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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 4 Apr 2019

Vol. 264 No. 14

Transport Matters: Statements

I am delighted to update the House on issues relating to public transport. Senators will have their own views on the challenges and opportunities we face in transforming our public transport network and services and I look forward to hearing those views. I would like to think we can all agree on some basic first principles. We all agree on the need to improve public transport, the important role improved public transport has to play in meeting our climate challenge and that better cycling and walking infrastructure is needed to encourage greater take-up of active travel. I am glad that on each of these issues there is significant work under way to translate those principles into action. I do not doubt for a second that when we consider the best way forward, there will be different views and priorities. Discussions such as this are useful as a means of listening to different views and perspectives.

On the need to improve public transport, everyone in the House knows the ambitious range of projects contained in Project Ireland 2040. I was in the House last September to give an overview of those projects and I have been back a number of times since then to discuss various related issues during Commencement matters raised by Senators.

The increased numbers of people choosing to use public transport is welcome.

Last year, almost 7% more people made a trip on taxpayer-supported public transport than the previous year. Those increases bring challenges, just like the 1 million increase in population and 600,000 additional jobs projected in Project Ireland 2040 will bring challenges, even if those challenges are fundamentally positive.

We are responding in a number of ways. We are increasing the funding available to the NTA to invest in, and expand, public transport services and infrastructure on an ongoing basis. Those levels of increased funding can be viewed on the ground through measures such as increased services, an expanded fleet and new initiatives throughout the country. Public service obligation, PSO, bus services have been expanded by the NTA in co-operation with the operators across the country and a new operator has also entered the PSO bus market under contract with the authority. In rural Ireland, funding for Local Link services has increased from € 12.2 million in 2016 to €21 million this year. This has enabled the introduction of new regular commuter services, improvements to demand responsive services and the piloting of new evening services. We funded increased bus purchases with the PSO bus fleet in Dublin expanding by approximately 15% in the past two years, while new buses have also been added to the fleets in other cities. This year, we will add more buses to the PSO fleets, as well as continuing to replace older buses with newer ones.

We have funded increased rail services across the greater Dublin area commuter rail network by introducing 10-minute DART services and expanding services on the major commuter lines. I acknowledge we face capacity pressures on the greater Dublin area commuter rail network and the NTA and larnród Éireann are currently looking at options to introduce additional fleet in the short term. We have also significantly increased the amount to support the maintenance and renewal of the heavy rail network nationwide, which will increase this year by approximately 23% to almost €200 million. That means the heavy rail network is being funded at the steady state level, which represents significant progress and will benefit passenger journey experiences across the country.

With regard to light rail, we have funded the extension of the Luas green line to Broombridge and we are now funding a capacity enhancement project which will deliver additional capacity on the line. This current project provides for the extension of 26 current trams on the green line to 55 m and the purchase of eight additional trams. That will increase capacity by approximately 37% compared to today. The extended trams will start to arrive this year and those arrivals will continue over the next 24 months.

Each year, we are looking to improve public transport across the country but we know we need to do more. That is where the three big projects which Project Ireland 2040 will deliver come into play. Senators will be aware of BusConnects, DART expansion and MetroLink. Each of these is a significant project and together they will impact hundreds of millions of passenger journeys each year. I hope and expect that, notwithstanding people's views on particular aspects of each, everyone here supports the ambition.

BusConnects will be rolled out across all our major cities, starting in Dublin. This programme will have a transformative effect on the operation of bus services and will improve bus journey times by 40% to 50%; provide a bus service that is easier to use and understand; enable more people to travel by bus than ever before; and provide a network of cycling infrastructure that will enable more people to cycle across the city. BusConnects Dublin was subject to extensive consultation both last year and this year and there was a fantastic level of engagement from the public in response to those consultations. Of course, that engagement was not always 100% supportive of every detail of individual proposals, but I have been encouraged by the approach adopted by the NTA in seeking out people's views. I have no doubt that those views will inform and be reflected in revised proposals as they are developed by the authority later this year. BusConnects is a national programme of improvements to our bus system. As we develop transport strategies in Cork, Limerick and Waterford, the potential of BusConnects programmes in those cities will be central, while in Galway, my Department, through the NTA, is working with the city council as it begins implementation of its transport strategy.

With regard to DART expansion, the plans are to electrify the existing commuter rail network and radically improve the level of service on the northern, Maynooth and Kildare lines. Another part of this programme is the need to significantly increase the greater Dublin area rail fleet by approximately 300 carriages and the NTA and larnród Éireann expect to initiate that tender process this year.

MetroLink is the third of the big three projects and Senators will all be aware that the NTA has published a preferred route for public consultation. This route reflects the consideration given by the NTA and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, to the 8,000 submissions it received last year during consultation on what was known as the emerging preferred route. A key imperative in the MetroLink project has always been to deliver a new north-south cross-city link and deal with the capacity issues on the Luas green line. The major change in the preferred route is the method by which the NTA and TII propose to deal with those issues. They intend to immediately move forward on two fronts: to develop MetroLink from Charlemont to Swords and to complete the green line capacity enhancement project which is under way and introduce further capacity enhancements in the medium term. They now propose to defer the third element of the previous proposal, which is to tie in the metro with the existing Luas green line and extend metro services southward along that line.

In so-called megaprojects such as this, the importance of this period of front-end planning is well recognised internationally as being crucial to a project's overall success. It is also important that we approach projects such as this in as open and transparent a manner as possible to deal with some of the misinformation and confusion which can arise. I welcome the scale and depth of public engagement with the project so far and commend the NTA and TII on the proactive way in which they have engaged with communities and the public at large. A series of further public information sessions is planned for this round of public consultation, and a large volume of information has been published on the MetroLink website. I recognise that there are still issues which require consideration and consultation with different groups and the NTA and TII are committed to doing just that. Once they have completed their consultation process, they will develop a business case, as required under the public spending code, which will be submitted for the approval of Government before it proceeds to planning in 2020.

Turning to the second of the three principles that I referred to at the start of the debate, we face a significant challenge to reduce our national greenhouse gas emissions. Public transport has its part to play in meeting this challenge. The range of projects and programmes we have just talked about are not just required to deal with increased population and demand. We need an improved and expanded public transport system if we are to attract more people to choose sustainable transport options over the private car. Even though public transport emissions themselves are not significant in the wider context, we also need to show leadership on the issue. That is why we have ended the purchase of diesel-only buses with effect from this year for our PSO bus fleets in urban areas and are funding ongoing trials to determine the most suitable technology for the medium and long term. I am glad that the increased funding available to support the PSO bus fleet means that every year we are able to meet the steady state target of bus replacement. That means that each year, we pull older and dirtier buses out of the fleet and replace them with greener and cleaner buses. That will only improve as we end the purchase of diesel only buses in the urban areas from now on. larnród Éireann, supported by my Department, has successfully secured funding under the climate action fund to pilot hybrid technology on some diesel engines, which, if successful, has potential for the wider diesel rail fleet.

The third principle I referred to earlier was the role and potential of active travel. By active travel, I mean walking and cycling, which together comprise approximately 16% of all commuters according to the latest census. There has been a significant increase in the number of people choosing to cycle as part of their commute and we know we need to support the development of new and improved cycling infrastructure.

There has been a significant increase in the number of people choosing to cycle as part of their commute. We know we need to support the development of new and improved cycling infrastructure. That is why I have increased funding this year by approximately 30% and will further increase the level of funding over the next couple of years. It is why I have asked the National Transport Authority to establish a new delivery office to focus on the timely delivery of cycling infrastructure in line with the increased levels of funding available.

I realise there has been delay in the roll-out of several big cycling projects in recent years, but I am pleased to report that this year we have seen several very important projects get under way or scheduled to start. Here in Dublin, the Royal Canal greenway phase 2 is under construction. Phase 3 will start later this year and phase 4 will start early next year. This will be a fantastic segregated cycle track from the outer suburbs right into the heart of the city. Several other important projects are due to start this year, including the Clontarf to city centre route, the Fitzwilliam route and the Dodder greenway. Yesterday we saw the NTA present Dublin City Council with a recommended option for the long-awaited Liffey cycle route. These improvements will follow through in the other cities too as the NTA works with the local authorities to develop their cycle networks in accordance with published plans. I am pleased to say there are projects under way and planned in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. Moreover, I am informed Waterford will later this year see the roll-out of a public bikes scheme.

Senators will recall that, with regard to more rural areas, last year I published the greenways strategy. I expect to announce shortly the details of projects that will be awarded funding under the new strategy.

