The meeting has been convened for consideration of the Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009. It was referred to the select committee by order of the Dáil on 11 November. I welcome the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and his officials, Mr. John Weafer, Ms Michelle Kavanagh and Mr. Dermot McGeady. A grouping list has been circulated. The Bill will be considered until 1.30 p.m. today. If we have not concluded by then, we will resume in the morning at 10.30 a.m. I know members are anxious to conclude today. I thank the Opposition members for their co-operation. If we cannot conclude today we will have to come back tomorrow.
Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009: Committee Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, line 3, after "driver)" to insert the following:
"and a small public service vehicle having seated accommodation for more than 5 persons (including the driver)".
I wish to make a brief general point about the Bill and everything we are trying to do today. Yesterday, in the final segment of the Joint Committee on Transport meeting we had a presentation from Citylink on the illegal service it is running. Mr. Weafer explained the illegality of what was taking place. It was an appalling account of illegal behaviour. We must avoid today the kind of stuff we heard about such as 1,700 services a week, one running every five minutes against an established private operator and Bus Éireann. It was a disgraceful presentation to us. I disagree with law-breakers coming before the committee.
I wish to insert the provision that a small public service vehicle, having seated accommodation for more than five persons, would be included in the definition of "bus". The rationale would be to allow certain taxis, hackneys and other small minibuses to operate local passenger transport services in both urban and rural areas along the lines of the model used in Europe. It would be beneficial for local transport companies if we included that, given that all sides of the House have been trying to support them. I am impressed with them and would like to give them a role in licensing. One or other of them, for example, could become quite successful.
The amendment seeks to amend the definition of "bus" to incorporate small public service vehicles with a minimum passenger accommodation of five persons, including the driver. As the Deputy has outlined, that small public service vehicle is a category of vehicle that currently encompasses taxis, hackneys and limousines. The word "bus" is defined in the Bill as a mechanically propelled vehicle designed for travel by road having seating accommodation for more than nine persons, including the driver. That is the same definition that is used in the Dublin Transport Authority Act.
The association of buses with the concept that they are large vehicles is also established in the Road Traffic Acts, which defines an omnibus as being "a large public service vehicle, which is for the time being used on a definite route for the carriage of passengers who are carried at separate fares and are picked up and set down along such routes whether on request or at fixed stopping places." A large public service vehicle is defined as a public service vehicle having a seating passenger accommodation of more than eight persons, exclusive of the driver.
The Bill's primary purpose is to establish a new licensing regime for commercial bus services on specified routes. A separate and distinct legal framework has evolved over the past 76 years for small public service vehicles. The Road Traffic Act 1933 established separate legal structures in respect of both small and large public service vehicles. That was replaced by the Road Traffic Act 1961 and the Taxi Regulation 2003 further updated the legislative framework.
The licensing regime that applies to these small public service vehicles has always envisaged that such a vehicle would be subdivided into two categories, one, for vehicles that provide public hire services and taxis; and the other, private hire services, hackney cars and limousines.
While I understand the amendment seeks to extend the ability to provide public transport, the blurring of the fundamental difference between a large and small public vehicle is not warranted at this time. I prefer to keep the distinction in place. Perhaps in the future, if the taxi regulator were part of a national transport authority, proposals to the amendment's effect may be introduced.
Amendments Nos. 2, 4 and 27 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 6, paragraph (c), between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following:
"(iii) carriage is provided for passengers on a pre-booked basis following a flexible route with varied stops with a specified geographical area, and".
This amendment relates to services operated through the rural transport network programme. The Public Service Vehicles (Registration of Local Services) (Amendment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2009 allows registration and route-licensing of several different and flexible bus services, including many-to-one and many-to many services types of service. This amendment includes such a clause and would assist in the development of rural transport network. There is merit to this amendment and it would assist small operating companies in the rural transport network.
Amendment No. 4 addresses the same matter. It would allow such services to be licensed. It needs to be made explicit as section 8 does not necessarily enable the licensing of such services and may not be included in the guidelines in section 23.
Amendment No. 27, if inserted, would enable the operation of a flexibly routed or a demand-responsive service.
These amendments will strengthen the role of rural transport network in the overall network, linking it up to Bus Éireann and other operators. I accept the Government has achieved much with the rural transport scheme since 2002 with funding provided by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It should now be integrated into the overall public transport network. I would hope we can tell people in rural or urban areas without a car that they have a right to a public transport service.
The principle that the Deputy advocates is one with which this side agrees. Where the problem arises is trying to enshrine this in the Bill. The licensing regime being established in this legislation relates to the provision of commercial bus services on dedicated routes. The provision of services by small public service vehicles has always reflected the fact that they do not operate on dedicated routes but operate services based on the requirements of individual hirers.
To a certain extent, I accept one is in this space with the rural transport initiative. However, if in the future a route-orientated approach is considered for such small vehicles, it must be considered in the context of further amendments to the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 which governs the licensing and operations of such vehicles. Introducing these amendments in this legislation might stymie what the Deputy wants to achieve.
Arrangement can be made for the provision of funded services by small public service vehicles by the National Transport Authority. However, it would have to fall outside the scope of the legislative framework which underpins the funding of bus services. Legislation could be developed that may support this type of initiative provided it does not run counter to the services provided by small vehicles under the legislative code that applies to them, meets with European Commission approval or is shown to be allowed under existing EU laws and does not compromise the provision of funded bus services that are subject to the contracts under the Dublin Transport Authority Act or this Bill.
We should come to grips with providing a comprehensive rural transport initiative. We are all agreed on that point. I accept that when we were in Government before 1997 we should have dealt with the 1932 Act. It is crazy that it has continued this long, and we heard this farrago of nonsense yesterday. However, the rural transport initiative is in place and has great potential. We are all being contacted by local projects at the moment about the Minister, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív's budget and the budget of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs. Some of these companies are quite successful and collect up to half their income in the fare box.
It is conceivable that some could go on to be licensed under this Act for part of their services. This deserves recognition and if the Minister does not do it in this Bill, I hope he will reflect on the possibility of introducing legislation along these lines, which will take into account the rights of the rural public as well as consumers. Perhaps we spend too much time discussing urban Ireland; I believe we should address rural Ireland as well. I put that to the Minister, but I am prepared to withdraw amendment No. 2.
Deputy Broughan has raised a very important topic. We need new thinking, and particularly about rural transport, which is the point the Deputy is making. I realise there are ongoing discussions between the Minister's Department and the health boards and other service providers in different regions. We should encourage companies such as An Post, for example, which does point to point collections throughout rural areas to use public service vehicles. A postman with a regular collection route, for example, could drive a public service vehicle. Obviously, this would have to be agreed with all the unions and so on, but it could facilitate very efficient local rural transport services. There would be insurance issues to be resolved and people would have to be trained, etc., but it would make sense. We need to think outside the box and I support what Deputy Broughan said.
I put it to the Minister that between the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, and the Department of Transport, there is room for a radical analysis of what is going on towards changing the traditional patterns and the way we look at these matters.
I thank Deputy Broughan for offering to withdraw the amendment. It is nice to see a consummate Dub being concerned and interested in rural Ireland.
Deputy Michael Kennedy and I are from rural Dublin, which always had the best——
I am a little more rural than the Deputy Broughan. .
I come from a family that had cattle, pigs and so on. Just because one has a Dublin accent does not mean one cannot be concerned about rural matters.
It is not often that we hear the Dubs being concerned about the culchies, and I must say that lovely Dublin accent is appreciated.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, before section 5, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:
5.—A public bus passenger service may only be provided in accordance with a contract entered into under section 48 of the Act of 2008.".
I want to be helpful here. While we are opposing practically every section in this Part of the Bill, I will make a general argument, if that is helpful. I do not want to delay the Bill unduly by calling a vote on each section and the general argument has been well rehearsed with the Minister and Deputies Broughan and Kennedy. However, from a Fine Gael perspective, this section gives a deal, in effect, to Bus Éireann with which we do not agree. It protects services which are not necessarily as efficient as they could be and does not allow competition in the marketplace — I do not mean privatisation. I am talking about a situation where people can tender for a particular route and submit their costings, as they are entitled to do, regardless of whether it is Bus Átha Cliath or anyone else, and that this should be opened up as soon as possible.
We believe this Part of the Bill does not allow for that, but in effect facilitates a "sweetheart deal" in the context of shutting out private operators who are ready, willing and able to provide services on routes on a competitive basis. They should be enabled to get a franchise so that it is not a case of private buses and Bus Éireann or Bus Átha Cliath on the same routes competing head to head, but rather competing on price. We believe this would drive down costs, make fares cheaper, give a better service and basically open up choice to the public which it does not have at present.
The Minister has acknowledged that he has a map of the greater Dublin area in his office which shows the areas which do not have a bus service at the moment. We will see more of the same for the foreseeable future unless the Minister initiates a radical shake-up and opens up competition. Neither Bus Átha Cliath nor Bus Éireann has anything to fear from this move. Bus Éireann, in particular, is already involved in what might be termed a symbiotic relationship with private operators and uses them continually where it can. As I see it, there is some joined up thinking in that regard.
Bus Átha Cliath, however, is particularly resistant to any change in its modus operandi and seems totally opposed to involvement with private enterprise, apart from the sole area of school transport. It does not make sense, where the Government is putting money into a system, that a private individual is not allowed to compete and we cannot cut the costs to the State and make the business more competitive. That is a summary of the arguments I intend to make later in response to the Minister about this issue.
In general, the other weakness we identify is concerned with the fact that we want the powers that will be vested in the DTA extended to the NTA and the whole country. Under this section, the same rights should apply right across the country, with the same interventions. The Bill as it stands makes a distinction between the DTA and the rest of the country and that should not be so. That is why we tabled this amendment.
I appreciate the Deputy is trying to cover sections 5 to 28, inclusive, in a very short period of time and I will try to respond as quickly as I can. I note the argument he has made, but I believe he is fundamentally mistaken in his view. There is a provision to the effect that all PSO routes should be maintained with Bus Éireann, Bus Átha Cliath and so on. However, this is for one reason only, namely, to ensure that services are maintained. It is not possible in the time given to us, up to 3 December, when the new regime comes into place and new contracts have to be agreed and so on, to have any PSO services beyond that date without actually tendering for them and going through a whole procedure. We could end up in a situation where there would be no bus services per se, so provisions in the Bill “protecting” Bus Éireann or Bus Átha Cliath are the PSO routes if those companies are only there at the moment to maintain existing services.
