I welcome the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey. Before we commence, I remind Senators that on Report Stage a Senator may speak only once, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also on Report Stage each amendment must be seconded.
Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009: Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 8, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:
"(a) shall have regard to the desirability of ensuring that operators of public bus services are not treated less favourably than operators of private bus services,”.
I welcome the Minister. We missed him the previous day because the Minister of State did not give us any leeway on our amendments. We hope for better things today.
In considering an application for a licence the adoption of the amendment would ensure the authority "shall have regard to the desirability of ensuring that operators of public bus services are not treated less favourably than operators of private bus services". As I indicated on Committee Stage, the amendment does not seek more favourable treatment for operators of public bus services, only that they not be treated less favourably. The rationale for the amendment is that given where we are coming from in terms of the history of public transport, there might be a tendency to favour private operators at this stage. I am interested in hearing the Minister's response.
The Minister is very welcome. I am pleased that he is present for the debate.
Is anyone seconding the amendment?
No, I am not seconding it.
Is there a seconder for the amendment?
I second it.
I have a problem with it. I would be happy if it were accepted, but if we do, we should also include something that states the opposite also. The amendment states one "shall have regard to the desirability of ensuring that operators of public bus services are not treated less favourably than operators of private bus services". I am happy for that to be the case. I do not have a problem with it, as long as we also say the opposite, that one "shall have regard to the desirability of ensuring that operators of private bus services are not treated less favourably than operators of public bus services". I gather that that is what the proposer has suggested. I do not have a problem with the terms of the amendment as long as one also accepts the corollary. I am sure Senator Ryan is proposing that there be no bias in favour of public or private bus services. Therefore, I do not understand the need for the amendment.
I welcome the Minister. I am happy to support the amendment. The objective of Senator Ryan and his colleagues is admirable, to create a level playing field and ensure everyone is treated equally. A later amendment to be moved by Senator Ryan states competition must be sustainable and that there must be a degree of regulation. I fully agree with that approach. This amendment is in the same spirit.
It is worth emphasising two points in the discussion. First, I concur with the point made by Senator Quinn. We need to ensure there is parity, that everyone is treated equally, whether they be in the public or private sector. Everyone should be on a level playing field.
When one talks to private bus operators about the reality on the ground, they allege that the situation is at variance with the sentiment underlying the amendment. The majority of bus services are provided by the private sector. Allegations have been made in a number of cases in the past 12 to 18 months about the difficulty encountered with applications for licences to operate on routes and that the process is time consuming. It has been alleged also that if a route is secured by a private bus operator decisions are then made by the public bus operator to undermine the viability of the service.
The objective of delivering a level playing field for everyone, whether they be in the public or private sector, is very important and progress is made towards delivering on it in the Bill. We need to emphasise that both public and private transport operators must be treated equally. One would struggle to reconcile the inference that public companies are being treated less favourably than private companies, given the reality on the ground.
As I indicated on Committee Stage, I do not agree with the amendment. I do not think any sector, be it public or private, should be selected for special treatment. The intention of the Bill is to ensure everyone is treated equally. It would be wrong to insert words referring to the need to ensure one side is not less favourably treated than another. As Senator Donohoe noted, this would infer that one group is treated differently and, as Senator Quinn pointed out, acceptance of the amendment would require us to insert a provision to protect the other side. If one wishes to protect both sides, why not leave out all such references and assume that everyone seeking a licence will be treated equally under the new regime and have access to a level playing field?
The primary purpose of the Bill, as several Senators noted, is to try to establish a modern system for the licensing of all commercial public bus passenger services, with the objective of promoting regulated competition in the provision of such services on a national basis and in the national public interest. The main basis of the legislation was the commitment in the 2007 programme for Government to reform bus licensing to facilitate the optimum provision of services by providing a level playing field for all market participants, whereby both public and private bus service providers would be licensed and operate under the same legislative regime. I am satisfied that the provisions of the Bill achieve this level playing field because they do not make any distinction between public and private operators. For this reason, I do not accept that it is either necessary or desirable to insert the words proposed in the amendment or to include a counter-provision, as suggested by Senator Quinn.
