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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Nov 2021

Vol. 279 No. 11

Public Transport: Motion

I move:

“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.

I second the motion.

I thank Senator Buttimer for sharing time and I welcome my colleague, the Minister of State. I thank my colleagues in Fine Gael for their input and support in respect of this most important motion. I also acknowledge the programme for Government commitments and my colleagues within the Green Party and Fianna Fáil. I mentioned the Green Party first. I meant no disrespect to Fianna Fáil, but I think it is fair to say that the Green Party has a huge interest in the area of public transport, as do we all.

The mass movement of people for work, leisure, education and health is a positive. A strong public transport system, which often we see more so on the Continent or when we are on holidays, particularly in cities, is something to which we aspire. There is slow progress in certain areas, for example, with the DART in Dublin. I must say that I do not think the DART would get planning permission today, but it is there and it is working. The Luas is a success, from what I can see. BusConnects is possibly more problematic, based on feedback that I have received in respect of issues relating to the displacement of traffic. As BusConnects is rolled out to Galway and other cities, perhaps this is something that will become evident in those communities. Cycle lanes and infrastructure can also be problematic in certain areas in terms of opposition. That is part of the process of consultation, engagement and bringing people with you in relation to what is planned and why. The national development plan provides the opportunity to improve the infrastructure and delivery of public transport. Climate change - and COP26 and everything else in that regard - is the reason behind this. That is important.

I will speak first in relation to buses. Questions have been asked as to what it would take for people to increase their use of buses. Reliability, affordability, frequency and comfort are the areas I would highlight in that regard. On affordability, I welcome the initiative to introduce half-price fares for those aged 19 to 23. That is a positive in terms of affordability. As we go into the future and in the context of the use of carbon taxes, however, it is an area that we could focus on when it comes to reducing the costs of public transport. It would be a huge incentive to those on low incomes and to students.

I welcome the NTA's Connecting Ireland plan, which has gone to consultation, and the proposals that it contains. The consultation period will run until mid-December, as I understand it. This represents progress, and more is needed. I presume this will be incremental, subject to continued funding for the NTA to deliver more. It does, however, signal an intention on the part of the Government because, as matters stand, the alternatives to private cars in rural areas are limited. It also means that some families that have two cars may decide, based on the adequacy of transport links, that they could do with one and reduce costs as a result. This would be better for the environment.

Senator Buttimer touched on the issue of bus shelters. These are extremely important because we do get a drop of rain in this country. We get blustery conditions and it is not fair to see people having to stand in the rain, whether it is in urban or rural areas. Continued investment in infrastructure is important. The provision of bus shelters, bus pull-in areas and real-time information is also extremely important. I will not say that providing such facilities is simple because in certain circumstances, particularly in urban areas, land may not be available. I know of cases where, despite the best efforts of those involved, land was not made available to provide bus shelters. There are conditions laid down regarding the width of bus shelters and measures to allow for buggies and wheelchairs to be able to use the footpath as well. This is an issue, but it is also hugely important.

Greenways are mainly looked at in terms of tourism and local recreation, but there is potential, certainly in and around urban areas, to use them for the purposes of commuting. In my area, there is huge potential for the greenway around Oughterard, Rosscahill, Moycullen, Bushypark, Galway city and the NUIG, to become a commuting greenway. The project has gone back to route selection stage and AECOM consultants are engaged in that. They will initiate public consultation in the January. Again, it is a slow-burner. It was announced and funded initially in 2014. Some progress and valiant attempts were made by Galway County Council to deliver it, but land was not available. We need to speed up the process of that consultation, engagement with landowners, lodging a planning application and going through the process. I welcome the decisions made in respect of the south Kerry greenway. The latter was very important as a test case for all local authorities across the country in terms of the provision of greenways and ensuring that they are treated in the same as roads in the context of being classed as infrastructure - and much needed infrastructure - and that authorities can access lands to carry out the environmental and planning reports necessary to lodge applications.

I wish to acknowledge the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF, application - approved earlier this year - in respect of the reinstatement of an iconic bridge over the River Corrib using the old railway abutments that are already there. Project delays are evident in many places, which is regrettable.

We must make the best use of the public transport corridors available to us. This motion mentions the delivery of phase 2 of the western rail corridor. The project would link all of County Mayo, including the towns of Castlebar, Ballina, Wesport and Claremorris, to the regional capital, Galway, through Tuam, Galway's largest town. It would provide a public transport option into the centre of Galway city to the thousands of people who make journeys from south Mayo or north Galway, all of whom have to suffer the traffic problems around Galway city on a daily basis.

Phase 1 of the western railway corridor from Galway to Limerick carried 500,000 passengers pre Covid-19. The latter was the fastest-growing route on the rail network before the pandemic. It is a classic example of how the provision of a service leads people to use it. Athenry, at the junction of the Dublin and Limerick lines, has passenger numbers at the same level as Kilkenny and close to the those evident in Waterford. If you provide the service, people will use it. We would argue that case as well in respect of other projects, including services to Navan and elsewhere.

I would like to acknowledge the URDF application for a passing 1 km railway loop and a new platform at Oranmore, and the potential for double-tracking and new stations, for example, at Merlin Park or Renmore. In the medium term, double-tracking from Athenry, through Oranmore, into Galway would have huge potential for the eastern part of the city, which is the area most likely to grow and develop, pending delivery of the Galway city ring road.

I also wish to touch on Senator Boyhan's amendment regarding the transport policing unit. I am not sure whether the Minister of State is in a position to accept the amendment. Certainly, it is worth considering. It could be looked at by the Department of Justice, with An Garda Síochána and transport providers, to see if it is something that would have a positive impact on making public transport safer for vulnerable people, women and those travelling on their own. I think it would hugely beneficial. I am not sure whether the Minister of State is in a position to accept the amendment, but I think, wearing her hat as a former Minister of State at the Department of Justice, a commitment to look at something like that would make sense.

There is a lot to this motion. I have touched on some of the points and I know that my colleagues will touch on other areas, particularly in relation to MetroLink in Dublin. I commend the motion to the House.

I move amendment No. 1:

To insert the following paragraph under "calls on the Government to:"

"- collaborate with An Garda Síochána, the NTA and public transport stakeholders to establish a dedicated Transport Policing Unit on the public transport network;".

I second the amendment.

First, I welcome the Minister of State. It is timely that she is here. I thank Fine Gael for using Private Members' time to put forward a motion on transport. It is really important. I had actually tabled a Commencement matter in respect of this issue last week. Suddenly, this motion came up and I saw it as an opportunity. With Commencement matters, a Minister will come in and say something and it is finished whereas with a motion such as this, we will actually be required to make a decision today, hopefully.

The Minister of State is from the west. Many of the emails I have received in which concerns were expressed came from people from the west who travel up on the trains. I will speak to the amendment in particular. I have no difficulty with any of the contents of the motion, but the amendment seeks to insert into the body of the motion the phrase "collaborate with An Garda Síochána, the NTA and public transport stakeholders to establish a dedicated Transport Policing Unit on the public transport network”. I have not specified in the amendment that An Garda Síochána should be responsible for such a unit, although I think that would be the best option.

Let me set out the context. Mr. Dermot O’Leary from the National Bus and Rail Union says what is happening is unmanageable and that the whole thing is chaotic. Therefore, I am deeply concerned about the front-line staff and passengers who are being exposed to threats of sexual assault and aggression on buses and trains, including the DART and Luas. The problem is occurring in both urban and rural areas all around the country.

We now know that drugs are being taken openly. Dealing and fighting should not have to be encountered by any member of the public travelling on the national transport corridors, wherever they are. We have heard reports on this subject from Irish Rail. It has been covered on the radio by Claire Byrne. RTÉ has covered it extensively in the past two weeks. The Minister of State, as with everybody here, will be aware of reports that Irish Rail toilets are being blocked up by people who are shooting up heroin and other drugs. It is happening along our transport corridors and it is simply unacceptable.

The general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union, Mr. Dermot O’Leary, has said the staff have had enough and that it is now high time that something was done. He has made a call on the Legislature. I have given the union my commitment. I have no doubt that its members are tuned in tonight and are interested in our discussion and its outcome. I fully support the union’s members and the travelling public.

It is high time that we had zero tolerance of antisocial behaviour on our transport network. I am calling for dedicated and fully resourced public transport policing similar to that in the UK. I have examined the latter. It is very successful. It is evident from Liverpool, Manchester and Wales to Edinburgh and London. They have a very successful model. It might not be the model that best suits us, but it is certainly one we should consider. The travelling public need to be confident and assured that they can travel in safety. We should remember it is Government policy to encourage people to use sustainable forms of transport. All this simple amendment seeking to do is to be compatible with Government policy. Therefore, I hope it will attract support.

The public will not, and should not, continue to have to put up with what they have had to endure. They want a highly visible Garda or security presence on public support. They want to travel in comfort and safety. The reality, certainly after dark in the city of Dublin, is that many people are afraid to use public transport. That they have been made to feel this way is simply unacceptable, and no one should support it.

What am I asking? There is a need to take action. We need to get the thugs off our buses and trains, including the DART and Luas. We need to support the staff who work in these services and the travelling public who want to travel in safety. That is simply what I want to achieve.

This does not come as a surprise. I do not believe it comes as a surprise to the Minister of State, to be fair, nor do I believe it comes as a surprise to any Member of this House. There is a time for action, however. We can have some mechanism in this regard. I am not prescribing that An Garda Síochána has the function I advocate.

