Wednesday, 28 January 2004

Questions (13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18)

Willie Penrose


130 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Transport the progress on the implementation of the proposals contained in his statement to the public transport forum on 7 November 2003; the timetable for the legislation required to give effect to these proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2134/04]

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Eamon Ryan


133 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Transport the way in which the franchising of 25% of the routes in the Dublin bus market to companies other than Dublin Bus will be done in a way which protects the security and terms of employment of existing bus workers as promised by the Minister in his statement on the opening of the bus markets in November 2002. [2153/04]

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Pádraic McCormack


138 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Transport his plans for bus deregulation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2302/04]

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Damien English


180 Mr. English asked the Minister for Transport his plans for bus re-regulation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2303/04]

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Róisín Shortall


181 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport the position in regard to his plans for the restructuring of the CIE group of companies and, in particular, his proposals for the franchising out of Dublin Bus routes; the position in regard to his Department's discussions with the CIE group of unions; if he remains committed to the principle expressed in Sustaining Progress that public enterprise should be managed in a spirit of social partnership; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2147/04]

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Ciarán Cuffe


182 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Transport the arrangements he proposes to introduce for the transfer of buses from Dublin Bus to new operators in the Dublin market; and when he will have the details of such arrangements worked out given his comments to the Joint Committee on Transport on 25 June 2003 (details supplied). [2154/04]

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Oral answers (38 contributions) (Question to Minister for Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 130, 133, 138 and 180 to 182, inclusive, together.

I refer the Deputies to my reply to Question No. 124 on the restructuring of CIE.

I take that reply as read. Will the Minister concentrate on the issue of regulation? Over the past six to nine months when Deputies on this side of the House were trying to draw him out on his proposals, he gave the impression that the question of regulation had not occurred to him. I recall his asking us one day whether we thought he should establish a regulator before he made changes.

I put it to the Minister that his reply to Deputy James Breen about the service to Shannon Airport is nonsense. Does he accept that the public is often severely critical of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann for not providing services that are clearly required? When one looks for the source of that problem one discovers that either Bus Éireann or Dublin Bus has applied for a licence but that the applications seem to go into a black hole in the Minister's Department.

Does he accept that there is no transparency about the system for granting licences within his Department and that, invariably, where one of the national companies has established a demand for a service, someone in the Department discovers there is already an application from a private operator? Much of that stinks. There is no transparency in the operation of the licensing system.

Does the Minister accept that, in the case of Aircoach to which he refers regularly, it is not sustainable for the State to hand out free licences for profitable routes and then expect Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann to operate the unprofitable routes, often at great expense, while losing the profitable ones? On what basis are licences given out? There is no transparency. Will the Minister do something about this?

I object in the strongest possible terms to the suggestion that anything in my Department stinks when it comes to issuing licences. The fine public officials who deal with these put many hours of hard work into their recommendations which I almost always accept because they are experts in the area. The Deputy should re-think that suggestion.

There are no criteria. It is an arbitrary decision.

I wanted to defend the fine people who make these proposals. There are criteria in the 1932 Act. The Deputy's claim that the Shannon issue was nonsense does not stand up. I have a chronological order of what has taken place but the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will not allow me to read it into the record. Bus Éireann does not need a licence.

It needs approval from the Minister's Department.

There are issues connected with timetabling but Bus Éireann can initiate a route wherever it wishes.

With approval from the Minister's Department.

There is no reason Bus Éireann cannot initiate routes wherever it wishes. That is the situation.

That is not the case.

That is not the case.

The Deputy should withdraw her remarks about the Department's decision-making process. The delay in regard to Shannon arose because we delayed granting a licence to a private operator. The Deputy has tried to suggest something else but I have the data here. The delay suggested by Deputy James Breen was in granting a licence to a private company. This was done because Bus Éireann was involved in the route. Those are the facts. I have them here and will table them before the House if the Deputy wishes.

Why did the Minister not give the company approval to operate a route to Shannon Airport?

To whom does the Deputy refer?

Bus Éireann.

The company is on the route.

It was willing and able to operate that new route.

The Deputy does not have the facts right. The application was from a private company and that was delayed.

Why is there such a delay in processing an application for a licence within the Minister's Department? Is it a fact that there is a lack of resources within that section of the Department? There are significant delays in processing applications. Much of the frustration on this side of the House could be addressed if decisions could be dealt with quickly.