The inclusion of the text of the amendment would give the impression that one side was being favoured over the other. The purpose of the Bill is to make clear that we are not leaning towards either side, whether public or private, the playing field is level and the market is open to everybody to participate. The amendment does not find favour with me because it is contrary to the basic concept of the legislation, namely, to provide a level playing field for all parties. For this reason, I ask the Senator to withdraw it.
I apologise to Senators for my absence for the Committee Stage debate. As most people will be aware, I was otherwise engaged last week.
The motivation behind the amendment is to ensure we have a level playing field. The Minister indicated this is already the case. Perhaps the amendment is a statement of the obvious and is not, therefore, necessary. It is motivated by a fear that in the push to open the market to competition, the authority may favour private operators to demonstrate an accelerating pace of deregulation in the transport sector. For this reason, it would not do any harm to make a statement that is clearly desirable.
Does the Minister have anything to add?
I have addressed the point. While I accept the motivation of the Senator in tabling the amendment, the inclusion of the text would have the opposite effect of that which he and I desire.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 8, to delete lines 33 to 38.
The amendment proposes to delete the requirement under section 10 for the authority, in considering an application for the grant of a licence, to "take account of the demand or potential demand that exists for the public bus passenger services to which the application refers having regard to the needs of consumers and any existing public bus passenger services on or in the vicinity of the route to be served by the proposed public bus passenger services". As the section stands, it gives the authority the power to decide whether there is demand for new services on a route. This does not reflect the spirit and ethos of what we are trying to achieve. To encourage risk takers and innovators to establish new services we must allow individuals to decide whether they wish to apply to provide a new service on a route, although the authority should, by all means, take into account whether a new service is required. Ryanair would never have been established if a particular authority had enjoyed the power to decide whether competition was necessary.
Section 10(1)(a) runs counter to the principle of competition. If our objective is to encourage people to take risks, we should allow those considering whether to invest in a service to decide whether it offers opportunities. The authority should not be in a position to decide whether to take demand into account. That decision should be left to individual entrepreneurs and risk takers who wish to establish a service. If, ultimately, the service fails, the risk taker will lose the investment.
I second the amendment.
I strongly concur with Senator Quinn. We are striving to create an environment in which a choice of public transport is provided to passengers at the lowest possible cost. To achieve this objective we need a greater variety of providers operating on a firmer statutory footing. The amendment proposes to give individuals the power to decide whether a route is viable and commence a new service. If there is insufficient demand in the marketplace, the service will fail.
The other criteria by which tenders will be evaluated make clear that, in the case of applications to provide a service on an unprofitable route being served by Dublin Bus or a private company, the authority may decide not to grant a licence on the grounds that permitting a new service could give rise to predatory practices and so forth. This amendment will result in enhanced capacity and encourage risk taking.
I have a certain sympathy with the amendment because in an entrepreneurial society such as this we should give people freedom to take risks. In what other professions is a regulatory mechanism in place to save people from their own desire to provide a service? We should not tell people not to enter a market lest they fail to make money. If possible, legislation should not be prescriptive.
Senator Quinn raises a valid point in asking why people should be required to tie themselves in knots to prove a service is viable. Given that customers will follow the market, services which operate at a loss will be withdrawn. The market should be allowed to dictate and we should not place obstacles in the path of those who seek to provide services.
As Senator Donohoe noted, we need a cost-effective as opposed to a cheap solution. The State needs to be in a position to get the best value for money and does not necessarily need to be the provider of all the bus services. That is why, where there are people who are willing to provide the services, we should encourage them and not put difficult obstacles in their way.
We will not be supporting this amendment. Section 10(1)(a) is a very important element of the Bill and while we might very well support the Bill, if the wording were to be deleted we might find we could not support it. Section 10(1)(a) states “having regard to the needs of consumers and any existing public bus passenger services on or in the vicinity of the route”. We are not looking for a free-for-all. We are looking for a regulated market. With reference to where we have come from, we have PSO obligations for various routes. Within that there are loss-making and profit-making routes, or a combination of both. In some cases some existing operators are getting by because there is a profitable element to their businesses as well as a PSO or an unprofitable element of a route. It is very important this is considered in the issuing of licences. We will not support this amendment and I ask the Minister not to accept it.
