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.