it home to me that people in rural areas, especially older people, can be discriminated against in the transport sector. An elderly person in Dublin can hop on a bus at any time to access basic services, such as the local doctor or pharmacy. People in rural Ireland, by contrast, are lucky if they can use public transport to go to town or visit the doctor once a week. I appreciate how important are such services. I compliment Pobal and the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, on the service that is provided. However, it would be better if there were more co-operation between Pobal and the Department of Transport. Perhaps it would be more efficient if the Department were to oversee the whole programme and take the rural transport service on board. I would appreciate if the Minister could comment on that.

I am glad to have an opportunity to respond to Senator Boyle's comments on the spatial strategy. Athlone, Mullingar and Tullamore, which are deemed to be gateway towns under the strategy, would have a very good public transport service if the political will existed to develop the rail link between Mullingar and Athlone, which was not included in Transport 21. Given that the Bill before the House is about controlling passenger services, this is an appropriate time to ask the Minister to include the rail link between Mullingar, which is the county town of Westmeath, and Athlone, which has the county's institute of technology, in the Transport 21 plan. The bus service between the towns, both of which are deemed to be gateways under the national spatial strategy, is very poor. The development of the line would also link Sligo to Athlone by rail. I ask the Minister to comment on that issue and also on the possibility of reopening Killucan railway station, an issue with which he is very familiar. If the station in question were used to serve those who commute into Dublin, it would help the people of north Westmeath and south-west Meath to access Dublin conveniently. I advocate that as something the Minister should do.

I do not wish to labour the points that have already been made by other speakers. There should be greater consultation with the general public and community groups. Needs assessments should be conducted when decisions are being taken about the locations of bus stops etc. As a result of the economic downturn, many people are accessing education in local colleges because they cannot afford to live in the greater Dublin area or in other cities. I learned last week that 20 students from the Rochfortbridge area use the Dublin to Galway inter-city bus service to get to Athlone each day. It makes no sense that the bus stops at the bus station but not at the institute of technology. The students have to walk two miles from the bus station to the institute. If more students were able to use this very good service, more families would make savings. Economies of scale would also improve as bus usage increased.

I read a disturbing article in yesterday's Evening Herald about taxi men and women — mostly men — who are being put to the pin of their collars. They are so unregulated that I question whether it is right to allow this many taxis. I am concerned about the poor unfortunate people who are trying to earn a crust and that suicide rates among taxi drivers have risen.

I again thank the Minister for his contribution and welcome the bones of this Bill.

I thank all those who have contributed to the debate and welcome the constructive approach adopted by Senators. As I indicated, my intention in bringing the Bill is to improve the provision of transport services throughout the country. Through this debate and our deliberations on Committee Stage, I hope the Bill can be further improved. I am grateful to Senators for raising issues with a view to ensuring the Bill will improve the licensing regime and at the end of the day provide a better public transport system. I do not wish to discuss the issues raised in great detail because it is better to tease them out on Committee Stage.

A number of Senators raised the McCarthy report's recommendations on the rural transport programme. All the recommendations in the McCarthy report will be considered and put before Cabinet before decisions are made. I am aware of the value of the rural transport programme which is financed by my Department and administered through Pobal. The programme did not meet favour in official circles for many years but my predecessors as Minister for Transport, the late Seamas Brennan and Deputies O'Rourke and Cullen, progressed it from a pilot scheme to its current form. It has been further expanded since I came to the Department and I have secured extra funding for it despite the economic crisis we have been facing since last year. The Government makes its decisions collectively and I will not be making a statement one way or the other until we consider the programme. I urge those who are making definitive statements that the programme has been discontinued to desist because they are only increasing anxieties, especially among the elderly. If the decision is ultimately made to discontinue the service, they can then make their party political broadcasts. I do not refer to anybody in this Chamber.

Does the Minister refer to his own party?

We are trying to remind the Minister of its importance.

If we want to make a political football out of it——

——we should wait until a decision is made.

It is not true to say the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government returned no observation. We held extensive discussions with that Department in regard to land use and transport nationally. The approach we adopted is a result of these discussions. As we proceed in this area, we will encounter resource and finance implications which cannot be met immediately but it is the intention in the Bill that land use and transport policies will be co-ordinated and the national transport authority will play a role in this.

The Government has not even seen the heads of a Bill on directly elected mayors and I cannot provide in this legislation for something that is not yet in existence. It is our intention, however, that a directly elected mayor will have a role in transport in the greater Dublin area.