I hope Senators can see that my Department is working on an ambitious programme across all modes of public transport. Obviously, we need to ensure that the money is spent wisely and well. Ultimately, we need to ensure the taxpayers gets value for their hard-earned money. My Department has long had responsibility for significant capital expenditure programmes. Obviously, we have well-developed monitoring and oversight systems in place. We recognise that these mega-projects bring unique challenges. We need to keep our governance arrangements for the years ahead refreshed and effective. I assure Senators that my Department is keenly aware of the need to maintain appropriate oversight as these projects take shape over the course of this year and beyond.

I hope there is much we can agree on today. Where there is disagreement, I expect it be on matters of detail rather than substance. We need a better public transport system and the investment planned by this Government will deliver exactly that.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House to outline some of the issues. I was briefly going through his speech and I highlighted how much of it related to Dublin and how much related to the rest of Ireland. I do not think there is a great balance to be honest.

I am keen to focus briefly on one issue that comes in under transport. I have put in a question on organ donation twice in the past month. The first answer I received said the data could not be given out because of data protection reasons and that the data could not be shared with doctors and nurses. I highlighted to the Minister's office that in reality the Minister has already shared the information held by the driving licence registry with private companies, including car companies, toll road companies, the Courts Service and many others. In fairness, the Minister came back and said that if the HSE asks for the information, he would be most willing to give it. Unfortunately, the HSE and the Minister for Health came to the Houses yesterday and said they did not want the information. This is despite the fact that 1 million people have indicated that they would like to be organ donors. If families know that their loved ones want to be organ donors, it increases the organ donor rate by 92%. The next time the Minister is at a Cabinet meeting he might encourage the Minister for Health in this regard. If we had such a system in place the numbers would go from a 50:50 chance of a family donating an organ when asked by a doctor to a 92% donor rate. I imagine that is worth doing.

The Minister brought up several issues. The issue of congestion in Dublin is pressing because it is costing approximately €358 million annually. By 2033, we estimate it will cost €2 billion. The plans outlined by the Minister are designed to alleviate this but we need an implementation process, a national infrastructure commission and especially a Dublin transport commission to ensure delivery. Such measures have been proposed by Fianna Fáil.

The issue of motor insurance is of major concern and represents a growing cost, as is the issue of driving licence tests, especially in rural Ireland. An applicant can wait up to 29 weeks in some places to do the driving test. Major punishments await those driving without an accompanied driver who has a full permit. In any event, we have to be balanced and the fact is we simply do not have enough driving licence testers. The Minister must hire more because 29 weeks is far too long for someone to be without access to a car in a rural area. In such places a person's job will depend on him getting to work. I note the Minister referred to first principles and the issue of cycling and walking infrastructure. That is of little use in 90% of the country because people have to drive to work or take public transport, if it is available. If a person cannot do his driving test, he will be unable to get to work at all.

The Minister raised the issue of climate. We discussed the issue of Dublin Airport in the House yesterday. This is a global issue in the transport industry. The amount of emissions coming from the airlines industry must be tackled in a global way. Under our 2020 climate changes targets we were to reduce emissions by 20%, but at the moment we have reduced them by only 1%. While we have the ambition, we are not implementing it when it comes to climate change.

I call on the Minister to address the extraordinary amount of money that is being spent on infrastructure in Dublin, as it should be. We have high numbers of commuters. Commuting time will increase further, adding to more congestion. We have to look at remote working, although I realise that is a matter for a different Department. I have friends who live in Cavan. We all know people who are commuting from one hour to 90 minutes. Some go by train but many go by car, thus adding to the congestion. We should reflect on spending billions on infrastructure in Dublin, as they do in other cities. Basically, that is the way the world is going. Places like Boston, Atlanta, London and Berlin are becoming engines to which people commute for an hour or 90 minutes. We do not have similar train infrastructure to allow people to get in from more remote areas. I am talking about the likes of Wexford. People commute from there but they use the car because the trains in some instances are full already or are simply not up to standard and do not get people to the city on time. If people could get to Dublin faster by train on an ongoing basis and have better visibility and a plan, then it might work. That is the way the world is going. We cannot fight the tide. We have to run with it but we should give people an option as well. Instead of getting into a car and being stuck in traffic for two hours, people could get into a train and go directly to Heuston, Connolly and Pearse. That option would then alleviate the congestion which would in turn ensure that our climate change targets were being met. However, we need an implementation process under a national infrastructure commission and a Dublin transport commission.

We are debating implementation but there are many things we can do. I have received numerous representations on the question of driving licence test instructors. That is something the Minister could address in order that people do not risk driving while using an inadequate licence. People should be appropriately trained and tested by driving licence instructors. They should be given the opportunity to drive the car legally and not have to take a risk. The Minister must hire more people for this to ensure people need not wait 29 weeks in some places to do the test.

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for his contribution. There are several issues I want to raise with him.

Firstly, the Taoiseach has recently said that he is open to considering rerouting the southern leg of the MetroLink proposal to other suburbs of Dublin. I think he mentioned the axis running by UCD. Is the Minister's Department considering such an option? If so, will there be a consultation process about this?

Secondly, I wish to raise the BusConnects proposal. I appreciate that one cannot make an omelette without cracking eggs and a great deal of NIMBYism arises in some quarters in response to proposed change of any kind. That said, it is only when one looks at the small print of the proposals that one becomes aware of some of the more significant features of the BusConnects programme currently under discussion. Precisely what is involved is not very clear from the published materials. One has to have some technical expertise to understand some of the implications. During the Order of Business today I gave two examples which relate to my own area. One of these was the proposal to turn Rathmines Road into a one-way system leading out of town and rely on Ranelagh Road and Charleston Road, right outside my house, as the means of getting into town from Rathgar, Rathmines and Ranelagh. It is not practical. Ranelagh Road cannot take the volume of traffic that would be diverted to it. I do not see any consideration of the knock-on effects of the proposed bus corridors in the BusConnects programme. I do not see any analysis of how much extra vehicle activity will take place in Ranelagh as a consequence, or whether Ranelagh can sustain it. That is just one example.

I looked at this single route further and discovered that closer to the city centre it is proposed to make Heytesbury Street into an area for local access only and divert traffic down a very small road. The Minister may or may not know this road. It is called Long Lane. It is effectively a lane at the northern side of the Meath hospital. It is narrower than this Chamber. It is very narrow.

It is substantially narrower than this Chamber.

It is substantially narrower than the width of this Chamber, let alone its length. I can only describe it by saying that if a truck went down it there would be a major crisis. This is proposed as the relief route for traffic going into the city. These are just two instances. Looking at the route running past my gate I began to wonder if this could actually be sustained. It does not involve taking any of my property from me, but can the road network sustain all this additional traffic? I very much doubt it.

When I looked at Long Lane, far away from leafy Ranelagh and towards the city centre, I said to myself that this is not a sustainable proposal. I do not see the analysis determining that it is sustainable. It is all very well for engineers to say where the bus route will run and decide that traffic will have to go hither and thither to make it possible, but we have to examine whether the remaining routes can actually sustain the diverted traffic. The analysis seems to be deficient. It seems to be concentrated solely on what the planners want to do with the assumption that the rest will cure itself somehow.

I want to raise a few other issues with the Minister. Anybody who drives in the city centre sees that electric scooters are proliferating. I approve of them and I do not think they are all that dangerous. Some people on racing bikes are twice as dangerous due to the fact that they go at great speed along congested routes with their heads down. The Minister's Department must come to a conclusion one way or another. Are they going to be permitted or not? By my reading of the road traffic legislation their use is illegal. I may be wrong about that but I think I am right. They should not be in a grey area.

I fully accept what has been stated here about driving tests, especially in rural Ireland. A student aged 18 or 20 who graduates and gets a job while living somewhere where he or she has to travel 15 miles to work will find this impossible without motor transport. There are no taxis or buses. There are no means of doing it. Perhaps someone can cycle five miles each day, but one cannot cycle 15 or 20 miles to get to work every morning. For a huge number of people it is not an option.

The procedure for getting a full licence should be made easier. In addition to increasing the number of driving tests and reducing the waiting list, we should consider approved courses which drivers can attend for three or four days. They could be examined and tested in an intensive process. This would allow drivers to spend, say, a week on concentrated learning at an approved motor college, get their licences and start work. I fully accept the Minister's view that unaccompanied drivers are unacceptable. They can be lethal. However, it is unrealistic to think that people can live in rural Ireland if they face long delays in getting their licences. If they fail the test the first time around it is a disaster. They have to reapply and wait for a long time.

