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Thursday, 4 Nov 2021

Written Answers Nos. 168-180

Tax Collection

Questions (168)

Denis Naughten

Question:

168. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport his plans to reform the collection of motor tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49961/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

Motor tax is currently either collected online, through the www.motortax.ie website operated by my Department, or in 26 local authority areas, the latter encompassing a total of 46 locations around the country in which motor tax can be paid.

Of the almost 5 million motor tax discs issued in 2020, just under 4.3 million (86%) were issued through the online system, while some 690,000 (14%) were issued through motor tax offices. While Covid may have positively impacted the online take-up for the year, the numbers availing of the online channel have been increasing consistently year on year since its inception in 2004. Of the 5 million discs issued in 2019, 3.9 million (77%) transactions were conducted online.

There are no plans currently to reform the collection of motor tax, particularly given the high level of online take-up. However, an interdepartmental group was established in October 2018 to consider options around the provision of ‘offline’ Government services. It submitted a report to Government recommending that an ‘offline agent network’ be considered as a possible delivery model for a range of Government services, including motor tax. The Government noted the report and agreed to the establishment of a new sub-group to explore the potential of a One Stop Shop approach, including the identification of suitable services. I understand that the work of the group is at an advanced stage and that a report will be submitted to Government in the near future. The question of any potential changes to the present system for collecting motor tax will be considered in that context.

Road Network

Questions (169)

Martin Browne

Question:

169. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Transport the engagements he has had with An Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage regarding the need for a new pedestrian bridge over the River Suir at Ardfinnan, County Tipperary. [53639/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

In response to requests from the Office of An Taoiseach in September 2021, my Department provided briefing for the information of An Taoiseach on the current road traffic system for Ardfinnan bridge along with details of funding options for structural repair works and a new pedestrian bridge.

The briefing provided outlined the details of the works on the existing Ardfinnan bridge which are being funded by my Department through the National Transport Authority (NTA). These include the construction of a permanent footpath on the bridge, a pedestrian crossing on the north side of the bridge to facilitate safe crossing onto the existing Barrack Street footpath, and the installation of traffic-sensor traffic lights on both ends of the bridge which will result in shorter waiting times for motorists and should improve the traffic flow.

The briefing also outlined that the NTA are happy to consider any proposal for an additional pedestrian bridge in Ardfinnan, provided that Tipperary County Council submit necessary economic analyses and any additional required assessments as part of that proposal, as is the case with all capital project applications from local authorities.

Rail Network

Question No. 171 answered with Question No. 159.

Questions (170, 231)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

170. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Transport the reason the Western Rail Corridor was excluded from the National Development Plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53694/21]

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Mairéad Farrell

Question:

231. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Transport the status of the progress of the western rail corridor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53835/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 170 and 231 together.

As reiterated in the National Development Plan, a Strategic Rail Review is being undertaken to provide a strategy for the development of inter-urban and inter-regional rail on the Island of Ireland over the coming decades. Work has commenced on the Review and, for the information of the Deputies, a consultation exercise will form part of the review and is expected to launch shortly.

The Strategic Rail Review will 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 potential of the Western Rail Corridor. Indeed I would note that the National Development Plan specifically refers to that fact.

For the Deputies' information, overall this Review will review the rail network with regard to the following ambitions: improving sustainable connectivity between the major cities (including the potential for high-/higher speed(s)), enhancing regional accessibility and supporting balanced regional development and improving rail connectivity to our international gateways including consideration of the role of rail freight.

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. I expect the Review will be completed within 12 months.

Question No. 171 answered with Question No. 159.

Public Transport

Questions (172)

Denis Naughten

Question:

172. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport his plans to increase the use of public transport by third-level students; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49962/21]

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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. I am not involved in the day-to-day operations of public transport, nor decisions on fares.

Following the establishment of the National Transport Authority (NTA) in December 2009, the NTA has responsibility for the regulation of fares charged to passengers in respect of public transport services, provided under public service obligation (PSO) contracts.

As part of Budget 2022, I secured €25m of funding to provide for the introduction of a youth travel card (YTC). The YTC will allow any person who is between 19 and 23 years old to avail of an entitlement for discounted travel costs and to increase the level of discount over and above the current student discount to an average of discount of 50% across all services, including city, intercity and rural services.

It is clear that the YTC will be of great benefit to this group and encourage them to avail of public transport services that they may not have considered using before. It will also help embed using public transport among this age cohort and this habit may stay with them into the future. The NTA have commenced work in relation to the implementation of the new fares structures for young adults.