Several Senators raised the issue of taxis. There was a time in this city and elsewhere around the country when it was impossible to get a taxi. The service was so bad that it affected our economic competitiveness. We now have a large number of taxis and the service has greatly improved. The current difficulties faced by taxi drivers are not solely due to the increase in the number of taxis. The general economic situation is affecting all businesses, including taxi services, and it would be wrong to take a knee-jerk reaction such as imposing a moratorium on licences. I acknowledge that certain issues need to be addressed. Senator Ellis and others raised the issue of people with other jobs cherry-picking lucrative hours. These issues have been subject to consultation and are being considered by the taxi regulator and the taxi advisory council. The regulator has made proposals for dealing with these issues and I will carefully consider the positive proposals I am confident will emerge.

Senators Ellis, Donohoe and O'Donovan raised the issue of licensing, which we will discuss in greater detail on Committee Stage. The principle is straightforward in that the same licensing regime will apply to everybody, unlike the present regime whereby a separate licence operates for public and private transport operators. It is important this message is sent. Although the CIE group of companies will continue to operate subsidised routes for an initial period, any new routes will be subject to open tender by the private sector. That is the level playing field we wish to create. A transition period of between two and five years will apply to ensure we continue to have an operational public transport system. It is not easy to change systems overnight, partly because those private operators who are interested in providing services would need time to make preparations.

A number of Senators mentioned the possibility of introducing an appeals mechanism in the context of licence applications. It is certainly a matter we can tease out, as it is an important one, as are the points made about the need for character references and full vetting of persons who provide public transport services. That is in place but we will see if we can make the provision a little clearer, or perhaps stronger, in the legislation.

On the issue raised by a number of Senators of making routes and the licensing system transparent and obvious to everybody, when we delve into the detail of the legislation on Committee Stage, Senators will find that, between them, the primary legislation and the guidelines to be issued will meet their requirements for openness and transparency.

A number of Senators, including Senator Quinn, raised questions on whether the NTA would be able to introduce an integrated ticketing system and whether there would be real-time passenger information etc. In both instances, the answer is yes; the NTA will be responsible in that regard. There is already real-time passenger information and we are well advanced with the integrated ticketing project, on which trials are starting. The system will be rolled out during the course of 2010.

When the Bill, under which the National Transport Authority will be established, is passed, Mr. John Fitzgerald who has been appointed chairman of the DTA will be chairperson of the new national authority. The chief executive of the DTA will become its chief executive. We are providing for these changes in the Bill.

I was asked whether the licences would be the same. They will be in the sense that the application and the guidelines to be applied in deciding on them will be the same. I take the point made by Senators about stipulating timeframes for the making of decisions; it is a matter at which we will look closely. Everything about the licence will be the same, as will the period of the licences. In that regard, I take the point made by Senator Ellis, that people must be assured of some economic return and that the period of the licence ought not be too short.

In answer to a point raised by Senator O'Malley, the Bill deals with predatory practices. A new regime of penalties for those found in breach of the licensing law is being put in place in the Bill. At present, it actually pays to ignore the law on bus service licensing. There are examples in this regard because the level of fines is so ridiculous.

To respond to a number of the points made by Senator Ryan, specifically on redesigning services, I have received positive reports from the Fingal area on the level of service provided and the flexibility shown by the new services in the absence of a rail service. That is exactly what I am trying to get Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann to do on an ongoing basis, namely, to react to the market and provide services where they are needed. In this regard I seek the support of Members of the House. In fairness, there are changes being implemented following the Deloitte review such as changes to routes which will mean changes in the frequency of services, etc. That is what we need from the public transport system, namely, flexibility, not a belief that just because one has been operating on a particular route for the past 25 years one should not be discommoded by having to take in 500 new houses in an estate. Flexibility, responding to the customer——

——and fair competition are at the heart of this. When we go through the Bill in detail, it may not be perfect but everybody will be convinced that it is a massive step forward.

When I published the Bill the week before last, somebody sent me a newspaper clipping from The Irish Times of 6 January 1953 which, by coincidence, was the day I was born. The headline in one section stated the then Minister was to reform the Public Transport Act of 1932. That is what I am now doing.

That is why the Minister is called Noel — Little Christmas Day.

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 14.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Alex.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Twomey, Liam.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Paschal Donohoe.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

On Tuesday, 6 October 2009.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 6 October 2009.

When is it proposed to sit again?

On Tuesday, 6 October 2009 at 2.30 p.m.