Can the Minister confirm that all of the bus corridors in BusConnects will be open to taxis? That is not clear. We have to plan for more use of taxis in urban areas. I am fully in favour of what the Minister has in mind for bikes, but they do not suit everybody. We need more taxis. Since the deregulation of taxis there has been a massive expansion in taxi availability and use. We have to plan for more and more taxis as part of public transport, not just more and more buses.

Several projects for new Luas lines to Lucan and places like that were planned. Some of them had gone a significant way through the planning process. Are they completely dead ducks? I would also like to ask the Minister about the east-west underground DART proposal on which CIÉ, Irish Rail or whoever elaborated to a very significant degree. Is that now effectively dead? If it is not, why has Dublin City Council been refused planning permission for bridges on the basis that they might interfere with it? We need some up-to-date information. Have all those new Luas projects been abandoned for the foreseeable future? Is the underground DART proposal in suspended animation, or is it not being pursued?

We must have clarity on these issues.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for his update on transport matters. He spent much of his presentation on the issues in Dublin - the increased demand for public transport and the plans to increase services on the DART, the Luas and so on. As it is an important matter that can be controversial, I will defer to my urban colleagues in that regard.

The Minister also referred to increased investment in rural links, from €12 million to €21 million, which is welcome. Nevertheless, one of the reasons there is so much congestion in, say, Dublin is that the transport routes in other parts of the country are not near where they need to be. As a result, most people from rural Ireland drive when they have to travel to Dublin. There are also issues with transport in rural Ireland that need to be addressed. Rail travel from the west has improved substantially on the Galway and Sligo lines, but there is severe overcrowding on these services, especially at peak times. Will the Minister comment on the plans in plans to increase services in order that more people from rural Ireland will be able to use public transport, something might also ease the congestion in Dublin?

The Minister referred to the NTA engaging with Galway City Council to create a traffic plan for Galway city. In some ways, at times the traffic in the city is even more severe, albeit on a smaller scale, than in Dublin. Gridlock is a daily occurrence. Will the Minister provide an update on the engagement on or when the strategy will be finalised?

The Minister addressed the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport on preparations for Brexit, legislation for which was passed in the weeks leading up to St. Patrick's Day. While everybody hopes the legislation will not have to be implemented and that there will not be a no-deal Brexit, will the Minister outline the more long-term strategies? I asked him a similar question when he appeared before the committee. It appears that, whether there is a crash-out or some form of a deal, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union and it would be a shock to everybody if it ultimately was to remain in it or had a change of mind.

The trans-European transport network, that is, European funding for transport connections in Europe, will affect congestion and other issues in Ireland. A review has been promised, but in the original plan the west of Ireland was not included, although the European Commissioner has guaranteed that the matter will be reviewed before 2023. Owing to Brexit, the Government is very much on top of matters through its involvement in the development of the western arc. The Minister might comment in that regard.

Another matter within the Minister's remit is one that was covered at the transport committee yesterday. The CEO and the chairman of Sport Ireland expressed their frustration at not getting answers from the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, on governance issues, recent appointments and issues surrounding a loan from the previous CEO. In the other House last week the Minister indicated that Sport Ireland was engaging with the FAI and that it would provide him with a report on these issues. In the light of yesterday's meeting, will he comment on the concerns raised by the agency that deals with the FAI and other sports bodies?

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. By 2045, the population of cities worldwide is projected to grow to 7 billion, of a worldwide total of 10 billion, which would account for 70% of the total population. According to the CSO's figures, there is no reason for Dublin to be exempt as at least 3 million people will live in Dublin by 2045. Planning for the future of the cities and transport, therefore, is vital to unclog their arteries which have been clogged to the detriment of rural areas, where there appears to be little availability of transport services. Transport is vital to have healthy cities and for our health and well-being. We must get it right when planning for the future. Nevertheless, in planning for the future in the area of transport, like planning in other areas, we must keep the environment and climate change as priorities. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action which produced a report last week. Sinn Féin has been instrumental in adding to the chapters and recommendations made on transport. Our alternative report contained further recommendations on transport. Given that we believed carbon tax was a scéal eile because it was not feasible, our report concentrated on transport, particularly in rural areas.

My fair city, Dublin, which is the capital city suffers from the worst congestion which has the most significant impact on the economy, jobs, housing and people. How we travel around the country and in cities is one of the largest challenges, but it provides an opportunity to tackle climate change and take climate action. The transport sector is second only to agriculture in the hierarchy of those who pollute the environment, with 20% of emissions last year from the transport sector, yet efforts to reduce that figure have thus far been abysmal. We will not reach our 2020 EU targets for renewable transport; in fact, we will fall far short of them, given that we have only achieved 1% of the reduction target for 2020.

Sinn Féin is often wrongly accused of being populist or protesting without offering alternatives. In response, I offer our alternative report, together with the good work done at the climate action committee, to which I am sure the Minister and every Department will refer when planning for the future.

We believe electric transport is the way forward but there are a minimal number of electric vehicles on the road. Some Sinn Féin Deputies have test driven electric vehicles for weekends and have found them innovative and novel, but also quite efficient and fit for purpose for travelling the country. The problem is, as we all know, that the strategy for charging points is very poor and a mind set would need to be overcome to suggest one should have the confidence to take a journey without expecting to be abandoned in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night. We need to roll out a strategy to make electric charging for vehicles more publicly available.

The cost of electric vehicles is prohibitive. The €5,000 grant does not come near making electric vehicles an alternative for ordinary families who are considering changing from diesel. We were told, a few years ago, that diesel was the best thing going and then, all of a sudden, we found out the lies and falsehoods of the car manufacturing companies that had hidden the damage diesel is doing to our environment.

We need significant change and more investment to attract people to buy electric vehicles. The cost is too prohibitive. Unfortunately, a carbon tax is going to come in at some stage and that will be punitive because people cannot afford to move away from polluting cars to what we call green cars. That is unfair and a lot of effort needs to be made. With Government intervention, electric vehicles could be sold at a loss that would eventually represent an overall gain in years to come.

There is no future certainty on the ownership of the public charging infrastructure for electric cars after the regulator decided, in 2007, that it should no longer be held by the ESB. Who will build, own and sell electricity through public charging for electric vehicles? Without public charging opportunities, people will have little confidence in purchasing electric cars and that confidence needs to be built so there is investment.

There is also the vital required investment in the electricity grid to support electric vehicles. At the moment, the grid could not cope with mass charging. The ESB estimates a need for an investment of €300 million to get 275,000 electric vehicles or heat pumps on the road. How will the electricity to supply electric vehicles be generated? What will be the mix in how our electricity is produced in the future? Electricity currently comes from fossil fuels, which we are going to have to do away with. As electricity generation is dominated by fossil fuels, what are the alternatives and in what will we invest?

We have debated our energy sources time and again. I keep saying that we cannot try and curb our use of an energy source without offering a real alternative. Where is the Government policy to develop compressed natural gas for heavy goods vehicles? That can be extracted from indigenous biogas but there is no policy in this area despite the State having one of the best resources of biogas in the EU. Establishing biogas or renewable gas can deal with farm waste and produce renewable gas to displace fossil fuels, which can power transport for Ireland. We need greater imagination on renewable energy in this State and this Government has very little to show for its eight years in office.

We need to change our lifestyles. It is a challenge for each of us but we need to change in positive and uplifting ways, rather than in response to punitive measures. We will never get anywhere if we go down the punitive road and nobody will change or feel positive or excited about a future that is quite different to what we grew up with in the past and what we have at present.

As there are gaps in dealing with those highly-dependent car users in the State, electric vehicles must be made affordable. Anything the Minister can do to promote that would be most welcome.

We need specific investment in Bus Éireann to effectively redress the shortcomings in rural transport. The alternative report by Sinn Féin I mentioned earlier proposes that the fastest, most efficient and practical measure we can introduce is to reduce transport emissions, address the significant deficits in existing public transport services and prioritise improvements in State-wide infrastructure.

We have a large over-reliance on cars. We are getting somewhere with the cycle lanes and I welcome the proposed Liffey cycle route. Can the Minister comment on the greenway route from Heuston to Kilmainham? I objected to its establishment at the time because the proposed Garda headquarters was going to overpass that due to security issues although that decision was successfully overturned. Can the Minister comment as to when construction on that might be commenced? Can he comment on the idea that we will work towards free public transport in this city and if that is on his radar?

