Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Questions (65)

Brian Stanley

Question:

65. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will address the need to expand the number of electric vehicle charging points at Portlaoise and Ballybrophy train stations, County Laois and the need to expand the parking facilities to encourage the use of renewable transport and greater use of public transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45482/18]

View answer

Oral answers (14 contributions) (Question to Transport)

I welcome the opportunity to ask the Minister this question related to the rail stations in Ballybrophy, Portlaoise and Portarlington. In Ballybrophy and Portlaoise there are problems with the parking areas, including a shortage of parking spaces. I hope the Minister can address the issue because we must start to make it easier for commuters.

I am glad to hear a temperate and serious point being made. It is appropriate that we talk about electric vehicles, EVs, charging points and issues which are of importance to all of us and behind which we can all unite.

Travel demand is increasing in Ireland. It is imperative that we meet this growing demand in the cleanest manner to limit further emissions from the transport sector. Where feasible, increased demand must be accommodated on the public transport network or through walking and cycling. Improving public and active transport services and infrastructure is central to providing a greener alternative to the private car, reducing both congestion and emission levels. I was delighted to secure a 20% increase in capital investment in budget 2019 to support sustainable mobility projects and welcome the Government's commitment in the national development plan to invest €8.6 billion in public transport in the ten years to 2027.

The Deputy asked about electric vehicle charging points at two specific train station park and ride facilities. I note that responsibility for national charging infrastructure rests with the Minister of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I strongly support the transition to electric vehicles as a necessary step-change for Ireland to effect a substantial reduction in transport emissions. In fact, through the national policy framework for alternative fuels infrastructure for transport in Ireland 2017 to 2030, I have firmly outlined an ambition that all new cars and vans sold in Ireland from 2030 onwards will be zero emission-capable.

As to the named train stations, I am not currently aware - the Deputy may be more aware than I am - of a charging point located at Ballybrophy train station, but I was encouraged to note high usage rates of the charging point at Portlaoise train station. I am informed that it was used 45 times in October alone. This charging point was supplied, installed and commissioned and is maintained by ESB Networks. I understand the ESB has in a recent announcement committed to expanding and carrying out upgrade and replacement works on its public charging infrastructure.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Park and ride facilities are an effective way of increasing the catchment area of the public transport network and encouraging a modal shift away from the private car. Where possible, the combination of driving to a train station in a low-emitting vehicle to continue one's journey on public transport is a model I would like to see become widespread. I have no role in respect of Iarnród Éireann car parks, but I am informed that parking at both mentioned train stations is spatially limited and at peak capacity on weekdays. I understand from Iarnród Éireann that the expansion of car-parking facilities at train stations is subject to the conduct of feasibility studies to determine average occupancy and developing expansion strategies, as appropriate.

I am happy to report that the uptake of electric vehicles in Ireland has more than doubled this year compared with last year, albeit from a low base. The barriers to electric vehicles are increasingly being overcome with wider vehicle availability, in improving journey distance ranges, through better affordability and greater consumer awareness. The Government is playing its part. An interdepartmental low-emitting vehicles task force was jointly convened by my Department and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to consider a range of measures to expedite the deployment of low-carbon technologies, especially the uptake of electric vehicles. Recommendations from the task force were considered in the previous two budgetary processes and a generous package of measures to promote the uptake of electric vehicles is in place, including purchase grants, vehicle registration tax and benefit-in-kind relief, reduced tolls and a home charger installation grant. These incentives have resulted in there being approximately 6,500 electric vehicles on Irish roads today.

We are also seeing continued strong growth in heavy rail use. In 2017 there were an extra 2.7 million passenger journeys, a 6.3% annual increase on the figure for 2016, which brought the total to 45.5 million journeys, similar to the 2007 peak. New services such as those using the Phoenix Park tunnel in Dublin have contributed to this expansion.

These are welcome trends. It is only through the combination of cleaner technologies with more efficient, greener transport solutions that Ireland will be capable of catering for growing transport demand in a sustainable, low-emissions manner.

