Thursday, 24 September 2020

Questions (80)

Bernard Durkan


80. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport the extent to which he can assist the transport sector to recover after Covid-19 restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26246/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

Measures implemented with regard to travel restrictions, due to Covid-19, are decided by Government as a whole, based on public health advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team.

I and my Departmental officials are working continuously to develop and implement measures in order to keep our vital transport networks moving, and to ensure the ongoing operation and viability of the transport sector Since my appointment as Minister for Transport in June, I have met with stakeholders in all transport sectors and will continue to engage with them to determine what measures can be put in place to assist the sectors. Any such measures will feed into the Government’s aim to support the transport sector and aid broader economic recovery, while being cognisant of prevailing public health advice.

The Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of generalised supports measures to help mitigate the effects of the crisis on our citizens and businesses, including those working in the transport sector. These measures include the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and the new Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, which will now run to April 2021.

In addition to the broader financial supports for jobs and businesses set out in the July Stimulus package, the Government is also providing targeted supports for the transport sector.

In relation to the Maritime and Aviation sectors of Transport I refer the Deputy to Dail Question No.35 , which outlines a number of specific and targeted measures taken by my Department to assist both of these sectors, which are in addition to the broader financial supports set out in the July Stimulus package.

With regard to other transport sectors, which are within the remit of my Department, the specific measures and supports being provided to assist in mitigating the effects of Covid-19 are outlined below.

Public transport is a key facilitator of interaction in the economy and society and is an efficient and sustainable way of getting people to work, education, shopping, public services, and social engagement. Targeted supports for this sector include:

- A substantial increase in the 2020 budget for the existing Public Service Obligation (PSO) service;

- The introduction of new temporary financial support for certain licensed services provided by commercial bus operators;

- The introduction of mandatory face coverings on public transport to enable greater numbers of passengers to use services and

- The introduction of enhancements to certain PSO bus services as announced under the Stimulus package.

The Government has worked closely with the Advisory Committee on Small Public Service Vehicles (SPSVs) to take action to support the industry and reduce the costs of operators from the very start of the pandemic. The industry’s statutory regulator, the National Transport Authority (NTA), has provided a number of measures to assist the sector, including:

- extending licences that were due to expire between 13 March and 12 June of this year;

- working with the insurance industry to facilitate the suspension of SPSV insurance for operators who decided to stop working and chose to suspend their licences;

- waiving late renewal fees through to March 2021, effectively allowing operators to stop operating for up to one year without facing any undue cost for doing so and

- extending vehicle age limits for vehicles that were due to reach those limits between March and December this year.

Given the importance of the work of our road haulage sector during these difficult times, my Department implemented a number of measures to support the continued functioning of the sector in recent months, including:

- A prolonged temporary derogation from certain provisions of the EU driving and rest hours rules (which expired at the end of May);

- The extension of expiry dates on driver Certificate of Professional Competence cards (of a maximum of six months up to the 26th September 2020) and

- The extension of validity periods for driver licences.

A number of communications have also been issued to help support the freight sector including:

- Guidance to all supply chain workers stating that they are exempt from self-restricting movements on their return to Ireland, as long as they are not displaying symptoms of COVID-19;

A communication regarding Access to Sanitary Facilities and Motorway Services;

- A summary of Motorway Service Area Facilities;

- Communication on the Importance of all Essential Workers at Every Level in the Supply Chain; and

- Publication of Guidelines for Cleaning HGVs.

In addition, in line with the EU’s “Green Lanes” guidance, HGV drivers are exempt from the requirement to complete the Passenger Locator Form.

In line with the roadmap published by the Government for re-opening the economy, local authorities and contractors resumed general roadworks operations on regional and local roads from the 18th of May this year. These works have been undertaken on the basis of safe working arrangements which involved establishing site specific and activity specific operating procedures in line with published public health guidance.

On foot of the Government’s July Stimulus package, over €30m was allocated by the Department’s Regional and Local Roads Division to local authorities on the 31 August, 2020 for Active Travel Measures. These include measures to support pedestrians and cyclists in urban and rural areas and to improve accessibility, and over €10 milion for Climate Change Adaptation Works/Repairs. This funding will allow 531 active travel projects to be completed this year under this programme.

Due to the Covid pandemic the Road Safety Authority (RSA) had to close many services in the interest of public health, including in particular, the National Driver Licensing Service (NDLS), National Car Test (NCT), Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness Testing (CVRT), Driver Testing and Driver Theory Test services.

As a result of these closures, the validity periods of the following documents, in cases where they were due to expire between 1 March and 30 June 2020 inclusive, were extended by four months -

- Learner permits

- Driving licences

- Driver theory test certificates

- Certificate of competency (issued when a person has passed a driving test)

- Certificates of motorcycle training

In addition, the requirement for those over 70 to provide a medical report when applying for or renewing a driving licence or learner permit was removed. This provision, granted in March and extended in July, means that since 20 March and until 31 December 2020, persons of 70 years of age or over, can apply for and renew their driving licence or learner permit without the need to submit a medical report as long as they do not have an identified or specified illness.

The National Driver Licensing Service (NDLS) resumed its services on 8 June 2020. Due to Covid 19 related disruption of services, learner permits and driving licences were further extended as follows:

- Learner permits that expired or are due to expire between 1 March and 31 October 2020 were extended by 8 months and

- driving licences that expired between 1 March and 31 August 2020 were extended by 7 months.

The RSA, which operates the NDLS on behalf of the Department, continues to work with its providers to see how capacity can be increased within the NDLS while adhering to the return to work protocol. The RSA also hopes to extend its online services over the coming months, subject to the appropriate legislation and technical solutions being in place.

A 4-month extension has been provided for National Car Test (NCT) due dates and a 3-month extension for Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness Test (CVRT) due dates. The CVRT service resumed on 18 May and the NCT service resumed on a phased basis from 8 June 2020 with all test centres in the network having resumed testing by 20 July 2020.

The Driver Theory Testing service reopened on 8 June and the driver testing service reopened from 29 June for some vehicles, and 16 July for all others, including cars.

Capacity in the Theory Test system since resumption is actually increased on pre-Covid but the scale of backlog combined with the time of year, when many school-leavers will apply, means increased waiting lists. The RSA is working with the service provider to see how capacity can be further increased. The capacity of the driving test has been reduced, while a large backlog has developed. My Department has already approved retention and hire of a number of temporary testers to assist in the situation.

The RSA has submitted a comprehensive plan for addressing the demands on the service, which is being considered in my Department, having regard to public health and safety issues.

The EU introduced Regulation (EU) 2020/698 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 May 2020, in order to, inter alia, minimise disruption and ensure a continuous flow of goods within the EU. As a result, drivers with valid Irish Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) cards that were due to expire between 1 February and 31 August 2020 were granted an extension of seven months on their expiring card.