Thursday, 24 September 2020

Questions (24)

Pádraig O'Sullivan


24. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Transport his plans to further decarbonise the transport fleet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25896/20]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

The transport sector accounts for 20% of Ireland’s national emissions, therefore the decarbonisation of this sector is of key importance as we seek to reach our emissions reductions targets, both nationally and at EU level. According to recent figures from the EPA, the majority of transport emissions originate from the passenger car fleet (51%), while the heavy duty freight sector accounts for 18% and vans a further 8%. Public transport (bus & rail) vehicles are responsible for approximately 4.5% of transport emissions.

Maximum impact in emission savings can, therefore, be achieved in the private car and freight sectors. We must work to take emissions out of the movement of people and goods while recognising how important such movement is to our society and our economy. The Government is, therefore, focusing primarily on:

- Promoting a shift from private car use to public transport and active travel, while making public transport itself greener and cleaner;

- Transitioning the private car and van fleets to alternative fuel technologies; and

- Reducing emissions from heavy duty vehicles and the freight sector generally.

Before COVID, the number of journeys made by public transport, walking and cycling was increasing, particularly in our capital city with 70% of all journeys into Dublin at peak morning times being made by sustainable mobility means. This was a significant increase from 59% in 2010.

In the July Stimulus announcement, the Government showed our commitment to sustainable mobility by allocating €82m to local authorities to support Covid Mobility Plans and deliver active travel infrastructure improvements across the country. We’ve seen some fantastic examples of improved active travel projects delivered at speed in recent months. This type of investment not only supports local businesses and communities as they reopen and adjust to the post-COVID future, it can also play a crucial role in revitalising local towns and villages. Similar supports will continue throughout the lifetime of the Government with approximately €1.8 billion to be allocated toward active travel. It is our intention that the NTA will work with local authorities in developing, and, most importantly, delivering multi-annual programmes of active travel investment in the years ahead. Safe and segregated networks of walking and cycling infrastructure are fundamentally important to enable people to make the switch to active travel.

Continued investment in increasing capacity and improving the quality of the sustainable transport systems is also critical. Under the National Development Plan, €8.6 billion has been indicatively allocated over the period 2018 to 2027 to further develop sustainable mobility options, including BusConnects, DART + Programme and MetroLink as well as investment in upgrading cycling and walking infrastructure.

In addition, my Department, together with the NTA, is advancing the greening of the public transport fleet. The NDP commited to no longer buy diesel-only buses for urban public transport services. To date, Dublin Bus has entered nine diesel-electric hybrid vehicles into service in the second half of 2019, and the NTA has entered into a contract for the purchase of a further 100 double-deck hybrid buses in 2020, although this may be delayed a little due to the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis on manufacturers. My Department is also funding a number of electric public service vehicles pilot projects under the Local Link Rural Transport Scheme.

We are also progressing the electrification of the rail system, with public consultation open on the DART+ West Project which will see the expansion of the DART out to Maynooth and the M3 Parkway. Further DART+ Projects are planned for the Connolly-Balbriggan and Heuston-Hazelhatch rail lines. A 10-year procurement framework for electric and battery-electric train units has been established. Also, the Climate Action Fund is supporting Irish Rail’s proposed year-long trial of hybrid powering of intercity diesel trains, which, if successful, could be rolled out across the fleet.

It is not always possible, however, to provide alternatives to the private car, especially in rural areas; the State has, therefore, provided incentives to mitigate the cost of, and encourage the transition away from, conventional fossil fuel vehicles towards lower emitting fuels and technologies. The Climate Action Plan sets a target for 936,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030.

Work in this space had already begun. The Low Emission Vehicle Taskforce was established in 2016 to consider the range of measures available to accelerate the uptake of low-carbon technologies in the road transport sector. Its recommendations ahead of Budgets 2018 and 2019 resulted in the introduction of a number of measures which, together with existing incentives, formed a comprehensive suite of measures available to EV drivers, such as purchase grants for private car owners and taxi drivers, VRT relief, reduced tolls and a home charger grant. These measures led to a significant increase in EV numbers on Irish roads, albeit from a low base. As of the end of August 2020, there were approximately 22,000 EVs under taxation in Ireland. More work is evidently required if we are to reach our Climate Action Plan targets.

Following on from the LEV Taskforce and on foot of Action 79 of the Climate Action Plan, an inter-departmental working group was established by my Department earlier this year to consider a potential roadmap to achieving the Plan's EV targets. The Electric Vehicle Policy Pathway Working Group has considered further measures, regulatory, financial and taxation, to increase the rate of EV uptake . The Working Group’s final report will be published later this year.

Finally, in the freight sector, we are seeking to limit emissions in three key ways. Firstly, at an EU level, Ireland will continue to work to secure improved vehicle standards. Secondly, at home, we are encouraging the transition of freight fleets to alternative fuels (including electric, natural gas, biogas and hydrogen) and my Department will introduce a Low Emission Heavy Duty Vehicle Purchase Grant Scheme in early 2021 to support companies in transitioning their fleets to lower emitting alternatives. And finally, we are funding research projects considering emission mitigation measures specific to the Irish freight sector – outcomes of these studies will help to develop a strategy for a low-carbon transition, reflecting the complexities of the sector.

This ongoing work, along with the progress we have made so far, illustrates how decarbonising the transport sector is and will remain a key priority of Government.