Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Questions (50)

Jonathan O'Brien


50. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to implement the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39905/19]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Transport)

I have regularly raised with the Minister over the last two years or so the need for increased investment in bus and light rail transport in Cork city, and the publication of the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy. That strategy was belatedly published earlier this year and is an ambitious plan in many respects, though parts could be more so. The first part of the consultation on the overall strategy is complete, though there is more to come, and we now need to decide how to implement the strategy. I emphasise that this is not only about the long-term plan, but about what we are going to do in the next few years.

The Deputy and I are in complete agreement in welcoming the work completed so far in developing a draft Cork metropolitan area transport strategy and engaging with the public on that draft to hear their views. Its ambition fits within the framework created by Project Ireland 2040, namely, building a better and more sustainable Ireland.

The Deputy will acknowledge that the strategy is not yet finalised or adopted by the local authorities, because the views gathered from the very recent public consultation are still under consideration. Equally, the Deputy will acknowledge that the strategy in its draft form proposes a range of significant measures to improve sustainable mobility in Cork. The plan contains short-term, medium-term and longer-term proposals for delivering the strategy’s overall ambition.

Project Ireland 2040 currently contains funding for projects over the next decade, including projects in Cork which will see improvements to Cork’s bus infrastructure and active travel infrastructure, as well as some important improvements to the road network. Increases in public service obligation, PSO funding in recent years have already allowed for notable bus service improvements in Cork, such as the introduction of Ireland’s first 24-hour PSO bus service, which I understand has been a great success. Funding is available to support the implementation of those proposed shorter-term measures.

However, as I mentioned, the draft strategy as published for public consultation looks to the future, beyond the current ten-year Project Ireland 2040 funding horizon. That is exactly the type of long-term planning we need and is perhaps something we have not been successful in doing in the past. That long-term funding horizon will be considered as part of the mid-term review of Project Ireland 2040. When we come to that review, the medium-term and longer-term requirements of Cork will be set out in the finalised strategy and will inform our overall funding requirements for the next ten years.

I look forward to the finalisation of the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy in November, its adoption by the local authorities and to working with those local authorities in its implementation over the course of the next 20 years.

There is a significant feeling in Cork that we have an opportunity to learn from things that were not done right in Dublin over the last 20 or 30 years. We need to ensure, as the city grows rapidly, that it does not do so on the strength of motor traffic, but rather improved public transport. Focusing too much on the short term is a problem, but taking too much of a long-term view can be a problem as well.

There is a danger of adopting an ambitious grand plan which sets many objectives to be achieved eight, ten or 15 years into the future but does not provide for enough action in the next two, three or five years to get people out of their cars and onto buses and walking, cycling, etc. I would like to hear more about how the Minister intends to support that with investment from his Department. I would also like to put to him a proposal that the Cork Chamber of Commerce has put to me. The proposal calls for an NTA oversight delivery office for this strategy. I believe the NTA would be very open to that.

Cork would be lucky if it could benefit from mistakes made by Dublin. Some of our proposals for Dublin, like BusConnects, will not be mistakes. They will be extended to Cork and other cities as well. They will have a dramatic effect in moving people out of their private cars and onto buses. That is the intention for Cork and Dublin and the vision for the entire country. I should say that the strategy referred to in the Deputy's question is a 20-year plan. It does not promise some sort of panacea which will sort out the traffic problem in Cork in the short term. We have a real challenge in Dublin, Cork, Galway and other cities which we cannot solve by simply waving a magic wand. We have laid out in our answer our plans for buses, which would cost €545 million. Our plans for heavy rail will cost €274 million, active travel will account for €220 million, light rail will account for €1 billion, and roads will amount to €1.39 billion. That is a serious commitment to Cork in the long term.

I was not saying that Cork would benefit from the mistakes of Dublin but rather that it might learn from them. I am not even talking about the recent past. I am talking about 20 or 30 years of excessive reliance on the car and underuse of public transport.

The Minister did not answer the specific question. The Cork Chamber of Commerce has made a proposal. It is eminently sensible and I think the NTA would be very open to it. We need a mixture of both short-term and long-term solutions. The Minister is right to say we cannot wave a magic wand, but some improvements are deliverable in the short term while planning for long-term projects that take a while to deliver, such as the light rail proposal. That proposal calls for a Cork-based oversight delivery office to ensure the delivery of this.

On two or three previous occasions, the Minister and I discussed the need to build on bus rapid transit with light rail in the medium to long term. Is the Minister committed to ensuring that this is delivered in the medium to long term?

I am aware of the Cork Chamber of Commerce's proposal for an oversight office in Cork to ensure delivery of the strategy. As far as I am aware, the NTA has no plans to do that.

It has no objection either.

I am sure the NTA is aware of the Deputy's feelings about that. I have not spoken to the Cork Chamber of Commerce, but I am sure it has made this proposal known to the NTA. If it has not done so, I will certainly be happy to convey it to the NTA and hear its reaction.

This is difficult. We are committed to implementation, but obviously we will have to negotiate the funding for these requirements of the plan as the time approaches. It will probably be after my time in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, but I believe any successor of mine will retain that commitment and do everything he or she can to implement this plan for the benefit of Cork.