Following the enactment of this Bill and the establishment of the DTA, or the NTA as it will be at that stage, any new PSO network operations to be identified will not be decided by Bus Éireann or Bus Átha Cliath but by the NTA and will have to be put out for open tender. Therefore, we are introducing competition in that area.
It is true that in accordance with this Bill the PSO contracts will last for at least five years, but, again, if a private contractor assures the NTA that it can provide the service free of charge on a particular PSO route, at a profit or at a lower cost to the authority than currently, then the NTA will have to establish whether that is true and if the level of service on offer would be equivalent to the existing one. If all of this stacks up, then the NTA will have to act on it. It is introducing real and fair competition. More importantly, it establishes a level playing field. Either the public or the private sector can contest for the routes.
I accept that the Deputy has a reasonable point on the GDA, but I am trying to be as practical as possible. The Deputy is right that it would be better if we could establish a regime that was absolutely the same everywhere, but there are specific reasons for the situation in the greater Dublin area. Rather than delaying matters at this stage, we can discuss places such as Drogheda and Mullingar when we come to this issue later in the Bill. We need some flexibility on how we approach that aspect. There are practical considerations regarding the distinction between the GDA — a compact geographic area with a big population — and the rest of the country. There are similar arguments that can be used for the Cork metropolitan area and the Limerick metropolitan area. There is nothing in this Bill that prevents the NTA from deciding that it wants to go down that route at any particular time. However, we should not effect this change in the Bill while planning and development legislation is going through as well. Following discussions with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, I felt that it would be better to leave it to that planning legislation.
The Government's spatial strategy has been in place for some years. The key point of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 was to integrate transport and planning. The boom has led to tens of thousands of commuters living in areas where they have no public transport; the Minister has acknowledged this himself. The envelope of the DTA remains in this Bill, but outside the greater Dublin area there is purely consultation in respect of regional plans. In other words, there are no definitive essential demands for transport planning in the metropolitan areas of Cork, Limerick and Galway or in other spatial strategy centres of growth. When we define areas in the national spatial strategy as being relevant for future development, we do not want to see thousands of new houses being built with no integrated transport plan. If we exclude from this Bill the possibility of the metropolitan areas and the growth centres listed in the national spatial strategy, then we will have bad planning in the future.
The strength of the DTA was that, for the first time, we had joined up thinking between the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Transport. This is a big loss. I ask the Minister to reconsider this on Report Stage. If he was to add those areas mentioned above to the Bill, there would be no argument against it. I am quite sure the planning authorities in those areas would welcome it. It would be a sine qua non that, without this, no planning should be granted. It allows for joined up thinking and it makes a lot of sense.
The Bill states that the arrangement between Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann can continue for more than five years; it can go on for another five years. While the Minister claims he is introducing competition, I would argue that he is continuing protection for possibly up to ten years. That does not make sense. I have discussed this with Dublin Bus, and we have engaged on this issue. The Dublin Bus representatives believe that when there is open competition in five years' time, they will be as competitive as the private sector. However, I do not see why they cannot be competitive within a year or so. This Bill has been rushed. We have not reformed this area since 1932, yet the Minister is under pressure to have the Bill enacted by the end of the month due to the PSOs with Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. He is caught in a grip because if he does not get the Bill enacted, those companies will not have that protection.
The Minister claims that the bus system might collapse in the morning if he were to open it up, but that does not make sense to me. If Dublin Bus is getting more competitive — I acknowledge that it has become more efficient and in tune with public need — then why not open it up to competition immediately? The facts are that Dublin Bus will be the only service provider anyway as private enterprise will not be able to compete at this stage for all of the routes. By protecting existing routes, the Minister is giving Dublin Bus comfort. There is a €300 million subsidy per annum to the CIE companies. In 2000, Dublin Bus got a subsidy of €17.8 million, whereas now it is about €82.9 million per annum. The taxpayer has a significant interest in creating a more efficient public transport system in the greater Dublin area. While there are around 200,000 more dwellings in the greater Dublin area than ten years ago, the bus routes have basically remained the same. The number of buses has increased by about 120, but now it will fall again. The Minister is protecting an organisation that is not providing the service it should be providing. By not opening it up to fair competition and fair pricing, he is depriving the public of choice.
When he was Minister for Transport, the late Séamus Brennan announced that he was opening up the bus market to competition in Dublin. We are ten years down the line from that, but looking at this Bill we could be another ten years away from it. That is the critical weakness in the Bill.
I have made some of these points. The Deputy and I are philosophically agreed on the greater Dublin area and areas outside it. This Bill is constructed in this way purely for reasons of practical convenience. Many of the local authorities outside the greater Dublin area do not require public transport plans, but the Bill allows the Minister for Transport, in consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to decide that the Cork metropolitan area, the Limerick metropolitan area, Louth County Council or Meath County Council should apply the same standards as those being applied in the greater Dublin area. The Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 allows me, for the purposes of transport, to "extend" the greater Dublin area into the rest of County Louth or wherever else. There is a provision in the Bill that I can request the NTA to expand the provisions on transport planning into any area of the country. I assure the Deputy of this point. We have adopted that approach for purely practical reasons given the difficulties that would be created if this had to be done in all sorts of places such as areas of Leitrim, Roscommon, Cavan, Meath or elsewhere, where it is not absolutely necessary.
My point is that if cities such as Cork and Limerick are included in the Bill, it would mean that no planner in any of those cities would argue that it should not happen. If this is limited to the cities and the growth centres outlined in the national spatial strategy, which are a part of Government policy and where the growth will be, we would prevent the problems that have arisen throughout the country, where there are unsustainable communities with no services, no transport——
They do not need to be specified in the legislation. If a need arises, if the planners in the area feel it is necessary and if the Minster for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or I consider it necessary, we can apply the provisions through any of those mechanisms, even the local authorities themselves. It is better to leave it at that rather than state in the Bill that it must be done. Cork, for example, has had a very good land use and transport policy for years, which fits into its development plan, but there is no need to include it in the Bill per se. I accept the point the Deputy is making. However, if the local authorities in the city and county of Cork or Galway, where there are these cross-boundary issues and which would benefit from integrated transport planning being included in the development plan, it can be done under this Bill.
The Minister is making sure it must happen in the GDA, and he and everybody else signs off on that, but it has to be done in these other areas as well. If it is the de facto position in Cork, that is fine, as Cork is a wonderful city and judged one of the best places in Europe to live in a sustainable community. The point is that the Minister’s argument is not sustainable. The reality is that a developer who owns land close to the boundary which is not included in the development plan will drive a coach and four through the plan and we will be stuck with unsustainable communities. The Minister does not want that.
The essential difference between what is in this Bill and in the DTA Bill is that one comes down to the micro level in regard to the development plans and individual planning applications in the GDA. There is still a major role for the NTA in the regional planning guidelines and the development plan generally for the local authorities. If it is necessary to go beyond that and impose the specific provisions, it can be done. However, the point I am making is that if we impose that kind of a regime where it is not necessary, we will only make work and distract from the NTA.
I do not have a problem with the Minister's point in regard to Leitrim, Roscommon, the midlands and elsewhere. However, why not insist on including Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford? I can live with the rest of it.
We can include them under the provisions of the Bill but we do not want to specify them because we will then be excluding some and making——
The Minister's argument also applies to the other places.
On another point, the manager of Louth County Council is of the view, which I fully support, that the county of Louth should not be in the BMW region but in the GDA. However, in the absence of the consent of the county council, it cannot be included in the GDA. The Minister stated when the DTA Bill was being passed that the power was there, if the councils wanted, to extend the remit of the DTA to places such as County Louth, but this would take the consent of the council. To do that, the council would have to decide to leave the BMW region, as was stated in the argument that took place within the council, notwithstanding the fact the county manager recommended that it did not happen.
I am suggesting that one can have certainty in regard to the areas which will have significant growth in the future. The Minister's argument about this not applying to smaller counties would automatically apply. I thank the Chairman for his consideration of these arguments. This is the kernel of the matter. The Minister is missing a big opportunity.
On a point of clarification, who triggers the desire of a county manager or a local authority to become part of the change? Who would trigger two local authorities, such as Galway city and county councils, to come together to have a more integrated transport system?
To clarify, there is nothing in the Bill which would mean that if County Louth suggested it wanted to be deemed part of the GDA for transport purposes, and to be subject to the same considerations as the local authorities in the Dublin area, it must then automatically transfer out of the BMW. If the county decides it wants to be part of the DTA for transport purposes and makes that case — there is certainly a case for the south Louth area, as we have discussed previously — it has nothing to do with——
The councillors did not consent to that, for their own good reasons, which meant it could not happen. However, the Minister can make it happen. That is the point.
Section 30(3) of the Bill states: "Notwithstanding the provisions of section 63 of the Act of 2008, the National Transport Authority shall, at any time at the direction of the Minister, submit a report to the Minister setting out recommendations in relation to the expansion of its functions, functional area and remit with a view to giving it a national remit in respect of all of its powers, duties and functions under the Act of 2008 and this Act." If the local authority approaches the DTA and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with a case, and if the Minster for Transport decides that this is warranted, we could extend the remit of the national transport authority under that section of the Act. It should be done by the local authorities and would be better if it were done by the members of the local authorities. The manager or management of a local authority could have discussions with the DTA or, as it will be, the NTA, and outline their reasoning as to why they believe the county should be part of it. The DTA or, as it will be, the NTA, would then come to the Minister in this regard.
We will probably have further discussion on that issue. In regard to the PSO, while I understand the Deputy was not trying to be unhelpful, it is not the case that if I do not have these contracts signed by 3 December, the whole system will collapse. Legally, the case is that on 3 December, if the contracts are not signed and in place, the services will stop and providers, whether public or private, will have to apply for routes, go through the public service obligations procedure and submit to a tendering process. In the meantime, no buses could run, which is the problem.
I understand 3 December 2019 is the operational date. Is that not the date by which there must be full implementation of the directive in every country?
Yes, that is the final date at the end of the process, but every part of the directive will apply on 3 December 2009.
It was not made clear to me heretofore that everything stops on 3 December. Without meaning to make a personal attack on anybody, the way this legislation was introduced is not acceptable. The Minister is putting a gun to our heads by saying we must meet that deadline. He is effectively saying that if this Bill is not enacted, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus will disappear.
They would not necessarily disappear, but we would no longer be able to fund them.