We extended this discussion because of BusConnects. I have been involved with BusConnects since its inception and there have been many workshops, public meetings and much concern has been expressed by residents. Speaking parochially, the areas of Mount Brown and Kilmainham are already in distress, shall we say politely, on foot of the construction of the national children's hospital. The area will be further punished by the introduction of bus corridors, which will cause issues for access to their homes, to the national children's hospital for deliveries and patients and, obviously, the stymying of local access. There are 30,000 submissions on phase 1 and there will be a similar amount on phase 2. The project would take seven years to complete, were it to start tomorrow. It will perhaps be a few years in the tweaking. Perhaps the Minister will comment on the people who were initially asked to do an overall map of what BusConnects would like but who had no knowledge of the areas or the roads involved. It seems as though those people just sat at a computer and drew lines. The roads are named wrongly. They have articulated trucks going down impossibly small streets, which does not seem feasible. I appreciate there is more work to be done on it but some local knowledge would not have gone amiss.

There must be a certain amount of public confidence all areas of processes relating to bus corridors, MetroLink and greenways. My confidence in the process was undermined when eight residents of Townsend Street were notified that their houses may be demolished to make way for a new metro station. Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Dublin City Council have known that for quite a considerable amount of time but only due to investigations and questions asked that I asked did the NTA tell me on Friday morning that those residents were going to be informed of that by way of a type of dawn raid, as letters were put through their letter boxes telling them they may be losing their homes.

The TII and Dublin City Council is to meet those residents next week but it has created a significant amount of distress for the families and individuals involved and the amount of time it took to inform those residents has also undermined public confidence. That delay in informing them prevented those families making a submission to the earlier stages of MetroLink. I am extremely disappointed in the manner this has been handled and I ask the Minister to investigate why it happened.

Is it only because it is an inner city community that they were ignored? It seems to have been widely known in the three organisations that these homes would be demolished yet no conversation was held with the particular families.

I will move on to College Gate because my time is restricted. College Gate is the apartment block that has to be demolished in connection with building the station, along with a public facility, namely, Markievicz swimming pool, though I accept the NTA and TII are trying to find an alternative location in which to build a swimming pool. It is important that community facilities be maintained in the city centre. The proposals for Tara Street and the MetroLink were published online. One of the reasons they cannot move the station to an alternative route is a main trunk sewer and the possible damage that would be done by tunnelling underneath the sewer. The sewer has been relined and has probably been there since before the foundation of the State so it probably needs to be replaced in any case, and this should be considered as part of the project. It would open up an opportunity to relocate the station without the destruction of College Gate apartment block. I urge the Minister to have a conversation with his officials on this proposal and to look at this aspect of the project again.

The alternative proposal to MetroLink is to tunnel up to and underneath Ranelagh to provide a train park. I would like some reassurance that this is not just an effort to sideline the issue until after the next general election at the request of several Government Deputies, only for the initial proposal to follow after the election. The NTA has indicated that it wants to go on further and that, perhaps, it will build the line in 20 years. As I said to the assistant CEO, I did not know that "perhaps" was a technical term. I would like much more detailed information on this.

The reimagining and the reorganisation of our buses are important and BusConnects affects more than just Dublin. It affects several other cities and towns and there need to be full disclosure and information on this. Many routes and corridors are being planned on the basis of CSO figures for origin destinations and on how people travel. I would like the information held by the NTA to be published so that we can get a better understanding of the plans. My understanding is that the authority has mined the latest census and carried out an in-depth analysis of origin destinations and mode of transport. It is important to have this information to enable us to understand the routes and the corridors that are planned and I would greatly appreciate it if it was made available. We could then have a positive input into it. We have to reorganise public transport in our major urban areas to serve the majority of citizens. As the Minister said, it will be difficult.

As regards improvements that impact on climate change, small steps can sometimes generate confidence that a Government is going in the right direction and in this context I welcome the Minister's commitment to cycling and pedestrians. Pedestrians often lose out and I hereby restate my commitment to them. I also ask him to examine the possibility of encouraging taxi drivers to convert to EVs, following several European and American cities which have given a commitment that their taxi services will be electrified by 2023. We have an opportunity to make a similar commitment and to assist drivers to convert. It would act as a public information medium to show citizens how efficient electric vehicles are. In 2018, there were a total of 9,084 taxi licences in Dublin and 1,163 in Cork, 520 in Galway and 399 in Limerick. Momentum Dynamics has constructed wireless charging infrastructure for buses and taxis and many European cities have taken this on board. There is an opportunity for Ireland to show a little bit of leadership by being first adapters. This infrastructure is more efficient and less polluting. It allows taxis to charge at waiting stations at airports, train stations and hotels where a wireless connection has been constructed to allow cars to recharge and have a far greater range.

In 2004, Councillor Andrew Montague proposed the public bike scheme for Dublin, which the Minister will acknowledge has been successful, and he announced its expansion to Waterford. At the moment, local authorities depend on public advertisement and their own resources. Last year, 4.4 million journeys were taken on public bikes across Ireland, which is welcome, and they are now part of our national transport infrastructure. Several people now come into Dublin by train, pick up a Dublin bike and commute for the rest of their journey around the city. We cannot continue to ask local authorities to carry the full cost of this. Will the Minister recognise that the free bike schemes are a form of public transport when considering subsidies to public transport? I ask him to consider a small subvention to local authorities to help them maintain and increase the free bike schemes around our city.

Much of the discussion has concentrated on the Dublin area but I recognise the contribution Irish Rail has made to emissions nationwide, with a 36% decrease. Irish Rail has a long history of developing infrastructure on time and within budget. It looks like there will be a delay to BusConnects and the metro system. In that context, I ask the Minister to look at re-profiling the Department's spend to assist Irish Rail to put in electric infrastructure across the country. There is a lead time of between three and four years for fully electric trains and a commitment to the electrification of routes. If we started to order electric trains now, we could electrify parts of our lines for those developments.

I also ask the Minister to consider investment in double-tracking the Galway to Athenry line as a priority, and to consider a second platform for Oranmore, which is important. Cork needs seven new stations to support its development, including park and ride sites, while the Kent Station investment-----

Before Senator Humphreys gets to the rest of the country, his time is up. He has put quite a few questions for the Minister and we are going to be tight on time.

I will finish.

We are looking at regional development and the encouragement of people to go and live in developments in other cities and towns. It is key that we should have major investment in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford.

That is the end of my tour of the country. Transport is one of our major challenges in regard to climate change, after agriculture. I ask the Minister to engage further. If there are no further speakers, I ask the Chair to give me more time later because the Minister is present.

The Senator can only speak once, as he well knows. His time is up. In fairness to the Minister, there are quite a few questions and he will not have time to answer them all. Senator Grace O'Sullivan has been gracious in allowing Senator Conway to speak ahead of her. I call Senator Conway.

In the first instance, I thank my friend and colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, for facilitating me as I have a diary clash. I welcome the Minister to the House. It is important that we would discuss transport on a regular basis in the House. I agree with many of the sentiments expressed by Senator Humphreys, particularly in terms of Irish Rail. Irish Rail gets kicked around quite a bit, unjustifiably in many cases, but its commitment both to emissions reductions and improved customer service is commendable. We had an interesting briefing session with the company in Buswells Hotel on Tuesday. The newly appointed chief executive, Mr. Jim Meade, and his senior management team were in attendance and they were very open in dealing with concerns, whether local, regional or national. Their open door policy is something that should be emulated by other companies, semi-State and otherwise.

I use public transport all the time. Given I am probably the only Member who cannot drive, I understand more than anybody the importance of good quality public transport. It is appropriate that we acknowledge the contribution made by some private operators, in particular private bus companies. For example, when I started in the House, the latest opportunity to get back to Ennis at night was the 6 o'clock train. Now, people can travel back to Ennis on an hourly basis until midnight thanks to John O'Sullivan's Dublin Coach green bus, which has revolutionised the opportunity for people to commute to various parts of the country, particularly Ennis and County Clare. I commend him and his team on the work they do.

One issue I want to raise with the Minister, about which I spoke to him briefly on Tuesday, is the situation with the Clare Bus company, which up to now has been providing the Local Link service in Clare. Unfortunately, for some reason, it does not seem to have been successful in tendering for the latest round of this project. It has been acknowledged by many, including the NTA, that the Clare Bus company is a model of how to provide local link services for vulnerable people, in particular people with disabilities, older people and so on. I am baffled, to say the least, as to why its contract has not been renewed.

Tendering is important and when we are spending public money, we should know where it is going and how it is being spent to ensure we get best value. However, we need to also get best value in terms of quality service, local knowledge and keeping jobs in rural communities, which are also important. I respectfully suggest that perhaps that has not been taken into consideration by the NTA when awarding this particular contract.

