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Thursday, 4 Nov 2021

Written Answers Nos. 153-167

Bus Services

Questions (153)

Holly Cairns

Question:

153. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Transport the progress made in making the Local Link service more accessible to persons with disabilities, including expanding the geographical and temporal span of services and ensuring all services are fully wheelchair accessible. [53598/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

As I explained to the Deputy in reply to her identical Question on 16 September 2021 (Ref No 44129/21) as Minister for Transport I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.

It is the National Transport Authority (NTA) which has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally, as well as the development of an integrated, accessible public transport network. The NTA also has national responsibility for integrated local and rural transport, including management of the Rural Transport Programme which operates under the TFI Local Link brand.

That is why I referred the Deputy's Question of 16 September 2021 to the NTA for direct reply. I understand that the NTA replied directly to the Deputy on 22 September 2021.

In terms of new public transport services in rural areas, including Local Link services, I refer the Deputy to my reply earlier today to Question (Ref 52455/21) in which I outlined the NTA's proposals in its Connecting Ireland Rural Mobility Plan.

Connecting Ireland will significantly increase both the number of routes and the frequency of existing services right across the country. Hundreds of rural villages and areas will for the first time be served by a viable public transport link.

I joined the NTA to launch its Connecting Ireland consultation on 29 October 2021. I would urge everyone to review the NTA's proposals for their area and give their feedback to the NTA to guide the implementation of Connecting Ireland.

Bus Services

Questions (154)

Colm Burke

Question:

154. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Transport the way in which it is planned to improve the efficiency and regularity of the current Bus Éireann bus service in and around Cork city; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53554/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. However, I am not involved in the operations of public transport.

The National Transport Authority (NTA) has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally and for the scheduling of these services in conjunction with the relevant transport operators.

Therefore, I have forwarded 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.

Transport Policy

Questions (155, 248, 249)

Denis Naughten

Question:

155. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport the measures he is taking to reduce traffic congestion and emissions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53572/21]

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Denis Naughten

Question:

248. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport the steps he is taking to reduce traffic movements in city centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53570/21]

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Denis Naughten

Question:

249. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport the measures he is taking to reduce traffic congestion and emissions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53571/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 155, 248 and 249 together.

Reducing our reliance on the private car, especially for short journeys, is a key part of reducing transport emissions and alleviating traffic congestion.

Across a range of initiatives, my Department is considering ways to tackle car dependency. My Department launched the Demand Management Study to identify what drives transport demand and to assess ways to sustainably manage demand. The Study considers measures that not only reduce overall demand, but also assesses their impact on reducing emissions, tackling congestion, improving air quality, and improving the overall urban environment of Ireland’s largest five cities. The Phase 1 Report was published in April 2021 (available from: www.gov.ie/en/publication/63517-publication-of-five-cities-demand-management-study-phase-1-report-and-toolkits/). The Phase 2 Report is anticipated by end 2021.

My Department is also committed to improving the range of sustainable mobility options and providing a viable alternative to the private car, where possible. The Programme for Government committed to 2:1 spending on sustainable mobility to roads, and large-scale investment is underway in active travel infrastructure and public transport including a number of long-term rail and metro projects. Provision of alternatives to private car travel will improve in the years to come. My Department will publish the Sustainable Mobility Policy Review in the coming months to ensure services are sustainable into the future and are meeting the needs of a modern economy.

In recognition of the new Climate Act, which legislates for carbon neutrality by 2050 and 51% emissions reduction by 2030, my Department has engaged in analysis in recent months to reach our 2030 emission reduction target, which will be outlined in the forthcoming Climate Action Plan 2021. Alongside a reduction in overall travel demand, a shift to sustainable mobility including a significant uptake of electric vehicles in our national car fleet, a general reduction in conventional, fossil-fuel led kilometres will be required to reduce emissions in line with this target. While this will be challenging to deliver, it is vital to ensure a sustainable, low-carbon transport system for the future.

Rail Network

Questions (156)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

156. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Transport if a commitment will be made to undertake a feasibility study to investigate the reopening of the Navan to Kingscourt rail line; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53478/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

As previously advised to the Deputy, Iarnród Éireann (IÉ) has no current plans to reopen this line nor to undertake a feasibility study at this time. I am informed that a potential re-opening of the line does not feature in the relevant Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies.