I acknowledge the additional budget of €2 million. There was a Commencement matter in the name of Senator Maria Byrne this morning and the relevant Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, responded. He stated: "I am pleased that budget 2022 provided an unprecedented allocation of over €2 billion in funding, reflecting the commitment of the Government to ensuring our communities are safe and that An Garda Síochána has the necessary resources for effective policing." This is to increase trust in public services and allow the public to use them. Also in his response, the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, stated:

I welcome the budget 2022 allocation of €2 million to the community safety innovation fund. The intention is that the operation of the fund will be reviewed and that further allocations will be [made].

He talked about the importance of people feeling safe.

I appeal to all sides of the House to agree with this simple amendment. I am not saying what I advocate can be achieved tomorrow, next week or next year, but let us work on it and plan for it. Let us give the unions, which are crying out for support, the travelling public and everyone else an opportunity to feel safe and work safely on our public transport network. I would appreciate support for this amendment.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, for being present.

I have listened with interest to Senator Boyhan’s contribution. I am minded to support, in general terms, what he is advocating. I, too, have had contact with numerous people who work in the sector and have read with considerable interest the reports of recent weeks. The problem has been arising not only in recent weeks but also for a considerable period beforehand. I have witnessed antisocial behaviour myself on occasion when using public transport, particularly later in the evening.

Some of the behaviour in question has emerged during the pandemic, when there were probably fewer people in public areas. From talking to people around the city, I have learned that some of our public areas have been taken over to some extent by those with a desire to cause trouble. The taking of drugs in a public area is regrettable and reprehensible, and it makes it very difficult to encourage people to use public transport.

I have two young daughters. I would be concerned about them in a city at night, and I am sure many other parents would be concerned about their daughters. Despite this, I am trying to inculcate in them a desire to use public transport to a greater extent. Perhaps it is the other way around because our younger population is very much focused on doing what is right for the climate and environment yet, if the situation is not addressed quickly, we will have considerable difficulty in getting our younger cohort, or perhaps those of any age group, to use public transport after dark.

This issue arose previously in the United States. I remember seeing the approach taken by former New York police chief, Bill Bratton, together with his deputy at the time, John Timoney, who was of Irish extraction. During their governorship, they took a zero-tolerance approach to crime generally. Former Minister for Justice, Senator McDowell, will know full well about that policy. The police chief and his deputy started applying their zero-tolerance policy to crime in the train stations and on public transport, through a dedicated unit. It was felt that those who were infringing the law by not paying their fares were worth focusing on. There is something in that.

Perhaps the Minister of State will not be able to accept the amendment but I hope she can. The truth is that it sets out a desire to work with those concerned rather than dictate what the result should be. Of course issues will arise in respect of the Garda wanting to work with the various transport companies, but the problem should not be insurmountable. The amendment recognises that we need to do something to resolve the problem. It is not overly prescriptive. Hopefully we can move on it.

In general terms, the discussion on public transport is timely and important. It is important because of a desire to have a modal shift from the unnecessary use, or overuse, of individual vehicles. That is somewhat easier in urban or more built-up areas, where additional buses, trams or trains can be made available. It is more challenging in rural areas because the population density generally does not support additional public transport services. Addressing this requires an examination of planning laws and ensuring higher density in villages and towns such that they meet the needs of a changing population.

Covid has provided some opportunities. There is now a considerable number of people thinking about working from home, working in villages and towns around the country and getting out of the cities. That could have a genuinely positive benefit for all. It could help to reduce some of the competitive tensions in the larger cities in respect of purchasing housing. It could help to reduce, to some extent, the congestion in cities. If people who have been used to living in cities are to return to the villages and rural towns from which they came, they will need to see an investment in public transport and other facilities and services, including public lighting and footpaths, which would allow them to walk between their homes and the centres of their villages. A programme of work has to be implemented. Various development plans are focusing on that.

There is a significant investment proposed for our rail network, which is good. We must also consider pricing. If people can be convinced to have just one car within their household, they will save a lot more money. To achieve that, we will have to convince them. We also need to consider the fares on public transport. Fares for journeys between Limerick and Dublin, and Cork and Dublin, are expensive. The Minister of State needs to examine that.

I am of the view that we should look to eliminate all fares on public transport for a period of five years in order to help to get that modal shift. That would be a good investment in the future. I would not be suggesting that we do it forever but, like any investment in infrastructure or in assisting people to get to their destination, it would be money well spent. This matter also needs to be looked at.

There is a crazy situation with school transport. I always look at young people. If you can get a certain cohort of people at an early stage in life to follow a particular behaviour, you will have them for life. The reality is that we are pushing people off buses if they live 0.1 of a mile outside the set limits and charging them money unnecessarily. We should have a free public transport system for taking people to school, with some restrictions as to where a person lives and not crossing over to assist someone to get to a school in circumstances where he or she lives outside the catchment areas of that school. If you capture young people at an early age and can get them into the habit of being on a bus, you will then have them for life. I will conclude on that point.

It is great to see Fine Gael bringing this motion forward. I was involved in the programme for Government negotiations and I know that the Green Party fought hard for a major investment in public transport. For the first time in history, more money is going to be spent on public transport than ever before. I will claim that partly for the Green Party. We have been raising the issue of rural transport for many years, so it is great to see Fine Gael coming to the table with this motion.

Public transport means so much more than just getting a bus to town. For me, when I consider where I live in rural Ireland, it means that young people will be able to move around independently of their parents and that people with disabilities or who cannot afford cars will have some ability to get to places they want to go.

The Connecting Ireland Rural Mobility Plan is important. We have to be very careful to listen to users because I know that so far the NTA has engaged with most of the local authorities. I am aware that most of the people it has engaged with in the local authorities drive everywhere. They are not going to be the people who will have the brilliant knowledge we need. We need to talk to people who do not drive everywhere. I hate slating engineers because some of them are brilliant. In the context of our road engineers, however, as they say, if you design for cars, you get cars and if you design for people, you get people. There is a significant missing piece in this regard. I speak passionately about this matter because I worked on modal shift and getting people out of cars for 15 years full-time all over Clare, Limerick and Galway.

The missing piece has always been that the local authorities do not have the money or the staff. Every local authority has now been given the funding and the staff and we need to use that in a way that works. In the context of the public transport we have at present, the websites are really annoying. I refer to the websites of Irish Rail and Bus Éireann in this regard. I have been advocating for the use of public transport for years but doing so it not easy because public transport providers' websites are appalling. We have a Green Party Minister for Transport, which is brilliant, and he is throwing a great deal of money at this, but we have to ensure that the NTA and TII are involved. For some reason, the Road Safety Authority, RSA, is involved. The RSA is not a Government agency. It is always talking about speed limits and is obsessed with car use and covering everybody else on the road with high-visibility gear from head to toe, as if that is going to solve the problems that exist. I have a number of significant issues with some agencies now being given a great deal of money. If these agencies do not listen to the people who need to use public transport, we are going to fail and waste money. The motion is good and is quite comprehensive but, ultimately, we do not want to waste money. In that context, the public transport system has to work for the people who need it most.

When I come to Dublin, I can use a Leap card on the Luas and on the bus. I can even use it along with my Dublinbikes card. In Clare, I cannot do that at all. Why can we not use such cards on Local Link services? What are we waiting for in that regard? I costed it at approximately €100 plus VAT to put in place a card reader on each Local Link bus. Let us treat everybody equally, regardless of whether they live one in the middle of nowhere or in Dublin. I would like to see many of the services that I can avail of in Dublin available in rural areas, and these need to be linked up.

I mentioned to the NTA the other day about having bike storage facilities on buses. I was pretty much told that that would not be fair to people with disabilities because we need low buses in order for people with disabilities to get on to them. It was almost as if the NTA was pitting one against the other. I could not come back to say that there are well-designed buses all over the world on which it is possible to accommodate bikes and people with disabilities. This is not directed at the Minister of State, but we do need to look at people whose views on car use are set in stone around and who believe that this represents the best way forward. I genuinely believe that public transport has a significant part to play in how we change how we move around. It is worth the money because it is more sociable and better for people physically.

Another matter to which I wish to refer is the idea of hail stops. At present, if a person in a rural area wants to use public transport, he or she has to catch the bus in the closest town or village. People used to be able to flag down buses. The latter is done all over rural Germany, France and Holland, so I am not inventing something crazy. I spent weeks mapping every potential safe hail stop in my county. When I submitted the information to the NTA, I was told that hail stops are not going to be part of the solution. This means that I have to travel 5 km to the closest village or 10 km to the closest town in order to get the bus. If we are serious about public transport, we have to bring services to the end of all secondary and tertiary roads. We are familiar with most of those roads and we can walk and cycle on them safely. What do you do when you get to the end of the road and the bus passes you by? If we are serious about public transport, then we need to talk about proper bus stops.

I am sick of talking about three-year-old timetables. When I look at a bus stop in rural Clare, I see people with disabilities or older individuals standing in the rain and looking at a bus timetable that is three years out of date.

Before we begin to increase everything significantly, we have much work to do to bring the current system up to standard. I did not want this motion to proceed without that being acknowledged. It is funny because I am advocating for public transport but I am half hiding behind it because sometimes it is very difficult to promote the thing that I want people to use because it is not being done well.

We have all of the technology that is required but we need to make it easier for people to look at Local Link services. The information relating to some of these services is brilliant. With others, however, it could take you an hour to figure out where the bus is going to or coming from. Some people have taken this on board and printed off timetables which are then sold in local shops because that is the only way that one will find out where the relevant bus is going to or coming from.

A good deal of work needs to be done to inform people. We have quite good public bus and train services, but trying to access them, figure out what is happening and get tickets is something of a nightmare.