When discussing this amendment it is important that we remember two things are in play, namely, competition and the consumer and commercial interests and the consumer. In some cases, despite what people might think, commercial interests do not always favour or take decisions on the basis of the good of the consumer. We are discussing, as Senator Ryan said, consumers who may not be very lucrative for the private sector to become involved with. There are PSOs and so on. The provision of services is not a simple, straightforward line. As I outlined during the debate on amendment No. 1, the primary purpose of this Bill is to try to establish a modern system of licensing of commercial public bus passenger services, with the objective of promoting regulated competition — I strongly believe regulated competition is the way we should go. We are doing it in the public interest, as well as in the interest of promoting integrated, well-functioning, cost-efficient public passenger transport services.
The main aim of section 10 is to establish the framework for the consideration of applications for bus route licences by the authority. The consideration of such applications has to be pursued having regard to the general objectives of the authority, which are provided for in section 10 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, which is updated in section 29 of this Bill. Subsection 1(a) provides that in the case of applications for all licences, the demand or potential demand for the proposed bus service, having regard to the needs of consumers, must be taken into account. There is a balance between the interests of consumers and service providers. The interests of consumers are being placed at the centre of the consideration of the process for licences and the demand test is established as having specific regard to those particular needs.
Senator Quinn argued that there is no need for the retention of subsection 1(a) in a competitive bus market where it is a matter for individual bus operators to apply for licences based on their perception of the market and having regard to commercial decisions. On the original point I made, there is no guarantee that such commercial decisions will be made in the interests of consumers in all cases, which is an important point. The incorporation of this requirement regarding the consideration of all applications for licences will ensure there is a balance between the interests of the operators and consumers, and that the interests of the operators will not take precedence over the interests of consumers.
I share the sympathy Senator O'Malley expressed towards Senator Quinn's amendment to a certain extent. However, we are regulating a bus market. It may prove the case that there is no need to invoke this section at any stage in the Dublin bus market, but we are not dealing with the Dublin bus market alone. The characteristics of and demand for urban, rural, intercity and provincial bus services are very different and fundamental considerations could be different in each case. The criteria which may be applied for the licensing of services have to reflect the fundamental differences across the different types of service and the incorporation of demand tests which are targeted at each generic service should be a fundamental feature of any consideration of applications. That is what we are attempting to do in section 10. I am satisfied that the particular provisions concerned are such that they afford sufficient flexibility and discretion to the authority in its consideration of bus licence applications, something everybody in the House seems to have accepted, while reinforcing the central aims and the consumer-focused policy which underlines the provisions of the Bill generally. Accordingly, I do not propose to accept the amendment.
I am sure to the Minister I sound like an out-and-out capitalist who has no interest in what is happening here. I am in favour of the Bill and I am attempting to improve it. There is regulation and a need for regulation. My father told me that, many years before I was around, when there was no regulation of the bus service in Dublin, battles went on for different bus services on the same route. From the customer's point of view it sounded like a wonderful solution because those who gave the best service got the business and survived and those who gave bad service did not.
Anybody who does not take the consumer's interests into account will not survive or be able to succeed. When the Minister refers to the public interest, it is best served by a form of competition and regulated competition. I do not believe this Bill is the correct way to go. If one is applying for a licence, it should not be up to the authority to make the decision whether to accept an application for a licence. It may well turn it down, but it is up to the investor, the creator of the service or the entrepreneur to decide whether it is in the best interests of the consumer because a service will not survive if it is not in the best interests of the consumer. I urge the Minister to accept the amendment but I understand his point and will not push it.
In case anything I said implied the contrary, I understand exactly where the Senator is coming from. I did not mean to imply that he was an unmitigated capitalist or whatever else, although I do not think he would have any objection to that name in other areas. Demand or potential demand is a test against which all applications can be considered. To a certain extent, there may seem to be a presumption of refusal in most cases, but that is not the case here. Where there is a refusal, the person who applies for the licence will have an opportunity, under subsection (6), to contest it. We focused on whether the authority grants a licence, but the authority must have the capacity to ensure services address consumer needs in other ways. In other words, we do not want to have a situation such as the one mentioned where two bus services that operate from the one point would do so at the same time, having regard to the congestion that would entail. Consumer needs also have to be addressed.
Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 8, between lines 41 and 42, to insert the following:
"(i) the protection of the integrity of the national urban and local bus network,".
This amendment seeks to take account of the protection of the integrity of the national urban and local bus network. The motivation for tabling it is to prevent cherry-picking of profitable routes and leaving all the loss-making and more troublesome routes to State companies. This amendment is an important statement of intent which would improve the legislation.
Amendment No. 4 seeks to amend section 10(1)(b)(i), which relates to the need to provide a well-functioning, attractive, competitive, integrated and safe public transport system of services and networks for all users. We are focusing on the description of a competitive system in that paragraph. It should be not only competitive but sustainable. Consequently, we seek to amend the section to ensure the system is sustainably competitive. A statement that competition is regulated is a statement of fact, which does not take in any way from the provision. Given that ensuring the sustainability of the system is such an important element, I ask the Minister to accept this amendment and amendment No. 4.
I second amendment No. 3.
In regard to amendment No. 4, on which Senator Ryan has spoken, I agreed earlier with the objective of creating a regulated and sustainably competitive market, to which this amendment refers, but the intent driving my support for an amendment such as this is radically different, I suspect, from that of Senator Ryan. I have two reasons for opposing this Bill, the second of which I will deal with later. Section 52 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, to which this Bill relates, has too much influence and still does not create the diversity and competition that is needed.
When preparing for this debate, I checked what the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, said in response to Committee Stage amendments last week. He acknowledged that section 52 is a pivotal section of the 2008 Act and outlined why that is the case. He said it provides for the continued provision of existing public bus and rail passenger services. He went on to say that "To facilitate the making of the contracts in respect of the public bus services, the section [section 52 of the 2008 Act] establishes that Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann have exclusive rights to continue to operate their current funded services, subject to the granting of bus licences under the Road Transport Act 1932 and future legislative changes". My simple question is why are we not using this Bill to make those legislative changes now?
Senator Ross referred on the Order of Business to a report that was discussed over the weekend. He made the point that public transport providers in Ireland receive approximately €300 million of taxpayers' money. We do not have such money any more. We are borrowing €400 million per week. That is the reality with which we are battling. Why are we not using the opportunity presented by this Bill to ensure that as much value as possible is extracted from the money that is being spent? People who want to enter this market should be allowed to do so as quickly as possible and in a regulated manner to ensure that people who provide routes that are socially important are not the subject of practice that is not acceptable. We must ensure that an environment is created to allow people who have good ideas to compete for tenders that otherwise would be exclusively awarded to one company.
We were told last week that all of this is subject to future legislative changes. We have been operating on the basis of the 1932 Act for 77 years. Why are we not using the opportunity presented by this Bill to create a truly competitive and regulated environment?
When I was preparing for the Second Stage debate on this Bill, I checked the approach being taken by Transport for London. I pointed out to the Minister on Second Stage that it is producing reliability figures every quarter on how its different operators are performing, how many miles they are losing, if they are performing on time and if they are delivering on their contracts. We are a long way from having a similar environment here. The reason that environment is in place in London is that other operators want the business and are trying to get it. Why are we not using this Bill to move to that kind of environment where there is genuine competition and regulation, which ensures that operators deliver the best possible value for taxpayers' money?
I disagree with amendment No. 4. To a certain extent there is an element of tautology in having sustainable competition. In a competitive environment only the strongest survive, regardless of whether they are the best people to provide the best service, as Senator Quinn mentioned. We do not need to tie down the provision by including this amendment. The wording as it stands is clearer and better. To propose that a system is sustainably competitive is overdoing it. Such a term is overly descriptive and the existing wording suffices.
Presumably the Senator does not have a difficulty with the notion of sustainability.
No but the inclusion of the term here is not necessary. It is a tautology in so far as competition will sustain those who provide the best service. That is why it is not necessary to insert the term here.