As the Deputy may recall, the issue of a potential extension of the existing Dunboyne/M3 Parkway line to Navan was considered by the National Transport Authority (NTA) during its development of the statutory Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016 to 2035. This issue is being considered again as part of the statutory review of the current Strategy. I understand that the draft Strategy will be published imminently along with all of the background papers that informed its development. The publication of the documentation by the NTA will coincide with the launch of a public consultation process on the revised Strategy and I would encourage all interested parties to participate in that consultation process.

The Deputy may wish to note that the Strategic Rail Review, which as you know is being undertaken in co-operation with the Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland) and which will inform the development of the railway sector on the Island of Ireland over the coming decades, will among other matters, consider the potential scope for improved rail services along the various existing, or future potential, corridors of the network. That scope will also include the potential afforded by disused and closed lines such as the disused line from Navan to Kingscourt.

This will be one of the most significant reviews of the rail network on the island in many years and will provide a framework to develop a much-improved rail network in the years ahead. A consultation process is also included in the scope of this Review and I understand it is planned to be launched later this month. I would encourage all interested parties to also participate in the consultation, when the process is launched.

Departmental Programmes

Questions (157)

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Question:

157. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Transport the status of his work to expand the safe routes to school programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53628/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

In March, I was delighted to launch the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Programme which will support Active Travel infrastructure for selected schools around the country. The Programme will see approximately €15 million of funding allocated to Schools included in the first round to support walking, scooting and cycling to primary and post-primary schools. The Programme aims to create safer walking and cycling routes within communities, alleviate congestion at the school gates and increase the number of students who walk or cycle to school.

All schools were eligible to apply to the Programme and information was circulated from the Departments of Education and Transport to schools nationwide. By the deadline of 16th April, 931 applications had been received from schools in every county in Ireland. 170 schools were notified on 21st June that they have been selected for inclusion in the first round of the SRTS Programme. The schools selected were assessed against a range of criteria including school type, location and the schools' commitment to sustainable travel.

Schools that have applied this year and who have not been included in the first round of funding will not be required to reapply as they will come into the Programme on a rolling basis. Hence there are no plans for an additional call for schools to join the SRTS Programme at this time.

The Safe Routes to School Programme is funded by my Department through the National Transport Authority (NTA) and An Taisce's Green-Schools is co-ordinating the Programme.

Driver Test

Questions (158)

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

158. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Transport the status of the driver test including theory; the delays in relation to same; the actions taken to mitigate these delays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53701/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

Covid-19 has had on profound effect on the delivery of the Road Safety Authority’s driver theory testing and driver testing services.

Theory tests were first suspended due to COVID 19 in March 2020. The service resumed, on a gradual basis, in mid-June 2020. However, driver theory tests were not deemed an essential service under Level 5. As a consequence, the service was closed from late December 2020 until 08 June 2021. When operations resumed, there was inevitably an increased level of demand due to the backlog.

To deal with the backlogs, capacity has been significantly increased. Prior to Covid, an average of 10,000 to 5,000 theory tests were conducted per month. Currently 25,000 to 50,000 tests are being provided per month and significant inroads have been made to clear the backlog. There is now spare capacity in the system to meet demand.

The RSA has also been working to extend its online theory testing service to have up to 10,000 online theory tests available for all categories of vehicles per month. These tests are available on a first-come-first-served basis.

Due to the suspension of driver testing services in the initial pandemic response, along with the health protocols required since the resumption of services, services are operating below normal capacity and a significant backlog has developed.

In line with the gradual reopening of services this summer, driving tests for all those who are eligible to take the test and have been waiting longest have now recommenced. Critical frontline workers continue to be the prioritised. The service continues to operate under restrictions in the interest of making it a safe environment while there is an ongoing presence of Covid.

When the service resumed in June 2020, testers were conducting five tests each per day. Since 27 September 2021, this has been increased to seven tests per tester per day.

In order to deal with the backlog, the RSA received sanction to hire 40 new temporary testers, in addition to 36 they were sanctioned to retain or rehire in 2020. These new testers have completed their training and are now conducting live tests since July 2021. Sanction has also been granted to recruit a further 40 testers. An extra 10 temporary test centres have been opened and a further 9 locations have been expanded within the existing premises, to accommodate more testers.

The volume of tests being offered weekly continues to grow and for the past 4 weeks the average increased to 4098 tests being offered per week. It is important to note that there is still a significant no show rate at 3.7% on average over the last four weeks, where people who booked a test do not turn up to take the test.

Public Transport

Questions (159, 171)

Thomas Gould

Question:

159. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Transport the plan in place to improve public transport connectivity in the outer regions of Cork city’s northside. [53608/21]

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Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

171. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Transport the progress of the Bus Éireann review of services for the Macroom, Ballincollig corridor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53642/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 159 and 171 together.