Pricing is also an issue. We subsidise public transport, which is perfectly acceptable and which is done all over the world, but we need to look at pricing. It is brilliant that we brought in half-price fares for 19- to 23-year-olds but there is more work to be done. I book train tickets and I know that I can get to Dublin for €15 if I book a week in advance. However, it will cost me €50 if I have to make the trip at the last minute. Not everybody has their life planned out in advance, so there is also some work to be done in this regard.

I want people back on trains and buses. Public transport has to be affordable and accessible. We need people to be able to take their bikes on buses because that is how you connect when you get to your destination. You cannot walk everywhere in rural Ireland but you can cycle to the nearest stop, take your bike with you on the bus to town and then onto the train. That is what we need. We need proper connectivity to do this well but I welcome the motion.

With the leave of the House, Senator Gavan is on his way to second my amendment. Can I speak to it now, please, and move it.

The Senator cannot move it until after Senator Boyhan's amendment has been dealt with.

Okay, that is fine. I will speak to it then.

We welcome the debate on the national development plan, which contains many positive measures. We would like to see the MetroLink and DART+ progressed rapidly in order that people might be helped to get out of their cars. It is regrettable, however, that the 2027 completion dates for both the MetroLink and DART+ have been removed from the plan and that no dates at all are provided. While the western rail corridor and the Navan rail line are mentioned in passing, no firm commitment is provided in respect of these important projects. We hope that the national development plan is not just a booklet with a long list of projects to keep backbenchers happy, but, rather, that it is a serious plan to address the deficits in our infrastructure.

I agree with Senator Garvey that lower fares will be key to achieving a reduction in transport emissions. The Government has an important role in encouraging more people to use public transport by lowering the cost of fares. This is a key policy of Sinn Féin. We were heartened to see the U-turn by the Minister for Transport who, just a week before the budget, stated that fares would not come down until more people used public transport. This was the complete opposite of the research that we had heard at the Oireachtas committee, which was informed about the London plan and of how the then mayor, Ken Livingstone, did not even countenance bringing in measures such as congestion charges or anything like that until the cost of public transport had been reduced down to £1 per journey and people could jump off one bus and onto another having paid that amount. That is the way one encourages people to use public transport. One has to make it more affordable. It must be so for families to travel together rather than them factoring in that it would be just cheaper to take the car and park it in the city centre. Sinn Féin's alternative budget allocated funding to make public transport free for under-18s.

There are also serious equity issues to be considered in how we plan our transport system. Earlier this year, I published a survey on energy poverty. One of the key findings was the link between domestic energy poverty and transport poverty.

I will relate the real lived experiences of a couple of respondents. This survey was carried out months before the cost of living soared or the price increases that have come in. One respondent stated, "I cut back on my food bill or car tax, or I bounce the bills around so that way there is heating" in his or her home. Another person said:

Our car has been off the road since March as we can’t afford tax and insurance. We have to choose between having a car on the road or having energy for the house. This causes great difficulty for me personally as it has an effect on me being able to attend my hospital appointments amongst other things.

These findings mesh with the latest European transport energy poverty index for 2019, which ranked Ireland 25th out of the then EU28 because of the poor access to public transport and high levels of car-constrained citizens, or what I like to call forced car ownership. Nobody should be forced to have a car. One should be able to choose to have a car but one should not be forced to have one.

It is important that the benefits of public transport are shared equitably. Will the Minister systematically review the social impact of transport spending to make sure it is reducing rather than reinforcing inequalities? All present know transport policy can be regressive. The classic example is the bike-to-work scheme, of which I have availed. It benefits workers on higher incomes more than those on lower incomes as the former get a bigger tax break. It is not open to those outside the workforce, such as children, teenagers, pensioners, the unemployed or students. None of them can avail of the bike-to-work scheme.

Another typical example of regressive transport policy is the grants that were available for very expensive cars. Analysis from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform suggests that subsidising 100,000 electric vehicles, EVs, at 2019 levels of support would cost the Exchequer between €965 million and €1.23 billion. That is an enormous amount of taxpayers’ money. It is, therefore, essential that this funding is targeted towards those who need it. We do not want the taxpayer to have funded EVs for people who did not need financial support or to have a concentration of EVs in an area where they are least required. We need to think about how and where the issue of forced car ownership is targeted. There are significant swathes of this country where there is forced car ownership, as anybody from a rural constituency knows. On its current trajectory, the Government will end up directing subsidies everywhere but to the areas where people are forced to own a car. There is incoherence in the policy. The Government should consider increasing EV grants for those on lower incomes. In addition, a grant for buying a second-hand EV should be introduced, as it was in France. That proposal formed part of the alternative budget put forward by Sinn Féin. The aim of such a grant is to assist people with the higher cost of purchasing a second-hand EV and to encourage the purchase of new EVs by sellers.

I will not speak to my amendment until I have the opportunity to move it but I hope that the Minister will take on board the suggestions that have been made in respect of the fact that it is vital to have policy coherence and target those who are most in need of the subsidies. Otherwise, Sinn Féin welcomes this Private Members' motion and discussion.

The Senator will get a chance to move her amendment but she will not have another opportunity to speak on it.

Okay. I think all present know Sinn Féin's position on the carbon tax. I encourage the Minister of State to read the work of Professor Jessica Green, the policy analysis and carbon markets expert, who stated that her meta analysis indicates there is no robust empirical evidence to support carbon taxes.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank the Fine Gael Senators who tabled this Private Members' motion. Obviously, it is timely, given what happened across the water in Glasgow this week. I acknowledge the detailed presentation by the National Transport Authority, NTA, that all Senators received this week. It was exciting in parts.

The motion calls for investment in existing rural and regional bus services. Many of the services needed in the south Kildare area where I live were referenced in the presentation by the NTA. I will take this opportunity to highlight the No. 880 route, which currently serves the town of Castledermot and terminates in Naas. It is to be hoped that, with investment, it will serve the villages of Ballitore, Narraghmore and Calverstown and link up those important corridors in south Kildare. I have raised previously in the House that there is a need to extend this route now. The public has already spoken. The current service is inadequate and commuters are simply being left on the side of the road as the existing services cannot cope with the numbers of passengers at certain times. The Local Link service has already applied for funding to extend and develop this service. The proposal has been on its website for more than a year. Despite my following up on this on several occasions, the replies have always referred to waiting on funding.

It is my hope that the connecting Ireland routes announced this week will be properly funded and, most important, will be implemented as quickly as possible following the public consultation. If we are serious about how public transport can change rural life and village life, then the No. 883 route from Athy to Newbridge is a prime example of Local Link working well. The route has seen phenomenal growth since it was first introduced. Most important, for those living on or close to the route the service has provided a social outlet that simply did not exist prior to its establishment. It has also allowed those living in these rural locations in south Kildare the chance to seek and hold down employment. I am aware of this positive benefit as an outcome. The motion also calls for the provision of more bus shelters in urban and rural locations, as has been mentioned by many other speakers. I very much support that call. My home town of Athy, which has a population of 10,000, does not have a proper bus shelter. Commuters huddle around an information pole or under the overhang of one of the local businesses to try to get shelter. I am aware of efforts to provide more shelters and that consultation continues with Kildare County Council on identifying suitable locations. I believe the NTA is considering providing funding for several of these bus shelters and, obviously, I encourage a swift outcome on this provision for all the commuters involved.

The motion calls for support for the NTA in its development of an equitable fare structure across all State-funded transport. I welcome the new travel card as a positive step in helping with the cost of rail transport, particularly from counties outside Dublin, but it does not go far enough. In its alternative budget, the Labour Party proposed free transport for all children and students, which is important. As I have stated previously, I am aware of students who are paying more than €100 per week to travel to college from train stations in places such as Monasterevin because of the lack of student accommodation in Dublin. The youth travel card, when introduced, will make a difference to them but we need to look at train fares urgently.

In calling for support for the NTA, the motion should also recognise, as every speaker in this debate has done, the urgent need for the Government to address the significant variance in rail fares. In recent replies to my Labour Party colleagues, the Minister has stated that the NTA is responsible for setting fares. However, in her reply in connection with reducing those fares, the CEO of the NTA stated that she cannot do so as she simply does not have the funding that would be required.

The reality, of course, is that motor carriageways such as the N7, on which I travel most mornings, have become little more than car parks. The reason for the number of cars on this carriageway is that commuters are still choosing to travel by car, even with the increase in fuel prices, due to the cost of travelling by train. Who can blame hard-pressed commuters who are still saving up to €200 per month by travelling from their homes in south Kildare to Sallins rail station to avail of short hop prices, avoiding the train stations in their area along the way? If we are serious about developing the habit of using public transport, as the Minister said recently, then we must reduce train fares outside the short hop zone. The reality is that these families are being forced to buy homes in these commuter belt locations but, to date, the Government has failed to recognise that by supporting them financially in their commute.

I support the amendment tabled by Senator Boyhan which recognises what is happening on the rail service and public transport. I refer to the coverage of this issue on radio and television programmes in the past week. Many people have contacted my office regarding incidents on rail and bus transport. We have to do something about this issue. I totally support the call by Senator Boyhan as a starting point. There is a need for a consultation on this issue.

As I stated, this is a very welcome and timely motion that facilitates debate on a range of topics that are raised with my office almost daily. South Kildare, where I live, has several wonderful villages that would benefit from enhanced Local Link services. They have benefitted in the past, but further links must be introduced for those living in these villages in order that they are not totally isolated or dependent on car transport, as has been stated. We must urgently introduce equitable fares, as called for in the motion, for rail transport outside the short hop zone. Investment in public transport does work and can create the life-changing habits the Minister has called for and is seeking. However, this investment must be front-loaded so that those who use public transport can see the benefit of doing so immediately.