Senator Donohoe referred to section 52 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act. If we are to provide or renew existing licences, it will involve considerable public subsidy and in a five-year timeframe it would involve approximately €1 billion. That is a great deal of money and the Senator made the point that we do not have that kind of money to spend again. The screening regulatory impact analysis the Department provided for the Bill states the Department of Finance did not have much to comment on the Bill but, as Senator Donohoe pointed out, the Bill promises, if that is the right word, €1.4 billion of public subsidy to existing practitioners. The Senator pointed out that these are straitened times. We need to know that any money the Department is allocated to provide services to people is spent exactly where it is needed, namely, directly on routes that are not profit-making.
It is not clear where the subsidy is required. I was alarmed to see a sightseeing bus operated by Dublin Bus carrying the logo of the national development plan. It would be fair to assume we are subsidising sightseeing tours, which is not an appropriate use of public moneys. Given that private operators also provide sightseeing services, why should we put a public company in competition with them? I cannot see where the public service obligation arises in that instance.
We are about to exclude more than 70% of the bus fleet from public subsidies. The fleet operated by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann is minute compared with the 6,600 private buses in the country. Is it wise to exclude them? I am surprised the Department of Finance had nothing to say regarding the regulatory impact analysis and I ask the Minister to comment on it.
I may have diverged from the amendments but I wished to respond to the points raised by Senator Donohoe on section 52.
I will address the amendments before responding to the additional matters raised by Senators. The section establishes general provisions informing the consideration of applications for bus licences by the authority. Section 10(1)(b) sets out a range of matters which the authority may consider, having regard to the category of licence in respect of which an application has been made. In the case of certain categories, the consideration of any or all of these matters may not be warranted. This is a further example of the flexibility among types of services to which I referred earlier.
It is not entirely clear to me what is meant by the phrase "national urban and local bus network" in amendment No. 3. I presume it refers to the existing network of subvented services provided by Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. The authority is already empowered to consider the impact of bus licence applications on such services where it deems it appropriate, having regard to the provisions of section 10(1)(b)(iii). I am satisfied that the provisions of section 10, combined with the structures established in section 52 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 for direct award contracts, offer adequate protection for the integrity of bus networks. For that reason, I do not accept amendment No. 3.
Regarding amendment No. 4, section 10 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, as substituted by the amendment in section 28(1)(c) of the Bill, sets out the overarching principles for the authority and includes the objective of regulated competition in the provision of licensed public bus passenger services in the public interest. That objective is further developed by the provisions of section 10(1)(b)(i) of the Bill, which recognises the need to provide a functional, attractive, competitive, integrated and safe public transport system for all users. Section 10(1)(b)(v) refers to the national spatial strategy. I do not think these provisions would be enhanced by the addition of the wording proposed in amendment No. 4. In particular, the deletion of the word “competitive” at a time when national competitiveness is to the forefront of economic policy would send out a negative signal.
It is important to ensure the PSO contracts to which Senators O'Malley and Donohoe referred will be transparent. I understand they will be subjected to freedom of information requirements. They have to set out the service requirements from the companies in receipt of PSO subventions. All new PSO services will have to be tendered in open competitions and direct award contracts will be subject to a series of review provisions in this Bill and the Dublin Transport Authority Act. It is not the case that a blank cheque will be signed for five years. The figures on how the contracts are delivered will be available to everybody.
In the case of direct award public service contracts for transport by rail, the competent authority shall make public the following information within one year of granting the award: the name of the company and its ownership if appropriate; the name of the party or parties exercising legal control; the duration of the public service contract; a description of the passenger transport services to be performed; the amount of money paid in financial compensation; quality targets, such as punctuality and reliability, and the rewards and penalties applicable; and conditions pertaining to essential assets.
In regard to Senator O'Malley's specific question on Dublin Bus sightseeing tours, these are not and cannot be subsidised. The routes on which PSO subsidies can be used are set out in the contracts.
Does the Minister know that as a fact?
I cannot know it as a fact but it will be made clearer in this Bill and the authority will be able to investigate behind the figures. I accept there are difficulties at present in going behind the figures because of the expertise required. However, this Bill will allow that to happen and because it is a much more transparent contract system, it will make it easier to know that the taxpayers' money is being spent in accordance with the contract and that those who have the contracts are meeting the targets they have set out for themselves.
