Questions Nos. 1 to 11, inclusive, answered orally.

Road Projects

Questions (12, 15)

Brian Stanley


12. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Transport his plans to advance the N80 relief road Mountmellick, County Laois. [25663/20]

View answer

Brian Stanley


15. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Transport if funding for the inner relief road Mountmellick, County Laois is provided for in the stimulus package or in capital investment plans. [25664/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 and 15 together.

As Minister for Transport I have responsibility for overall policy and securing exchequer funding in relation to the national roads programme. Under the Roads Act 1993-2015, and in accordance with the National Development Plan (NDP), the planning, development and construction of individual national road projects is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

Overall, TII is responsible for the delivery of the National Roads Programme in accordance with Project Ireland 2040 and the National Development Plan (NDP).

Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the NDP was developed to underpin the successful implementation of the National Planning Framework (NPF). This provides the strategic and financial framework for the National Roads Programme for the period 2018 - 2027. The focus of TII's activities over the coming years is, accordingly, being directed towards the development of the major national road improvement schemes that are included in the NDP, along with the maintenance of the existing national road network.

The proposed N80 Mountmellick Bypass is not included amongst those projects which have been identified for development during the period of the NDP.

However, it should be noted that the Programme for Government commits to bringing forward the planned review of the NDP and to use the review to set out an updated NDP for the period out to 2031. The review of the NDP will be aligned with the National Planning Framework (NPF) and Project Ireland 2040. Work is underway within my Department to contribute to this planned review.

Current Status of the scheme

Following consultation with TII, I can advise the Deputy that the proposed N80 Mountmellick Relief Road is intended to be approx. 2.3km in length. The preliminary Project Appraisal Plan was approved by my Department in March 2019. Laois County Council has requested approval to appoint consultants for preliminary appraisal of options for a bypass of Mountmellick.

I understand that an allocation of €100,000 has been provided by TII to Laois County Council to assist with this appointment and progress a Feasibility Report.

School Transport

Questions (13)

Paul Murphy


13. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Transport if he has discussed with parents affected by the removal by Dublin Bus of a dedicated bus service for a school (details supplied) for students coming from Blessington, County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25912/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

It is my understanding that the decision by Dublin Bus to withdraw from the provision of bus service from Blessington, County Wicklow to St. MacDara's in Templeogue was taken following a strategic evaluation of this and other similar routes over the last two years. The decision was taken by Dublin Bus in June of this year to cancel its legacy contracts with a number of private bus operators for the provision of dedicated school bus services.

I understand that the decision was arrived at after careful deliberation and based on a number of factors including -

- Availability of alternative Public Service Obligation (PSO) network services in the Dublin area, and in the vicinity of the areas of Tallaght, Ballinteer and Greenhills;

- Low levels of passenger demand on some contracted services;

- Value for money for the delivery of the services; and

- Strategic fit in relation to the existing and proposed bus network.

As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. However, I am not involved in the day-to-day management and operational aspects of public transport, as this is the responsibility of the individual operators, in this case Dublin Bus, in conjunction with the National Transport Authority (NTA).

Having consulted with Dublin Bus on the matter, I understand that following the decision to withdraw services, relevant schools and contractors were advised of the cancellation of these services in June and all schools were informed of the available alternatives.

I want to reassure the Deputy that in response to this decision by Dublin Bus, the NTA has put in place arrangements to augment Public Sector Obligation (PSO) bus services where necessary to cater for additional school-children utilising these services.

Further and more specific to your question, I understand from the NTA that additional services have been applied to route 65 to cater for the additional capacity requirements of students attending St. MacDara's in Templeogue, including:

- the introduction of an additional 7.30am service and two additional afternoon services have been added at 3.30pm, 3.40pm on Route 65; and

- on Wednesdays, the additional 3.40pm service leaves Poolbeg Street at 12.50pm to cater for schools on the route which have a half-day.

School children can avail of child fares on these services and a Child Leap Card is the best option for journeys to and from school using these PSO bus services.

I would also like to advise that the School Transport Scheme comes under the remit of my colleague the Minister for Education and Skills. The Scheme is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills (DES). The purpose of the School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

It is also important to note that the definition of a ‘public bus passenger service’ under the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009 excludes the NTA from licensing or providing services solely for carrying children to or from school. Consequently, the NTA does not manage the delivery of dedicated school transport services.

The NTA is however working closely with operators to monitor the impact of the return of schools on PSO services generally. Once new travel demand patterns are established, the NTA will further review services and make adjustments as appropriate, including determining the potential implementation of any required additional services.

Road Network

Question No. 15 answered with Question No. 12.