I call Senator Higgins. She may speak to her amendment but she may not move it at this time.

I will speak to the amendment. I thank Senator Moynihan, as well as Senator Wall who will second the amendment on her behalf.

I am going to speak for a couple of minutes to my amendment and I am very keen to speak to the motion as well, which I welcome as it is a very constructive and positive one from the Fine Gael Senators. I know many of them have individually championed public transport projects but to bring it together into a motion for the House is a very positive step.

My amendment relates to the significant issue of how we describe things. How we describe what we are doing makes a difference to how we approach it. My amendment suggests that the line in the motion, “that the role of carbon tax is to effect change in habits”, would be changed to a recognition of the fact we had been subsidising carbon and subsidising fossil fuels for a very long period of time. Indeed, that justification was given by the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform when it was first initiated and at the higher, European level in regard to carbon tax. My amendment calls “for carbon pricing to better reflect the social and environmental cost of carbon emissions and to reduce public subsidisation of the fossil fuel industry”. Again, I have had agreement in the committee, when I quizzed the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, that that is the rationale. It is a Pigovian tax. The idea of a Pigovian tax is that, when an industry is producing and selling something but is externalising all of the extra costs that go with its products and getting society to carry them, and getting the environmental costs to be carried by others, and having others pay for the health costs and the clean-up costs and pay the trillions we spend on climate change, it is not fair for everybody else to carry those costs and they should be contained within that industry.

If we recognise that that is the situation, it is very important for two reasons. I worry there has been a perception through the use of language about “habits” or “lifestyle”, and there are certain taxes we bring in to encourage good lifestyle choices. That can be patronising and it can add a sense of insult to injury. The fact is that, for many people, it is not that they are using fossil fuels as a bad habit; it is because they find themselves in situations where they rely on these fuels simply for survival. To tell somebody with a disability who has high energy usage that it is their habit and that we have this tax to change their bad habit sends a very negative message, as it does to say that to people in rural Ireland who do not have public transport options. How we frame it matters. We should be framing it as follows. The fact is we are moving away from fossil fuels that we cannot socially afford. It is a social transformation and, therefore, we have a duty to protect the most vulnerable and to provide them with alternatives.

Moreover, when we recognise the problem is the subsidisation of the fossil fuel industry, we can do a bit better around how we target those taxes. For example, a huge amount of our subsidies to the transport industry are subsidies we give to jet kerosene or subsidies for excise duty on diesel fuel. That is where much of the cost and the subsidisation is coming from. We need to think about whether we carbon tax at that level. Maybe it is about where we put the taxes and perhaps it will be more on production rather than just on consumption.

To move to the motion, I strongly support it because it is very good. I particularly welcome all of the conversation in terms of rail but particularly in terms of the western rail corridor. A huge opportunity was missed in the past to include this in EU funding projects. I want this because it gives strength to the motion and highlights the climate committee’s transport report, in which we highlighted that the cost-benefit analysis that has been used on rail projects in Ireland is inherently flawed. This is the type of cost-benefit analysis that is used to delay things like the western rail corridor and to delay changes and new rail projects. That happened because an excessive weight was given to time savings and there was an undervaluing of the social, environmental and other benefits of rail, and the time horizons within cost-benefit did not reflect the long-term value. I can give more detail on this. However, what I am saying is that one of the key ways that we move forward on rail is by having proper cost-benefit analysis that really looks to the benefits and realises, as others have said, that the benefits are not just simply in ticket sales. In fact, we should be looking to lower those as far as possible, if not make public transport free for a period.

Deputy Dooley made good points on that. We have almost missed a moment of opportunity. When people returned to work and school this September, it would have been great if they were returning with a really new and affordable offering in terms of public transport and school transport. It was a moment for a sea change in habits, although we have had a bit of an incremental piece by targeting discounted fares just for some young people. Those cost-benefit analyses will make a difference and will make the value of things like the western rail corridor become very apparent. I want to particularly support that.

The amendment put forward by Senators Boyhan and McDowell has very good merit. One of its potential merits is that it is publicly led. At the moment, we have a bit of a piecemeal approach in terms of private security that may be attached to some transport but not to other transport. It needs a co-ordinated approach. I would add that as well as looking to the policing, one of the key things is having shelters, having proper lighting and having staffed railway stations and bus stations; it is about having people on the ground. We know that where we have people, we have much less of the disruptive behaviour. Having so many unmanned stations is an unfortunate decision.

Again, I welcome the motion and I am happy to support it. I hope others might be able to support my amendment.

I call Senator John McGahon. I believe the Senator is sharing time.

I was hoping Senator Higgins could keep going. I was watching her from our parliamentary party meeting room and then tried to race down here to get to the debate. Apologies for the delay.

I was not sure but I understand I am sharing time with Senator Micheál Carrigy.

I thank my colleague, Senator Seán Kyne, for bringing this very important motion before the Seanad. When we look at the concept of public transport, a couple of issues arise. The Ireland of 100 years ago was connected across our entire island with railways. Then, for whatever reason, through whatever the consensus was at the time, we ripped up a lot of those railways and we are now replacing them with greenways. My long-term vision for this country is that we will be so interconnected with greenways that we will be able to go from one end of the country to the other quite safely and along greenways. It is very important in terms of fostering relations between North and South, and fostering the ability for tourism to thrive and prosper in Border regions, to develop the concept of cross-Border infrastructure. Greenways and blueways are very good tourism initiatives that we can use to bring business back to both sides of the Border, which is very important.

We have seen this in my own county of Louth, where we have the north Louth greenway connecting up with the greenway from Newry to Victoria Lock, which has been promoted by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. That is just one example.

Last week, I was in Derry with the Fine Gael engagement group on Northern Ireland. I have heard Members from the north west, including former Senator Elisha McCallion, speak about this in the House, and I hear my colleague, Deputy Joe McHugh, talking about it as well. It is not a part of the world I am from but I was amazed at the lack of connectivity to the north west. If we have any long-term views in terms of transport and infrastructure, we have to look at connecting the north-west of this country properly and sufficiently to the rest of the island.

To turn to the motion, the lack of alternatives to the private car in rural areas is a real issue. How do we go about that? We have to go about it when we have such an ambitious target to get 1 million people in electric vehicles by 2030. We do that by increasing the charging infrastructure. Let us put aside, for example, the amount of money it costs to get an electrical vehicle and everything else. We are not going to get people into electric vehicles unless they are confident, particularly in rural areas, of having sufficient charging networks and even an abundance of charging networks. If we see substantial Government investment in the charging network, we can do something to help people get out of private cars in rural areas and help to deal with the lack of alternatives in rural areas.

That is my overall view and I am keen to hear the response of the Minister of State.

I welcome the motion from my colleague, Senator Kyne. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is important in a motion that is all about investment that it is not just investment into the major cities but into the regions.

That is important to ensure connectivity and to ensure all corners of the country have access to our capital and major cities. In the past couple of days, the NTA announced extra funding and extra routes throughout the country. A number of these routes are to be in my county. There are to be extra routes through the rural regions connecting into other towns outside of our county, namely, Athlone and Cavan. Some routes are also to become more frequent. That infrastructure funding is positive. I served on the committee for rural transport in Longford and Westmeath for a number of years and I have seen the benefits of it. That is an area that should be strengthened. There should be more routes in those local areas, connecting all the various towns and villages within our county.

I have been involved with the greenway project for many years, since funding was first sought to develop the Royal Canal greenway. This started with a section from Longford town to Cloondara on the River Shannon. This ultimately meant all the local authorities coming together to develop what will be the longest greenway in the country when we get it between Maynooth and Spencer Dock. This can only be a positive and a driver for economic activity within our county.

An upgrade of the rail line from Mullingar to Dublin is mentioned in the NDP. I mentioned this at the time and asked for it to be looked at. The commuter rail route to Dublin starts from Longford but an upgrade to the line from Longford has not been included. I ask that this be considered and that the line between Mullingar and Longford be included in that review because, as the Minister of State knows, people are moving further away from Dublin as a result of remote working. If they are going to be travelling to Dublin, a good high-speed service needs to be available to them.

Senator McGahon mentioned the key infrastructure of charging points. I fully agree with him. We need to roll out points in every village. If we are going to get people to invest and buy electric cars, we need that infrastructure in place.

Safe routes to school are mentioned in our motion and are one of the most positive measures brought forward for many years. As far as I can remember, there have been more than 900 applications from schools. I have been contacted by a large number of schools that missed the deadline for application. I ask that the scheme be opened up again to allow schools to apply. It will take a number of years for the routes to be funded but the schools would at least know that they will get their project done at some stage in the future.

When speaking about funding being allocated in a 2:1 ratio between public transport and roads, it would be remiss of me not to highlight the issue of the N4. Looking at a map of Ireland, it is the one missing link as regards connectivity to Dublin and other national routes. I refer to the Sligo route, which has dual carriageway status to Mullingar. Work has been done on the N5 from Castlebar towards Longford and from Sligo back but there is a missing link in between, the section between Mullingar and Rooskey. I ask that this missing link in the national network be prioritised as we proceed on that 2:1 basis.

I will share time with Senator Cassells. We will take three minutes each. I am very happy to support this motion, which Senators Kyne and Buttimer and the Fine Gael group have tabled. There is almost nothing to object to in it. It is all very positive. I had not even considered it a motion just on public transport, which is what the screen is telling us it is, because it is not really just about public transport. It also refers to active travel, although not enough, which is why I am speaking.