In response to Senator Donohoe on section 52, this is the future legislative change to which we are referring. The kind of things the Senator is looking for and referring to are contained in this Bill. That was the intent of ensuring that one Bill was not contradicting the other. This is the Bill that does the kind of things he wants.
On amendment No. 3, the Minister's assumption of our intent in the case of the network is correct. I do not wish to say anything further on that one.
On amendment No. 4, the Minister stated it would not be useful to delete the word "competitive", but the amendment does not seek to delete the word "competitive". The word "competitive" would remain. In addition, the Minister did not really address the issue of sustainability.
On Senator O'Malley's comment, it is not necessary always to state everything or the matters that we all assume are there, and many matters are understood. However, sometimes it is important to state the obvious to bring it out front where we do not have to look for it and we do not have to read one subsection in conjunction with two or three other subsections, or to read it in conjunction with previous legislation. Sometimes it is important to be upfront with some matters. In the case of sustainability, it is important to be upfront and state that sustainability is important. Let us have it stated clearly in the legislation.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 9, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:
"(3) The Authority shall invite and consider submissions from any local authority whose functional area includes a place to which the application relates.
(4) The making of a submission under subsection (3) shall be a reserved function.”.
This amendment is about the authority. It recommends that the authority shall invite and consider submissions from any local authority whose functional area includes a place to which the application relates and also that it would become a reserved function. In becoming a reserved function, it would have to go before the elected representatives. It ensures applications for bus routes are considered by local representatives in the local authorities.
In response to this amendment which we tabled on Committee Stage, the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, responded that the Bill, under section 10(2)(b), already gives discretion to the authority to seek submissions and, as such, the Minister is not convinced of the need for such a provision because it might cause unnecessary delays and might not apply to one-off applications. However, it is my party’s view that the amendment would strengthen the Bill, is appropriate and would increase the democratic process in all of these matters.
I second the amendment.
Senator Ryan has done a good job of putting forward his own proposal and giving my answer to it. He summarised the arguments succinctly and I do not propose to go back over them. I certainly would not favour the idea of this being a reserved function of the members of a local authority because that would be a recipe for all sorts of vested interests preventing any licences being issued.
On the points Senator Ryan made on the section being wide enough to allow a local authority to make its views known, I will undertake for the Senator to have a look at this again to see whether I can accommodate the views in some way but I do not want to give a false impression that I will open this up to make it a reserved function. In the other House I will consider something that might put in the words "including a local authority" or something like that because it will not defeat the purpose of the Bill. As I stated, I would have my face set against any procedure where the members of a local authority would be able to delay an application for a bus licence ad infinitum because that would defeat the purpose of the Bill.
I thank the Minister for his response. On the basis that he has agreed to give some consideration to the issue without any commitment, I do not intend to push the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are related and can be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 11, line 17, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".
These amendments refer to the section of the Bill that describes how licences granted should be displayed and also refers to the section of the Bill which states that the timetables, which shall form part of the contract to which the Minister referred earlier, shall be displayed.
Both amendments seek to change the wording from "may" to "shall". The reason this was rejected in the debate last week was the Minister of State made the point that where one was to grant a licence for a temporary period, it would be onerous to suggest that such licence needs to be continually on display and the example given was a vehicle provided for the ploughing championships. I do not accept that. The Minister spoke earlier about the need for a review of contracts to ensure the conditions upon which the contracts are granted are being met. The most powerful way in which we can do that is by informing the public of what its expectation should be of a service. Having clearly and publicly on display the arrival time of the service and what the service should be allows the public to understand what it should expect and whether that service is being provided.
On my point on whether a licence should be on public display, I cannot understand why there would be a difficult in mandating that such licence should be on display. I hope this Bill will make progress in allowing a significant number of such licences to be granted and ensuring those licences are provided for legitimate reasons. Why should we not ask the person who wins that licence to have it on display?
There is a simple point to be made here as well. A major complaint made about the taxi industry in the past was that when one got into a vehicle, it was at times difficult and not always as easy as it should be to understand the terms upon which one was getting into the vehicle, who was providing it, etc. It is clear now because a large sticker is on display in each vehicle stating the terms upon which the service is provided and the person who should provide the service so that one may see if that person is providing it, and so on. I argue strongly in the case of this section of the legislation that using the word "may" creates the wriggle room or the expectation at some point in the future that that licence might be provided.