As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.

The issues raised are matters for the National Transport Authority (NTA) in conjunction with the relevant bus operators. Therefore, I have forwarded the Deputies questions to the NTA for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a response within ten working days.

Public Transport

Questions (160)

Paul Murphy

Question:

160. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Transport the actions he will take to increase use of bus and rail public transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53678/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.

In Budget 2020, and prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, a total of €304 million was provided for PSO and Local Link rural regular services. Due to the impact of Covid-19, which resulted in the collapse of fare revenue on public transport, a further €370 million was allocated to enable the continued operation of public transport services in 2020. As part of Budget 2021, I secured almost €659m for PSO services in 2021, of which €30m is to support the licensed bus sector.

As part of Budget 2022, I secured c. €538m of funding for Public Service Obligation (PSO) and Local Link services provided by State operators and under contract by the National Transport Authority (NTA), including funding for Connecting Ireland, BusConnects and new town services. This funding includes over €200m of COVID-19 emergency funding in 2022 to counter the continuing impacts of the pandemic on fare revenue across transport operators. I have also secured €25m of funding to provide for the introduction of a Youth Travel Card which will allow any person between the age of 19 and 23 to avail of a 50% discount on fares across the transport network and promote modal shift in the transport sector among this group.

The NTA has responsibility for developing and implementing strategies to provide high quality, accessible, sustainable transport across Ireland. Therefore, I have also forwarded the Deputy's question to the NTA for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a response within ten working days.

Electric Vehicles

Questions (161, 222)

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

161. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport the reason the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle grants were scrapped at such short notice; if his attention has been drawn to the impact this had on car dealers and those planning on purchasing a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53691/21]

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Gerald Nash

Question:

222. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Transport the rationale for the decision to remove the grant of €2,500 for plug-in hybrid vehicles; if his attention has been drawn to the issues this has created for consumers who have pre-ordered such vehicles in the expectation that grant support would be provided; if consideration will be given to delaying the withdrawal of the grant to 2023; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53729/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 161 and 222 together.

The Department has been engaging with SIMI and others in relation to the removal of the grant.

The SEAI grant scheme aims to encourage behavioural change and support the Government’s commitment to achieving a 51% reduction in transport emissions by 2030. The grant schemes are kept under continuous review to ensure that they are as effective as possible in driving the decarbonisation effort.

To date in 2021, almost €65m has been provided in grants to support the purchase of electric cars. By year end, this will represent almost a doubling of supports to EVs in 2020.

As a result, the EV percentage of overall car registrations has increased significantly this year and represented over 15% to end Q3 2021. Government is on track as regards the number of vehicles which need to be sold in 2021 to reach its projected annual EV target as set out in the CAP 2019. As of 30 September, there were 45,423 EVs registered in the national fleet.

In the past year, many new BEVs with ranges of over 400km on a single charge have been introduced to the Irish market. Range anxiety is no longer an issue for electric vehicle purchasers, and while PHEVs provided an interim option, but emit both CO2 and air pollution emissions, this interim option is no longer necessary. Government supports should be provided to full electric vehicles, which will be the most effective means of reaching our carbon reduction pathway.

I announced after the budget that grant support for PHEVs will be removed from 1 January 2022. Any PHEV which registers for the grant in accordance with the scheme rules before this date will be approved and the commitment carried forward into Q1 2022. However, from 1 January 2022 the SEAI will no longer accept grant applications in respect of PHEVs.

For the top 10 PHEVS sold in 2020, four are high cost vehicles for which a grant would not be applicable and two have a direct BEV equivalent, that would be more useful in terms of decarbonizing the car fleet. Of the four remaining, three are made by manufacturers that have an equivalent size BEV model and only one model has no BEV alternative in its range.

Under the Terms and Conditions of the grant process, drawdowns normally need to be made by year end (31 Dec). However, due to the slowdown in global car manufacturing, I am extending this drawdown date to 31 March 2022, to allow time for customers to take final possession of the vehicle.

