Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Questions (70, 78)

Peadar Tóibín


70. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to reduce the cost of public transport and increase its reach within rural Ireland in order to reduce congestion and pollution. [29562/19]

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Ruth Coppinger


78. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on making public transport free at the point of use in order to reduce the use of cars and carbon emissions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29585/19]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 70 and 78 together.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. 

The NTA has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public transport services by way of Public Services Obligation (PSO) contracts in respect of services that are socially necessary but commercially unviable.  The NTA also has been given statutory responsibility for the regulation of fares in relation to public passenger transport services.

The funding of those services comprises both the fares paid by passengers and the subvention payments from the Exchequer.  The main purpose of the subvention payment is to meet the gap between the income from fares and the cost of operating services. In 2019, the Irish Exchequer will provide just over €300m in subvention for public service obligation (PSO) transport services and Rural Transport Local Link services.  The Deputy is suggesting an idea of abolishing fares.  One of the factors to take into account is that the amount collected from fares is approximately €600 million annually.  This means that the rough cost to the taxpayer of eliminating fares would be in the region of €600 million more every year - in addition to the amounts already spent on PSO and on capital investment.  And this amount would only enable continuation of the existing level of service and passengers, without factoring in the costs of catering for increased passenger travel demand.

The Deputy is correct in focussing on the need to reduce private car emissions and also to stimulate and support increased uptake of public transport.  That is exactly the Government's approach as set out in our recent Climate Plan.  According to 2017 emission estimates:

- Around 52% of transport emissions come from private car use;

- Just over 18% comes from the freight sector; and

- Around 4.4% of emissions come from the public transport fleet.

As such, it is clear that inroads must be made in reducing the dominance of the private car in Ireland’s transport sector.

Modal shift from the private car to sustainable means of transport remains central to the transport sector’s response to climate change.  Investment in public transport led to an increase of almost 58 million journeys on subsidised public transport and commercial bus service since 2012.  Last year we saw an increase of 16.3 million passenger journeys provided by Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, Irish Rail, Luas and Go-Ahead Ireland on PSO services.  That is an increase of over 6.5% compared to 2017.  I think the Deputies would agree that this increase in passenger growth is very positive.  The growth in public transport services has been supported by higher levels of subvention in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and as I mentioned earlier it was increased again this year to provide a total allocation of over €300m.

In order to reduce the prevalence of the private car and encourage a shift to more sustainable forms of transport, a number of key policy measures to increase public transport capacity will be progressed over the next decade.  The National Development Plan has earmarked €8.6 billion for investment in public and sustainable transport to 2027.

I am committed to the further development of bus services in rural areas and that is why funding has been increased over the past number of years for both PSO and Local Link services in rural areas. The increased funding has enabled the introduction of new commuter services into the Local Link network, including new evening services. Key features of these new services include greater integration with existing public transport services and better linkage of services between and within towns and villages. The NTA is also developing two pilot schemes for implementation this year for both a Local Area Hackney and a Community Transport Service, to be administered locally by the existing network of Local Link offices throughout the country.