Questions (14)

Niamh Smyth


14. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Transport if he will consider funding for the east-west link which is urgently needed in the north-east; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25672/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

There have been proposals dating back to 2001 to develop an upgraded East-West route linking Dundalk to Sligo, taking in Cavan, and involving linking elements of the national road network and regional roads along as direct a route as possible.

As regards the regional road aspect of the proposal, the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of the relevant local authority in accordance with the provisions of Section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from the Council's own resources supplemented by State road grants.

My Department did provide funding to Cavan County Council, acting as lead authority for Councils in the area, of over €2m in the period 2007-2014 to progress the regional road element of the project to preliminary design. However, the extent of the cutbacks in grant funding during the post 2008 recession meant that grant funding for road improvement schemes had to be curtailed because expenditure on maintenance/renewal was falling well short of what was required to adequately maintain the regional and local road network.

The National Development Plan (NDP) does provide for the gradual build up in funding for the road network but funding is not yet at the level needed for the adequate maintenance and renewal of regional and local roads. For this reason the primary focus for capital investment at present is the maintenance and renewal of the network and implementation of the 12 regional and local road projects identified for development, subject to necessary approvals, in the NDP. There is no provision under the NDP for the improvement of the Cavan to Dundalk section of the East- West link.

Some limited provision is being made in the capital budget for the appraisal of a pipeline of upgrade projects. This is intended to cover the appraisal of projects for future development, if possible. In this context the Department has provided grants to Cavan Council since 2018 to enable the Council to update the assessment of the regional and local road section of the proposed scheme in line with the current requirements in the Public Spending Code. The aim was to assess the extent to which the scheme or elements of it could be justified. The work undertaken to date has pointed to a substantial increase in the estimated cost of a full scheme to upgrade roads between Dundalk and Cavan. In light of this the Department is currently liaising with the Council in relation to the carrying out a risk based analysis for the route between Dundalk and Cavan.

As regards the national road aspect of the proposal for a Dundalk to Sligo scheme, Transport Infrastructure Ireland’s major road improvement programme is focussed on the major schemes identified for development in the NDP.

Question No. 15 answered with Question No. 12.

Taxi Licences

Questions (16)

Gino Kenny


16. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Transport if the demands of representative groups of taxi drivers will be agreed to, namely to dissolve the taxi advisory committee and instead establish a national transport forum with strong representation from these representative groups, to extend the 10 year rule for replacing taxis to 12 years, to instigate an immediate moratorium on the issues of licence, and to establish a licence buy back scheme for taxi drivers wishing to exit the industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25892/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

Recognising that this question is identical to an earlier question from Deputy Richard Boyd Barret, I would like to thank the Deputy for giving me an additional opportunity to discuss the important issues raised by taxi representative groups and the issues facing the small public service vehicle industry as a result of COVID-19.

As mentioned in my earlier response, I had a useful meeting with representatives from four taxi representative groups the week before last. It was a fruitful and productive meeting which facilitated a useful exchange of views and ideas and I look forward to meeting with them in the near future once I have had an opportunity to fully consider these issues with officials in my Department. Nonetheless, I remain of the view that meetings with such groups can complement engagement with the Advisory Committee for Small Public Service Vehicles, but should not substitute for engagement with the Committee. That statutory Committee has an important role to play and I therefore do not favour its abolition.

The small public service vehicle industry is a diverse one, featuring taxis, which are predominantly based in urban areas, hackneys and local area hackneys which tend to provide services in more rural areas, and limousines which are often particularly geared towards overseas tourism and special events like weddings and funerals. Given this range of services it is only fitting that this diverse industry is represented by a body such as the Advisory Committee which enjoys a broad membership which can represent the diversity of service providers, service users, and other stakeholders.

To date, membership of the Committee has been somewhat Dublin-centric. This is perhaps understandable given that most of the meetings of the Committee were held in Dublin. However, the onset of COVID-19 has meant that, like many State Boards and Advisory Committees, meetings have shifted online. This, I believe, creates an opportunity to secure broader participation in bodies of this nature than may have been possible previously. As the Deputy may be aware, two vacancies recently arose on the Committee. These vacancies, combined with a further three vacancies which the Committee had been carrying pre-pandemic, provide me with an opportunity to try to secure greater representation from rural and remote parts of Ireland. A recruitment campaign for the Committee will shortly commence and I will be actively seeking new members from other parts of the country to ensure the Committee has an appropriate geographic spread of perspectives. As a means of securing further balance in terms of the range of representation on the Committee, I will be encouraging applications from individuals who are hackney operators and limousine operators as part of this forthcoming campaign.