I would have liked it to say a little bit more about cycling. I happen to be one of those. Senator Higgins also often cycles. Perhaps other Members also do. It is not necessarily workable in rural areas where people are travelling long distances but an awful lot of journeys in cities, particularly in compact cities such as the Minister of State's city of Galway, for which people think they have to get in their cars, could be done on a bike. It came as a revelation to Senator Buttimer at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications with TII and the NTA, that I was elected Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown's cycling champion approximately ten years ago. That was not because I was any good at it. I was just supposed to promote cycling. Other people got other positions and that was the one I got.

That would help the Senator lose a bit of weight.

I thank the Senator. It did.

That is terrible.

It did. Perhaps Senator Boyhan should cycle too. It would probably be of benefit to us all to get a bit more exercise. That modal shift should not only be to public transport, although public transport is very useful. Although Senators Boyhan and McDowell probably do, many people may not remember the furore over the quality bus corridor for the 46A taking over a lane of traffic of two lanes in Donnybrook in 1998 and 1999. That was the most unbelievable achievement. I believe Owen Keegan was director of traffic for Dublin City Council at the time. People thought it was never going to happen, but it did and nobody would say that we should go back and take that transport corridor out of Donnybrook now. People also said that nobody would use the Luas, but the Luas was not there. The minute it opened in 2004, enormous numbers of people were sucked into it because they got a reliable and frequent service. It was more a question of the reliability than the frequency. People did not need to worry about a timetable. They just went down to the station. On a weekend, it might have been a wait of ten or 12 minutes but it was also often a wait of three, four or six minutes. It has been very popular. The public want to buy into public transport but it has to be there, by which I mean it has to turn up. It also has to be reliable and relatively cost-effective.

The fastest way for me to get to Leinster House is to cycle. Walking to the Luas, getting the Luas and then walking to Leinster House takes twice as long as my journey time on a bike at rush hour. We need to get all of those journeys of less than 2 km, 3 km or 4 km. My journey is approximately 6 km. We need to facilitate anyone who can cycle but, to do so, we need to make sure they are secure. One of the biggest barriers to me cycling is not knowing that, when I park the bike at the other end, it will still be there when I come back to it because there is so much bike theft and we do not have enough cycle parking.

I could go on for a lot longer but I am conscious of time and want to let Senator Cassells in. From a climate change perspective, I was disappointed to learn in our meeting with the NTA and TII that the upgrade of the Luas green line is being shelved or deferred. Senator McDowell might be quite happy about that because he was certainly concerned by what was to happen in parts of Dublin Bay South but the Luas green line was at capacity before the pandemic and this needs to be looked at. Charlie Haughey introduced free travel for older people and it worked out very well. Séamus Brennan removed the peak travel times restriction. Older people love that freedom they have. The more public transport, the better. We need to get people out of their cars and that involves getting people cycling and walking as much as getting them on public transport.

I 100% agree that there is a need for a modal shift in our transport policy. The investment in the public transport network under the NDP, particularly in the area of rail, is massively needed. In that respect, I am glad that the Navan rail project is included in the plan, as is referenced in this motion. As has been stated, allocations provided under the NDP will allow for the commencement of the planning and design of rail projects that might emerge from the review, including options for the proposed Navan rail line. This is a major advancement in the life of this project. I thank the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, for listening to me, to the people of Navan and to the people of Meath and for making sure that the project was back on the books because it has been off the books for the past decade. It was dumped as a policy in 2012 by the then Minister for Transport, Deputy Varadkar, even though the project was at rail order stage, having completed the first phase in 2010.

Over the past few years, we have done a serious amount of detailed analytical work, led by Meath's local authority and its chief executive, Jackie Maguire, in her term. This work has resulted in a serious plan being sent to the NTA. This plan is based on projected population growth along the route and projected development and planning permissions along the route. It is to be hoped the authority will give this plan a positive endorsement when the greater Dublin area plans are produced shortly. I hope that, when we get that endorsement, the Green Party Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, whom Senator Kyne praised so effusively in his opening remarks, will sign the cheque for what is needed and allow us to construct the most deliverable of all the rail projects included in the NDP.

My unshakeable loyalty to Senator Boyhan has the effect that I will second his amendment, which should command general support in the House. Were it not for the amendment he has proposed, I might have been opposing the whole motion. I say that for this reason----

There is party loyalty for you.

Once a Progressive Democrat, always a Progressive Democrat.

As has been mentioned here, there is nothing in this to oppose because there is nothing in this which will actually make very much difference.

There is nothing in this to oppose because there is nothing in this that will actually make very much difference.

That is not true.

The Senator has had his opportunity and he should let me finish.

The Senator should not spread fake news.

There is a fundamental flaw at the bottom of this, which comes especially from the Green Party. It is the distinction between public and private transport. I am sure the Minister of State knows the route around Galway city well. That is not private; it is public infrastructure which is badly needed. There is no point in pretending, as Green Party members in Galway do, that it will be possible to provide some kind of Luas system there which will obviate the need for that circular route. It is public infrastructure. Likewise, the Sligo route mentioned by Senator Carrigy is public infrastructure. It is not private. It is not as if it is being given to some fat cat to make money out of. It is public infrastructure.

Some people have now got to the point of suggesting that the only public transport initiatives we should go for are where people share vehicles, be they rail carriages, Luas carriages, buses or taxis. Sharing the vehicle makes it public and having one's own vehicle makes it private. I do not think that is a reasonable division. Someone living in Dublin may need to go to Dunnes Stores two or three miles from his or her house to do the weekend shopping. There is no point telling such people to take a bus because they would need to be Charles Atlas to bring the shopping home and usually it is not the man in the house who does it. People need private transport. If they are going to be able to bring their children to crèche in the morning, get to visit their aged mother in the afternoon and do the shopping at some stage, as is the fate of many people, they need private transport and buses will not suffice, nor will bicycles. People cannot do the weekend shopping on a bicycle either. Let us be practical about this.

Regarding condemning the car, I heard Senator Boylan talk about forced ownership of cars. It is an absolute essential of people's existence in Ireland in the 21st century to have a car per household. It is not forced. It is not merely essential, but it is a liberating thing. While there may be some kind of a bus service, it will not be the kind of bus service to get someone into a local town at 8 p.m. coming home at 11 p.m. having seen a film or something like that. It will not be like that and we should not cod ourselves.

On the MetroLink project and on the Luas extension, Senator Cassells spoke about the amount of money being spent on the Navan train line. All the drawings are done and all the work has been done on it. The Luas line to Lucan has been shelved. We have already spent more than €100 million - it is probably nearly €200 million - on the MetroLink project and it will not start in the foreseeable future. It may never be built because there is a competing project, the underground DART system from Connolly to Heuston. Nobody is saying which of these projects will go ahead.

That is why I object so strongly to the plan that is being praised so widely here. It is not making the hard choices. It is not telling us whether it is MetroLink from Swords to Sandyford, whether it is Luas to Lucan or underground from Connolly to Heuston. We are not being told which the option is. They are all being thrown up there. While I am not trying to make a political point, any politician on the Government side can claim it is on the agenda and it has not been ruled out yet. However, this is dishonest rubbish.

We need a transport Minister who will say we are building the MetroLink and we are not building the underground DART or that we will build three more Luas lines on the surface in Dublin and that we are scrapping the underground DART. We need somebody who will actually tell the truth to people. We are not getting that kind of thing at all.

I am sorry to be divisive and I am very glad to be able to support Senator Boyhan's sensible amendment. It is the only sensible and real thing that will come out of this debate if it is accepted. It is about time we got real. The transport aspects of the development plan are nothing but an extended wish list and a kick-the-can-down-the-road job. We want to see what will be built and what will not be built. We want a realistic transport system, not just a thing that will get us through to the next general election, which is what we have at the moment.

I am sharing time with Senator Dolan. It is great to see the Minister of State here. I support the motion. Since I was elected as a councillor, there have been many public consultations, which is fantastic. There was one for BusConnects. There have been two for DART+ West although they have been conducted during the pandemic. There have been two consultations on the Royal Canal urban greenway. One of my first motions as a councillor was about safe routes to school before it became a project. Obviously, the community is very much behind these. While there can be disagreement over aspects of the routes, in general people are very much invested in public transport for Dublin West, but we want to see it delivered.

I wish to recap some of the projects. Regarding DART+ West, electrifying the rail line is essential to our area. Irish Rail needs to be better at how it engages with communities. Many of the delays come from those consultations not being held in the way that they should be. They were not conducted well during the Covid pandemic. We had two and hopefully we will have a third, but we probably would not have needed a third for Ashtown if they had been conducted well in the first place.

There is a mandate to close the level crossings in communities. There are many reasonable questions about whether that needs to happen. It is possible to automate the gates and invest in signalling to do that. It has been signalled to us that that will not just be on DART+ West, but it will be on the DART in other areas also. It is an issue that affects me, but it will affect many other people. Managing that is sensitive and needs to be done properly.

On BusConnects, there are 150 trees on the Navan Road that could be removed. Those in the community still do not know if that will go ahead. I call for clarity on that. I know the Minister of State cannot give clarity today, but those in the area need to know that.