Bus Éireann cannot develop or open up a new service. It must have the approval of the Minister before it provides that service. That is the situation for any service.

The Minister said he would introduce legislation in 2004. Will he be more specific in this regard? Can he guarantee that a regulator and integrated ticketing will be in place prior to the market being opened up? In that context, does the Minister accept that his original deadline of 1 January, which has now passed, was a fallacy? What deadline is now in place for the opening up of the Dublin bus market?

I do not want to go into the Dublin bus market again because I believe we dealt substantially with the issue earlier. My position is clear. I do not have much more to add to the matter, except to lay out the objectives, which I did, and speak about the mechanism for achieving what is set out.

Under the 1932 Act Bus Éireann is required to notify the Department of its intention to commence a route.

The Minister should talk to his officials.

If other services are on the route, presumably the officials in the Department will bring this fact to its attention. My note states that the company is required to give notification to the Department.

Let us be clear about delays and giving out licences. The people who are waiting for the licences are almost exclusively, with the odd exception, private operators. The people we are holding up are the private sector by not giving them the licences they are demanding. There are substantial companies, including international, multi-national and local companies, being held up. We are not holding back Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and others. There is a suggestion that State companies are being held up in regard to licences. The people who are being held up in seeking licences are the private sector.

I did not make a point to that effect. I said there are significant delays in processing applications for licences, no matter who is putting in the application. What action is the Minister taking to address this issue and what is the reason for it? I cannot believe the Minister has refused to answer my question in the House.

Is it his intention to have the regulator and integrated ticketing in place before he opens up the Dublin bus market and there are private operators involved? Will he give us an idea of the timescale involved? Are we talking about 1 January next year or 1 January 2006? Give us some idea of the timescale.

Of course the regulator must be in place before there is a formal opening up of the marketplace because it is the regulator who regulates the playing field, so to speak.

It was not the original intention.

It is logical that the regulator should be in place first.

The Minister should look at the record. It did not appear to occur to him that regulation in this area would be required. Is it not the case that he and his predecessor have presided over a situation where the market has been opened by the back door, certainly the market in respect of the national bus service?

Does the Deputy want it opened or not?

The national bus market has been opened by the back door, without any regulation. The Dublin bus market has been opened by the back door without any regulation. The way operators get into the business now is completely unsatisfactory.

It is called the 1932 Act and we want to get rid of it.

Does the Minister accept there are several obvious examples where he has held back the progress of Bus Éireann or Dublin Bus in favour of private operators? Deputy Breen cited one example today. He raised the fact that Bus Éireann was not given permission to operate a new service via Shannon Airport and the reason for this. The Minister said this was because at some stage, long after the application had been made, his Department discovered there was a private application in.

I previously raised with the Minister the issue of the Cavan bus service to Dublin, where Bus Éireann was operating under an agreed NDP programme. Because a private operator came along, he put Bus Éireann off the route, to the annoyance of people who had been using the service. These people now have an inferior service provided by the private sector at a time that does not suit them.

Recently there was an example of an established demand for a Dublin bus service from Balbriggan. Dublin Bus was willing to provide the service. The application had the support of local residents and public representatives but it was turned down in favour of a private operator. Is it not the case that the Minister has seriously restricted Dublin Bus in expanding services over the last couple of years because he is holding it off until private operators come into the picture? He is limiting the services being provided without any transparency in regard to the criteria he is using or what the licences should be valued at.

None of that is factual. The 1932 Act lays down the criteria which are very clear. This is why the 1932 Act needs overhauling, which we are working on. I reject completely the notion that the Government has not invested and been very supportive of Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus.

The Deputy will not let them run new routes.

There has been enormous investment in Dublin Bus in the last couple of years. The taxpayers have, rightly, supplied the company with a huge number of new buses, approximately 100 or so yearly for the past couple of years. This is enormous investment in the company.

I asked about new routes.

Many of the buses operate on new routes. Taxpayers are investing very heavily and subsidising the company to the tune of approximately €50 million.

It is small by European standards.

It is important for taxpayers to understand that they have supplied a substantial number of new buses to the company which put them on new routes.

I will not go into the issue now but I will lay it out at a appropriate time. On what the Deputy said, the evidence is to the contrary because it is private companies that are being turned down.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

Sitting suspended at 3.35 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.