However, the legislation is effectively saying that one can turn the key on 3 December and keep turning it for the next ten years.
That is the point. Without being political about it, if the Minister misses this deadline, we will seriously have to call for his resignation.
I am not going to tempt the Deputies by saying what I would do if I do not get it signed by 3 December.
I enjoyed Deputy Broughan's use of the word "seriously" which suggests he was never serious before.
A look of seriousness came over the Deputy's face.
I thought I had made this provision clear in the course of our debate on the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008. It is clearly stated there that this directive is effective from 3 December 2009 and that there will be a ten-year roll-out period to 2019. However, if the contracts are not in place by 3 December 2009, the full directive comes into effect.
Will that mean full competition immediately?
No, all aspects of the directive will come into play——
Everything will be up for grabs. In other words, it is a fundamental opening of the book in terms of competition, opening up routes and so on. Is that not what is involved?
Will the Minister clarify something? Is he saying that if the contract is not signed on 3 December, that the PSOs which Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann currently receive will cease and that those companies would effectively be running at a horrendous loss were they to continue to provide certain services?
If they continue the same system of services they are currently providing, they will continue to accumulate the losses they are accumulating currently and will also lose the more than €80 million they receive in subvention on an annual basis.
In other words, the would be running loss-making services?
They could not continue to operate because their directors would know the companies were heading for bankruptcy and, as such, that to continue would constitute reckless trading.
Would the PSO have to go out to tender?
There would be a period of anything up to one year before one could make the direct awards and contract the services. To clarify, once the contracts are signed for the direct award, we can continue to pay the PSO. However, if a transport provider approaches the national transport authority in the middle of next year, for example, and states that the authority is paying far too much for a particular route or network of routes — all this information will be far more transparent henceforth — and that it can provide the service at a far lower cost, then the authority must establish whether that is true. If it is true, it has a duty and obligation to the taxpayer in that regard.
The alternative is also true.
It is a good development.
My point is that the Minister is referring to the PSO but the reality is that Dublin Bus has not identified to date, neither to the Minister nor to me, which are the PSO routes. The company cross-subsidises routes that make money with routes that do not. There is no transparency and openness from Dublin Bus in terms of identifying those routes. I am sure the Minister will agree.
That is one aspect. I have in my possession a contract document for signature which states the level of service and the performance indicators that must be put in place. It also stipulates that information must be provided that will enable us to make decisions as to whether a route is a PSO route. Deputy O'Dowd is correct that Dublin Bus in particular has said that all its services in the Dublin area, apart from the airport link and tours, are PSOs.
That cannot be true.
I do not know whether it is true or not.
Deputy O'Dowd and anybody else who is interested in bus transport should read the comprehensive report by the United Kingdom Office of Fair Trading on the situation in the neighbouring jurisdiction after 20 years of, in some cases, poorly regulated competition. In London, a decision was made to proceed in a particular way, which was to tender out segments of networks. That is what the former Minister for Transport, the late Séamus Brennan, wanted to do in Dublin. There were one or two areas which were excluded but the general situation is that four large companies, representatives of one of which were present at yesterday's meeting, carved up the market between them. The interesting aspect of PSOs is that when one examines it, many routes are partly profitable and partly PSO. What happened in the United Kingdom in many cases, because the local authorities fund the subsidy, is that transport companies deliberately abandoned part of a route. For example, travelling out of Glasgow, the route is busy enough for three quarters of the way before one reaches the more rural areas heading into the highlands. In this case, the transport company might choose to abandon the route completely and because the Glasgow regional authority is desperate to keep it running, it will offer a PSO for that part of the route. There is much chicanery attached to that. We had a major warning yesterday to be very careful about how we proceed in this regard in order to protect our transport system.
A striking fact is that the Deloitte report which the Minister commissioned showed that Bus Éireann is an inherently efficient company which could not be criticised in terms of its cost structure. Likewise, the finding was that Dublin Bus, while it requires some network reform, is also substantially efficient. The impact of these new procedures is that we will have much more information. I have put down various amendments in an attempt to improve the legislation and ensure a more level playing field, such as those in respect of section 10 dealing with the general provisions for the consideration of licence applications. That process will reveal much. We will have much information about routes. We will know the situation in the context. We had a discussion yesterday with the Taoiseach on Leaders' Questions about freedom of information requests. The point was made in the special debate last week about submitting freedom of information requests on transport companies. In the history of this republic, private companies have failed us. The reason we had CIE is that Great Northern Railway (Ireland) would not do the business. It left whole tranches of the country without a decent transport service. That is why the Public Transport Act 1958 and the 1986 Act were passed. We must take this carefully. Under EU Directive No. 1370/2007, the European Union is quite clear that it does not care how the bus service is run once it is a good service. We will receive much information. The English study is a warning. A gentleman appeared before the committee yesterday who was quite prepared to have buses leaving Galway every five minutes on a 16-hour basis to blow away Bus Éireann and the other company. He has 44,000 buses in Europe so he has the resources. I watched the end of his presentation in my office. He accepts that he will lose money but he does not care because he knows that he will soak up consumers and gain control of the network.
Deputy O'Dowd has sincerely held views on this matter but festina lente is the best policy because we should ensure a good service. We should expand the good service. Bus Éireann has shown us how the public sector and the private sector can work quite well together. In the new dispensation, Dublin Bus will have elements of the same structure.
Can the Minister clarify a point? He says that the private operator can ask for costings and make comparisons. Who will make that information public? Will this information come to the Minister or to the new Dublin transport authority? In that case, the Dublin transport authority could release information or appear before the Joint Committee on Transport to discuss the matter.
The operator must offer to run the service at a lesser amount. The national transport authority must establish to its satisfaction that this is true and that it is not predatory behaviour. The national transport authority will make the decision but the information will not be made public, any more than the commercial element of Bus Éireann or Dublin Bus information can be made public. Much of the information garnered will be submitted to the national transport authority so that professionals working for the body can make their views known and make a decision based on factual information.
Will there be no referral to the Joint Committee on Transport?
No, not on a commercial decision. The Joint Committee on Transport will have the right to call the chief executive of the national transport authority to appear and justify decisions. Where there is commercially sensitive information, such as why a network of routes was allowed to be granted to another enterprise, it must be justified.
I ask members to be conscious of time because we have some important amendments that members want to give time to.
Can we have a brief tea break at 11.15 a.m.?
I was prepared to relieve the Chairman for a few moments but the tea break will provide an opportunity for a break.
When Deputy Connaughton mentioned tea, I suggested to the clerk that the Deputy might bring us all down a cup. We will do that at 11.15 a.m.
We are dealing with the key issues. I refer to a point made by Deputy Broughan about the difference between Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann in respect of private enterprise. Bus Éireann is very proactive in this area. It works with people around the country in a symbiotic relationship. More routes are served and the State does not have to spend that money to provide extra buses that are used privately at different times.
The difference with Dublin Bus is that, in discussions I have had, it rejects entirely any consideration of this possibility. We can only speculate as to why this is the case. Dublin Bus tells me that it does not have a problem with new orbital routes and allowing private competition to apply for these routes. However, it has a problem with doing the same with any of the other routes it holds. Dublin Bus is the dominant player and is dominating the debate. It makes no effort to involve private enterprise and private suppliers of services. When these services were provided in County Kildare, Lucan and Maynooth, the evidence in the freedom of information requests received by the Department was appalling. One note suggests that Dublin Bus was abusing its dominant position in the marketplace and effectively the other company went out of business. It had a very good route. The opening findings of the Department of Transport were that when the operator sought to operate his private route on the first day, having received his licence from the Department, Dublin Bus was at the bus stop when he got there. Dublin Bus was behind them and it had more inspectors around than one would find in a New York City police drama. The company was bombed out of it and did not have a chance. The Department of Transport findings were the same. This problem is not being tackled in this legislation.
The Minister is saying that once these contracts are signed, the system will change. It will not change unless there is a driver for change. The Minister's arguments do not hold water. The Minister states that all of these contracts will be signed on 3 December. I accept there will be greater transparency in respect of public service obligation but the Minister is allowing the monopoly to continue for up to ten years after that date. That is the core weakness of the legislation.
I have made the following points on a number of occasions. I do not want Deputy O'Dowd's comments to remain on the record uncontested. I am not protecting any monopoly. We all have different points of view but we seek to provide the best, most efficient and most effective bus service and public transport service for the consumers and the taxpayers. Deputy O'Dowd is correct about a small number of cases where predatory behaviour was carried out.
There is a vote in the Dáil. In order to continue this meeting, can pairs be arranged? It will save us time. If Deputy Connaughton withdraws, we will have three Opposition and three Government Deputies.
I will facilitate the passage of this Bill.
We now have three on one side and two on the other.
I will withdraw.
I need to contact people in the Chamber.
Can Deputy O'Dowd ask the Whip if we can arrange pairs?
I need to speak to people in the Chamber on this matter. There will be no problem with time.
The tea break can be taken after the Dáil vote.
We can have the tea break now and come back at 11.10 a.m.
Will we finish this section?
I want to vote on this section.
We will resume debate on amendment No. 3. Deputy McEntee is replacing Deputy O'Dowd.
Amendments Nos. 5 and 45 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 8, before section 10, to insert the following new section:
"10.—Before consideration of applications for grant of licenses begins the Authority shall initiate a public consultation process which clearly sets out procedures for advertising for applications and how the public can make submissions before applications are considered.".
This is a key section in the Bill, containing provisions for the consideration of applications for the granting of licences. I tabled 15 or 20 amendments to improve this section, the first of which is amendment No. 5. A number of people in the transport business believe it is important that everybody in existing services and would be providers know when the Minister is considering launching a particular competition or tendering process for part of a route. They also think it important that consultation be the way forward. We are used to local authorities advertising local development plans. Although we are not allowed to intervene directly in development plans, we are used to being consulted about them. On that basis, I felt my amendment would improve the Bill by providing for consultation at the outset of the licensing process.
The same argument could be made for amendment No. 45. Section 23 is critical in terms of setting out who will draw up the guidelines for licensing. I am trying to improve the section by adding a requirement for public consultation. Such consultation would be useful for transport operators, entrepreneurs and the general public.
The Bill does not pay sufficient attention to commuters, who should know what is happening to their transport networks. Studies indicate that they will use what they consider to be the best services. An English study suggests that they will take the first bus to come along and that price is relatively inelastic.
