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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 26 Nov 2009

Vol. 198 No. 8

Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]: Report and Final Stages.

This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 113 it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as a report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. I remind Senators that the only matters that may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For the convenience of Senators, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of those amendments to them. The Minister will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. I have also circulated the proposed groupings in the House. A Senator may contribute once on each grouping. I welcome the Minister for Transport to the House and call on him to speak on the subject matter of amendments in group one.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

Section 10 outlines general provisions for the consideration of the applications for the grant of bus licences. Amendment No. 1 relates to section 10(2), which was discussed at an earlier sitting of this House. Some suggestions were made which we took on board. Section 10(2) allows the authority to consider submissions for or on behalf of a licence applicant to invite submissions of information from the applicant or any other party, and to examine any other matter that it deems to be relevant to the public interest in the consideration of an application. The amendment introduces a specific reference to a local authority in subsection (2)(b) to clarify that, for the purposes of considering an application for the grant of a licence, the authority may seek the views of any local authority in whose functional area the proposed public passenger service will operate. The nature of the amendment and the discretion it gives to the authority recognises that not all bus licence applications would warrant a specific input from individual local authorities. Occasional licences for once-off events, for example, are unlikely to give rise to the need for detailed consideration by individual local authorities. This was discussed at the earlier sitting and I indicated that I would try to accommodate local authorities.

I welcome the Minister back to the House. This appears to be a sensible amendment and follows the discussions we had here at an earlier sitting of the House. I have two questions for the Minister. First, in the text that is being amended, the word "or" will now disappear. The original text included the words "public bus service will operate, or". It then went into paragraph (c) to state “examining any other matter that it deems to be relevant”. Is there any particular reason why that change has been made?

Second, does the Minister have in mind any timings within which he expects the input to come back from local authorities? It is a good improvement to seek the input of local authorities in this regard. It is vital, however, that the whole procedure happens in a timely manner and that the slow delivery of input from any particular body should not get in the way of a decision being made on this matter.

The Senator is correct in that the word "or" does not appear in the amendment, but it is still in the main body of the Bill.

There is no specific timeline for receiving the views of any local authority. That will be left to the discretion of the authority itself. It may seek the views of a local authority in whatever timescale it deems necessary.

I call the Minister on group 2.

Section 13 allows the authority to apply conditions to the grant of licences. Subsection (4) has been amended following consideration of issues raised both in this House and in the Dáil. The subsection now provides that the authority shall require the details of a licence to be displayed in the vehicle providing the service, save where the authority deems it not to be appropriate. Senators will remember we had a long discussion on this. A strong view was expressed in this House in particular that licence details should be displayed in a vehicle. I argued at the time this would not be appropriate for once-off events. However, what we have done meets the concerns of the Senators in that it will be the norm or default position for the licence to be displayed in the vehicle. I hope this meets the requirements of the Seanad.

I thank the Minister for making this change. The display of licences was discussed in the House and we put forward the case for the change. We had a similar discussion on the display of timetables for passenger services. I felt it was very important that there be an obligation on providers of public bus passenger services to display timetables. I am glad the Minister has made the change with regard to the display of licences but I wonder why he did not make a similar change with regard to the need to supply and make publicly available a timetable.

The amendment is welcome. The only fear I have — I have such fears regarding a range of legislative provisions — is that the default position of the authority will involve it deeming the display of licences inappropriate.

The legislation is now worded such that the default position is that the licence must be displayed. That is the normal position and how it should always be. It is only in exceptional cases that the licence will not be displayed.

The argument for displaying timetables is not as strong because we are referring to different kinds of services. It is not necessary to display them for once-off events, nor is it necessary where there is a point-to-point service. It is not feasible to require the display of timetables but, in most cases where there is a service to be provided, the company trying to promote it and sell tickets must provide timetables to the public to inform them of the service and attract business. It is not as necessary to include the display of timetables in the legislation because it will probably be done as a matter of practice, where relevant.

Group three, encompassing amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, concerns guidelines.

This group relates to section 23 of the Bill, which provides that the authority shall prepare and publish guidelines on the licensing regime established under Part 2. The section establishes requirements for broad public consultation on the draft guidelines and the submission of written representations to the authority for consideration prior to finalisation and formal publication.

Amendment No. 3 provides that the authority must submit a draft of the guidelines to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport for its opinion, which must be submitted to the authority within one month. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are consequential in that they provide that the authority must consider the opinion of the committee and set out a definition of the committee, respectively. This latter definition is the same as that used in section 12(11)(d) of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008. This arose largely from a Dáil debate expressing a desire to give specific recognition to the Oireachtas joint committees and the role they play in transport affairs.

Amendment No. 3 is welcome but I have a question for the Minister thereon. Based on his response, he envisages that the Joint Committee on Transport will be the committee with an input. Would it be worth making a change to allow for more than one Oireachtas committee to have an input, or at least thinking about allowing this? The Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, for example, might well have a view on the operation of the authority when it is considering changes to planning guidelines. I make this point in the context of the fact that the national authority will have the ability to make a contribution to regional planning guidelines for areas outside Dublin. With this in mind, it might be worth allowing an Oireachtas committee other than the Joint Committee on Transport to make a submission. It appears from the legislation that only the Joint Committee on Transport is given this role.

