I thank the House for the opportunity to introduce the Public Transport Bill 2015. I emphasise that this is a technical Bill that amends six existing statutes and does not involve any new regulatory policy. It is a short Bill comprising just ten sections, as passed by the Dáil. Broadly, the Bill amends the following Acts: the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 to ensure that the National Transport Authority, NTA, has the necessary powers to develop and deliver public transport infrastructure which has been approved for funding; the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 which is primarily to provide for greater precision in the Act on certain provisions and more specific technical enabling powers for regulations made by the National Transport Authority, NTA, under the Act; the Railway Safety Act 2005 to change the name of the Railway Safety Commission to the Commission for Railway Regulation to reflect the broadening of its remit in relation to railway regulation; the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001 to provide for certain procedural issues in relation to Transport Infrastructure Ireland's by-law making powers for Luas passenger services; the State Airports Act 2004 to clarify certain provisions relating to fixed payment notice; and the Road Traffic Act 1961 to address an implicit contradiction in its provisions relating to duties on occurrence of an accident, as well as an omission relating to disqualification on conviction for hit-and-run offences.
Before looking at each section in more detail, I emphasise that the amendments proposed are technical in nature and do not involve any new regulatory policy. Section 1 relates to the public transport infrastructure functions of the National Transport Authority. This section provides for the amendment of sections 2 and 44 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 in relation to the public transport infrastructure functions of the NTA and the insertion of four new sections into the 2008 Act in relation to public passenger transport services. The proposed amendments to the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 will ensure that the NTA can develop and deliver public transport infrastructure such as Bus Rapid Transit, BRT, in the event that it is decided to proceed with such infrastructure or other projects such as cycling schemes. Under the capital plan to 2020, funding to support and improve bus services will be an important priority. As well as ensuring a modern efficient fleet, it is essential that the bus routes and supporting infrastructure facilitate the provision of attractive services. In this regard, the proposed amendments will address a constraint in the existing legislation which creates a differentiation between public roads existing before the establishment of the NTA and public roads which were developed after the NTA was established and provide that the NTA would have equivalent vires to provide public transport infrastructure on public roads constructed either before or after the establishment date of the NTA. The purpose of this particular amendment is to ensure the NTA has the necessary powers to develop and deliver public transport infrastructure which has been approved for funding.
Furthermore, the amendments will clarify that the NTA is required to engage in one statutory approval-permission process for development in accordance with whatever legislation applies to the particular public transport infrastructure development concerned. The objective is to remove an anomaly that would leave the NTA subject to two different and parallel processes. In addition, the proposed amendments will also enable the NTA to make by-laws in respect of public transport passenger services, currently provided by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, which will be tendered to commence operations in the latter part of 2016.
Section 2 provides for amendments to the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 to provide for greater precision in the Act relating to certain provisions, more specific technical enabling powers under the Act for regulations made by the NTA and punctuation, textual corrections and refinement. The programme for Government contained the commitment to review and update the regulation of taxis to ensure that taxi drivers are recognised as a key component of the public transport system and to provide for a forum for discussion between the regulatory authorities and taxi providers. The taxi regulation review report of 2011 identified 46 actions to address the key issues in the taxi sector in seven areas, namely, driver licensing, vehicle licensing and standards, accessible services for people with disabilities, compliance and enforcement, consumer and industry assurance, fleet management and rental controls and a rural hackney service to deal with very limited access in rural areas.
The Taxi Regulation Act 2013 was introduced primarily to give legal effect to recommendations of the taxi regulation review report of 2011 relating to increased enforcement measures, including a demerit scheme to deal with recurrent breaches of small public service vehicle, SPSV, regulations, the issue of on-the-spot fines for an increased range of offences and a proportionate system for mandatory disqualification from holding a licence on conviction for a serious criminal offence. The 2013 Act also repealed and replaced the Taxi Regulation Act 2003.
The commencement of the 2013 Act and the introduction of new small public service vehicles, SPSV, regulations by the National Transport Authority, NTA, in tandem with that commencement has delivered a significantly greater level of compliance and improved and streamlined the regulatory regime for driver and vehicle licence holders. It has also provided an enhanced degree of professionalism in the industry. Customers of taxi services also benefit from greater transparency and the information available in respect of licensed services. A range of quality of service actions have been initiated which have resulted in a renewed commitment to improve the utilisation of wheelchair-accessible taxis.
