Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Questions (25, 26)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

110 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Transport if his Department will review national transport policy in view of the publication of the 2002 census travel statistics which showed a dramatic increase in car use for adults going to work and children going to school; if such a review is to be carried out, the form it will take and the timetable for the resulting review of investment priorities within his Department. [7073/04]

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Oral answers (24 contributions) (Question to Minister for Transport)

Transport policy is kept under constant review and data such as that in the census figures contributes to that process. National transport policy has to meet a wide range of needs and demands and the census figures reflect how the demand for mobility has increased dramatically in recent years as the country has developed and economic growth has increased. The challenge is to respond appropriately to this demand while taking into account potential conflicts with other policy objectives, including those relating to sustainable development, balanced regional development, social inclusion and land use development, which is coherent with transport policy.

Against this background, and on the basis of the mandate in An Agreed Programme for Government, my Department's statement of strategy 2003-05 establishes strategies that will underpin Ireland's economic growth and competitiveness and contribute to social development through the efficient and effective delivery of a sustainable, appropriately regulated, safe and integrated transport system.

A key component of that policy is the significant investment taking place in key transport infrastructure and services, in a manner consistent with the national spatial strategy and in a way which promotes modal shift in favour of sustainable transport. Much of the benefit of that investment is now becoming evident in Dublin and in other urban areas, as the DTO's most recent annual report revealed. For example, it emerged that the percentage of commuters using their car instead of the bus or train to travel in the morning peak in Dublin had fallen slightly in the five years to 2002. Some 85,000 or more than 18% now use buses to travel to work in the greater Dublin area, primarily due to the success of the quality bus corridors. These are positive trends.

I do not know if the Minister believes what he has just read into the record. If one considers the census statistics, it is clear we are presiding over a disaster in the area of transport. The Minister stated that we have a policy aimed at achieving modal shift. It is obvious from the census figures that this is not happening. Any analysis shows that people are switching to their cars. Our children are learning habits or starting lifestyles which will encourage them to drive to school rather than walk or cycle there as in the past.

The Minister referred to a slight marginal increase in some parts of inner city Dublin in respect of bus use. However, the reality is that most Dubliners drive to work from counties Laois, Kildare and Meath. These journeys are extremely long and lead to huge economic, social and environmental costs. The Minister is facilitating such transport patterns by spending four times more on motorways than on public transport. While he states that we want to achieve a modal shift towards public transport, the reality is that he is providing for a modal shift in the opposite direction. He is getting what he and other Ministers want to achieve, namely, a massive switch to car use.

What will the Minister do about this? How will he change policy or will it be a case of continuing as we go on the basis of the census figures? Are we to change anything or is the Minister satisfied the current policy is leading to the desired result? Does he believe the constant shift from 1986, when 45% of work journeys were done by car, to 1996, when 55% were done by car, and on to 2002, when 62% were done by car, is a step in the right direction? If not, what will he do about it?

I acknowledge the Deputy's statement that there has been a substantial increase in car use. A total of 50% of primary school students and 28% of secondary school students are driven to school. These are double the corresponding figures for 1981. It is clear there has been a major growth in the use of cars.

It has been the policy of successive Governments to try to effect a real modal shift. There is no great magic about how we intend to achieve this. First, we are building the Luas. In addition, we have put in place substantial quality bus corridors on which more than €90 million was spent during the past eight or nine years. This year our target is to double the number of quality bus corridors. There has been a substantial increase in the patronage of buses on these corridors. In addition, the average bus journey on the Stillorgan corridor is 35 minutes whereas in a car it is almost 65 minutes.

The answer to the Deputy's question is that it is a constant battle. Dublin is not unique in facing such a scenario. The people of Dublin are not selfish and if we provide public transport for them they will leave their cars at home. There has been phenomenal investment in Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and Iarnród Éireann in recent years.

It has been the policy of successive Governments to develop Luas, bring forward the metro, invest heavily in quality bus corridors and buses and invest heavily in cycling and walking facilities throughout the city and county. That is what is happening at present and it is one of the reasons the city is almost a building site.

During the past seven years there has been an increase of 9,000 in the number of people using buses. At the same time, there has been an increase of 280,000 in the numbers driving cars. The Minister is spending four times more on roads than on public transport.

The Deputy should put a question.

How is it proposed to reverse this position or encourage a modal shift?

The main answer is that we are catching up in terms of roads.

Four times more is being spent on roads.