Regarding active travel, many projects are being discussed, but only one in Dublin 15 has been delivered. While we have the Royal Canal greenway, Fingal County Council is holding back on aspects of that greenway which could proceed where there are not issues of contention. It could start on other parts of it but it is choosing not to. Public transport is very important to Dublin West, but we need more delivery.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, to the Seanad. We met recently in Athlone at the launch of the new bridge across the River Shannon connecting the east to the west for the Dublin to Galway cycleway. In fact, as the Minister of State mentioned on the day, we will be able to cycle from Moscow to Galway. This is an incredible piece of infrastructure that shows the progress of the national development plan. Those pieces of infrastructure are absolutely crucial, particularly coming into the west which lacks public areas such as parks. What that will deliver for communities is incredible. It will be a safe place to walk and cycle. The Minister of State knows how much this means for communities in the west.

The motion is very well thought out. There is an acknowledgement that regional and rural areas have challenges.

We would like to cycle but it is not a case of being able to cycle ten or 20 miles. In my constituency area it takes an hour and a half to travel from one end to the other. It is incredible to think that we can achieve all of this through cycling and walking, and we do not have rail network services to every single town.

In terms of public transport, it is important that our roads network is supported by the provision of buses as they will enable people to get to where they need to go. The Connecting Ireland initiative was launched this week after this motion was put together. It is so important that the initiative is rolled out as it will develop the Local Link services and connect towns that are currently not connected.

Bus shelters have been mentioned. As a councillor I got to invest my notice of motion funds in a temporary bus shelter in Ballinasloe. I hope that with the National Transport Authority we will consider the creation of further bus shelters, particularly for the winter when people will be drowned by the rain, winds and storms.

I am happy to see the progress and development of transport that has taken place under the remit of the Minister of State in our areas. I acknowledge the phenomenal Safe Routes to School programme. It considers ways to ensure that there are safe places, particularly on narrow country roads, where there is not even a footpath to protect people when they drop or collect children from school. We know what it is like with the pick-up and drop-off zones. I thank the Minister of State.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the issue of public transport and commend the Senators who tabled the motion.

There is no doubt that we need to increase investment in public transport infrastructure. If we are to truly move to a greener society, live up to our obligations to reduce carbon emissions by 51% by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050 then people must increase their use of public transport.

Connectivity is a particular issue. I am regularly contacted by constituents in Kildare South who complain of shoddy services and a lack of joined-up thinking in terms of routes, particularly cross-county routes. I raised these matters at the meeting that we had on Monday with the NTA. As the Acting Chairperson will well know, many students decide to study in Maynooth and Carlow. However, it is extremely difficult to access public transport routes to both locations. Bus, rail and tram timetables must fit together in a way that allows people to use and rely on public transport.

Public transport needs to be affordable, accessible and people-centred. We need to consider the commuter issues that exist in County Kildare and ensure that people who live in rural parts of the county can use the bus in order to access appointments, health services, etc. The NTA has published its proposals for some improvements around south Kildare. They are welcome but there is room for more improvements.

In terms of using cycling routes, recently I walked the path between Glenaree to Rathangan that is part of the Barrow Blueway. The journey was less than half the distance that I would have to take if I travelled by road. The blueway is fabulous for anyone who wishes to walk or cycle. The investment in all of these areas is very welcome.

There is an onus on us to facilitate change. In rural Ireland there is a huge reliance on petrol and diesel cars. That is an absolute necessity at the moment as there is no choice. However, we must allow that freedom of choice.

For some time I have called for, as has the Acting Chairperson, a medium-hop rail zone to be created between Dublin and Newbridge onwards. This morning, I paid €27.50 for a return ticket that would allow me to travel between Newbridge and Dublin. If I chose to board the train at Sallins, which is just 6 km nearer to Dublin, the price of my ticket would have been less than half that price, which is wrong. The price of tickets can act as a barrier.

I welcome the action taken by the Government to date and the transport measures in the national development plan. I wish to emphasise that implementation of these measures is key and we, in this House, have a duty to hold the Minister of State and our Government colleagues to account to ensure that public transport receives the necessary funding.

I thank the Minister of State for being here to discuss this very important motion. As I have limited time I will be blunt and make six points.

A lot of my points relate to the Connecting Ireland proposals that were launched this week, which are quite welcome. One of my concerns is evening public transport. There is a lot of focus on commuters but there is a difficulty. For instance, if I wanted to travel back home to Gorey by train now I would be unable to do so. There is a very good bus service but for evening travel that is impossible. If we want to encourage our night-time economy then we must provide public transport in the evenings. The same applies to Local Link services in communities. People should be able to avail of a Local Link service that will allow them to travel between villages and towns.

I welcome the fact that the 50% fare for young people will come into being. We need certainty that when the fare is introduced it also applies to private operators because, as the Minister of State will know due to the fact that she comes from Galway, most of the public transport provided in rural areas is provided by private operators. It would not be right that only people in Dublin can avail of the new fare. This issue still has not been fully clarified.

Senator O'Loughlin and other Senators have mentioned the issue of interurban public transport. Almost all public transport roads lead to Dublin. If I want to travel from Gorey to Waterford or Carlow, and both places have an institute of technology, there are very limited public transport options so we have got to examine interurban connectivity.

Yes, we want to get more people using public transport. In terms of the transition to hydrogen-powered vehicles and more environmentally-friendly vehicles, we have started to see the roll-out of electric vehicles especially in local authorities and by a number of State agencies. However, we need a real strategy with both public and private transport providers to ensure that there is a move away from oil-powered vehicles, particularly diesel ones. I am not convinced that there is enough focus on that area.

I wish to mention ports, which is very much a specific focus of the Minister of State. Of course I must mention the potential of Rosslare Europort but if we are to strike a balance between people using airlines and other forms of transport to get off the island then we must ensure that there are enough services and facilities. In a post-Brexit context, particularly with all of the direct sailings between Ireland and France, it is essential that we have the necessary ports infrastructure. I urge the Minister of State to prioritise that area.

I welcome the motion. I have followed the debate from my office and I must say that it has been a good debate. It is really good to see people from all sides encouraging investment in public transport and it is a positive change.

I take issue with my colleague, Senator McDowell, on one point and agree with another of his points. I am someone who is a forced owner of a car. I have two cars at home and my family does not want two cars. It is extremely costly to run them but the reality is that there is no other way to get my children back from school after study at the moment. My family does not need two cars and we should not need to have them. It is about choice. My choice would be to have one car that I could share with my partner and use to get our children in and out of Limerick. Unfortunately, we just do not have a frequent bus service at the moment.

I agree with Senator McDowell on one important point that he made that is, perhaps, uncomfortable for the Government parties. The national development plan is a wishlist and it is very clear that an awful lot of its contents will not be delivered. Perhaps we need clarity on what is and is not going to happen.

I have a parliamentary colleague, who shall remain nameless, who gets a picture of himself behind a big sign that says M20 in the newspapers maybe six or ten times a year. His party has been in power for 11 years yet we are no nearer to having an M20 than we were then.

We are nearer. The Senator is wrong.

Ask the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien.

Exactly. The northern distributor road in Limerick needs to be completed as it is absolutely essential. The project has been dropped from the national development plan and that has a huge impact in terms of some of the things that have been mentioned in the motion. I refer to the problem of a large amount of traffic at both ends of the city.

A number of good points were made about cycling and now I will outline some of my frustrations. Parnell Street is a key thoroughfare in Limerick that runs along to the railway station. We have piecemeal cycle lanes and not a proper integrated network so on Parnell Street there is a row of parked cars, a cycle lane and then the road.

Cycling is, therefore, hazardous because cars are constantly moving across the cycle lane to park or to leave parking spaces. That is the result of a piecemeal development. We need an integrated cycle network across our urban centres and that has not happened in Limerick. I would not want my kids to go on those cycle paths because they are not safe or secure. Until recently, although perhaps it is not the case anymore, cycling was seen as something that was nice to have but not a priority. That attitude has been reflected in the way Limerick is set up.

I want to talk about buses and trains. I acknowledge that there are many good things in this motion that we would be happy to support. The Connecting Ireland rural mobility plan that was launched yesterday mentions increasing services, which is welcome. However, I am frustrated that it refers, in many cases, to a minimum of three return trips per day. Towns near where I live, such as Castleconnell, Murroe, Caherconlish and Newport, depend on links to Limerick city and we do not have a frequent service. For large parts of the day in Castleconnell, there are three hours between a bus coming and going. I can assure the Minister of State that is not good enough. Large sections of the young population end up asking their mums and dads to bring them in and out of town because they cannot go in and out of Limerick on a bus service that only runs every three hours. Castleconnell is actually one of the better served villages, when compared to Newport and Murroe. We need increased frequency of bus services and real thought going into linking those outer villages and the centre of Limerick.

To give another example, there is a student accommodation crisis in Castletroy. If we had a proper, decent bus service, we could offer accommodation in those outlying towns, which would be a boost to those areas. It just needs common sense, but we do not have it and I do not see it being likely at the moment. I accept there is a consultation period and I, like many others, will be lobbying hard for increased bus services to villages and towns across Limerick city and county.

I will move to the issue of the forgotten Ballybrophy railway line. Small, piecemeal parcels of work have been carried out over the years, such as the upgrade to 3.5 miles of line that is currently under way. The railway line has great potential but needs investment to cut journey times. The line has the potential to serve the towns of Castleconnell, Birdhill, Nenagh, Cloughjordan, Roscrea and Ballybrophy. However, that is not happening because only two trains go out and only three trains come back per day. The journey times are incredibly slow and that is because the track has not been upgraded. We need a funding commitment from the Minister of State to complete that track. Only 8.5 miles of track needs to be upgraded to continuous welded rail. If the Minister of State did that, we could cut the journey time significantly. The good news is that the funding to do that is already in place. It is already there under the infrastructure manager multi-annual contract for the period 2020 to 2024. I am asking the Minister of State to bring down that funding early. The fact that little bits and pieces are done each year and then waiting is killing people in Castleconnell and across Limerick. It should all be done next year. I ask the Minister of State to consider bringing in a new, midday service because if we are really serious about taking people out of cars and onto public transport, there is an easy win there in getting that railway line, which is already there, up and running. It just needs a funding commitment.