While I have the greatest respect for our neighbours in Limerick, I wonder whether they would have the required expertise, not through any fault of their own, but they do not have the local knowledge of the client base that the Clare Bus company has. I worry whether they have the connectivity with the people on the ground that the Clare Bus Company has. I am baffled and I do not know why the company was not awarded this contract. It does not make sense and it does not add up. There is something missing somewhere. I would appreciate it very much if the Minister could give me feedback as to how this situation can be resolved. Many people in County Clare are upset by this decision, including myself. Answers and clarity are needed.

To be frank, the decision needs to be reversed. While the Minister will tell me the NTA is independent and should be allowed to do its work independently of Government, which is correct to a degree, the social responsibility falls on Government. The HSE and other organisations are seen as independent, and perhaps that is a conversation for another day, as I would like to see a situation where Ministers have a lot more influence over those types of operations. When something does not make sense and does not add up, there is nothing wrong with a Minister telling the NTA that is the case. He should at least get feedback and an explanation of how it happened and, more important, how it can be reversed.

In conclusion, as somebody who uses public transport all the time, I commend the men and women who run and work in our public transport companies, including Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, and private bus companies. The social responsibility they take upon themselves in helping vulnerable people is commendable. They are heroes on the roads and they are not acknowledged often enough for the work they do on a daily basis in keeping this country, this nation and our citizens connected.

I welcome the Minister. I will start off with a sweetener. One day last weekend, at 8.30 a.m. or 9 a.m., I was stopped by two gardaí near the beach in Tramore and breathalysed. I was asked my permission to be breathalysed, which I gave, and I successfully passed. In fairness to the gardaí, they were most courteous and professional in their approach. I commend the Minister on his legislation in this regard.

Transport is the bitter pill for me. I sat on the Joint Committee on Climate Action for the past nine months until we gave birth to the report which was published last week. The greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector in Ireland are increasing and I cannot see how that will change. The Minister said we can probably agree on four basic principles. Principles are not enough with regard to climate change; we need action and we need it now.

When examining the transport system, in particular the congestion and the timetabling, many aspects of it are inefficient, ineffective and broken. For example, I refer to the Clonmel to Waterford train service. The first train leaves Clonmel at 10.38 a.m. Waterford is home to the Waterford Institute of Technology, the Central Technical Institute and a number of academic institutes, which means many people work in Waterford, yet that train leaves at 10.38 a.m. That is ludicrous but that is indicative of many other rail services in this country. We just do not have enough of them. My first request is that the Minister examines the efficiency and effectiveness of the rail network in delivering freight and passengers to their destinations in the urban centres.

We agree public transport has to be increased but how exactly is the Minister going to do that? How is he going to incentivise transport in this country where people are addicted to their personalised vehicle? When I am travelling, I see individuals operating in their cars. We see an increase in investment in cars. While I welcome the investment in electric cars, we do not have the infrastructure to support that network so we have this phenomenon called charging stress, I think, where people get into a dilemma that they will not be able to reach their destination with the EV system. We need better support in that regard. My big questions relates to how we are going to bring the public to the public transport systems that are in place now, and how we can increase the numbers using public transport into the future. There has been some increase but not enough.

The Minister did not mention sea transport and I thought as an island nation and with Brexit looming that it might be an area he would address. How can we move people away from aviation and have an attractive way for people to use sea transport? There will be an increase in the freight lines with Brexit coming on. Regardless of Brexit, one of the interesting discussions I have had with people over recent months related to the mechanisms to get freight and passengers around the UK by bypassing it one way or another and having better transport mechanisms from Ireland directly to the Continent, including to France, Rotterdam Europoort or Zeebrugge in Belgium. What is being done in that regard to support freight industry and transport people by sea?

The Minister said that BusConnects will be rolled out across all major cities. As Senator Humphreys noted, Project Ireland 2040 involves regionalisation and moving away from the congestion and overpriced living in Dublin and highlights the importance of developing infrastructure in regional centres. The Minister stated the programme will be rolled out, that it will be transformative, and that the services "will be...". It is all aspirational. We start off with the principles and now we go into the aspiration. It is not happening and it needs to happen, for the climate strikers who have been outside Leinster House and outside the local authorities around the country. We need action. We do not need any more aspiration. We need that seismic shift. Senator Humphreys referred to the electrification of Irish Rail. Can the Minister show us the path from where we are now? Rather than a slow, step-by-step approach, is there a possibility for a seismic shift into electrified system? Can the Government move Irish Rail directly from the infrastructure that is in place to an electrified system within a short timeframe? We bypass an intermediate stage of continuing to use fossil fuels and go right to electric. That would show commitment to our climate change targets.

On rural bus routes, I have had a few people contact me about the circular route. They find it is not working for them in terms of efficiency and getting from A to B. If they leave from one place, they almost have to do a round trip to get to the other. It is not efficient for users and the Minister might look into how he could make it more so. On cycling, the world's largest cycling conference, Velo-city, is coming to Ireland in June. This is going to be great from a tourism perspective but also to encourage cycling. Is it possible to front some investment in advance of this conference to underpin its success? There a disparity between the number of males and females who are cycling. Would the Minister look into this and into how he could invest in increasing the numbers of girls and women cycling?

I welcome the Minister again. We had a long discussion here yesterday on another mode of transport. I welcome much of what he said in his contribution. Having listened to other speakers talk about aspiration, we as a Government would be the first to be criticised if we did not have plans in place before we acted. Nobody is more frustrated than I at the time it has taken to bring metro to any sense of reality. We have been talking about it since before 2000. When I was in government in the midst of a financial crisis, I fought to have it maintained rather than killed off altogether. I am delighted the Minister said that the project will go to planning next year. So much hinges on that for people on the northside of Dublin city and out to Swords and the airport. For example, four master plans have been developed by Fingal County Council which will result in 18,000 jobs in Airside, Swords. This will be marketed by IDA Ireland and Fingal County Council to foreign direct investment companies. There will also be room for 3,000 houses, 1,100 of them at Fosterstown. This is an area in which there has been significant expansion in population. It has the youngest population in Ireland and possibly in Europe. The people are highly talented and mobile and they want to stay in the area, live there and contribute to it, but they want to be able to access the city for work. There are nearly as many people coming out from the city to work in Fingal as there are going back in. This infrastructure is critical and I welcome that the Minister has stated again that planning will come next year. I certainly hope it will be expedited and that there will be no further delays.

Electrification of the line to Balbriggan and on to Drogheda would be welcome and would have a massive impact on Balbriggan and all the stations in between such as Skerries, Rush and Lusk, and Donabate. However, people will be concerned that the DART trains will be full before they get to them. There will have to be a significant increase in the number of trains running and in the length of carriages. The Minister has alluded to this.

Other Senators have talked about electric scooters but the electric bicycle is certainly worth considering for longer journeys that one would not necessarily want to undertake on a daily basis. I welcome the greenways, which I have raised here time and time again. I have asked that the Minister for Finance make at least €200 million available for them. It is very important not just in terms of the environment and tourism but in terms of community and family. There is no safe place to go cycling with the kids as a family around Dublin city or around the north county. We have called for greenways and I know that Fingal County Council has plans for different sections to run from Sutton all the way to Balbriggan. This would be a massive boon. We have something unique, as I have said previously, in that we have a railway station in each area so if people are tired of cycling they can park their bikes and take the train back into town.

It is also an offering that Fingal would have for Dublin Airport through which nearly 32 million people passed last year. These are huge opportunities that are very important for community and health, and for connecting up to the environment.

This brings us to the whole issue of climate change. I am aware that this debate is not about climate change but the Minister mentioned it. As someone who has an electric vehicle, which is very much in the mid-price range and cheaper than many of the cars I see being driven by Deputies and Senators in this institution, I can tell the House that electric cars are extremely practical, worthwhile, efficient and very cost effective. I fought hard to get a charger in the grounds here and there is just the one now, but we need more. In fairness to Senator Bacik, we also need a place for bikes to park safely.

The Minister referred to greenways. A joint application has been made by Fingal, Louth and Meath councils for a greenway that would run through Balbriggan, over to the Boyne and up to Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange. It would be a fantastic offering from a tourism perspective. It would be a huge amenity and would connect up with the other greenway. The opportunities are myriad.

I will now turn to safe cycling in the city in particular. We really need to have safe places for people to cycle. We have lost a lot of good, young people on our roads in the city through fatal accidents such as cyclists being hit by lorries and others on site at the time.

I do not want to delay any further but have some final points. Ireland has a large rural area but so has Norway. I read recently that 53% of new cars sold in Norway this year are electric. If they are good enough for Norway, they are surely good enough for Ireland.

