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.