A range of incentives are in place to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles including:

- VRT relief of up to €5,000 for BEVs;

- A grant of up to €600 towards the installation cost of a domestic charge point for new and second-hand BEVs or PHEVs;

- A low rate of motor tax;

- BEV and PHEVs qualify for 50% and 25% toll reductions respectively up to a maximum €500 annual threshold for private vehicles and a maximum annual threshold of €1,000 for commercial vehicles (greater off-peak rates also apply to the M50 toll);

- BEVs qualify for a 0% Benefit-in-Kind rate up to €50,000 without mileage conditions;

- BEV/PHEVs and their associated recharging infrastructure qualify under the ACA scheme and;

- A grant of up to €10,000 to support the purchase of a BEV in the taxi/hackney/limousine sector with an additional €2,500 available for those choosing to make their vehicle wheelchair accessible. Those scrapping older, more polluting, or high mileage vehicles are now eligible for double the normal grant if they make the switch to electric with up to €20K available for a new BEV, €25K for a new wheelchair accessible BEV and €15K for a new wheelchair accessible PHEV.

Park-and-Ride Facilities

Questions (162)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

162. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Transport further to Parliamentary Question No. 112 of 16 September 2021, the progress made in relation to the identification of suitable sites for park and ride in Galway; the site options analyses and feasibility studies underway; the details of the comprehensive demand analysis currently being carried out by the PRDO; when this will be finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53424/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. The National Transport Authority (NTA) has statutory responsibility for the planning and development of public transport infrastructure, including Park and Ride facilities.

Noting the NTA's responsibility in the matter, I have referred the Deputy's question to the NTA for a direct reply. Please contact my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 days.

Public Transport

Questions (163)

Colm Burke

Question:

163. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Transport the progress to date of programmes to retrofit vehicles in order that public transport infrastructure is more accessible to persons with disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53553/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.

Under the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, the National Transport Authority (NTA) has statutory responsibility for promoting the development of an integrated, accessible public transport network. The NTA also has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally.

The NTA works with the relevant public transport operators, who have responsibility for day to day operational issues, to progressively make public transport accessible.

In light of the NTA's responsibilities in this regard I have forwarded your question to the NTA for direct reply to you. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a response within ten working days.

Road Projects

Questions (164)

John Brady

Question:

164. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Transport if he plans to progress the N81 Tallaght to Hollywood Cross road improvement scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53622/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

As Minister for Transport I have responsibility for overall policy and exchequer funding in relation to the National Roads Programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993-2015 and in line with the National Development Plan (NDP), the improvement, upgrading and construction of individual national roads is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. This is also subject to the requirements of the Public Spending Code and the necessary statutory approvals. In this context, TII is best placed to advise you on the current status of this scheme.

Noting the above position, I have referred your question to TII for a direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.

Road Traffic Offences

Questions (165)

Thomas Gould

Question:

165. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Transport the action being taken in his Department to prevent underage, unlicensed drivers from driving cars. [53607/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

My Department has a large suite of legislation which provides an Garda Síochána with the powers it needs to deal with the dangers of underage and/or unlicensed drivers.

Under road traffic legislation, it is illegal to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle if under the prescribed minimum age for that category of vehicle. Different age categories apply to different types of vehicles, and the minimum age to drive a car is 17.

People who drive vehicles without a licence (regardless of age) are committing an offence under section 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, and may be subject to arrest, a substantial fine, and, on conviction, a custodial sentence.

Section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1994 also empowers a Garda to detain a vehicle where he/she suspects the driver to be underage.

In addition, it is an offence under Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act 2004 to supply a vehicle to a minor, with the offender liable, on summary conviction, to a substantial fine or a period of imprisonment.

My recently published Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021 provides for the establishment of a database matching drivers and vehicles to enable the easy identification of unlicensed and/or uninsured drivers on our roads. In addition, it will amend section 41 of the 1994 Act so that a vehicle may be seized if the person is not the holder of a driving licence.

The Bill also makes specific provision to increase the powers of an Garda Síochána to deal with the misuse of quadbikes and scramblers, which is particularly prevalent in minors.

The enforcement of road traffic legislation is a matter for an Garda Síochána, and comes within the remit of my colleague the Minister for Justice.

Departmental Funding

Question No. 167 answered with Question No. 120.

Questions (166)

Denis Naughten

Question:

166. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport if he will consider the establishment of a small capital grant for mountain and sub aqua rescue and recovery groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53573/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

The Department of Transport provides an annual maintenance grant to support the search and rescue activities of certain Mountain and Cave Rescue Teams, which is provided from the IRCG budget. The Department does not currently provide capital funding grants for voluntary rescue and recovery groups, but the matter will be considered on an ongoing basis and in the context of the 2022 allocations.

It is noted that the mountain rescue sector has also received capital grants from other government sources including the Department of Rural and Community Development, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, as well as County Councils over the years.

Consideration is being given to identifying one point of contact across Government to provide information on supports available for the sector.

Question No. 167 answered with Question No. 120.
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