I also want to mention the issue of micro-generation that I have raised here time and again, and perhaps the Minister could use his influence at Cabinet in this regard. We debate feed-in tariffs for big solar farms and big biodigesters but there are also many people around the State who would be very happy to put up photovoltaic cells and feed their excess power into the grid. This is particularly relevant to farmers who have massive hay sheds with huge potential. There has to be some encouragement for that. I am aware that this costs money but I would prefer to see the money spent on that and going to our own people to solve our carbon tax problem than buying credits elsewhere or paying big fines to the European Union.

I welcome the Minister to the House. Draft climate change action plans have been prepared by the four Dublin local authorities and specific documents in all of those cases include transport within the Dublin local authority areas such as fleet operations, fleet procurement and road traffic management, as well as sustainable travel for staff. Dublin City Council quite transparently provided the travel figures for the 1,500 staff that work in Dublin City Council’s civic offices on Wood Quay. Of the 1,500 staff members, 53% travel to work by car with 280 car parking spaces provided in the Wood Quay site for Dublin City Council staff. I am not doubling down on Dublin City Council but 280 cars at 4 m length each would line the south side of the quays from Wood Quay almost back to Heuston Station. In comparison, a Luas could accommodate 350 people. A Liffey cycle route would provide a genuine option for commuters to safely travel along the quays. I do not know if anyone here has cycled along the quays: it is just mental. I do not know if the Liffey cycle route that has been proposed will accommodate all of the cyclists in the future but I want to see a Liffey cycle route that can be used by children also.

Can the Minister tell me how many of the private cars coming into the city each morning are public servants working for the State? I do not know many private companies in the city that provide staff car parking spaces. Perhaps there may be three or four spaces for directors but not a parking lot for the numbers of staff that we see in Dublin City Council. I see that the Minister is writing and he probably has those figures but if the figures are not to hand or do not exist, then we should have a study on which public institutions provide car parking spaces, how many, and if it is sustainable to facilitate that. The answer to the last question is most likely to be "No". The study should start with this institution, with the Oireachtas and the Parliament, and whether we should have a car park out front. What message does this send to the public and what alternatives can be made?

Dublin was built without many public spaces in which to congregate and mobilise, and given the location of the Dáil and the lack of space to assemble, the possibility of pedestrianising the near end of Molesworth Street opposite Leinster House to enable safe demonstration, public gatherings and performance should be explored.

As I commute around town I am either angry, frustrated or embarrassed that the city is in the state it is. Nobody is being served properly by the status quo. In the core of the city - around George's Street, Dame Street, Stephen's Green and Leinster House - nobody is being served by the status quo. Also nobody in the suburbs is served by the status quo: not the drivers who sit in their cars, bumper to bumper, breathing in the fumes of the vehicle in front; not the cyclists whose cycle tracks disappear into thin air or who have to negotiate their commute with a double decker Dublin bus; not the people who use the bus, a service which at rush hour is completely at capacity and which may have no bus lane - including the two bus routes for me to get home to Inchicore - meaning that a bus with 20 to 60 passengers may have to sit behind a whole stretch of 20 cars; and the pedestrians are also not being served, even with the Grafton Street quarter.

While it is easy to have a good balance of cycle lanes and so on in places like Fingal, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and South Dublin County Council areas, when choices have to be made in the Dublin City Council area it seems that those choices are not being made. We have a situation where nobody is being served by the status quo.

I believe there is a step change happening with regard to the inner core of the city I referred to earlier. It is happening among businesses that realise pedestrianised streets are good for business. That will have an effect on Dublin City Council's approach to pedestrianising streets. It is good to see a trial of this on Suffolk Street and I would call on Dublin City Council to make that a permanent arrangement and to adjust the street into a pedestrian street full time. We are also seeing it in the response from businesses on Liffey Street Lower. The private car park lobby want access to Bachelors Walk via Liffey Street Lower but the Ha'penny Bridge is our landmark pedestrian bridge: pedestrians should be able to cross the quays and enter on to Liffey Street Lower and breath and socialise and have that space, rather than cars exiting Abbey Street onto Bachelors Walk. There is overwhelming support out there, especially among younger people, for a realignment of the priorities of the inner city and particularly around pedestrianisation and democratic spaces. It is about protection, comfort and enjoyment.

We also need to have a conversation about extending public transport later into the night. There is a conversation going on about the night-time economy, staggered opening hours and licensing law reform.

I know workers in the hospitality industry and the cultural and creative sector who leave a shift and pay half of their wages on a taxi home. We need to extend the Nitelink and run the Luas later, and this should happen every night of the week. There is growing impatience among young people and a demand for priorities to be changed.

I welcome the Minister. He and I have had many debates in the House on transport, most recently relating to the inefficiency of buses in Limerick. Following my debate with the Minister, I have had meetings with Bus Éireann and the local authority to get updates on how services might be improved. To date, while there have been some very small improvements, realistically many of the issues have yet to be addressed. I know the local authority and Bus Éireann are working on more real-time efficiencies rather than increased efficiencies. They were advertising the bus every 15 minutes but it was not quite working. One day recently three or four As arrived at the bus stop at the one time. While they are looking at it, there are many other aspects of the transport system that need to be looked at.

The Minister mentioned Project Ireland 2040 in his statement. On the previous occasion I raised the matter, one of the responses the Minister gave was looking at a metropolitan link between Limerick and places such as Shannon Airport. While I welcome that as a great addition, I would love to see some of the trials happening outside Dublin with some of the links starting in rural areas, perhaps on the western seaboard.

Recently it was announced that the number of cruise ships coming into Dublin Port would be curtailed. I would be concerned about the knock-on effect that might have on Shannon Foynes Port where many cruise liners dock in the summer. This in turn leads to tourists coming to visit places such as King John's Castle, Bunratty Castle, Adare and many scenic places on the Wild Atlantic Way that are a counterbalance to Dublin. We need to disperse our tourism and encourage people to move outside Dublin. These cruise liners coming into Shannon Foynes Port have a knock-on effect for Limerick, Kerry and Clare because there is connectivity between the various places. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that.

Cycle lanes and cycling as an alternative means of transport have been mentioned. It is ironic to think that one of the main people who has been highlighting the inefficiencies of the bus transport in Limerick was knocked off his bicycle recently. He was looking at alternative ways of getting to work rather than using the inefficient bus service, even though it was a car that knocked him off his bicycle. I wish him a speedy recovery. We need to look at safer cycling, especially in urban areas. We do not have very many cycle lanes. Using Limerick as an example, we have the Coca Cola bikes in some locations but not in locations with considerable footfall. There are some in the greater city area. Mary Immaculate College and the University Hospital Limerick are in the outskirts. I would like to see this scheme expanded to locations where there is footfall.

I would like to hear the Minister's thoughts on park-and-ride facilities. I have visited the very successful Black Ash park-and-ride system in Cork run by Bus Éireann and the local authority. I would love to see something like this extended to other cities. It is about trying to increase footfall. Many cities are suffering from the doughnut effect with little footfall in the shops in the city centres. We need to look at different ways to do our business.

I would like the Minister to put park-and-ride facilities and our ports on the agenda. He should also consider having pilot schemes outside the greater Dublin area.

I need to be very strict on time because it will be a challenge to get everybody in and the Minister must be called at 2.38 p.m.

I call Senator Lawlor who has five minutes and no more.

I welcome the Minister. I hope that in six months' time I will be welcoming him to open the Sallins bypass and that by then the expansion of the N7 to three lanes will be finished. Every morning it has been namechecked on radio and television stations as being a bottleneck. By the end of this month or early in May I hope the three lanes will be open and the Sallins bypass will be open by the end of the year. I first brought up this project when I was in the Dáil. It would be very welcome to have the Minister down there to open that €110 million project.

I have asked TII and the NTA how we can make buses more efficient on that route, making better use of our motorways. I suggested the possibility of using the hard shoulder as a bus lane. A trial is taking place on the N4 from Maynooth towards Dublin. Something like that might also be considered for the N7. If we are saying we cannot do it because the existing roads are not wide enough, why do we not take one of the lanes and use it, not alone as a bus corridor, but also as a car-pooling lane, making it more efficient for people to travel.

I welcome the increased allocation to local authorities with Kildare County Council getting an additional 14%. That helps all the rural communities some of which have not had a road resurfaced for almost 50 years apart from bit of tar for to cover the potholes. I hope there will be further increases. Through the year the Minister may have surplus funding elsewhere and he might consider County Kildare as part of that.

