I propose to take Questions Nos. 71 and 105 together.
As Minister for Transport I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.
The continued operation of the public transport sector is important and, from a very early stage in the Covid-19 crisis, public transport was designated by Government as among the essential services that could continue throughout the emergency. Guided by public health advice, measures have been introduced across the system to enable the continued operation of services during the pandemic.
There is continued strong messaging that public transport capacity remains restricted and, therefore, should only be used for essential travel, with only those who have to travel at peak times doing so. People are being encouraged to walk or cycle where practical, and organisations are encouraged to continue to facilitate working from home.
The Government is also spending considerable additional Exchequer funds on the public transport sector in order to support the continued operation of necessary services, despite the reduced demand and the restricted capacity owing to the Covid-19 situation. Government support for all public transport services in 2020 amounted to over €620m. For 2021 over €670m has been provided in funding in order to ensure that the existing level of public transport services, albeit at a higher cost, continue to operate in a safe manner. By comparison, the level of PSO and Local Link funding provided in 2019 was in the region of €300m.
In addition, last summer the Government approved temporary funding support for the non-PSO (licensed, commercial) bus sector in respect of its continuation of necessary bus services, and the duration of this support was recently extended.
The Government's Living with Covid Plan, clearly sets out the guidance and restrictions that will apply for all sectors, including public transport, at the 5 levels of the Plan, including strong messaging that people should use active travel as an alternative where this is feasible. The advice is aimed at ensuring public transport is safeguarded for those who need it most, most notably, essential workers.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) has the statutory responsibility for the regulation of fares in relation to public passenger transport services and also has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public transport services by way of public transport services contracts in respect of services that are socially necessary but commercially unviable. 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 income from fares and the cost of operating services.
Any assessment of a proposed change to public transport fare structures would be a matter for the NTA to consider in the first instance. I have, therefore, referred the Deputy's question to the NTA for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.