Approximately €400 million or €500 million will be spent on public transport this year. As the Deputy is aware, the economy has been exploding and we have had to catch up in terms of our motorways. Most countries of Ireland's size would have full motorways running between their main cities. We are still trying to get there. We have invested heavily in rail and will continue to do so.

Denis Naughten

Question:

111 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport the position regarding discussions taking place with the bus unions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6835/04]

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I stated in my reply to a priority question on 28 of January my belief that the objective of regulated market opening could be achieved in the context of market expansion and negotiations without undermining terms and conditions of employment of existing employees. I also indicated my expectation that Dublin Bus would continue to play a significant role in meeting the future transport needs of Dublin. As stated on a number of occasions in the House, I am firmly of the view, supported by a number of professional studies and experience in other countries, that franchising is the most effective means of achieving genuine market opening to new entrants. However, I remain open to additional suggestions provided they are directed at achieving the same objective. Likewise, I am open to reasonable proposals relating to the pace of the introduction of competition so long as this objective is achieved in an acceptable time frame.

The Secretary General of my Department wrote to the CIE unions on 29 January outlining what I had said in the House and proposing that intensive discussions take place under an independent chair, within a tight time frame on the basis I have already set out. The CIE unions agreed to resume discussions on this basis. Intensive discussions, chaired by Mr. Kevin Foley of the Labour Relations Commission, commenced on 17 February. These discussions are ongoing and I understand have been characterised to date by a forthright and meaningful engagement on the issues.

Does the Minister accept that what we do not need is a change in the colour of the buses in Dublin? With regard to franchising, is it intended to have 25% more buses in Dublin or will 25% of the Dublin Bus fleet be handed over to private operators?

There is not a "yes" or "no" answer to that question. My target for Dublin is to open 25% of the market initially, before further progress is made. If I were to open it today, I would be talking about 25% of the existing market. If it is opened in six months' time when legislation is passed by the House, it will be 25% of the market as it exists at that time. The market is growing rapidly each day. There are increasing demands regarding the number of routes, buses and new services. My target is to achieve a figure of opening 25% of the entire market in 2004. I have not given up on this objective as yet.

The Minister continues to speak in parables. Does he agree that we need 250 additional buses in Dublin now, rather than in six or 12 months? Many communities around Dublin and elsewhere need bus services which are not being provided because the bureaucracy involved in the current system prevents it. Will the Minister ensure that a mechanism is introduced to provide services for the communities in question? Is it his intention to hand over some of the garages in Dublin to private operators to provide services in the city? Is he aware that the privatisation of bus garages in London was detrimental to competition?

In recent years, the public has provided hundreds of new buses for Dublin Bus and the company has done a fine job in using these assets. As regards the need to have more buses immediately, I am anxious to proceed with my proposals as quickly as possible in order that we can provide the additional services the city needs.

I do not want to discuss the matter in too much detail because discussions are ongoing, but I have received a number of studies on bus services, including the NERA and ISOTOPE reports to which I referred, both of which are strongly in favour of the direction I have proposed. I have a list of statistics in regard to the position in Helsinki, Stockholm and London before and after franchising. They are startling figures in that they all show that franchising resulted in significant increases in the number of buses and people travelling, reductions in subsidies per passenger and more modern bus fleets.

If the Minister is so eager to open up the market in Dublin, why did he not start discussions with the trade unions at an earlier date, rather than postponing them until now? If one examines the London market, which I ask the Minister to do, does one not find that while the quality of the service has improved and the number of people travelling on it has increased, the level of subvention to private operators has also increased significantly? That is the factual position.

I also thought that was the case, but when I checked I found that the subvention per passenger has decreased. While the number of passengers has increased dramatically and the subsidy has also increased, the subsidy per passenger has decreased and ultimately this is the key measure.

In that case, does the Minister have available to him the additional resources necessary to provide the additional subventions which will arise?

The Government has not yet worked through all that. I do not have a set number of buses in mind——

Is the Minister relying on another hunch?

I do not have in mind an optimal number of buses for Dublin. Many new applications have been made and new services are being demanded.

They are gathering dust in the Department.

In addition, much greater efficiency is being achieved with buses in that routes can sometimes be amalgamated and the new route serviced by the same buses. I acknowledge that much remains to be worked out in this area but I am clear of where we want to get to and I want to get there in 2004.

That is as clear as mud.

The Minister should visit Sandyford to find out what it is like to have no bus service.