Another easy win for the Minister of State would be to open the railway station in Moyross. It runs to Galway and should be opened. We need to see a spur from Shannon. Senator Kyne earlier talked about making that line a double track and that must happen. I ask the Minister of State to be ambitious for our projects and ensure we get proper balance across the western seaboard.

I rise in support of this motion. We have had much discussion this evening about the various aspects of the plan, particularly its regional aspects. One of the issues about which I have been in contact with the National Transport Authority, the Minister for Transport and the head of Dublin Bus is 24-hour bus services for Dublin. Many people from Dún Laoghaire work in the city centre. It is only a bus ride away and we have the famous 46A which connects us with the city centre. It is one of the flagship buses in the Dublin Bus fleet. As part of the BusConnects plan and the plans for changes to the bus network, there will be construction of what they are calling spines, which will run through the whole city, from one side to the other, and the 46A will become the E spine, or the various aspects of it. I do not have a problem with that at all. We will miss the name 46A, particularly given that it exists in popular culture and things like that, but that much we will get over as long as a proper service is provided. The 46A has been an excellent service.

One of the issues during the pandemic was that night services stopped. The 46N Nitelink bus, which followed a similar route to the 46A and served the people of the Dún Laoghaire and surrounding areas, stopped. There was a suggestion at one point that the 46N would not return. I am delighted that it has and from 22 October, the Nitelink is again available to people. However, the Nitelink is a one-way service. It is expensive and costs twice as much as a normal fare during the day. I have consistently raised the notion that we should have a 24-hour service. It already exists in certain areas and I understand a part of the BusConnects plan is to roll out 24-hour services. However, that is a conversation for 2023. That is the kind of timeline we are talking about. There are people who live in Dún Laoghaire and the areas around it, quite a distance from the city centre, and work in bars, pubs, restaurants, theatres or whatever it might be in the city centre, and have a serious difficulty with the public transport facilities that are available to them. It is expensive to get a taxi from the city centre to Dún Laoghaire. It would cost €25 or more, perhaps even more than €30, particularly at night time when taxis are more expensive. There is a need for these services. I am focusing on Dún Laoghaire because that is where I am from and it suits me to talk about the area but it is an issue throughout Dublin and our other urban areas. People are working in city centres and need the facility to be able to get home after work. Of course, it also benefits late-night revellers, people who are out and availing of the leisure industry. We should consider somebody who is working in a restaurant in Dún Laoghaire and lives in town. Such people cannot use the Nitelink services.

One of the things I hope we will have in terms of the development of public transport infrastructure is a focus on that. We need a service that does not stop at 11.25 p.m., which is the time the last 46A runs. We need a service that goes right through the night and facilitates people who work shifts and people who work at odd hours. We need to facilitate people in the night-time economy and the entertainment industry who are currently left a little bit short and rely on an expensive aspect of public transport. If we want to look at a public transport service that actually behaves in a way that reflects people and the way they behave and work, then we need a 24-hour bus service. As a part of this motion, we should also be considering the situation and we are not left waiting until 2023. We should put that in place now. The plans are there. The service already exists on some routes and I do not understand why some routes have been chosen over others. There is an opportunity for us to take a step forward now, when it is needed, and put in place a proper 24-hour bus service for people in places such as Dún Laoghaire and other suburbs who need to get in and out of town other than during the normal operating times of the bus service.

This is a tiny aspect of what we are talking about in the context of this motion, but it is an incredibly important thing for the people who are directly affected by it. I know the Minister of State has always been very good at listening to the issues Senators have raised in this House. I have always found her very accessible. I hope she will be able to raise this matter with her colleagues in the context of improving that aspect of public transport and facilitating people who are working in a particular way and need the benefit of that service.

The Minister of State is very welcome to the House. Much been said this evening. I was listening to the debate and it has been interesting. Everyone is in agreement that we need enormous investment in our public transport. I took a few notes that contain references to the safety, accessibility and availability of that transport. We must make it practical and link up our bus and rail services, our greenways and blueways. We must link them and make them usable for everybody. We welcome the considerable investment and the excellent things for public transport in the national development plan. There are some great policies but we have had great policy and endeavour in the past. We need our great ambition to be matched by action because people are getting a little frustrated. They want to get out of their cars and to have a safe, accessible and available public transport system. I had a Commencement matter this morning on the accessibility of public transport and the fact that many of our citizens are barred from access and kept in their homes because of the inaccessibility of our public transport system.

I spoke about two incidents. One lady, Vicky Matthews, was stranded on a train at Connolly Station this weekend because there was nobody there to put up a ramp to allow her off the train. She rang and nobody came. Nobody was there to answer the phone. She booked the train 24 hours in advance. There has to be a better way and a far better link-up. The only way that lady got off the train was with the help of a passer-by who was also a passenger on the train. That inequity and inequality in our public transport system is deplorable. Another case involved the 100X bus from Dundalk to Dublin, a major route connecting the capital city and a major town. I heard from a gentleman, John Morgan, who cancelled a trip abroad because he could not get to Dublin Airport due to the bus not being able to take him there. This is not accessible. People are being stopped from living their lives, which is keeping them in their homes and othering them. It really has to end.

I have so much more to say but I would just push for accessible transport.

I thank my colleague, Senator McGreehan, for sharing her time with me. As many in this House will be aware, I am passionate about public transport and the need for better, more accessible, more inclusive public transport and a total overhaul of the public transport network. People in this country are very much aware of the need to get out of the private vehicle, but they need to be given the opportunity to do so and to have public transport that suits where they live and how they live.

I am coming from the point of view of living in north County Dublin. It is the fastest growing part of Europe. We have housing planned first and then, after a long time, comes the public transport, and that should not be the way. The public transport should be put in place first; otherwise, people are condemned to a life trapped in a car, trapped in traffic, trapped on a motorway, wasting their lives away in the process. People want to be able to take the train, but the trains are packed and the service scant. We in north County Dublin were very disappointed that the timeline for the metro got pushed out even further. People have given up all hope, and it is hard to blame them because this has been going on for more than 20 years. As for the expansion of the DART north, while I commend the Government on extending the DART west and south, I do not know why we in north County Dublin are being left to last when we are absorbing most of the housing needs of Dublin and have a completely underdeveloped public transport network which is already creaking before the building of thousands and thousands more houses there. Even though we in north County Dublin are not as such in the capital city, we are a short distance from it. The children, teenagers and young people in north County Dublin cannot easily access third level and college campuses. It is virtually impossible to get to the UCD campus. It is very difficult to get to our local university, DCU, by public transport. If you were to hop into your car, you could be in DCU in 15 minutes; if you were to get the bus, it would take an hour and a half. That is completely unacceptable. Until we start addressing these real life issues and allow people to access their third level institutions, their hospitals and other services, they will stick to their cars, and who is to blame them for doing so? It will be an indictment of the Government if we do not deliver decent, accessible, suitable public transport for the people of Ireland.

I wish the Minister of State luck in her brief. It is a big task. I know there is a commitment there, but we need the follow-through from all arms of the Government.

I welcome this motion from my Fine Gael colleagues and thank them for the work they have put into it. Many of the actions called for in the motion reflect the Government's existing and planned projects and policies for public transport, and I can confirm that the Government supports the motion, as proposed. I am pleased to have the opportunity to update the House on current developments on public transport, especially in light of the forthcoming sustainable mobility policy framework and the revised climate action plan 2021, which will be launched tomorrow.

The Government recognises the importance of expanding public transport options throughout Ireland. We all have our own views on the challenges and opportunities related to public transport. However, I think we can agree on one thing: the need for a fundamental change in the nature of transport in Ireland to reduce our carbon emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Fundamental to that change will be increasing the numbers of people using sustainable modes, not just public transport but also walking and cycling. Transitioning to sustainable modes has the potential not only to cut emissions but also to improve our health, relieve congestion in our cities and boost our quality of life, whether we live in rural or urban Ireland.

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 commits us to a 51% reduction in our overall greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to achieving net-zero emissions no later than 2050. Currently, the transport sector represents about 18% of Ireland's carbon emissions nationally, with road transport and private car usage accounting for the majority of that. This motion recognises the requirements on the transport sector both to reduce carbon emissions and to expand transport services across the country.

It is important to say that these tasks are complementary, not mutually exclusive. Active travel and public transport are not only the most environmentally friendly options but also the most efficient, socially inclusive and economically accessible. By focusing on their improvement and expansion, we can achieve our climate goals and cater for the projected population growth set out in Project Ireland 2040. I wish to inform the House about the forthcoming sustainable mobility policy framework which the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, aims to publish before the end of this year. This will set out a strategic framework for walking, cycling and public transport to support Ireland's overall requirement to achieve a 51% reduction in carbon emissions by the end of this decade. The framework will focus primarily on measures to promote and facilitate active travel and public transport for all and, in so doing, will encourage less private car use nationally to support our climate commitment. The climate action plan 2021, which has a broader focus, will set out additional measures to promote other complementary transport mitigation measures such as incentivising the switch to electric cars and fostering greater use of renewable fuels.