On the information on timetables, if we are looking for a powerful review and to ensuring these licences and contracts are delivered in the way we want, then we should provide passengers with the information they need to allow them to understand whether the service is on time or whether it is turning up with the frequency with which it should.
I second the amendment. My party supports both amendments.
I do not want to rehash the argument as the Senator has made the case. With regard to timetables, I favour the retention of "may" rather than "shall", precisely for the reason given by the Senator about one-off events and so on. However, I was just having a conversation — for which I apologise to the Senator — about the licence. The argument being used is that if we say "shall", the provision becomes very inflexible from the point of view of the operator and perhaps the authority as well.
This is something I will consider further when the Bill goes to the other House. The Senator makes a good point with regard to having the information where people can see it so they can measure, in a sense, what is being delivered against what was licensed. I do not accept that it should be done in all cases with regard to the timetable, but I will certainly consider the issue again. It is important we have the maximum amount of transparency and openness.
I wish to check something before I proceed. Is it the case that amendment No. 6 pertains to the timetable, while amendment No. 7 pertains to the licence?
I appreciate the Minister's response on amendment No. 6. It will make a small but meaningful improvement in the operation of the system. With regard to his comments on No. 7, I take the Minister's point. It might be slightly prescriptive to say for whoever gets it that the full licence must be on public display. When considering the Bill for the next Stage he might consider mandating some form of panel or sign to be installed in vehicles, as was done for taxis when the changes in the taxi industry were implemented.
Amendment No. 8 will be accepted by the Government.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 17, lines 12 and 13, to delete "or by a member of the Garda Síochána".
It seems the Minister proposes to accept the amendment. I welcome his decision and I have no comment to make beyond the points I made the last day.
Is the amendment being seconded?
I acknowledge the fact that this arises from discussion in the course of the Committee Stage debate on this section. At that stage it was suggested by Senator Ryan that it had never been the practice to authorise gardaí to prosecute summary offences because they have that authority in common law. The provision was without drafting precedent and accordingly it was proposed that the reference to a member of the Garda Síochána in this section should be removed. Having checked this, the Government allowed this amendment to take account of the point raised by Senator Ryan. I thank the Senator for bringing this to my attention.
Amendment No. 9 is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer. Amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 12 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 26, line 31, after "guidelines" where it firstly occurs to insert the following:
"or county or city development plans and local area plans,".
I suspect the intention of my amendments, Nos. 10, 11 and 12, is exactly what Senator Ryan was seeking to achieve in amendment No. 9 which has been ruled out of order. This goes to the heart of the difficulty I have with this Bill.
If we consider the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 which we debated in the House after its introduction by the Minister, we can see that the major progress made by that Act, leaving aside the work that was done with regard to the licensing of bus and transport services within the greater Dublin area, was to create the capacity to integrate the decisions that are made regarding the planning of land at local authority level with those made on transport planning. For the first time in our history, those two powers were integrated in the greater Dublin area. Probably the single greatest planning mistake in our recent history was the fact that these were not previously integrated. That is why we now find that cars are being used so much more than we want them to be.
My amendments seek to ensure the capacity of the new national transport authority to deliver such integration is exactly the same as that of the Dublin Transport Authority. The Dublin Transport Authority Act provided for these decisions to be integrated by allowing the DTA to become involved in the development of county and city development plans and make observations and recommendations on big planning decisions such as area plans. However, from my reading of this Bill, I believe such provision is not included in this legislation. The Bill will create a two-tier planning environment. In the greater Dublin area the DTA has the ability to make recommendations and observations at the level of county and city development plans and to integrate transport use and planning decisions, but outside the greater Dublin area this will not be the case.
The Minister's colleague made two points in the debate last week. The first was that the resources might not be available to sustain such powers and the second was that the new national transport authority will have the ability to make observations on and get involved in regional planning guidelines. With regard to the first of these, we are talking about a power I hope will be used only sparingly anyway because I am convinced local and regional authorities throughout the country know more than anyone else the mistakes that were made in planning. This power should not really be used at all if we have got our act together, but the capacity to use it will exist. With regard to the regional planning guidelines, I can speak from my own experience as a member of a local authority. The regional planning guidelines take account of the county and city development plans and local area plans, but the real decisions, which affect the lives and quality of life of the people we are seeking to serve, are made at the level of city and county development plans and local area plans.