We need to increase the rail capacity. We badly need additional carriages on the routes coming to Dublin from Kildare. We also need to increase the capacity of the lines by widening them. The four lines that currently go as far as Hazelhatch need to be extended as far as Kildare where the line splits. There is enormous opportunity for people to use those rail lines at the moment.

I very much welcome that companies such as Go-Ahead are taking over some of the routes from Bus Éireann. Go-Ahead is in consultation with the NTA regarding the timetable. It is important for people in the commuter area in Kildare to have an efficient service that runs on time. People frequently bitch about the bus not turning up on time. We all know the story about waiting for one bus to come along and suddenly four come together. I have been talking to Go-Ahead about more consistency. It is communicating with the commuters as to what they want. There should be linkages between the provincial buses and the link buses that are linking the communities around so that the link bus arrives just before the provincial bus departs.

I have been advocating for the greenway for a long time and I welcome the money allocated. The proposed Part 8 development for the Grand Canal greenway is going through the Kildare County Council planning process at the moment. It is important to have that link from Sallins into Naas. That would immediately link into the train station in Sallins. It is vital for attracting tourists to the midlands and east of the country.

There is a need for an outer ring road around Naas. How long does it take to get from a concept being put into a development plan to the delivery of the road?

I acknowledge we need feasibility studies, route selections, tender documents and all of that. Can the Minister indicate how long the process might take? The information is important for a debate that is going on in Naas at the moment. One thing that I have advocated for is an outer ring road for Naas that would stretch from what is known as "The Ball" to the new Newbridge interchange. It is a long-term plan but it was done in other places such as Tullamore and Kilkenny. Naas is a big thriving town so we should consider this matter. I hope to welcome the Minister to the opening of the third lane of the N7. My mother opened the Naas bypass.

The Acting Chairman gave me a minute.

I thought the Acting Chairman said she would give me a minute.

No, the Senator has spoken for over five minutes. I gave him one minute along with the four minutes.

My mother opened the bypass and hope to welcome the Minister to the opening of the third lane of the bypass.

I do not mind what people say but the reality is three people want to contribute and as only six minutes remain, that is not possible. The next person is Senator O'Donnell. It would be helpful if he could speak for fewer than five minutes.

Who else wants to contribute?

Senators Mulherin and Higgins.

How much time remains?

Seven minutes before the Minister needs to comment.

I will take three minutes.

I thank the Senator but it is still not enough time for Senator Higgins to come in.

I will try to be quicker.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell has a right to five minutes because he was down.

I want to contribute to this debate and thank the Minister for coming before the House.

I will draw a picture of a range of transport that includes road, rail, airports and obviously ports in the context of where I am based, which is Limerick city. I acknowledge the commitment of the Minister to the M20. As he will probably be aware, Barry Transportation has been appointed as the design and planning consultant. The project is now under way for which I thank him. He allowed the project to go ahead initially by providing €1 million for preliminary work and I acknowledge that work.

I also wish to deal with air. Shannon Airport is an integral part of what we offer in the region and is very much synonymous with Limerick city. Recently the Minister met the management of the Shannon Airport group and we met him to discuss establishing major European hub connectivity to the region. I want to raise the whole issue of Shannon Airport and the establishment of a major European hub connection at Shannon Airport with the Minister. On 6 February, he facilitated a meeting with the Shannon Airport management group. The group was proceeding to supply a submission to the Department on developing major European hub connectivity at Shannon Airport. Such connectivity is vital for the region. Has the Minister received the submission? If so, will he give it due consideration? In terms of what we can offer, and if we want proper balanced regional development to counter what happens in Dublin and the eastern seaboard and, in particular, to take pressure off Dublin Airport, then Shannon Airport has a key role to play.

I want to discuss urban buses and having strong city centres and vibrant communities. In Limerick city we firmly believe, and I am very committed to having a strong city centre in Limerick city, that one of the key features to ensure that is timely bus connectivity. There are issues with some buses, such as the timeliness of the 304 and 304A routes, in Limerick city. I got the route, which passes through Castletroy, in place about two or three years ago. The route criss-crosses the city from Castletroy to Dooradoyle. There are issues with timeliness. A 304 bus route also travels from the university and criss-crosses the city to reach Dooradoyle. I know a review is under way but we have an issue in Dublin in terms of connections and so forth. I want the Government to be determined and produce a policy that provides structured bus connectivity into city centres. In terms of creating vibrant city centres, if one has people who live in the suburbs and they have an offering outside of the city centre then we must ensure that travelling to the city is not difficult and does not take a long time.

I also wish to raise a more local issue. The J. J. Kavanagh & Sons bus company currently provides a bus that travels from Limerick city to Dublin Airport via the old N7 and passes through Birdhill, that won the Tidy Towns Competition two years ago. As the company now plans to go onto the M7, the route effectively no longer uses the old route. The company will stop in Nenagh and Roscrea. I ask the Minister to ask the National Transport Authority, NTA, to facilitate bus connectivity for the Birdhill region, perhaps using Local Link transport. I have already contacted the NTA and Local Link Tipperary. I ask the Minister to give a nod to the NTA and ask it to consider the matter. If we seek to provide connectivity then we must ensure that no one is left behind, including people who live in rural areas.

At the request of Senator Higgins, the Leader of the House has agreed to extend the debate by about five minutes so that all Members can contribute.

Does Senator Byrne wish to move the motion to extend the debate by five minutes?

If we extend the debate by five minutes, then we should do so long enough to allow the Minister to respond. That would be fair to all of the Senators that have been here.

I ask for an extension of 15 minutes.

No, not 15 minutes because we have the Judicial Appointments Bill next.

I agreed under pressure to do an extra half-hour. I will do an extra ten minutes but I cannot do any more than that.

That is fine and we cannot either in the House.

At least we will get some response from the Minister, to be fair.

Is an extra ten minutes agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber and will try to be succinct.

I have no doubt that the Minister is aware about the excellent presentation that we received from Iarnród Éireann on its plans to help us to decarbonise transport, which is timely in the context of the report published by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action last week. Of course there are different challenges in rural areas compared with urban areas. What I like about the report is that the committee had a plan for every place. For example, they seek to electrify lines, I suppose within the Pale, and outside providing hybrid engines and, in the process, shortening journey times and increasing the number of services, which goes to the kernel of what we are trying to do to get more people off the roads and use more public transport. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of services in rural areas, as the Minister knows, thus the need for more solutions to be found in terms of providing bus transport and a framework of tailor-made services to provide public transport, depending on the areas. To get the best solutions requires input by local communities. We also do not want to end up displacing transport operators in areas who pay insurance, follow the regulations stipulated by the Taxi Regulator and provide a service that meets the standard. A balance must be struck and it must be done in co-operation with the communities and transport operators.

I would like to see priority given to some of the plans Iarnród Éireann wishes to roll out, especially in the context that we are behind in the transport emissions targets for 2020 and face being fined. When one puts all of that into the mix, it may be worthwhile accelerating or bringing forward some of the investment that is planned providing that it does not all apply to Dublin and we do not have to go walking or using high-speed cars in other parts of the country. It would be great to have an overall plan. I also think we need to consider freight. The second largest freight yard is in Ballina, County Mayo, where I am from and I know it needs more work and investment. It also has more potential to take heavy freight off the roads.

While it is paying for itself, it needs capital investment as a matter of priority. Turning to rail services, the western rail corridor could help us to reduce carbon emissions from transport while also helping to realise plans for the Atlantic economic corridor. While I acknowledge that a study is being done in that regard, I note to the Minister that in respect of decision-making, we are in a bit of a vicious circle in rural areas. Regarding a cost-benefit analysis and economies of scale, we always run into a bit of a problem in terms of priority over other transport projects in areas with larger populations. However, applying only that measure is very short-sighted because the more we fail to invest in rural areas, the greater the pressure that will fall on urban areas. We will never create the balance we need. Am I running out of time?

The intention was to allow the Minister more time to respond, but I am trying to be courteous to colleagues and to let Senator Higgins in.

I will be mindful of that.

Senator Higgins must promise not to go over two minutes.

Finally and most importantly, will the Minister conduct an audit in conjunction with TII to determine the number of major and minor projects on the national network of primary routes which have been delayed or refused by virtue of environmental designation under the habitats and birds directives and how much additional cost has been imposed on those projects as a result? I give the Minister the example of the N26, which is the national primary route between Swinford and Ballina, County Mayo. It has been set back ten to 20 years, depending on when one dates it from. Since the refusal by An Bord Pleanála of a stage 2 scheme in 2010, the road has been developed by way of a series of minor schemes. Approximately €4.5 million has been spent but not a sod has yet been turned. It is all down to whooper swans, freshwater pearl mussel, alluvial woodland and the whole mix. This is an area in which there is already a population. This is not out in the wilds. There is an issue and I want to know how much it is costing and how far behind the western seaboard is being left. It is the same problem in Galway, Clare and everywhere else along the western seaboard that there is designated land.