I thank the Minister for his answer. I am glad to hear that we are on the same page in expanding the number of electric vehicle charging points. The point is that there is not one at Ballybrophy and we want one, two or three. Traditionally, the station at Ballybrophy has been quiet. It is situated in a rural area between Rathdowney and Borris-in-Ossory and becoming busy again, which is no bad thing. There is a charging point at Portlaoise, although there is a problem with it. We need more at that station. There is also a problem as a result of all-day parking. Some drivers of EVs plug them in and think they have exclusive parking rights for the day. This issue needs to be addressed. There is a need for a system to be put in place by Iarnród Éireann to ensure motorists will not let their vehicles sit at these parking spaces for 12 or 14 hours. Commuters have a hard job. There are 11,477 people commuting out of County Laois alone to work each day and many of them travel by train. As somebody who uses the train occasionally, I can tell the Minister that it is hard work using the service because of the lack of parking spaces.

I will give one example. Somebody who wants to attend a hospital appointment but who arrives at Portlaoise or Ballybrophy stations after 7 a.m. will not get a parking space because they are not available. If that person is disabled, there is a problem. There is land adjacent to the station that needs to be developed for parking.

I do not believe there is a charging point at Ballybrophy although there is one in Portarlington.

There is one but we need an extra one.

The one in Portlaoise is very well used. I take the Deputy's point. If he thinks there should be more in Portlaoise, I will pass on that message to Iarnród Éireann and see what is the response. I share the Deputy's concern about people parking for the day and blocking the parking spaces and the charger. If that were to happen, it would be unforgivable. If it is happening, it should be remedied either by the ESB or Iarnród Éireann, or a combination of the two, because it is obviously counterproductive. It was used 45 times in a month but, if people are blocking them, that could obviously be improved.

I am happy to report the uptake of electric vehicles generally in Ireland has more than doubled this year compared to last year, and while that is admittedly from a low base, it is very encouraging. The barriers to electric vehicles are increasingly being overcome with wider vehicle availability, improving journey distance ranges, better affordability and greater consumer awareness. The Government is playing its part. An interdepartmental low-emitting vehicles task force was jointly convened by my Department and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to consider a range of measures to expedite the deployment of low-carbon technologies, especially the uptake of electric vehicles. Recommendations from the task force were considered in the previous two budgetary processes and a generous package of measures to promote the uptake of electric vehicles is in place.

Car parking at Ballybrophy and Portlaoise needs to be expanded as current facilities are not adequate. There is land adjacent to both stations that can be utilised, with the land at Portlaoise located right beside the station. The county council is interested in doing this and has been trying to do something about it. I urge the Department and Iarnród Éireann to liaise with the county council to try to get that in place.

In regard to charging points, Ballybrophy does not have one and it needs to have one or two, and we need an extra one or two in both Portlaoise and Portarlington. We need to find a system to stop people from blocking the charging points all day long, in other words, parking, plugging in, going to work and using the charging point and the space for the whole day.

The other point on parking is that it is very difficult for people who arrive after 7 a.m., which is a major problem. At Portlaoise all spaces are gone by 6.45 a.m. and it is impossible after 7 a.m., while it is difficult at Ballybrophy. This needs to be addressed. We have to start getting people to use the trains and we have to make it easier for them. It is a very costly service. It is €100 a week to use the train but it is also €4.50 a day to park. When it is all added up, it is costly. We need to make it easier and we need to keep the prices down.

I want to do everything I can to encourage people to use these charging points. What the Deputy is expressing is probably a microcosm of what is happening elsewhere. While I am talking rather loosely as I have no other evidence, it would appear that Portlaoise is not the only place where this is happening. If people are blocking parking spaces and using chargers, they may be frustrating others who wish to charge their cars.

Although Deputy Troy will be very annoyed, I cannot interfere with the workings of the NTA or Iarnród Éireann-----

Are they not reporting to the Minister?

-----but what I can do is pass on Deputy Stanley's message and I can ask them the question-----

The Minister is the shareholder.

I will do that. I will ask them a question about whether this is a frequent occurrence and whether it is affecting EVs, because that would be an important point to make.

How the lion became a lamb.

We will also continue to promote EVs through purchase grants, VRT and benefit-in-kind relief, reduced tolls and the home charger installation grant. These incentives have resulted in some 6,500 electric vehicles being on Irish roads today. The position is improving rapidly and we are working to ensure that continues.