“That Seanad Éireann:
-the planned investment in public transport measures contained in the recent National Development Plan (NDP);
-the Programme for Government commitment to increased capital investment in public transport;
-the recent budgetary initiative to halve price public transport costs for younger people;
-the Government commitment to metropolitan area transport strategies for Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford;
-the commitment to an All-Island Strategic Rail Review as part of the NDP;
-the important role of local link services in rural and regional areas in providing connectivity to market and service towns, amenities and onward transport links;
-the roll-out of active travel and safe routes to school initiatives;
-funding for rural recreation and urban and rural greenways which can provide alternatives to car journeys for some people;
-the traffic congestion in our cities and its impact on quality of life and air quality;
-the lack of alternatives to the private car in rural areas;
-the importance of regional connectivity between transport routes;
-that the role of carbon tax is to effect change in habits;
-the investment of carbon taxes in low carbon transition;
-the requirement of the transport sector to reduce carbon emissions;
-the National Transport Authority (NTA) smarter travel plans;
and calls on Government to:
-continue to invest in existing rural and regional bus services, including issues such as service frequency and enhanced local link services and connectivity to mainline services;
-provide more bus shelters in urban and rural Ireland to encourage greater bus use;
-support the NTA as it launches the public consultation process on the Connecting Ireland Rural Mobility Plan;
-ensure the NTA continues its approach of public consultation as BusConnects programmes are rolled out in all five cities, particularly with regard to traffic displacement and the impact on trees;
-progress the MetroLink project and the DART+ programme in Dublin;
-provide clarity on delivery of the Western Rail Corridor;
-progress other inter-urban rail projects and upgrades, including to Navan and other urban centres, in line with appropriate investment strategies;
-adopt new technologies and to provide a road map on future policies on electric and autonomous cars; and
-support the NTA in its development of an equitable fares structure across all State-funded public transport services.”
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, to the House. This is a very important and opportune time for us as a House to reaffirm our commitment to the national development plan, to ensure the programme for Government commitments in the context of the national development plan are met, and that we adhere to and follow our obligations and duties for the reduction of carbon emissions.
This was a very important week for the world and for us as a nation. We meet and gather here tonight with this debate at an inflection point for the world. We are told that the world is burning. The commitment by the Government will be seen in the publication of the climate action plan tomorrow. At the same time, those of us who are members on the transport committee will recognise that there is now a huge investment by the Government in our public transport. The objective of this motion is to reaffirm and support the view and the role of the Government to invest in public transport and to deliver the national development plan projects, recognising that we must make a modal shift in how we use transport as a country, collectively and individually.
This debate is in the context of us living on an island with 5,300 km of national roads network. We must get the balance right between connectivity and this is why the €5.1 billion for new national roads is to be welcomed. In my own geographical area of Cork the M20 and the M28 are very important projects, along with integrated public transport networks of BusConnects and the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy with investment by Government in public transport.
Just this week Bus Éireann launched the BusConnects for rural Ireland programme after a period of consultation. It is an exciting and new significant departure by the National Transport Authority, NTA, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, the Government and Bus Éireann. I am excited because the plan is about increased capital investment in public transport. It is part of the commitment, as the motion indicates, to an all-island strategic review of rail, in the context of the demand for sustainable public transport. We must all live up to seeing this plan implemented. Whether they are walking or cycling, or using light rail, public transport or the bus, the public wants to have sustainable transport models never seen before in this country, along with reducing our carbon emissions, which is not just an obligation: it is a must that we have to meet. I welcome that the NTA has commenced a number of sustainable projects in the State that will help to transform our transport infrastructure. It will give a new positive enhanced connectivity, with options and choices for people across the country, which is important.
BusConnects is not just about rural Ireland. It is about urban Ireland and the five major cities also. It is about the expectations that people have. It is about commitment and the new system of ticketing, enhanced connectivity and increased frequency. It is about investment in the mundaneness of the bus stop such as real-time information, passenger information and the shelter provided to people in rural and urban areas. It is about ensuring also that we have wheelchair accessible public transport and bus stops. If we want to reduce our emissions and meet our targets, then investment in electric buses and in changing the rail system must be done, and not just with words and grandiose plans. It will require all of us to ensure there is adherence to and scrutiny of this. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, as are Senators Craughwell and Boylan. We have had a lot of engagement with the NTA and TII. As a result, Oireachtas Members have a greater understanding of the need for Ireland's semi-State companies to deliver and to be held to account in terms of timelines, aspiration and delivery. The year 2030 is only nine years away. The national development plan has commitments to upgrade. In the case of my own city of Cork this includes the introduction of light rail and increased bus frequency for buses. We must ensure these commitments will be met. People will not forget if we do not do that.
We must fully utilise the envelope of funding for the national development plan and the urban regeneration development fund to unlock the potential in many of our towns and cities, but in particular in the city of Cork where I come from where we are moving people in the city down towards the docks to make sure we have a new livable and sustainable city. This is an exciting project that has huge potential for the city of Cork. Given that it is in the national development plan, that pocket of growth will need to see Government support matched. We must pursue the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy, and the proposal for the east-west transport corridor for light rail. At the transport committee today I spoke with the TII and the NTA about road, rail and bus projects for Cork.
Senator Boyhan's grouping of amendments includes a very interesting amendment to our motion before the House where he supports the need for a dedicated transport policing unit on public transport. All Members are concerned about the spiralling of antisocial behaviour in parts of the country. It has become very clear now, from media reports and from our own experiences, that there has been an increase in antisocial behaviour on certain transport modes, be it the DART in Dublin or buses in Cork or in other places. There is merit in considering a transport policing unit to be put in place. I have said previously that there is a real need for an increased Garda presence and Garda visibility in the context of public transport in places where people gather and use public transport. Certainly, on our intercity trains there is a real need to increase the presence of gardaí.
The decision taken by the National Bus and Rail Union last Friday to ballot its members is one that we should take cognisance of.