I wish to reciprocate the best wishes to Deputy Troy and wish him good luck in his role as well. He may have got the wrong advice on the date or timing for Priority Questions. I have to say I know nothing about it, but certainly it would not have been deliberate on anyone's part. I fully understand if he was not prepared and I thank him for submitting the questions.
The second issue is the question of free travel. I was advised that it was a matter for another Department. I have no problem whatsoever in answering questions on free travel. However, if I am advised that it is more suitable for another Department, I will refer it. I will look at the matter in more detail for the next time to see if it is appropriate. I would be happy to address it but if the Department of Social Protection wishes to take it, that is fair enough by me as well. Deputy Troy may ask me supplementary questions about it another time and I will try to address them, if he gives me a little notice.
As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding for the national roads programme. The planning, design and operation of individual road projects is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.
TII looked at a range of short-term and longer-term measures to manage demand and optimise operational efficiency on the M50. This was published in its M50 demand management study in April 2014. At my predecessor's request, TII undertook further analysis last year to identify a mix of measures to improve operational efficiency. Since the M50 upgrade, annual traffic growth on the M50 has continued, especially with renewed economic growth. Over 140,000 vehicles a day are now using the busiest sections.
Since this analysis, TII, in conjunction with stakeholders, has been progressing several short-term measures. These include changes to junction layouts to optimise use of lanes. Changes at the N3 and M50 junction and the Dublin Airport and M1 junction have been performing well and similar layouts will be provided between the M1 and N3 junctions over the coming months. New signage to direct diversions has been erected on an agreed route between the N3 and N2 and this will be extended shortly.
The motorway traffic control centre has been enhanced and the number of incident response vehicles has been increased, resulting in an average response time of 15 minutes. The working group set up by TII to strengthen co-ordination includes An Garda Síochána, Dublin Fire Brigade and local authorities and continues to enhance incident management and communication.
My predecessor approved a proposal to progress work on variable speed limits with a view to smoothing peak-time traffic flows. TII has established a project team to manage design and procurement, which is estimated to take 36 months.
Public transport initiatives such as reopening the Phoenix Park tunnel and commencing services on the Luas cross city line in 2017 will provide alternative options to the car. The Government's capital plan provides for significant investment in enlargement of the public service obligation bus fleet. The NTA transport strategy for the greater Dublin area 2016-35 envisages a core orbital bus network to ensure more trips are undertaken by public transport.