Amendment No. 5 appears to envisage that the authority will advertise for the submission to it of applications for the grant of a bus licence and for opinions from the public. Amendment No. 45 provides a similar reference to public consultation in bus licensing guidelines.
Bus licensing is not the same as a planning process. It involves the application by a person for the right to engage in a commercial service. Confidentiality issues arise in regard to proposals for commercial bus services which would not pertain to a planning matter. Applicants have a reasonable expectation that they will be considered within a reasonable timeframe. I could envisage a situation where Citylink objects to every Bus Éireann application and vice versa. That would be contrary to our objective of providing a level playing field for all who want to provide bus services. Bus licences are commercial proposals which are submitted in the commercial interest of operators. Under section 10(2) the authority can seek information from any source in order to assist in considering applications. The current practice, whereby existing operators receive prior notice of consideration for an application on a proposed route, will continue because it arises from a decision of the courts. It would be impractical to require a public consultation process for individual licence applications.
Deputy Broughan made a fair point about commuters. Section 10 of the Bill caters specifically for commuters in requiring that their interests are considered by the authority. From a practical point of view, the Bill as it stands makes more sense than a complicated public consultation process. Consultation should be left to the discretion of the authority.
Allegedly, Dublin Bus created a route at the behest of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. That Deputy's constituents in north Drumcondra wanted the route. All of us have had similar experiences. I ask the Minister to consider whether a way could be found to consult the commuter. Commuter groups may be better represented in other jurisdictions. Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann have upset people by pulling routes without consultation. I will withdraw my amendments if the Minister tries to find some way of giving the travelling public a role.
I move amendment No 6:
In page 8, subsection (1), between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:
"(a) shall have regard to the desirability of ensuring that operators of public bus services are treated on an equitable basis with operators of private bus services,”.
This part of the Bill makes a number of useful provisions in respect of the consideration of applications. Amendment No. 6 reflects an amendment proposed by my colleague, Senator Brendan Ryan. Deputy O'Dowd believes commercial semi-State companies have a significant advantage over private ones but the Bill should ensure that the situation is not reversed. The Minister did not accept Senator Brendan Ryan's amendment but it has merit nonetheless. The amendment seeks a level playing pitch for anyone who wants to offer public transport services.
We make the same commitment in the programme for Government. However, one cannot create a level playing field if one singles out certain types of operator. There would be a hierarchy and the playing field would be somewhat more level for public bus services. The 1932 Act was introduced to protect railway companies but this Bill treats everybody equally. We cannot qualify that by applying different standards. I accept that the Deputy does not want the balance of favour to swing completely towards the private sector. I do not favour that outcome but nor do I wish to make distinctions between types of operators. I ask him to withdraw the amendment.
How stands the amendment?
I will withdraw it but I ask the Minister to consider how these provisions can be strengthened.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 8, subsection (1), lines 33 to 38, to delete paragraph (a).
They have not been grouped together but amendments Nos. 7 and 8 can be regarded, to some extent, as alternates. There are two different points of view that I have heard in the transport community which are felt very strongly. People deeply interested in the provision of public transport note that the Bill states "shall take account of the demand or potential demand that exists for the public bus passenger services to which the application refers having regard to the needs of consumers and any existing public bus passenger services on or in the vicinity of the route to be served by the proposed public bus passenger services".
There is a feeling that the regulators will place the onus on Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Murphy, etc., and ultimately on ourselves, to measure the demand. This is so difficult as to be almost impossible. There is a strong feeling in the transport community that it should be up to the operators, including private operators, to formulate their own business plan. They would assess the demand and put the proposal to us. In other words, the onus would be placed on somebody who wishes to provide a service. That is one way of looking at it.
I wish to speak to amendment No. 8 as it and amendment No. 7 are somewhat similar.
We must dispose of amendment No. 7 first.
The Deputy could speak to both of them.
Yes. They should have been grouped. It is an alternative to amendment No. 7. Amendment No. 8 reflects my own preference as it states: "In page 8, subsection (1)(a), line 35, after “to”, to insert the following: “the sustainability of the demand or the potential sustainable demand,”. We want sustainability.
In the afternoon we will switch to aviation and a key point is what is happening with aviation, even under the great Michael O'Leary, at the moment. Is it sustainable for our country, our economy and for jobs? It is a key issue. Whatever emerges through these arrangements, they should be sustainable. A service should be provided that will become embedded and offer a good service to commuters along the line.
It is a good word, mainly from an environmental perspective, but there should be sustainable economics. It applies to the economic performance of the past ten to 15 years. If we had built 40,000 or 50,000 homes a year, we would not have had this crisis but we did things which were unsustainable. We should avoid similar action in the transport industry with regard to passenger services.
Will the Minister consider inserting language about sustainable demand? It should not be about somebody entering the industry, earning something and then switching routes. I do not want to get into this afternoon's proposed debate but we have seen this in the aviation industry. A man can pull a route, a depot or base and go somewhere else across the European economy; that is no good to the country or area concerned. In this country, which is a smaller public transport territory, we need something sustainable. I will await the Minister's comments.
This seems to be a contradiction to amendment No. 5, which dealt with public consultation.
The other one was not accepted.
I appreciate that but if the Deputy wanted amendment No. 5 to be included on the basis that there would be public consultation similar to what county councils do, amendment No. 7 would be a direct contradiction. As I interpret it, the Minister has allowed for consultation with the public or for the public to call for new routes, as it and we would. When new housing estates are built, the first comment people make is about a lack of a bus service and how they should have one. The Minister's proposal in section 10 allows the public either directly or through public representatives to say that there is a need for a new route in an area.
I understand where Deputy Broughan is coming from. Deputy Kennedy has made my point. Consumers' needs must be at the heart of the decisions for a particular area. It should be a primary consideration and decisions should come from that, although other issues are also relevant and should be taken into account.
The main aim of section 10 is to establish the framework for the consideration of applications for bus route licences by the authority. Consideration must be pursued having regard to the overall and general objectives of the Dublin Transport Authority Act, which is updated through section 29 of the Bill. Section 10(1)(a) provides that in the case of applicants for all licences, the demand or potential demand for the proposed bus services, having regard to the needs of consumers, must be taken into account. We are placing the needs of the consumer at the centre of the consideration process for licences, and the demand test is established as having specific regard to those needs.
I know arguments have been made in both Houses as to whether there is a need for this section, particularly in a competitive bus market where it is a matter for individual bus operators to apply for licences based on their perception of the market and having regard to commercial decisions. It must also be recognised that there is no guarantee of commercial decisions being made in the best interests of consumers in all cases.
The removal of the demand test could have the potential to facilitate the effective deregulation of the commercial bus route market, which is important. That is not the Deputy's desire. The retention of this requirement in regard to the consideration of all applications for licences will ensure that the interest of operators will not take precedence over consumer interests. The bus market is not a single entity and there is a range of different types of services, in respect of which demand is a constant issue. The Deputy knows the different types.
I am satisfied that the provisions of section 10 afford sufficient flexibility and discretion to the authority and its consideration of bus licence applications. They also reinforce the central aims of the consumer-focused policy of the Bill itself. I will respond positively to Deputy Broughan as we will see if we can make this any clearer; everybody's desire is to have balance.
Amendment No. 8 is related and I will consider it in the context of the previous amendment. The only major difficulty I see is the definition of "sustainability of demand".
It has been done. The word "sustainable" has become key. I think it is in fisheries legislation, for example, as I remember sitting for hours considering it. It has been done in another Bill. We know what it means.
My recollection is that the fisheries legislation has a clear definition as sustainability levels are defined by science.
The word could be introduced and defined at the start.
It would be difficult. The Deputy has asked me to consider the matter and I will examine the section to see if we can make it clearer.
Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 8, subsection (1)(b), lines 39 to 41, to delete all words from and including “save” in line 39 down to and including “appropriate,” in line 41.
We are trying to improve section 10 and with my amendment, section 10(1)(b) will begin “shall take account of any or all of the following:” I was going to amend the term “any or all” as well. I wish to remove the clause because it is very ambiguous in respect of the application for a category which the authority deems to be inappropriate. We received legal advice that the clause is very ambiguous and that it could be interpreted in a malign way to allow the NTA, national transport authority, to grant a licence to operate a route or network of services which would compete with an existing route network of services, including services which receive a PSO, public service obligation, subvention from the State. It could thereby affect the financial position of the company operating such a route or network of services which, in turn, might require an increase in the subvention. This is the great difficulty in managing PSO routes and the two companies that operate them currently are paramount in our thoughts. It could create a peculiar situation in which one could end up undermining existing arrangements and it could be used in the broadest possible way to undermine services. From that point of view, the legislation should be amended.
Amendment No. 10 addresses the reference to "any or all of". We proposed the amendment on the basis that the Minister might not accept amendment No. 9. The Bill would be better if the reference to "any or all of" was removed. By stating "any or all of", the NTA could ignore the reference in section 10(1)(b)(iii) to the impact of a proposed public bus service on public passenger transport services subject to a public services contract and it would not be obliged to take this into account. The provision is too open-ended and it would be better to use the phrase “shall take account of the following”. Some sections may not apply to a particular licence, but most of them will apply to any granting of a licence. I propose the deletion of the reference to “any or all of”. It appears to be very ambiguous.
The proposed amendments would result in every application for a licence, irrespective of its nature, having to be considered against its potential impact on PSO transport services as well as having to take account of each of the ten other provisions set out in the paragraph, notwithstanding the benefits to the operators and the State in ensuring the PSO services are not cherry-picked, a desired aim of the Bill. We will try to ensure that does not happen. We must bear in mind the vast majority of licence applications will have no relationship to PSO services and our experience with the current licensing system bears this out very clearly. We made a definite policy decision in the preparation of the Bill that the consideration of the impact on contract services would not be mandatory in respect of all applications and would be a matter for determination by the authority instead. That is how the Bill is worded. It was recognised that it was unnecessary to require the consideration of this matter in all cases given the range of bus licence services that could present for licensing. Many would have no impact on PSO services.
It is also inappropriate for the authority to be compelled to consider each application against all the provisions of the paragraph where such a consideration clearly would not be warranted in many cases. Good examples include licence applications for once off events or the licence applications we received following the collapse of the viaduct. The discretion afforded to the authority in the current wording of the section is appropriate and consistent with the non-prescriptive approach taken throughout the provisions of Part 2 of the Bill. We have tried to be as exhaustive as we can in the list of things that can or should be considered.