The substantive amendments to the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 provided for in the Bill are as follows. There is a substitution of a new definition for dispatch operator to include a service allowing intending passengers to arrange the hire of a SPSV, so as to ensure the applicability of the dispatch operator licensing requirements to technological intermediaries. The amendments will provide that licensing regulations made by the NTA under section 7 may provide for written declarations or undertakings to accompany a licence for a number of specified matters. They will also provide that the licensing authority may only grant a licence to drive an SPSV to a person holding a driving licence to drive such a vehicle, the automatic revocation of such a licence on surrender of the licence by the licence holder to the NTA and that representations and appeal provisions under section 13 will not apply to decisions of the licensing authority to refuse to grant a licence or to revoke or suspend a licence as a result of a vehicle not meeting the required standard for SPSVs under regulations. They will extend the period during which the nominated representative of a deceased licence holder may apply to the NTA for the grant of a licence of the same category from the current three months to nine months after the death of the licence holder. The amendments will provide for the exclusion of the address of the holder of an SPSV licence from the details that must be provided when information is requested by the NTA with regard to a licence on the register of licences and amend the definition of "appropriate court" so as to confer jurisdiction on the Circuit Court for an application under section 30(8) of the 2013 Act by a person to allow him or her to apply for or to continue to hold, as the case may be, a licence notwithstanding a conviction for an offence specified in section 30(3).
Section 3 provides for the substitution of a new section 48 for the existing section 48 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2013, relating to fixed payment notices, primarily to prescribe the period during which payment may be made under the "second payment option". Apart from this change, the substituted section 48 effectively restates the existing section 48 but with greater precision.
Section 4 provides for the change of name of the Railway Safety Commission to the commission for railway regulation and consequential amendments to section 2(1) and section 14(2) of the Railway Safety Act 2005 to reflect its planned designation as the regulatory body under Directive 2012/34/EU establishing a single European railway area to monitor competition in the rail services market. Directive 2012/34/EU requires each member state to designate a regulatory body to monitor competition in the rail services market in the state to ensure non-discriminatory access to railway markets. The regulatory body will have a monitoring function and a role to hear appeals made by railway undertakings and other interested persons. The Railway Safety Commission was established under the Railway Safety Act 2005 to foster and encourage railway safety and to enforce legislation relating to railway safety. It is proposed that the date for the change of name is to be appointed in an order to be made by the Minister.
Section 5 provides for the amendment of section 66, as inserted by section 134 of the Railway Safety Act 2005, of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001, relating to the making of by-laws for railways by Transport Infrastructure Ireland to require that notification regarding the making of by-laws for Luas passenger services and copies of draft and final by-laws be published online.
Section 6 provides for an amendment to section 27 of the State Airports Act 2004 to further facilitate the operation and administration of a fixed payment notice process that applies to alleged offences for contravening a provision of by-laws relating to the parking of vehicles at an airport. Section 7 amends section 27A, inserted by section 51 of the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014, of the State Airports Act 2004 to provide that the fixed payment notice process that applies under that section also applies in respect of alleged offences under section 47 of the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014.
Section 8 is a technical amendment of section 106 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, which deals with duties on occurrence of an accident. It was amended in 2014 to introduce new offences for hit-and-run incidents causing death or serious injury. The Attorney General's office has since advised the Department that the amended version of the section contains an implicit contradiction. The new hit-and-run provisions are indictable offences but they come under a section heading referring to summary offences. The Attorney General's advice is that the intention of the law is clear in spite of the error and the Director of Public Prosecutions is continuing to take prosecutions under this legislation. However, it is also the Attorney General's view that the error should be corrected at the earliest available opportunity. Section 8 also provides for an amendment to section 26(3)(b)(i) and Second Schedule to the 1961 Act to rectify an omission when the new hit-and-run provisions were introduced in 2014. When the new hit-and-run provisions were introduced, there should have been an associated amendment to state that there would be a consequential disqualification for those who were convicted under the new provisions. As this was not done at the time, it is provided for now in this section of the Bill.
Section 9 provides for the force of law to be given to the protocol of 3 June 1999 for the modification of the convention concerning international carriage by rail, COTIF, of 9 May 1980. The COTIF convention sets out rules and procedures for international rail travel. Ireland is one of only a small number of members of the organisation yet to fully ratify this convention. This failure to ratify has led to infringement proceedings being taken against us by the European Commission. As a result, and following advice from the Attorney General's office, I have decided that Ireland should expedite the ratification of the convention by means of primary legislation. Irish Rail has been fully consulted on this matter and it should be noted that the enactment of legislation in this area will not have any significant practical impact on rail operators or passengers in the State.
Section 10 is a standard provision setting out the short title and collective citation provisions for the Act.
This is a technical Bill, but as is often the case with technical Bills, it is important. I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to Senators' contributions and constructive discussion on this Bill.