These amendments have two broad aims. They aim to give the new body the power the DTA has in these areas but they also flesh this out by providing that the national transport authority would have the capacity to get involved in county and city development plans if it so chose. Otherwise I fear the progress made by the Minister in the last Act, by setting up the DTA and achieving this level of integration, will be weakened because the authority dealing with the rest of the country will not have the same powers.
The Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 provides that the authority can make inputs at all stages in the preparation and review of the regional planning guidelines, development plans and local area plans within the greater Dublin area. The expanded role that was given to the DTA in respect of those processes reflects the fact the authority is also mandated under the Act to produce a transport strategy, an integrated implementation plan following that strategy and a strategic traffic management plan in respect of that area.
Section 44 of this Bill proposes to give the national authority a role in the making and review of regional planning guidelines outside the greater Dublin area, although it is not proposed to expand the application of the transport strategy and the plans that flow from it to areas outside the GDA.
I mentioned this specifically on Second Stage. I am convinced of the robustness of the case for the establishment of a body to oversee the control and delivery of major transport infrastructure programmes in the greater Dublin area but I do not consider it timely to expand those roles on a national basis. Section 30, however, holds out the prospect of the expansion of the remit of the authority.
It is important the NTA should have a role in the planning process at a national level and I consider regional planning guidelines to be the appropriate level of involvement. Regional planning guidelines are strategic and the requirement that the county and city development plans must be consistent with the guidelines covers this area in a way that was not the case in the past. The NTA will be in a position to ensure the regional authorities incorporate national transport policies and objectives into their regional planning guidelines.
I have had ongoing discussions with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who was very supportive of the DTA Bill, about this area. On 29 May he presented the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, which requires development plans to contain mandatory objectives for the promotion of sustainable settlement and transportation strategies. Local authorities must take account, therefore, of transport issues when developing local area plans and development plans. I do not want to debate a Bill that was introduced by another Minister but I fully support the approach he is taking. It will address some of the issues the Senator has raised. That Bill also requires local authorities to follow the guidelines set in the regional plans as regards integrated planning for transport and land use.
This whole area is more properly dealt with in planning and development legislation rather than transport legislation but in the context of the Dublin Transport Authority Bill we had to set down clear markers that are now being followed. We all agree it is how we get to the end that is at issue and that transport policy is an integral part of any planning development in any area, inside or outside of the greater Dublin area. That is being catered for in this Bill, particularly in combination with the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill. For that reason I cannot accept that amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response, although I am equally convinced that in this case he is wrong. Sometimes the need for this sort of integration tends to be most pressing in areas that have a low density of population. Areas with a high density of population can sustain the necessary transport services and usually have a critical mass to drive further development in the surrounding areas. This Bill would be further strengthened if the capacity that was made available to the DTA was expanded and offered to this body. I understand the Minister's point but I disagree with it.
Why is the authority not being prescribed to develop a national transport strategy? If the Dublin Transportation Authority has the ability to do that for the Dublin area, why would the national body not have the same facility?
As the Senator says, we will agree to disagree. I addressed the question he raised about the difference between the powers of the DTA and what we will give to the NTA for areas outside the greater Dublin area but I will do so further at a later date. Because of the urgency of the situation within the greater Dublin area, it is fundamentally different to the expansive countryside the NTA is going to deal with. I will try to ensure the national transport authority will focus on the major issues I want it to focus on immediately. There may be a case at a later stage for expanding those and duplicating the DTA provisions but at this time I prefer to focus attention on other areas.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- de Búrca, Déirdre.
- Ellis, John.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Francis.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ross, Shane.
- Twomey, Liam.
When is it proposed to sit again?
At 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 21 October 2009.
On a point of order, why are we not sitting until Wednesday? We generally sit on Tuesday.
The Leader has informed me the House is adjourned until 2.30 p.m. next Wednesday. Members may discuss the reason for that with the Leader outside of the House.