As currently phrased, does it mean the authority could ignore all the provisions? Could it consider none of them if it so wishes?
Why insert this provision in the first place? Clearly, it could consider most of them. If the reference is omitted, it could decide the spatial strategy or sustainable travel are the key objectives and it could ignore the impact on existing operators if it wished. The legislation is very prescriptive but why is this the case? We are trying to clear up this minefield with which the officials have been trying to wrestle for the past ten years. We should make it very clear.
The Deputy should take into consideration the guidelines as well. It would not be in the interest of the authority to ignore all of them. It may be in its interest because there is an emerging——
That is what it states.
I understand that.
I never encountered this in legislation before. I am not here as long as the Minister but I have been in Opposition for a long time dealing with Bills and I never remember that phrase being used.
It used to be——
If I were introducing a Bill, it would not be ambiguous; it would be very clear.
When I started dealing with Bills in the House, a provision could be included to the effect that the Minister could do anything he wanted in the case of anything omitted from the Bill within a period of two years. It would not be in the interest of the authority to ignore all guidelines at any stage and it must consider all these matters. It must take Government policy into account. Such issues as the national spatial strategy and the sustainable travel and transport action plan must be considered one way or another, but the authority may not need to consider all of them. I will consider the Deputy's point concerning what would happen if the authority decided to ignore all the provisions. However, if it tried to ignore all of them, it would have a serious legal difficulty.
Will the Minister make it clearer, or indicate the authority should consider most of them? It appears to be a very lax arrangement.
The Parliamentary Counsel is not usually lax in the preparation of legislation and there is a specific reason for the provision. However, I take the Deputy's point and I will establish if it should be clarified further.
Amendment No. 10 is to be discussed with amendment No. 9.
Amendment No. 10 is an alternate amendment. I call on the Minister and his officials to reconsider the issue because, for any operator in the market, the authority will have an impossible task. I call on the Minister to reconsider the matter and I will withdraw the amendment on that basis.
Amendments Nos. 11, 11a, 12, 12a, 13 and 44 are related and may be discussed together. Amendments Nos. 12 and 12a are alternate.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 8, subsection (1)(b), between lines 41 and 42, to insert the following:
"(i) the protection of the integrity of the national urban and local bus network,".
This is probably one of the most important amendments I have tabled. We submitted all the amendments together but some were alternates to allow us flexibility. They should have been on the same list but the Bills Office believed they were too close to one another.
Amendment No. 11 proposes to include a new paragraph in section 10(1)(b) and calls on certain factors to be considered. It refers to the protection of the integrity of the national urban and local bus networks. This is a recognition of the fact that the Bus Éireann network is the national network operated by Bus Éireann. It has grown throughout the years and decades as an integral response to local communities and company management in such areas as Galway and Cork and throughout the country. The aim has been to try to form a national network.
It is a national network and its maintenance is a key objective which the authority should maintain. The case is similar in urban Ireland in the area for which the DTA is responsible. The Dublin Bus network is a coherent network and it should be protected. The network is at the core of what we are trying to provide. A network exists as a network.
One of the privateers who was referred to this morning, namely, our colleague, the late Séamus Brennan, proposed to take a quadrant of the city, county and greater area of Dublin and tender for bus routes. He recognised that, for example, a north-east quadrant comprising Dublin city, Fingal and further north rather than a single route represented a distinct market which needed to be served. I did not agree with that proposal and the late Minister never stated it publicly. However, it is what people in the industry thought he would do.
The proposal recognised that there is a network which is paramount. The Labour Party feels one of the weaknesses of the Bill is that it does not refer sufficiently to a network. My earlier amendments concerning local transport tried to state it will be linked to larger local regions, which will link into the networks of Bus Éireann and its contractors. There is a national network and a greater Dublin network, each of which have integrity of their own and must be preserved.
I disagree with my colleague on this side of the House on the issue of contracting routes. There must not be a situation whereby some people outside Finglas were satisfied with the existing network but, because it was under pressure from Deloitte and the Minister, and in the future from the DTA, Dublin Bus would abandon the route or give it to a private operator who in turn could not be bothered running a service in a lightly-populated area such as St. Margaret's. We discussed the greater Finglas area, which the Chairman will know well. We should not abandon rural dwellers in that area, south Meath or other areas where there is a light service and one could say, "Let them go hang". Such an approach would defeat everything we are trying to achieve.
The network should be protected. The only way we can currently recognise routes is to look at Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann timetables because they have the routes in situ and have done the business. We may need to ask for improvements and so on, but there should be a requirement that a network exists, is respected and is enhanced. We want to enhance it at every level. That is the task which, it is to be hoped, the DTA will follow.
I may refer to other amendments. One of the core beliefs of the Labour Party concerns networks, something which should be in the Bill.
I agree with Deputy regarding networks. Many groups of the public service obligation routes which are currently subvented may contain some which are at least breaking even. It is important that we keep a network in place. The Bus Éireann network is also extremely important and that is why it has tried, in the necessary changes it had to make as a result of its financial situation, to keep the network intact, which is important. It may have to decrease the level of service on each route.
The changes made by Bus Éireann to the Fingal route on foot of the Deloitte report have proven to be very positive, from a financial point of view, for the company and the current service levels to consumers are satisfactory. I agree with the principle of Deputy Broughan's comments on the importance of the network. It is protected. The Bill allows the DTA or the NTA, as it will be known, to protect the network. The contracts we will sign with the companies will also establish and reinforce quite clearly the concept of networks.
The main aim of this section is to establish a framework for the consideration of applications for bus route licences by the authority. The consideration has to be pursued having regard to the general objectives of the authority, which is provided for in section 10 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 and updated by section 29 of this Bill. That link and the relationship between sections 10 and 23 of the Bill are of particular importance when we consider these amendments.
The focus of amendment No. 11, which proposes the introduction of a new paragraph in section 10(1)(b) to establish a requirement to protect the integrity of the national urban and local bus networks, is already specifically addressed through the existing subsection (3) of that section. It allows the authority to consider the impact of a proposed commercial bus service on public transport services which are the subject of public transport services contracts where the authority considers that such consideration is warranted. What the Deputy is trying to achieve is already covered under subsection (3).
The provisions of section 10 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, as substituted by the amendment in section 29(1)(c) of the current Bill, set out clearly the objectives that the authority must seek to achieve in exercising its functions. These include, in section 10(1)(a) and (b), the development of an integrated transport system — the point the Deputy made on the network — which contributes to environmental sustainability and social cohesion, and promotes economic progress and the provision of a well-functioning, attractive, integrated and safe public transport system of services and networks for all users.
Those particular elements of the overarching objectives established for the authority address the majority of the issues raised in amendments Nos. 11a, 12 and 12a, especially when they are viewed in association with section 10(b)(i) as it is presented in the Bill as it stands. Therefore, the points made by the Deputy are well covered.
Amendment No. 12 also envisages the removal of the reference——
I did not move that amendment. I moved amendment No. 11. I apologise. I take the Minister's point on amendment No. 11.
They are related.
Yes, but I did not get a chance to move amendments Nos. 11a, 12 and 12a. Amendment No. 44 is practically the same as amendment No. 11, so it is being considered with it. Amendments Nos. 11a, 12 and 12a are slightly different. Amendment No. 11a states: ”In page 8, subsection (1)(b)(i), line 42, after ”attractive,“ to insert ”regulated, sustainable“.” Amendment No. 12 is an alternative to amendment No. 11a and states: ”In page 8, subsection (1)(b)(i), line 43, to delete ”competitive“ and substitute ”efficient“.” The rationale for this amendment is that the Bill does not define “competitive” and competition could be dealt with in a different way, such as through a process of off-road competition for tenders. I tried to think this out.
I tabled amendment No. 12a, which is the best one. It states: ”In page 8, subsection (1)(b)(i), line 43, to delete ”competitive“ and substitute ”regulated and sustainably competitive“.” This would ensure that the area is strictly regulated and would not have the sort of messing such as that which we saw in the financial industry. It would be regulated on the basis that it would be sustainably competitive. That is the heart of what of I was trying to do through the amendments.
Amendment No. 13 is also linked to this area. It states:
In page 8, subsection (1)(b), between lines 44 and 45, to insert the following:
"(ii) the need for the provision, maintenance and investment in public transport infrastructure and modern bus fleets across all networks and for all users,".
On the competitive side, the key point I sought and something which I would like the Minister to examine again is that the sector would be strictly regulated and sustainably competitive. Amendment No. 13 is slightly different but is part of the same provision. It is about having a level playing pitch for public and private operators who should have to provide infrastructure, shelters, stops and whatever else is necessary to look after their routes. The national transport authority will have a role in that too. It would be wrong for public sector companies to have to provide all the infrastructure. The UK study is a valuable document because it looks back over 20 years. Depots were a key issue in the United Kingdom because some companies got away with using a minimum of infrastructure by keeping the vehicles on the road. It is reminiscent of a gentleman in the aviation industry who wants to run an airport out of a field in Mullingar, not bothering to facilitate passengers. The UK study found that depots are a critical part of infrastructure. It is important that the public service companies are not disadvantaged in respect of infrastructure.
In the past we have required public service companies to maintain accessible, well-maintained, excellently clean and attractive vehicles. We can see from the Luas, the early days of the DART and the new rail carriages that people like attractive public transport vehicles. It should be a requirement that anyone who is offering a particular service or tendering for a route should have a fleet that meets the requirements. We do not want a controversy to arise in the future when we are shown into an old yard with clapped-out bangers sitting in a row, probably former Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann buses, in a shocking state, on which people are expected to travel. People may feel that they are forced to travel on these buses. We need decent fleets and a decent infrastructure. Amendment No. 44 is the same as No. 11.
If the depots become the property of the transport authority, it would make a difference because buses will not be in clapped-out yards. Whether the provider is public or private, the transport authority should own the depots. That would allow for proper facilities, funded by the taxpayer, that would be available for all to use.