There is absolutely nothing in the Bill that prevents any other committee or any other member of a committee from making a formal submission. The provision as it stands, which is appropriate, gives the power of consideration specifically to the Joint Committee on Transport. It is the committee that will be focusing on transport issues. I take the Deputy's point on the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government but he should note it can make a separate submission. We are providing statutorily for the making of a submission by the Joint Committee on Transport but another committee can make a submission within the specified period. Any submission, be it by a committee, individual or local authority, will have to be considered and taken into account before a final decision is made on the guidelines.

Group 4 concerns the make-up of the authority and it is the subject matter of amendment No. 6.

This has arisen because we are moving from a Dublin transport authority that was to have nine members to a national transport authority. While I may not necessarily appoint 11 members to the latter authority, 11 would be a more appropriate number for a national transport authority.

The amendment, which is to section 14(2)(d), requires that the chairperson and eight ordinary members, as opposed to the original six, shall be appointed from persons who, in the opinion of the Minister, have “wide experience in relation to transport, industrial, commercial, financial, land use planning or environmental matters, the organisation of workers or administration”. It was suggested this appears to read as if any person appointed must have wide experience in all those areas. That is not the intent of the legislation; the intent is that appointees will have experience in as many of them as possible, but at least one.

Group 5 concerns technical and drafting issues and comprises the subject matter of amendment No. 7.

Amendment No. 7 is a technical amendment to substitute the term "public bus services" for "public bus passenger services" in sections 48, 52 and 54 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008. This is a technical amendment in the interest of consistency between the 2008 Act and the provisions of the Bill. This was pointed out to us during the course of consultation on the Act.

Senator Ryan indicated he wished to comment on group 3. He could ask that question now.

I do not remember it, but it related to seeking the opinion of the Oireachtas joint committee. Is there any obligation on the authority to take its opinion on board in any way or is it open to it just to seek the opinion of the committee and then completely ignore it?

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 provide that the authority must consider the opinion of the committee and set out a definition of that opinion. It is not just a matter that the committee's opinion is sought and ignored. It has to be considered fully and decidedon.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the House for its co-operation. This Bill started in the House. It is an historic Bill because it replaces a 77-year old Act that dates to 1932. There has been much talk over the years about changing and reforming that Bill.

I thank in particular the Members of Seanad Éireann and the staff for the co-operation I received in initiating the Bill and ensuring we got a good debate and sufficient time to discuss it in detail. I also thank the officials of the House and my officials for their hard work on the Bill. Perhaps other staff in the section of the Department dealing with the Bill will not mind if I single out Mr. John Weafer. Many Members have had contact with him. It might be the last time he is in the House to assist with the passing of legislation. I wish him well and thank everyone for their co-operation.

I thank the Minister for his consistent approach to legislation in the House, his willingness to listen to points that have been made and to act upon them. Our party voted against the Bill in the Seanad and the Dáil because of our belief that we could do more to get better value for the money that is being spent in this area and to introduce choice in how bus services are provided. That said, as the Minister acknowledged, the Bill is the first major legislation in this area since 1932. That is definite progress. More progress could have been made but we welcome the fact that progress is being made. When the National Transport Authority is set up it will have a weighty responsibility for our country in terms of making sure we have a proper transport strategy in place that works.

I am interested in two areas in particular. The first is how directly elected mayors, which the Government intends to introduce, will be incorporated, especially for the city of Dublin and the region of Dublin. How that is dealt with will be vital. The second point is that there were features of the Dublin Transport Authority, DTA, that could have been maintained in the new national transport authority. As I outlined on Second Stage, I would like to have maintained the ability of the Dublin Transport Authority to draw up a transport strategy for the Dublin region. The stronger ability of the DTA to get involved in planning guidelines was a welcome development and I would have liked that to be maintained in the national transport authority. That said, these are developments that can take place over time as the body gets up and running. I wish it well.

Given that this might be Mr. Weafer's last time to be involved in legislation in the House I thank him for his work and the support he has given Opposition Members when we have been working on transport legislation in recent years. I also thank my colleagues for the help they gave me on Committee Stage.

I welcome the passing of this much-needed legislation. On Second Stage and Committee Stage we talked about the problems caused by having two pieces of separate legislation governing public transport and private transport. I refer in particular to the 41X issue in my constituency. I hope that is now behind us. I called for a level playing field. I hope that is what emerges and that there will not be a favouring of the private transport sector over the public transport sector. Due regard should be taken of the good work done by Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. I hope there will be a level playing field.

The amendments that came back from the Dáil pretty much reflect the discussion that took place on the Bill in this House before it went to the Dáil. I am happy enough and do not have any difficulty with them. I thank the Minister for bringing them back to this House and attempting to deal with them. I wish the legislation well. I thank the Minister and his departmental officials for their tremendous work.

I wish to be associated with the remarks to Mr. John Weafer who has been very helpful to some of us for a long time. Any time he was approached he was more than helpful. That was very much appreciated by Members across the House.

The Bill does a long overdue tidying up job given that the previous Act was in place for 77 years. Public transport at that stage was a total monopoly and at least this Bill will change the situation and make progress in terms of what is available to the public.

I compliment the Minister on allowing the Bill to begin in the Seanad. Some times we do not get the necessary opportunity to take Bills first in this House and they come to us from the Dáil as a fait accompli. This Bill was well teased out in this House. When anomalies were pointed out to the Minister he was more than willing to accept amendments, irrespective of which side of the House they came from. That is positive as far as any legislation is concerned. I thank the Minister and his staff and the staff of the House for the way they helped us to deal with the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.