In relation to vehicle age limits, as I mentioned in my earlier response, this is a matter for the NTA as the statutory regulator. I would like to remind the House that, for vehicles that were due to reach the age limit from March onward, the NTA has already provided an extension until the end of the year. This means that no operator has needed to replace their vehicle due to the vehicle age limit rule since the start of the pandemic. However, while the NTA will consider further limited extensions later in the year, it will not enact the kind of blanket extension of age limits of the type proposed by taxi representatives. This Government is committed to reducing the carbon footprint of the national SPSV fleet and a blanket extension of age limits would undermine these efforts. My Department has a number of specific initiatives to encourage the movement away from fossil fuels in the small public service vehicle sector.

The Electric Small Public Service Vehicle (eSPSV) Grant Scheme offers up to €10,000 towards the purchase of an electric small public service vehicle, and a further €2,500 towards its conversion to a wheelchair accessible vehicle. To date almost 90 electric taxis have been purchased under this Scheme, converting mostly from diesel models to zero-tailpipe battery electric alternates.

The eSPSV Charger Project which will see the installation of SPSV-dedicated EV chargers at Dublin and Cork Airports as well as in train stations in Dublin (Heuston), Limerick (Colbert) and Cork (Kent). This project is funded from ring-fenced revenue arising from the increase in carbon tax following Budget 2020, and it is expected that the chargers will be installed by the end of the year and operational from early 2021.

As I mentioned in my earlier response, I do not believe the reintroduction of quantitative limits on SPSV licences by Government would serve the wider public interest and therefore I do not plan to implement a moratorium on the issuance of SPSV licences at this time. The present SPSV licensing system is built upon the principle that the purpose of a licence is to indicate a person’s suitability to carry out a function and to ensure that the holder of a licence is subject to lawful conditions and restrictions. As such, a licence should not have, by association, a monetary value or be tradable on the open market. Accordingly, there is no basis for a "buy back" scheme of the type outlined by the Deputy in his question.

Aviation Industry

Questions (17)

Louise O'Reilly


17. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Transport if he will bring forward sectoral specific legislation or measures to protect jobs in the aviation sector. [15878/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

I wish to thank the Deputy for her question. I appreciate that the challenges facing Irish aviation are having a real impact on many of her constituents, given the employment in North Dublin, especially, provided by Dublin Airport and by all of the ancillary businesses serving the airport.

Ireland’s long term economic wellbeing is closely linked to our global connectivity. Being an island nation, aviation plays a key role in this connectivity, and it will be an important part of our economic recovery from this crisis. While Covid-19 has impacted many parts of our economy and society, it is clear that the aviation sector has been particularly severely affected.

It has not been easy for the sector to see demand depressed for so long a period. I accept that there is a desire within the industry to stimulate a recovery and to allow it to trade itself back into financial health. However, we must also accept that we are in an unprecedented environment, with a good deal of uncertainty still surrounding the future. As the current resurgence of Covid cases within Ireland and throughout Europe shows, as much as we all want to return to life as normal that choice is not open to us at this moment.

The Government understands fully the role that aviation plays in terms of its contribution to GDP, FDI and job creation. Measures have already been implemented to provide it with support: the wage subsidy scheme, continued alleviation of commercial rates, tax claw back measures, and the offer of liquidity support, which is available to the aviation sector through the Government’s €2 billion ISIF Pandemic Stabilisation and Recovery Fund.

There is a case to be made for further sector specific measures. This is because clearly in trying to limit the level of international travel to essential travel only, aviation is not being given a real chance to recover. I can advise the Deputy that such measures are being considered, and the recommendations of the Aviation Recovery Taskforce - which reported in July - are part of that. I cannot give specific commitments at this time because it is part of the ongoing Budget deliberations, and there are many competing demands on the public purse, especially from the health sector. However, I can assure the Deputy that the importance of the aviation industry is well understood and that the Government will do all that it can to support it through the very difficult period ahead.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (18)

Paul McAuliffe


18. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Transport if he will continue to engage with representatives of taxi drivers in view of the difficulties they are experiencing due to the fall off in demand as a result of Covid-19. [25895/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

As the Deputy may be aware, I met with delegates from four taxi representative groups the week before last. It was a useful and productive meeting where I had an opportunity to hear about the impact of COVID-19 on the taxi industry and their proposals as to how the industry can best be supported through this difficult time

I am, of course, happy for my Department to continue to engage from time to time with any of the various with representative groups across the industry, as has been the case up to now. I also intend to meet again with taxi representatives in the near future once I have had an opportunity to fully consider these issues with my Department and the NTA. However, the Advisory Committee on SPSVs remains the primary stakeholder engagement forum for the SPSV industry. This is appropriate given its broad membership which represents a wide range of interests. It is also important to recognise the statutory basis and remit of the Advisory Committee on Small Public Service Vehicles (sometimes known as the Taxi Advisory Committee) which is established under the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 to advise the Minister and the NTA in relation to the SPSV industry.