I dealt with amendment No. 13 in responding to amendment No. 11 and will not go over that again. In response to amendments Nos. 12 and 12a concerning regulated and “sustainably competitive services”, everybody has said that we need a level playing field but this is introducing adjectives that are at best very vague. What does “sustainably competitive” mean? If one introduces competition on a route——
We heard from Mr. Jaspal Singh yesterday who was prepared to run 1,750 buses a week from Galway to Dublin. I know the Chairman looks forward to the day when the population of Galway is 1 million and it will be an exciting high rise city in the west, but it is not there yet. Building is a good example. If we continued to build 90,000 houses a year, we would have had to bring in millions of people from eastern Europe. It would not have worked any other way. I recall putting that question to the Taoiseach. We wanted housing for people who live here and work for us. The Minister is a realist and must see that we are bankrupt, like Iceland. We are in a very dodgy situation. We have a chance this morning——
We would be like Iceland if we had followed Labour Party policy, nationalising banks and all the other issues such as 18% interest rates.
The Government is not kidding anyone. The general view is that AIB is a basket case. No one believes the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen. The Minister here today is a realist. He knows the score.
We must all be realists. We are on section 10 out of 45 sections and I am not sure we can conclude today as we had planned to do. We should take a decision that we may have to sit tomorrow because we need to inform the clerk and so on. We will not get through our business in the next hour or hour and a half.
I have to attend a board meeting. Could we sit at 11 a.m. tomorrow?
Most of my points involve opposing particular sections. I have only one or two points to raise on the remaining sections. I have no problem with finishing today if we deal with the substantive issues and have a vote at the end.
We have an hour to get through 35 sections.
There are one or two that are key to the Bill. I do not see how we can do that in the time.
If the Deputy keeps to the point, we might be able to get through the business.
They are among my three or four points. The Minister knows what I am talking about, sustainable competition.
The Minister made his point in his answer. If we start prolonged arguments, we will not finish. I have no problem. We will have to sit at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow as agreed, if we are going to start tomorrow.
I need to let people know if we are sitting tomorrow so we need to make the decision before we finish today.
I have addressed the Deputy's points in respect of amendment No. 13. While there is a great deal of toing and froing on this Bill, the Deputy needs to go back to section 10 (1)(a) and (b) which cover the integrated systems, contributing to environmental sustainability and social cohesion, promoting economic progress and a well functioning, attractive, integrated and safe public transport system. Qualifying words such as competition and competitiveness will have the opposite effect to that which the Deputy seeks.
Promoting regulated competition will be a further objective of the authority following the passage of this Bill. It will not be unfettered competition or competition for the sake of competition, nor predatory behaviour as outlined by the witness at yesterday's meeting but competition that is fair and regulated and will prevent what is happening now under ineffective 1932 legislation. The balance must be kept at all stages. There is a need to protect the network and to ensure that the consumer and the taxpayer get the best value possible for the money being spent. For all sorts of reasons, but principally those reasons, I cannot accept these amendments.
How stands the amendment?
I ask the Minister to think again about networks and I will withdraw the amendment.
How stands amendment No. 13?
Will the Minister and his officials think about infrastructure? We need a line on the role of the companies and the national transport authority.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 9, subsection (1) (b)(iii), lines 2 and 3, to delete “on or in the vicinity of the proposed route”.
This amendment is related to amendment No. 13. A complaint I have heard about the Bill is that it fails to treat transport as a network rather than a collection of unintegrated services. The NTA needs the power to reject licences for services that compete adversely with the core network, not just services parallel to specific routes. There is the same issue again of going for part of a route rather than looking at it as a network.
The effect of the amendment would be that where the authority was considering an application, it would have to take account of the proposed bus service on all transport services that are subject to a public service contract, including those it has no relevance for and those on which it would have no impact. If an application is made for a licence in Shankill, one would have to consider the implications on a licence in Blanchardstown. That does not make sense. I know that is not the Deputy's intention but that would be the effect of his amendment and it would be an impossible situation for the authority.
Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 9, subsection (1) (b), to delete lines 4 to 6.
I seek the deletion of the following:
the contribution the proposed public bus passenger service would have in achieving an increase in the availability of public transport services for the public,
This is very vague. It could be used as almost any reason to grant a licence and, in particular, to grant a licence against a public service transport company. For that reason, I believe it is too vague to be retained in the Bill as currently framed.
Amendment No. 16 seeks to insert the following: "(xii) the vehicular capacity of the routes of the proposed services.". This was put to me by people in the transport industry who state that they are already suffering from bus-taxi-bicycle congestion in some bus lanes. If the NTA procures a high quality bus route on a particular high quality route, it needs the ability to reject licences that will affect the reliability of the service. I note the Minister has had battles and generally I would have agreed with him in regard to the priority bus network and the green routes in Cork and so on. If it works well, as it did this morning when Deputy Kennedy and I were travelling in from the north side, let us keep it working well. In Leeds, for example, people are trying to procure a high quality high frequency BRT route. If a host of private operators are allowed run buses on the route against the lead operator, it would destroy the reliability of the core service. That is a concern that has been put to me by transport people. If one goes to the trouble of trying to get the green bus route and it is works well, do not mess it up. We think it should be an additional provision in the Bill.
The existing wording of section 10(1)(b)(iv) recognises, quite justifiably and reasonably in my view, the desire that the licensing of public bus services should contribute to an increase in public transport availability for the general public. The focus of subparagraph (iv) is based on the reasonable assumption that the public would benefit from the proposed public bus service. The removal of this provision could give rise to claims from existing operators on routes that they have some form of exclusive right to that route given the absence of any account being taken of the prospect of increasing availability of transport services. For that reason, I propose to retain the existing paragraph. If the service is adequate, efficient and is value for money, people will use it.
The rationale for the proposed amendment No. 16 seems to be to allow the authority to refuse licence applications where there might be an issue related to the vehicular capacity of the proposed route to be used or where, for example, the proposed commercial service might impact on the reliability of an existing PSO service that has been procured by the authority. That issue is already addressed through the combined provisions of paragraphs (b)(i), (ii) and (iii).
I also refer the committee to section 10(3)(a) which requires that the authority must be satisfied that an applicant has the capacity to obtain the necessary resources to provide a service. A full reading of all the sections meets the points raised by the Deputy.
Amendments Nos. 17, 18, 21 to 23, inclusive, 29, 42 and 43 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 9, subsection (1) (b), between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:
"(xiii) all relevant health and safety, labour and accessibility legislation and regulations and fair and reasonable salaries for all transport workers.".
These amendments take us half way through the Bill. I suggest that this amendment be added as a basic precondition of the granting of a licence. Amendment No. 18 seeks the insertion of the following:
shall require the applicant to produce a statement confirming that they agree and that they accept that is a condition of the granting of the licence that they will respect the established conditions of employment in the public transport sector, including respecting the rights of employees to engage in collective bargaining through a trade union.
Both aspects are equally vital and important to the Labour Party. What we are trying to avoid here is a race to the bottom. We have had a long history of this in many deregulated businesses whereby pay and conditions, health and safety regulations and so on have been disregarded by certain rogue employers. There is a spiral of decline. For example, the Aer Lingus officials who will appear before the committee this evening will have to make a case that they are being attached to the Ryanair model, essentially the Irish Ferries model. This is a disastrous route for Irish workers. We know we can provide services competitively where people have a decent life and a decent living where one is not on crazy shifts, having to hang around for a great part of the day and then drive late into the night followed by an early start in the morning. There are some conditions like that in the private transport business which are deplorable and run counter to all Irish and EU regulations. They are not just bad, but dangerous.
Safety is critical in this industry. One depends on the driver to be sharp, fresh and able to carry out this important job with great integrity and discipline. We fear that, if this provision is not accepted, it will start a spiral of decline. People will approach the new transport regulator and say they have costed a particular route but it is based on slave labour. There will be a churn of drivers, as we have seen in other countries, where people work for a few years and get their qualifications. They cannot stick it and are burned out. We have had allegations about this from the aviation industry. We should include in the legislation a provision which provides for all health and safety, labour and accessibility legislation and regulations and fair and reasonable salaries for all transport workers. I am not talking about the minimum wage but about industry norms. I could reconsider the wording of that amendment, as it needs to be stronger.
Amendment No. 18 proposes that the granting of the licence should be conditional on an applicant respecting the existing conditions of employment and the right of workers to be professionally represented. As the Minister will be aware, I do not travel with Ryanair because, for the past ten or 11 years, it has refused to recognise the rights of workers to be professionally represented. I did travel with that airline in the earlier period when it appeared that it would allow workers such a right, but then it decided against doing so. Although the leader of that company has professional representation, I fundamentally disagree with the company's policy in this respect. At times, we all need professional representation in different areas, particularly in regard to our basic terms and conditions of work. That goes without saying. I want to ensure that we do not get on that treadmill and to provide in the legislation that there will be a level playing pitch and that we will not only expect Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus to provide their workers with decent living standards.
Most bus drivers would say that driving a bus is hard work. It is safety-critical work, which they do brilliantly, but they receive reasonable wages for the services they provide. We must guard against private companies entering the market and making a case for employing workers on the most basic of conditions. As has happened in England and with Ryanair, members of the public will board the first plane or bus to come along. They do not stop to think that their conditions could be those of the workers in, say, Ryanair tomorrow. One of the reasons the four of us, as public representatives, are here is that we have always put ourselves in the shoes of other people in the economy. We know what their lives are like and we try to speak on their behalf as best we can.
This issue is of fundamental concern to the Labour Party. A measure to provide for this issue, be it amendment No. 17 or amendment No. 18, should be included in the legislation. If the Minister can propose an amendment that would improve the wording of amendment No. 17, that would be well and good.
Amendments Nos. 21 to 23, inclusive, are also in this grouping of amendments. Amendment No. 21 proposes: "In page 9, subsection (3), between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following: (a) he or she complies strictly with the best labour, health and safety standards.” It similarly seeks that such a condition should be a prerequisite for the granting of a licence.
A meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts — this committee is meeting now and I should be attending — discussed an issue some weeks ago to which amendment No. 22 relates. We had a major debate on fiduciary taxes and preventing the skullduggery engaged in by certain rogue businesses in not making tax and PRSI payments in respect of their workers and moving from business to business. The Revenue Commissioners have had a long battle with such phoenix companies. Deputy Bernard Allen, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, and the committee, which has 12 members, including some of the Minister's colleagues, will report on that matter shortly.
I seek the inclusion of the condition provided for in amendment No. 22. An applicant must have a current tax clearance certificate, but sometimes that does not include all fiduciary taxes. I know that is the case from the in-depth research on this area carried out by members of the Committee of Public Accounts. An applicant must have made the tax and PRSI payments in respect of his or her workers.
