Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Questions (62)

John Curran

Question:

62. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the number of low emission buses placed on order; the number of same to be delivered each year; the number that will operate in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29139/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Transport)

In a reply to a parliamentary question I received from the Minister this time last year, he indicated that the Government would no longer purchase diesel only buses from July of this year. He went on to state comprehensive trials would be conducted towards the end of last year to determine what type of buses would be bought in the future. I understand that those trials did not take place last year and that they took place early this year, or perhaps they are still taking place. In light of the commitment the Minister gave, will he set out the types and numbers of replacement non-diesel only buses the Government intends to purchase over the coming years?

Public transport - bus, rail and taxi - accounts for a little over 1% of Ireland’s overall non-emissions trading scheme carbon emissions and less than one 20th of the emissions from the transport sector. Accordingly, the impact on reducing national CO2 emissions of converting public transport to lower emitting fleets will be limited, though positive and important. Nevertheless, I believe in the leadership benefit of this move to low emission alternatives for public transport. The change will help to promote and normalise the use of non-conventional, lower emitting fuels and technologies.

A clear trajectory towards low emissions has been firmly established in the urban bus fleet. In the short term, we are committed under Project Ireland 2040 to no longer purchasing diesel only buses for the urban public bus fleet from this month onwards. Consequently, the NTA recently initiated a tender competition to award a framework agreement for the supply of double-deck diesel-electric hybrid buses. To help inform a longer-term bus procurement strategy, my Department, together with the NTA, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, has undertaken a comprehensive series of low emission bus trials, which will be reported upon shortly. Findings from this trial, alongside EU public fleet procurement requirements set out in the clean vehicles directive, together with ongoing market analysis and research, will collectively inform the NTA's approach to its bus purchase programme in the years ahead. I expect that half of the public urban bus fleet will have moved to lower emitting alternatives by 2023, with full conversion by 2030.

On the number of low emitting buses on order and to be delivered, I understand that the NTA’s recent framework agreement has indicated that up to 600 buses could be purchased over its duration. The framework will run for 30 months, with the option to extend by up to a further 30 months. The figure of 600 is only indicative and the exact number of vehicles to be purchased will be decided by the NTA annually in line with replacement requirements, capacity needs and funding availability, as well as taking account of developments in other low emitting technologies.

It might also interest the Deputy to note that a similar comprehensive programme of work is well under way to move the commuter rail fleet to low emitting alternatives. We plan to electrify important, heavily used elements of the rail network by creating a full metropolitan area DART network for the greater Dublin area, which is the part of the national rail network that carries over 75% of total rail passengers each year. It will mean high-frequency electrified rail services to Drogheda, Celbridge-Hazelhatch, Maynooth and M3 Parkway, as well as new interchange stations with bus, Luas and metro networks. The NTA and Iarnród Éireann recently commenced a procurement process for the establishment of a ten-year framework agreement for the purchase of the additional lower emitting rail fleet required for this expansion of the DART network.

Collectively, these measures will reduce the carbon footprint of the public transport fleet.

Let us keep it simple. I will stick to buses because I do not have enough time to deal with rail in the time available to me. The Minister previously stated a comprehensive set of vehicle trials would inform the purchasing decisions for new buses over the coming years. He went on to state, "The technologies likely to be tested include full electrification, diesel-electric hybrids and compressed natural gas". Have those trials taken place? How many buses, of what types, have undergone trials?

The Minister stated his intention that by 2023, more than 600 non-diesel low emission buses would be purchased, which is welcome. As is always the problem when we ask such questions, however, he has not given any indication on a year-by-year basis of how we might get to 600. He talked about fleet replacement but apart from the buses currently on trial, will low emission vehicles be purchased and on the road in Dublin this year? If so, how many will there be and what will be the number for next year?

I reiterate what I said to the Deputy because I do not know whether he heard me. The trials will be reported on soon. Low emission bus trials have been undertaken and we will get a report on the findings soon. I will share the findings with the Deputy but I cannot do so until I receive the report and it would be premature for me to do so.

When I get the report I do not see any reason those numbers should not be given to the Deputy as well. I cannot give them to the Deputy in advance of receiving them myself.

The low-emission buses will be employed under the BusConnects programme and the intention is that 50% of the greater Dublin area fleet will transition to low-emission options by 2023, with 100% making the change by 2030. I specifically stated that the figure of 600 is indicative and the number may not be 600. It is to give the Deputy a ballpark idea and the figure could be much smaller. We will see and it would be up to the National Transport Authority to draw them down on an annual basis. It is always in the interest of the Opposition to tie down the Government to figures it will not keep but that will not happen. I am just trying to be helpful by saying to the Deputy that 600 is the indicative figure. It is very ambitious and I expect the Deputy welcomes it. It will have a beneficial effect on people in his constituency. The numbers are ambitious and an indication of our determination that low-emission buses should serve the people of Dublin and elsewhere.

The Minister did not answer the specific questions I asked so I will repeat them. What is the number of low-emission vehicles the Minister expects to have on the streets of Dublin in 2019 and does he have the figure for 2020? I acknowledge the Minister stated the figure of 600 is indicative but the Minister was not being indicative when he said 50% of the Dublin fleet would be low-emission vehicles by 2023. I accept that. I have a specific question on the trials. When we questioned the Minister a year ago, the trials were supposed to have taken place at an earlier date. That was important as the outcome of the trials will influence purchasing patterns. Surely buses are now being ordered for next year that will not have the benefit of the information coming from those trials. Even today the Minister cannot tell me what types of buses are being trialled, never mind the outcomes of the trial. We will purchase buses next year without the benefit of the trial, which should have taken place last year. I again ask the Minister to specifically detail how many low-emission vehicles he anticipates will be on the roads in Dublin in 2019 and 2020.

We expect that by 2023, half of the vehicles will be low-emission varieties and by 2030, diesel vehicles will be gone completely. Buses will be replaced when they reach the end of their optimal life. For the double-deck fleet this is approximately 12 years and on this basis a steady state annual replacement need for Dublin Bus is 80 to 85 vehicles and for Bus Éireann this is 20 to 30. Additional vehicles may be also required to increase capacity on the network to cater for increasing travel demand or any new services.