The Committee meets monthly and has a broad membership, with representatives of drivers, Licenced Taxi Dispatch Operators, disabled passengers, older passengers, the tourist industry, consumer groups, local government and An Garda Síochána. Its strength comes from the diversity of voices represented all sharing the commitment to having a well-functioning, effective SPSV sector.

The Committee plays an important role advising the National Transport Authority and Minister. In that capacity, in June earlier this year, former Minister Ross invited the Committee to develop proposals on how to support the small public service vehicle industry during the Covid-19 pandemic. The proposals received in July have been an important basis for dialogue and engagement as we have sought to understand the challenges faced by the industry and how best to address their needs.

Many of the Committee’s proposals have been accepted and are in the process of being implemented. For example, the Committee recommended a review of demand for taxis be undertaken – the National Transport Authority is undertaking such a review.

The Committee also recommended that late licence renewal fees be waived - the National Transport Authority has waived those late renewal fees through to March 2021. The Committee recommended that small public service vehicle operators be able to avail of interest-free credit – operators may avail of loans with an interest-free period under the COVID-19 Business Loans Scheme.

Some proposals within the Committee’s report relate to policy areas under the remit of my Ministerial colleagues. the report has therefore served as a valuable basis for engagement by my Department with counterparts across Government, as it has worked to ensure that SPSV operators, many of whom are self-employed, are able to access the Government's range of financial support measures to the greatest extent possible.

My Department and the NTA have since briefed the Committee on two occasions, giving initial feedback to the proposals and outlining progress made on their implementation. They have also briefed the Committee on the supports available to SPSV operators under the Government's July Stimulus announcement, including outlining how self-employed SPSV drivers can access measures such as grant schemes, low interest loans, and tax relief. It is hoped that a final comprehensive response to the Committee on its proposals will be ready at the end of September. Furthermore, I expect the close co-operation with the Committee to continue for the duration of the present pandemic.

Transport Policy

Questions (19)

Duncan Smith


19. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Transport his views on the draft Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Transport Strategy; his views on whether the document contravenes the climate change commitments as set out in the programme for Government; his further views on whether the modal shift as proposed in the draft document is adequate; if a ministerial review of the draft document will be carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25825/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

The Deputy is aware that the draft Limerick Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy has been developed by the National Transport Authority, in collaboration with Limerick City and County Council, Clare County Council and Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII).

And let me first of all say I very much welcome the development of transport strategies for the major cities. We need to ensure a holistic, multi-modal approach toward transport planning and provision and, importantly, we need to see finalised transport strategies integrated into relevant land-use plans and acting as a catalyst for the adoption by local authorities of a much more sustainable approach toward the location of housing, employment and other centres of transport demand.

The Deputy knows that I am committed toward increasing the share of persons using sustainable modes of transport – be that on foot, on their bike or on public transport – and I am determined that this Government will deliver a fundamental change in the nature of transport in Ireland as committed to in the Programme for Government.

At the heart of that change will be the development, and, even more importantly the delivery, of a well-planned multi-modal transport network which can facilitate a switch to sustainable mobility for as many people as possible.

I do not believe that many people argue against the need to vastly improve the active travel network in Limerick or to roll-out a BusConnects Limerick for the city and I certainly support both.

Likewise I know there are those that argue that rail could potentially play a bigger role than that envisaged in the draft Strategy and this consultation process allows them make their voices heard in that regard.

I think it important to note that the modal shares referred to in the draft Strategy are not an ambition or a target, but instead are the result of a strategic modelling exercise carried out by the NTA. I expect the share of sustainable modes will increase as infrastructure is delivered, services improved and local authorities develop relevant demand management measures.

I want to see a more sustainable Limerick and I am ready to work with the local authority in ensuring that happens through funding available through my Department’s sustainable mobility investment programme.

I would certainly encourage people to make their views known on this draft Strategy and also their views on the importance of prioritising delivery of active travel and public transport elements of any finalised Strategy as may be adopted by the local authority.

Transport Policy

Question No. 21 answered with Question No. 8.

Questions (20)

Darren O'Rourke


20. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport the status of the review of transport strategy for the greater Dublin area. [25881/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

As the Deputy is aware, the National Transport Authority (NTA) has statutory responsibility for the planning and development of public transport infrastructure and services in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) and the making of a transport strategy for the region is a core function of the NTA.

The Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016-2035, which was adopted in 2016, sets out a statutory framework for transport investment across the region over a 20 year period and provides a clear statement of transport planning policy for the GDA.

I very much welcome the development of evidence-led transport strategies for the major cities. We need to ensure a holistic, multi-modal approach toward transport planning and provision and, importantly, we need to see finalised transport strategies integrated into relevant land-use plans and acting as a catalyst for the adoption by local authorities of a much more sustainable approach toward the location of housing, employment and other centres of transport demand.

Transport infrastructure planning is by its nature long-term and that is why the Strategy has a twenty year horizon. However, obviously strategies need to be reviewed and updated from time-to-time in order to ensure their continuing validity.

Under the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 the Strategy must be reviewed every six years. I am informed that the NTA has commenced that work already with a view to launching a public consultation next year.

In reviewing the Strategy the NTA will consider issues such as possible additional metro lines and the possible extension of the existing M3 Parkway / Dunboyne line to Navan.

I look forward to this review and hearing the views of public representatives and the public.

Question No. 21 answered with Question No. 8.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (22)

Ruairí Ó Murchú


22. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Transport if he has had engagement with the National Transport Authority in relation to tax-saver tickets and potential changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25861/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport in Ireland. The National Transport Authority (NTA) has statutory responsibility for the regulation of fares in relation to public passenger transport services.

In relation to the issue raised by the Deputy, the NTA has informed me that customers who have an annual TaxSaver ticket for public service obligation (PSO) public transport services provided by Dublin Bus, Luas, Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and Go-Ahead Ireland are to have their tickets extended for a period of six months, in recognition of the impact of COVID-19 travel restrictions. This effectively gives customers back the value of the portion of the ticket that they would not have been able to use due to Covid-19. The measure applies to all customers whose tickets were valid on April 1st 2020. Customers who have renewed their annual TaxSaver ticket since April 1st will also benefit from the measures.

Where the customer wishes to receive a refund rather than avail of the extension, it is still open to them to make such a request via their employer under existing terms and conditions that already attach to their ticket.

The NTA issued press statements on 1 May and 12 August 2020 with full details of the 6 month extension, and these statements can be viewed on the NTA's website.

Motor Tax

Questions (23)

Denis Naughten


23. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport if a refund or motor tax credit will be issued to motorists that did not use their car or used it to a minimal extent during the Covid-19 lockdown in line with many insurers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25675/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

Motor tax legislation provides for refunds in certain limited circumstances, including where a vehicle has been scrapped or destroyed, permanently exported, stolen and not recovered, or where the owner of a vehicle has ceased to use the vehicle because of illness, injury or other physical disability, or due to absence from the State for business purposes, educational purposes or service overseas with the Defence Forces.

There are no plans currently to amend the legislation to extend the grounds for the granting of a refund.

I understand that refunds of a proportion of motor insurance paid were given on the basis of reduced risk due to a reduction in the number of vehicles on the road given the restrictions that were in place in recent months. Motor tax is not linked to the level of use on the road, rather it accrues to the Exchequer as an excise duty. Motor tax receipts are a significant contributor to Exchequer finances and form part of the means in ensuring that Covid-19 supports can continue in the short-term, in helping the re-building of the economy in the longer term, and in ensuring the ongoing provision of public services. In this regard, the Deputy will be aware that the Government has channelled significant Exchequer resources towards the introduction of an extensive range of supports for Covid-impacted businesses, including rates waivers, re-start grants, lending facilities, equity injection, business advisory supports, and, in recent weeks, supports for businesses impacted by local lockdowns. In terms of social protections, resources have been allocated to the continuation of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and Wage Subsidy Schemes into next year.

Public Transport

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]

View answer

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.

Road Projects

Questions (25)

Brendan Smith


25. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Transport if funding will be provided in 2021 for the upgrading of a road (details supplied) in view of its strategic importance in counties Cavan and Monaghan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25681/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

As the Deputy is aware, the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of the relevant local authority in accordance with the provisions of Section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from the Council's own resources supplemented by State road grants. The initial selection and prioritisation of works is a matter for decision by the local authority.

Grant support has been provided to Cavan County Council to enable the Council to undertake work to update its appraisal of the scheme to assess the extent to which the scheme or elements of it can be justified in terms of the Public Spending Code and the Common Appraisal Framework. The Department is currently liaising with the Council in relation to carrying out a risk based analysis for the route between Dundalk and Cavan.

Allocations for 2021 will not be decided on, or issued until early 2021.