Amendment No. 24 provides: "In page 9, subsection (3), between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following: (e) all of the operator’s fleet is fully accessible.” This point was put to me by the public service operators, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. They are required to provide wheelchair accessible buses. We had a battle about the DART providing such accessibility. We must have a level playing pitch in terms of the provision of accessibility for people with disabilities. All public transport must be accessible. We cannot expect a higher standard from one operator and not expect it from other operators. Speaking on behalf of citizens with a disability, all public transport must be accessible. I ask the Minister to insert that provision.
Amendments Nos. 29, 42 and 43 are also included in this grouping. Amendment No. 29 provides: "In page 11, subsection (2), between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following: (f) compliance with all health and safety, labour and employment legislation, regulations and standards including those on salary and work conditions.” The argument I made earlier applies to this amendment.
Amendment No. 42 provides that a similar instruction would be added to the guidelines. It provides: "in subsection (2), between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following: (d) shall ensure that all operators, fleets and bus infrastructure comply with the highest health, safety and accessibility legislation, regulations and standards.” The earlier points I made apply to this amendment but it proposes that such a provision be included in the guidelines.
Amendment No. 43 provides: "In page 16, subsection (2), between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following: (e) maintain the highest standard of working conditions with fair and reasonable salaries for all transport workers including those established by collective agreement obligations.” I would like the Minister to consider these amendments.
On the amendment dealing with fiduciary taxes, that is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners. We took advice on that matter. Section 10(3)(c) is currently a standard provision used in a large body of legislation because tax clearance applies to all applicants for Government contracts and to many regulated sectors, Members of the Oireachtas and so on. The amendment proposed would fundamentally alter the concept of tax clearances provided for in the Tax Consolidation Acts and the arrangements as operated by the Revenue Commissioners. That is beyond the scope of this Bill. Therefore, I ask the Deputy to withdraw his amendment on that basis.
I will not go through each of the other amendments, as many of them deal with the terms and conditions of employment of individual workers. I have considerable sympathy for what the Deputy said, but this is not the Bill in which those issues need to be addressed. Having listened carefully to what he said, these issues are more relevant to legislation on the road passenger transport operators licensing, RPTOL, system, rather than this legislation, which is about bus licensing rather than individual licensing. I intend to introduce legislation on the RPTOL area in the coming year to address some of the more recent EU regulations on the matter. I give an undertaking that we will consider the issues the Deputy raised in the context of the preparation of that legislation.
I am disappointed with the Minister's response. We have a new playing pitch with this legislation and we want it to be a level one. We want all operators to have the same obligations to their workforces. Without such provisions, the Minister could create a situation where some operators will have advantages over others, which would be unacceptable to the Labour Party. Therefore, I want to press some of the amendments.
Is amendment No. 17 being pressed?
I will withdraw that amendment.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 9, subsection (1), between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:
"(c) shall require the applicant to produce a statement confirming that they agree and that they accept that is a condition of the granting of the licence that they will respect the established conditions of employment in the public transport sector, including respecting the rights of employees to engage in collective bargaining through a trade union.”.
- Broughan, Thomas P.
- Connaughton, Paul.
- O’Dowd, Fergus.
- Ahern, Noel.
- Cuffe, Ciarán.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Fahey, Frank.
- Kennedy, Michael.
We need to determine whether we will be back here tomorrow. We have another half hour. We could extend the meeting to 1.50 p.m., but we have another meeting at 2.30 p.m. and the Minister has a meeting.
At 1.30 p.m. and 2 p.m.
From our perspective, we just want to record a vote against the Bill. That is the remaining fundamental issue.
I have a difficulty with tomorrow morning as well.
There is a general desire to try to finish today, if possible. It is up to Deputy Broughan.
The problem is that we are only about half way through the amendments. There are a few I wish to put on the record.
Is there another time we could deal with it next week, rather than tomorrow?
Is there not a time issue with the passage of this legislation?
We know that. Could we do it on Monday?
We cannot do it on Tuesday.
Tuesday is not possible.
If we gave the pilots an hour, could we resume at 3.30 p.m.?
I will not be here, unfortunately, because I have an appointment.
As we have 45 minutes, I suggest we have the final vote at 1.45 p.m. I appreciate that Deputy Broughan has points to make. If he can make them between now and 1.45 p.m., we will have the final vote at that time. We will go through the amendments before then. Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 9, subsection (2)(b), line 24, after “party,” to insert the following:
"including any local authority (within the meaning of the Local Government Act 2001) in whose functional area the proposed public bus passenger service will operate,".
This question was raised in the Seanad and we have discussed it here also. The amendment seeks to ensure local authorities will have power to make submissions in the case of all bus licence applications. It was pointed out in the Seanad and the Dáil that not all bus licence applications warranted a specific input by individual local authorities. I cited some examples in that regard. We have refined the wording slightly with regard to the proposal made in the Seanad. As we do not need to have discussions on every type of licence, I have gone as far as I can concerning the matter. In view of this, I ask Deputy Broughan to accept the refined amendment, as it stands.
I thank the Minister for coming forward this far with the amendment. There is an issue within local authorities as to whether the submission should be subject to a reserved function. We have received complaints from councillors on all sides who consider they are being usurped by the manager. In fact, the Minister has been strengthening that aspect in part of the Bill; he should also look at members' powers. However, I will accept amendment No. 19 and withdraw amendment No. 20. I will come back to the issue raised in it.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 9, subsection (3), between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
"(e) all of the operator’s fleet is fully accessible.”.
Is it not fair that everything should be accessible, rather than just some vehicles? This is a fair complaint we receive from Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. They state: "We are moving on the issue of accessibility and doing what the Government tells us, but these characters do not give a damn about the disability regulations". In other words, key equality legislation is being disregarded.
As the Deputy knows, not all of the fleets of public bus companies are fully accessible. However, there is a programme in place to try to make them fully accessible. It is within the remit of the authority to ensure that over a period of time all bus service operators will offer transport that is fully accessible. However, it would be unreasonable to expect this to happen straightaway, but it is Government policy that all public transport fleets be fully accessible.
Why not include it in the Bill?
Because I have to deal with the amendment, as it stands. It would be unreasonable to expect somebody to provide overnight a fully accessible fleet. Even the public transport companies which are receiving a lot of money to make their fleets fully accessible have not yet succeeded in so doing.
I do not agree with the Minister, but I will withdraw the amendment.
About 82% of vehicles are accessible.
Deputy O'Dowd is opposing the section. Does he wish to speak on it?
Amendments Nos. 25 and 37 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 10, subsection (1), between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
"(f) Any requirements to post a bond or guarantees to protect the State in the event of bankruptcy or substantial non compliance with this Act or the conditions of the License.”.
This amendment concerns the granting of a licence. In the British market we have seen the widespread occurrence where people just walk away when a company gets into trouble. The NTA will have an obligation to the travelling public to ensure network services continue in the interim. The Minister may say the DTA or the NTA is the operator of last resort, which is a good point. However, we still need something stronger.
Amendment No. 37 reads:
In page 13, subsection (1)(a), line 31, after “revoked” to insert the following:
"and after all minimum notice periods for services to be revoked have been served and all necessary bonds and/or guarantees have been posted to protect the State.".
In other words, it would place a requirement on somebody who says, "I am going to run a service," to put their money where their mouth is. It would be reasonable to insert these financial requirements to protect the travelling public.
The Deputy must remember that licences are granted to operators to provide commercial services. In the event that an operator becomes bankrupt, the service will cease to operate, with the result that another operator will be able to obtain a licence to provide the services. The authority is empowered under section 10(3) to seek assurances that an applicant has the capacity to obtain the necessary financial and other resources required to provide the service to which the licence application relates. Under sections 13, 19 and 24, failure to comply with the conditions of a licence, or the mandatory provisions of this Part of the Bill generally, is an offence that will lead both to fines and the possibility of revocation of a licence. In the circumstances, therefore, the important points raised by the Deputy are adequately covered.
There may be, however, a gap in the service. Perhaps the Minister's officials might re-examine the matter before Report Stage.
The section is opposed by Deputy O'Dowd. Does he wish to say something about it?
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 10, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) The Authority shall publish details of the levy scheme or any other mechanism it will utilise to finance the regulation of private operators.".
This relates to previous amendments. The section deals with fees or applications but not with the ongoing cost of regulation. I will make a general point. In the current financial circumstances we realise quangos or agencies should support themselves as far as possible. However, there will be an ongoing cost of regulation. There is a fear that because there is no mechanism to collect levies, one could end up without regulation. I am proposing, therefore, a new section setting out details of a levy or other mechanism to provide funding for the authority to regulate private operators. Yesterday we had before us the respresentatives of an operator, one of the wealthiest companies on the planet. It is a massive company, turnover of which is probably the equivalent of the GDP of this country. It is now operating a service on the Galway route. We should have a process in place to deal with very wealthy companies. Therefore, the amendment reads: "The Authority shall publish details of the levy scheme or any other mechanism it will utilise to finance the regulation of private operators". We must have money to regulate and avoid what happened with the banks. We need to have a well financed, strong and progressive regulator in the NTA.
Under section 12(4), the authority will be entitled to impose fees for licences which would "be applied for the purposes of meeting the expenses properly incurred by the authority in the discharge of its functions". My legal advice is that an attempt to impose a further charge or levy, as provided for in the amendment, might be open to challenge on the basis that it could be construed to represent a tax which could not be imposed in legislation of this nature. In the maximum period of a licence there will be fees which can reflect the costs to the authority in deciding on and enforcing the terms of licences. However, one cannot impose a levy.
The provision should be more explicit but I will withdraw the amendment for now.
Amendments Nos. 28, 30 and 33 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 11, subsection (2)(i), line 14, to delete “minimum” and substitute “highest”.
I refer to the attachment of conditions to a licence and the minimum accessibility and emissions standards. I am arguing for the highest such standards. We should set out very high standards from the start and not go for the bare minimum because, as I said, one would be going back to the yard of clapped out vehicles and expecting the public to put up with rubbish.
Amendment No. 30 reads:
In page 11, subsection (2), between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
"(k) the inclusion of Automatic Vehicle Location or similar technology to support Real Time Passenger Information and the general management of the public transport network,”.
We need existing companies to be part of this process. We expect to have a AVL system such that when we stand at a bus stop, we will know when a bus is due. A few of our compatriots who are still in Paris will be able to see when the bus that will take them to the airport is due. We want real time information. The Minister should include this provision and make it a requirement of all companies.