The target of the new sustainable mobility policy framework will be to cater for daily travel needs in a more sustainable manner and to deliver an additional 500,000 daily active travel and public transport journeys by 2030. We intend to accomplish this by making sustainable modes the smartest and most attractive choice. The new framework will replace the existing policy framework known as Smarter Travel, which was published in 2009.

The Department has undertaken a collaborative approach in developing the sustainable mobility policy framework through public consultation and extensive stakeholder engagement. It will set out a comprehensive set of actions to increase active travel infrastructure provision and improve public transport capacity and services across the country. These will be supported by behavioural change and demand management measures to make sustainable modes the preferred choice for as many people as possible. The policy framework will also include measures to promote smart and integrated mobility through investment in innovative technologies.

It important to say that we recognise that there are different issues and solutions across the country to the transport challenges we all know exist. Transport needs are not uniform across our country, and we recognise that tailored solutions will be needed for both urban and rural areas. Senators have alluded to that this evening.

The new policy framework will be underpinned by funding under the renewed national development plan, which provides €35 billion for transport over the next decade. This is the largest investment in transport in the history of the State. It will support the commencement of the major public transport projects of BusConnects for our five cities, DART+ and MetroLink in Dublin and increased investment in our inter-urban and regional rail network. This will be complemented by expanded public transport services as supported by the public service obligation programme.

The Government is dedicated to improving and expanding our active travel and greenway infrastructure network through the provision of walking and cycling facilities in our cities, towns, villages and rural areas. Our aim is to promote active travel use for short, local journeys. This will be supported by a significant increase in funding for walking and cycling, with €3.6 billion allocated over the next ten years. In 2021 alone, roughly €204 million has been allocated to the provision of dedicated cycling and walking infrastructure across the country, including the safe routes to school programme.

This programme, which is recognised by the motion, will support safer environments around schools to encourage our young people to opt for active travel modes when travelling to and from school. It has been a great success, with 170 schools to receive funding under its first round, and another 762 schools entering the programme on a rolling basis.

Our commitments to improve and expand public transport projects will work towards reducing car dependency. BusConnects will be rolled out across all five cities. It will overhaul the current bus system in the cities by implementing a network of next-generation bus corridors, which includes segregated cycling facilities, on the busiest routes. This will make journeys faster, predictable, and reliable. BusConnects will massively expand access to public transport and radically improve cycling infrastructure. The Government does not accept the proposed amendment to the motion to conduct a review of BusConnects in Dublin to measure current and projected future travel demand in light of increased working from home practices.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on the way we travel. In some respects, it could even be argued that it has had a positive effect. Working from home initiatives reduce congestion and help lower transport emissions. That said it is important to remember that the CSO's national travel survey has previously underlined how we tend to put too much emphasis on commuting. Although it is important, it accounts for less than 25% of all trips. We also need buses to undertake a wide range of daily activities. If we are going to support citizens' travel needs across the day in the major cities, we need public transport projects like BusConnects that offer affordable, frequent and high-quality services throughout the day and across the city-regions.

In Dublin, DART+ and MetroLink will complement BusConnects as part of an integrated public transport system and facilitate compact, transport-led development at key locations. The preliminary business cases for MetroLink, BusConnects and DART+ were submitted to the Department for review earlier this year and the Minister for Transport expects to bring all three to Government for approval in line with the requirements set out in the public spending code.

I note the proposed amendments to the motion relating to MetroLink, which the Government does not accept. Significant work has been undertaken on finalising the preliminary design for MetroLink, completing the required environmental impact assessment reports and closing out property referencing issues. This work is critical to ensuring that MetroLink is in line with both the public spending code and the common appraisal framework.

First, the preliminary business case for MetroLink is currently under review by the Department. The public spending code requires a Government decision for major projects such as MetroLink. The Minister expects to bring the business case to Government in the near future, and if approved, that will allow MetroLink to move into the statutory planning system.

Second, we have the statutory review of the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area. The NTA has stated that as part of this review, it is considering whether additional metro routes, above and beyond MetroLink, should be included in any revised strategy. The revised strategy will be published by the NTA shortly for public consultation, and I have no doubt Senators will have their views as to what it proposes out to 2042. I emphasise that the inclusion of projects in any revised strategy is the only first step in what is a detailed, and often lengthy, process. It takes time for projects to move from the strategic support enabled by inclusion in a transport strategy, to being a project with a preliminary business case seeking approval to enter the statutory planning process, not alone a project in construction.

The Government does not accept the proposed amendment to the motion to establish a dedicated transport policing unit on the public transport network. The safety and security of passengers and staff, including arrangements to deal with antisocial behaviour, are matters, first and foremost, for individual public transport companies and An Garda Síochána. For example, I would like to highlight the approach of larnród Éireann. It has been working extensively with An Garda Síochána, its employees and trade unions, and its private security personnel to ensure they both proactively put in place measures to address antisocial behaviour and respond to specific incidents. The gardaí are the best advisers on these issues because they have a critical role in policing public order. While some argue for a separate transport policing unit, that runs the risk of undermining the work they carry out. I believe we should instead double down on existing policing strategies.

As I said from the outset, we all agree on the need for change in the area of transport to address our climate commitments and improve sustainable mobility options throughout the country. While there is no easy pain-free solution to the decarbonisation of the transport system, the response to our climate challenge requires collaboration, co-operation and a just transition for all. Achieving the necessary transport emissions mitigation will require individual consciousness and action by us all, underpinned by active and progressive Government interventions and support. This is an issue that should bring together. It is not a party political issue. Collectively we can create the necessary changes in the transport sector. I thank the Acting Chairperson and Senators for bringing forward this motion today.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. As I said earlier, I commend the motion to the House. I was amused by and smiled at my colleague and friend's, Senator McDowell's intervention and contribution. I would remind him to read the transcript of today's transport committee meeting where we had a robust engagement with the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII on the delivery of the national development plan. The point I make repeatedly, which I made at the committee today, is that people want to see delivery. They want to see project realisation and visualisation. It is important to say that at the outset. The Senator is right that there is a degree of confusion.

I am sharing time with Senator Conway.

The Senator cannot share time when responding, unfortunately.

A minute would not kill you.

I would be happy to give Senator Conway two and a half minutes but I cannot share time.

The shift in behaviour is important. Government has strategically laid down this marker by the publication of the national development plan, Bus Connects, Connecting Ireland and the climate action plan tomorrow. I thank my colleagues for the debate tonight in the House. It was very positive. Much of what has been said helps us to move forward together. I am disappointed at one level that Senator Boyhan's amendment is not being accepted. I, along with other Members of the Upper and Lower Houses from Fine Gael, have mentioned the need for action on anti-social behaviour on our public transport systems. Many Members of this House and the Lower House and many of us in our offices and personally have experienced anti-social behaviour. It is not acceptable for staff, the travelling public and commuters who use public transport every day. I am genuinely concerned about the spiral in anti-social behaviour in all parts of our country but in particular in the public transport system. We have a duty to the staff and to the travelling public.

I was struck by the conversation I had with a number of bus drivers in my own city of Cork who spoke to me about the decline in behaviour and the fear they have. Senator McDowell or Senator Boyhan mentioned after dark but it is not just after dark. The attitude towards anti-social behaviour is one we should return to in a different debate.

People want to move from the car. Senator Gavan made reference to the two car family and Senator Horkan referred to frequency and availability. People want that. To be fair to the Minister of State, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, Transport Ireland and the NTA, there is a willingness to bring that real need and desire to fruition with Bus Connects, in the case of regions outside of Dublin as well as Dublin. That is important. It is about enhancing connectivity for rural Ireland, and it is about the person. My father, who lives in Kilmichael, asks me every night how does one get the bus to go to Cork. It is about ensuring connectivity, frequency of service and choice.

I thank the Minister of State for being here tonight and my colleagues for their participation in the debate. I hope that the motion will be accepted. I understand the reasons the Minister of State made those remarks on Senator Boyhan's amendment. I hope that in time we can come back to the issue of the dedicated public transport policing authority or force. We see it in other countries and cities where it has worked quite well on public transport.

I thank the Minister of State for her time, commitment, accessibility and engagement with us. I commend the motion to the House.

I thank Senator Buttimer and he Minister of State for her very comprehensive response to the debate.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 9; Níl, 21.

  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Wall, Mark.
  • Warfield, Fintan.


  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Garvey, Róisín.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Ward, Barry.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Michael McDowell and Victor Boyhan; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne..
Amendment declared lost.
Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee has advised the Cathaoirleach that she has entered into a voting pairing arrangement with Senator Eileen Flynn for the duration of Senator Flynn’s maternity leave and accordingly has not voted in this division.

I move amendment No. 2:

To insert the following paragraphs after “calls on the Government to:”

“- conduct a cost benefit analysis on public monies spent to date on the MetroLink project, publish all budget overruns, outline the overall final budget for the project and confirm a completion date for MetroLink;

- conduct a review of the BusConnects project in Dublin measuring current and projected future public transport demand in light of the Government’s promotion of working from home initiatives and the relocation of certain workers to locations outside of Dublin;

- confirm there is no plan to construct a MetroLink southern route towards Terenure and Rathfarnham or towards Belfield and Stillorgan and the reason these routes are not being proposed in view of the statement by the NTA to Dublin City Council that there is now an agreed route for MetroLink underground at Earlsfort Terrace;”

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 3:

In the fourth paragraph under “acknowledges:”, to delete “to effect change in habits” and substitute “for carbon pricing to better reflect the social and environmental cost of carbon emissions and to reduce public subsidisation of the fossil fuel industry”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 4:

To delete the fourth and fifth paragraphs under “acknowledges:”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Question, "That the motion be agreed to", put and declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 4 November 2021.