I will be very brief. There are many points and issues I am sure I will have an opportunity to follow up on, including the issues of freight and our ports. Perhaps a separate debate will be needed on those matters. Public transport has been at the core of much of today's discussion. The benefits of public transport do not come in the balance sheets of Iarnród Éireann or Bus Éireann, they accrue to the democracy, in connectivity, socially and to the environment. As such, it is important that we capture those benefits. I was one of only four members of the climate committee to vote for a 2:1 ratio in spending on public transport versus roads. I did not do that because I wanted to see funding cut in other areas but because we need a radical ambition for public transport. What projects are we bringing to Europe and seeking funding on? The InvestEU Fund allows us, under the sustainable infrastructure strand, to seek funding. The western rail corridor was mentioned. It is an area where European co-funding had been available but was no longer sought, with the result that the project was not delivered. We need to see a dramatic transformation here. We should not see any rail route being shut down given the nature of the demand. Generally, when one builds it, they will come. If the demand falls, we must look at how to create different provisions at different times, for example on the Wexford route. I have other points which I will leave aside to move to my final point, which is on cycling.

The climate committee has called for 10% spending on cycling infrastructure. A motion has been passed in the Dáil calling for that too. I welcome the fact that the Minister has engaged with me and others on the issue. However, we are still looking at funding which is woefully under that level, while the Project Ireland 2040 estimates include provision for only 5%. How can we increase that funding level? The Minister mentioned a delivery officer but can we also have a cycling officer? I welcome the Liffey cycle route, which will be important, and the intersecting pieces. Can the Minister elaborate on how to take this further? When will BusConnects be rolled out in other cities? We cannot afford to wait. I ask that BusConnects routes are given to the greatest possible extent to public operators who are able to respond to changing environmental standards. Public services have the flexibility and capacity to scale. Importantly, they have the transferability required. I ask the Minister to address those issues.

It has been a very good debate. It has lacked the cut and thrust one often sees in the House but it has been very constructive. I will try to address most of the questions that came through in the short time available to me. I detected three trends, namely, congestion, climate change and cycling. That was very welcome because one often hears a lot about other issues but these are the progressive and sensitive issues it is right to raise in this House. I welcome also the fact that virtually every speaker mentioned those matters in one context or another. Virtually everything that was raised here could be categorised as an issue which may not be easy to address but which should nevertheless be tackled.

I will say something on cycling overall first and then address the individual matters. Let there be no doubt here. The Government has bought into the cycling story. It would be utterly wrong for anyone to paint us as anti-cycling or to have fallen back in respect of it. A lot of disinformation comes out about cycling. I do not blame the cycling lobby groups, which have a lot to complain about. However, there is a lot of disinformation and a lack of appreciation about what we have done and what we are doing and how well it fits in with the climate change story. Let me be honest and straightforward and admit that we are behind on climate change. Of course, we are. We do not have a proud record on climate change, but we are going to improve. Transport has its contribution to make. While there is sometimes misleading information about that, we have a major contribution to make to improve the climate change journey we have to take. Cycling is a major part of that. I will list for the benefit of everyone who raised the cycling story a fact of which I hope most people are aware. We have announced a capital investment programme for cycling and walking of €110 million over four years from 2018 to 2021 with a further €135 million to be provided over the next four years for traffic management, bus priority and other smarter travel projects in our cities. This is a substantial step up in investment, which will impact significantly on the numbers cycling. It will continue to yield benefits in the easing of congestion, which is where Senator Mark Daly started, and have a transformative effect in Dublin and regional cities.

I am acutely aware of the importance of safety for cyclists and am very conscious of the increase in cycling fatalities, in particular over the last couple of years. There has been a small improvement, but no improvement is ever enough. The Department has been working closely with the NTA and Dublin City Council to develop additional safety measures. In 2019, funding under the sustainable urban transport and cycling walking programmes will increase by approximately 30% to €48 million. That increase excludes additional moneys made available under the greenways strategy and the national development plan. We are allocating €2.4 billion to the development of BusConnects across all major cities and that will deliver an integrated cycling network in each. Under the greenways strategy, a €53 million programme from 2019 to 2021 will fund the delivery of strategically important greenways across the country. The NTA will establish a new cycling delivery office to optimise the delivery of new cycling infrastructure. I note in response to the point Senator Higgins just made, the office will obviously have dedicated people and I am hopeful one will be a cycling officer. I could go on with the detail but I wish simply to say that the Government is committed to this. I think we are being recognised. As Senator Grace O'Sullivan noted, we are sponsoring Velo-city, which is the world's largest cycling conference. It will take place in Dublin this year from 25 to 28 June.

I am looking forward to that but I suspect that is a recognition of the fact that we are making strides here. We have more to do but let us be straight. I will happily admit that we are falling back on climate change and that we have a lot to do. Let us also get a response from people from time to time to say that we have moved on cycling. We recognise this is part of climate change and getting people out of their cars. We are doing something and we have made commitments in terms of funding and we are spending money and will continue doing this.

I will not address climate change in a general way but if I have time, I will try to address some of the specific questions which I was asked. Senator Mark Daly spoke of the need to improve rail. We are increasing funding across the rail network and this will support more services and allow more people to choose public transport which is worth recognising. On the issue for driver licence tests, and I thank Senator Daly who was here for the whole debate, which I appreciate enormously, there is a lack of recognition of what we have done. The Senator mentioned 29 weeks. I do not believe that there are any 29 week waiting times left. From memory, the average wait for driver tests is approximately 11 weeks. It has come down considerably and it is likely to come down further. There are many wild figures going around and the Senator may be correct in that there may be one extreme case of 29 weeks but the average is around 11 weeks. It has improved a great deal. I like the Senator's idea of more remote working. It is not quite a transport issue but is one from which transport would benefit.

Senator McDowell spoke about metro and asked whether other proposals had been ruled out forever. No, they have not been. We have a statutory framework in relation to transport planning in the greater Dublin area, GDA, which must be respected and of which the Senator would be well aware, and that is the NTA's transport strategy for 2016 to 2035. That strategy has to be reviewed every six years. The next review must be completed by 2021. Any new projects which anybody has can be put forward as part of the review and, obviously, nothing is excluded.

The Taoiseach referred explicitly to other options, and the NTA must consider those and any other sensible options. It is a statutory process but it is a very sensible one. It allows for reviews every six years which could include ideas on the Luas or the metro, which had not been included in the original strategy because it is a very long-term one.

What about electric scooters?

I am very conscious of their presence on the streets. Regulatory issues obviously arise here and the Road Safety Authority, RSA, is preparing a paper and considering this issue. The Senator has a view on their legality and we will receiving a view on that and on what measures we should be taking. My view is that it is necessary to regulate them. Bus corridors can accommodate taxis.

The transport strategy provides for a range of projects over 20 years, including a new Luas to Lucan-----

I apologise but I ask the Minister to conclude within a minute.

-----and extending the green line from Bray to Finglas and to Poolbeg.

The DART underground is not dead. The DART expansion over the next ten years will see all commuter lines electrified and new stations.

I refer Senators Humphreys and O'Mahony's questions. The NTA has worked closely with Galway City Council to develop its transport strategy. The NTA met very recently with Galway City Council on the implementation of this strategy, which my Department will support. Indeed, it is specifically provided for in project 2020. Senator Humphreys spoke about College Gate. The NTA has explored a number of options in regard to this site. It is a critical site, of which the Senator is probably aware, because it connects the DART and the railway. It is very important that the residents close to that site are looked after. The site must go ahead, however. We cannot impinge on or make any changes to that. I can assure the Senator that all the residents will be treated fairly, and the NTA has assured me of this also. There is no doubt about that. NTA has offered assistance to all residents in seeking new accommodation. Owner occupiers, of course, will receive statutory compensation while the NTA has offered to pay a year's rent for tenants.

On the council leisure facility and swimming pool, the NTA is working with the council to identify our new site in the area and to construct a new leisure centre in advance of the closure of the existing one. I am not aware of the situation, as described by the Senator, in respect of Tara Street but I will make inquiries and inform him of the details on this.

What about the road-----

What about sea transport?

I will communicate with the Senators in writing in order to answer some of their other questions.

That concludes the statements and I thank the Minister.