Amendment No. 33 reads:
In page 11, subsection (2), between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
"(n) the provision and maintenance of essential bus infrastructure for all users and modern bus fleets as indicated in regulation by the National Transport Authority.”.
I am arguing for the highest standards of infrastructure and bus fleets, as well as for a AVL system and real time information.
The authority is entitled to apply conditions which it can apply to vehicle accessibility standards but they must be consistent with national requirements in that regard. One cannot introduce specific requirements for each sector. There is a commitment to accessibility. We have a disability programme in place and national requirements will apply in this regard.
I refer to the quality and standard of vehicles on PSO routes. If a private operator eventually receives a licence to operate on a PSO route, part of the contract that operator will sign will require that he or she have vehicles of a particular standard. Some of the success of commercial operators has been due to the fact that they have applied higher standards. Before we started to invest in Bus Éireann buses, many passengers had switched because the coaches provided by private sector companies attracted them. It will not be in anyone's interest to provide shoddy vehicles for services, commercial or otherwise. If an operator is providing PSO services, there will be minimum standards laid down in his or her contract.
As regards the imposition of an AVL requirement, there is a large number of licences where such a system would be unnecessary, for example, services on which there are no intermediate stopping points or one-off services for particular events. In the context of the operation of commercial services that attract no State support, the imposition of such a requirement might be seen as imposing an unfair burden on the operator, especially where an AVL system is still not available for existing PSO services and, when it is, it will be paid for by the State. I have no doubt the private sector will want an AVL system to be available to it when it becomes operational. However, that would not be a matter for it to decide.
Amendment No. 33 would require bus operators applying for licences to establish support infrastructure for the proposed service. It is in the interests of operators to have the necessary structures in place to support their operations; it would not be appropriate for the State or the authority to determine requirements for such structures. However, it should be noted that section 62 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 provides that the authority can direct that infrastructure such as bus stops and stations be shared. A commercial operator will want to provide the best possible facilities for his or her customers. In the case of PSO services, a company can be directed to provide the services already provided at taxpayers' expense.
I will withdraw amendment No. 28 for now.
I wish to hand over to the Vice Chairman for ten to 15 minutes.
This looks like a hopeless task today.
Our only option is to reconvene at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
Amendments Nos. 31, 32, 35, 36 and 46 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 11, subsection (2), between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
"(l) minimum notice periods for services to be revoked,”.
I propose to attach another condition, namely, a minimum notice period in respect of services to be revoked. Somebody may revoke a service where he or she is experiencing financial difficulties or if the service is unsatisfactory but there should be a minimum notice period specified in the conditions attached to the licence.
Amendment No. 32 reads:
"In page 11, subsection (2), between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
"(m) minimum notice periods for amendments to services and requirements for public consultation,”.
It should be a condition of a licence that service and route changes require public consultation. An operator should not be able to receive a licence and then change a service at a whim. I warned about what happened in the deregulated English market and said we should not allow that to happen here. If there are amendments to services, there should be minimum notice periods, in other words, one should not mess around with the service. Mr. Singh from CityLink who appeared before the joint committee yesterday said he was going to go to court to argue he had a licence because the Department had given him a different licence on the same route. We know he does not but that is what he argued.
Amendment No. 35 reads:
"In page 11, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following subsection:
"(3) An application for an amendment to alter a licence may only be considered if all minimum notice periods for changes to public bus passenger services have been adhered to.".
A minimum notice period should be required to change a licence.
Amendment No. 36 reads:
"In page 11, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) An application for an amendment to alter a licence and public passenger bus services may only be considered after a full public consultation has taken place."
That brings me back to my original point that there should be consultation because, whether the Minister likes it, the public will start to become involved. I presume the NTA will have a good attitude to the public and will arrange meetings to discuss transport issues, etc. I presume Mr. John Fitzgerald will start to engage in consultation, etc.
Amendment No. 46 reads:
In page 16, subsection (2), between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:
"(h) shall include minimum notice periods to revoke or amend licences,”.
I ask that the authority receive a decent warning of any changes to licences.
These amendments deal with the attachment of conditions to licences. Section 14 sets out the requirements that must be complied with. It involves an application to the authority for the grant or amendment of a licence. Section 23 relates to the guidelines that must be made in respect of the proposed new licensing system.
The requirement for a minimum notice period in respect of services to be revoked mentioned in amendments Nos. 31, 32 and 46 would be impractical. For example, one of the reasons a service would be withdrawn would be the going into liquidation of the operator. In such circumstances the provision could not be enforced. Where a service is amended, the licence must also be amended, in accordance with the terms of section 14, and it is obviously in the interests of the operator to give such notice. It is expected that all of details of licences will be available for the information of the public on the authority website.
There appears to be a presumption in amendment No. 35 that changes to licences may not be subject to the approval of the authority; that is not the case. All amendments must be approved by the authority. Where an operator has not complied with a requirement, he or she is committing an offence. Section 14(4) clearly establishes that where the holder of a licence alters the public bus service to which the licence applies without obtaining an amended licence, he or she is committing an offence. The scenarios mentioned by the Deputy are covered by this provision.
On amendment No. 36, section 14(3) makes it clear that the provisions of sections 10 to 13, inclusive, will apply to applications under the section. As in the case of the proposed amendment No. 5 to section 10, this amendment envisages that one would have to advertise applications. I have argued against this previously. Under section 10(2), the authority can seek information from any source it wishes to assist in the consideration of applications under section 14. Existing operators would be able to make their views known.
One of the provisions proposed by the Deputy on revocation of a licence would be impractical. The rest of the points have been argued.
I ask the Minister to look again at the idea of having a minimum notice period.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 11, subsection (4), line 21, to delete "The Authority may" and substitute the following:
"Save where the Authority deems it not to be appropriate, the Authority shall".
This amendment arises from a debate we had in the Seanad. The issue was raised in the Dáil also. Having considered it further, in the light of the debate, I suggest the amendment which changes the word "may" to "shall", while also seeking to retain an element of discretion for the authority by allowing it to determine where such a requirement is not appropriate.
The section is opposed by Deputies O'Dowd and Broughan.
We saw the madness in the taxi market. Initially, when I read the Bill, I was concerned that one could have this situation in the big bus market. It would be regrettable if we were to go down that road. Much of the fallout with which we have had to deal in the taxi market stems from the problem of the transferability of licences. Everybody should go and get a licence and one should not intervene in the middle of a licence period. Obviously, if there is revocation, there might be special circumstances to be considered but, in general, it is a bad principle and we should get rid of it.
I will look at this issue before Report Stage to ensure the fears of both Deputies in this regard are allayed.
It would need to be a strict process. If an operator collapses and one takes over on the route, the new tender should provide his or her service.
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 13, subsection (1)(a), line 31, after “revoked” to insert the following:
"and after all minimum notice periods for services to be revoked have been served and all necessary bonds and/or guarantees have been posted to protect the State.".
This amendment relates to the section which deals with the revocation of licences. Subsection (1)(a) allows for the revoking of a licence where the licence holder requests that it be revoked. Minimum notice periods should be inserted in the conditions attached to the granting of a licence, while bonds or guarantees should be posted. I read recently that in the United Kingdom National Express had quit its contract to operate on the east coast main line and that the state had to step in and would lose over £1 billion. The contract was with a subsidiary of National Express which had no guarantees in respect of the parent company. This relates to the position on company organisation and what might happen in the event of revocation. The British Government was hammered in this regard as a result of the licence holder seeking a revocation. This is dangerous and a matter to which the Minister might give some thought.
We discussed this issue when dealing with amendment No. 25 and I indicated I would give it some thought.
This is where a company makes the request, perhaps for an ulterior motive, and leaves the State holding the baby.
I move amendment No. 38:
In page 14, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) The Minister shall publish regulations specifying how existing providers of urban bus services can tender for services under the 2008 Act.".
The amendment proposes a new subsection relating to the licensing of existing public bus passenger services. Section 20(3) provides for the expiration of all existing licences under the 1932 Act after two years but we need to know if the Minister will provide guidance through regulations on how existing providers of urban bus services will tender for services awarded under Part 3, Chapter 2 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008. There is a lacuna in the legislation regarding existing providers which I would like the Minister to address.
No proposal is contained in the Bill to introduce tendering in respect of commercial bus services, urban or otherwise. Section 20 sets out the arrangements through which existing commercial services being operated by Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and private operators can be brought within the new licensing regime. I am a little confused by the intent of the Deputy's amendment, as there will not be a tendering process. These are commercial licences for which public and private operators will apply on a level playing field.
Is the Minister sure existing providers will not be hamstrung for two years?
No; the same system will apply. I am absolutely certain about this.
I will examine the 2008 Act again and come back to the amendment on Report Stage.
Amendment No. 40 is related to amendment No. 39 and both may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 39:
In page 15, subsection (6)(c), line 34, to delete “is final and conclusive” and substitute the following:
"may be referred to the Board of the National Transport Authority".
The amendments seek to refine the appeals system. I examined appeal systems with which we are all familiar, the key one being that for social welfare appeals which is regulated by the Department. We often argue about whether such systems should be independent or statutorily based. The proposed appeals system would be improved if we made these amendments. The appeals officer could make the decision but it might also be referred to the board of the National Transport Authority. This would be similar to the planning process where applicants appeal to the local authority and then An Bord Pleanála. We are in new territory. While such an appeal could be referred to the Circuit Court eventually, the amendment would lead to a better appeals system. Perhaps the Minister might come up with a better formula but the amendments would improve the system. If the appeals officer and the board reject an application and applicants want to go to court, well and good.
The genesis of this proposal was discussions with people involved in the transport industry. They do not want to get tied up in long struggles in the courts system. However, Mr. Jaspal Singh of CityLink who appeared before the joint committee yesterday seemed to be prepared to go to court. The issue was raised in the Dáil.
That is about the only place he can go.
He should face charges. Will the Minister consider using the board as an additional layer?
No; it would not be wise to involve the board of the authority in the administrative functions of the authority. That would cross a line that would not be fair to the board members or management. Appeals officers will be independent in the performance of their functions, as set out in the section. Where an applicant is dissatisfied with a decision on an appeal, he or she may appeal the decision to the Circuit Court, which is reasonable. An extended appeals system would delay the process and would not be effective. I ask the Deputy to accept the section as it stands.
Would an extended system not deter applicants from going to court?
If they are going to go to court, they are going to go. I accept that initially there may be a temptation but if the appeals officers handle their business properly, the process will even itself out after a while.