In light of the NTA's responsibility in the matter raised by the Deputy, I have also referred your question to the NTA for direct reply to you. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

Road Projects

Questions (173)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

173. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Transport the status of the east west link which is urgently needed in the north east; the most recent engagements his Department has made on this project; the persons or bodies engaged with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53475/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

Proposals to deliver an upgraded East-West route linking Dundalk to Sligo, taking in Cavan, involve linking elements of the national road network and regional roads along as direct a route as possible. Essentially the route involves upgrade/realignment works on the regional routes from Dundalk to Cavan and on national routes from Cavan to Sligo.

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 provided funding to Cavan County Council (acting as lead authority with Monaghan and Louth County Councils) with over €2m in the period 2007-2014 to progress the regional road element of the project to preliminary design.

In light of subsequent appraisal work that pointed to a very substantial cost if the full route were to be upgraded, the Department engaged with Cavan County Council in relation to carrying out a risk-based analysis for the east-west route between Dundalk and Cavan. A report on this analysis is expected shortly and future options in relation to the route will then be considered, taking into account funding availability.

As regards the national road element of an east-west link, I have referred the question to Transport Infrastructure Ireland for a direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.

Electric Vehicles

Questions (174)

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Question:

174. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Transport the details of the plan to expand the use of electric vehicles in public transport services in particular bus services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53540/21]

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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 the provision of the public transport fleet.

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 (175)

Marc Ó Cathasaigh

Question:

175. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Minister for Transport the actions he is taking to provide better regional public transport connections to address rural car dependency, improve local economies and to reduce transport carbon emissions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53504/21]

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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.

It is the National Transport Authority (NTA) which has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally. 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.

In terms of new public transport services in rural areas, 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.

Climate Change Policy

Questions (176)

Brian Leddin

Question:

176. Deputy Brian Leddin asked the Minister for Transport the way he plans to align transport infrastructure spending decisions with the State’s commitments on climate change mitigation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53656/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

The forthcoming Climate Action Plan 2021 and the new Sustainability Mobility Plan will provide concrete actions to deliver on the overall objective of reducing transport emissions by 2030 in line with our national and international obligations.

The recent revision of the National Development Plan (NDP) aligns transport investment plans with climate objectives in terms of funding priorities and allocations to drive modal shift from private car usage to active and public transport, as well as supports to encourage the take-up of EVs over the next ten years.

Within the context of the capital ceilings set for this Department, and its delivery agencies, the funding allocation for new public transport and new roads is in keeping with the agreement in the Programme for Government. A 2:1 ratio will be maintained between new public transport investment and new road investment. This means there will be expansion in public transport options to facilitate a broader range of choice for the citizen.

Grant support for the regional and local road network, which is vital for connectivity, community, health, education and industry is focused primarily on protection and renewal of the network.

My Department will shortly publish the National Investment Framework for Transport in Ireland (NIFTI) which sets out four strategic priorities for investment in land transport, one of which is decarbonisation. Investment proposals will be expected to demonstrate how, and how well, they align with one or more of these four high-level priorities. Furthermore, in considering the possible range of solutions to a particular transport need or problem, the use of sustainable modes, starting with active travel and then public transport, is also encouraged wherever appropriate.

Government is also supporting the deployment of alternative fuels such as biomethane and green hydrogen across all transport sectors through a range of measures including the introduction of the Alternatively Fuelled Heavy Duty Vehicles Grant, the expansion of the Accelerated Capital Allowance scheme for natural gas propelled vehicles and related equipment to include hydrogen vehicles and equipment and the reduced excise rate on natural gas. My Department is also engaging with ports and airports in relation to infrastructure requirements in line with the recently recast European Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation with a target date of 2030.

Road Network

Questions (177)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

177. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Transport the engagement he had on the upgrading of national secondary routes with the Minister for Rural and Community Development. [50085/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

As Minister for Transport I have responsibility for overall policy and securing 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 operation, management and upgrading 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 Public Spending Code Guidelines and the necessary statutory approvals. I have not met with the Minister for Rural and Community Development in relation to the upgrading of national secondary routes.

Departmental Funding

Questions (178)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

178. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Transport if he will consider part funding the local improvement scheme with the Department of Rural and Community Development to improve rural laneways; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53620/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

The scale of the regional and local public road network at 96,000 kms continues to present a challenge in terms of funding maintenance and improvement.

Funding is not yet at the level needed to ensure that the public road network is being maintained adequately. This means that expenditure is still below the amount required to hold the public network in a "steady state" condition and in addition there is a backlog of works. For this reason, grant assistance from the Department continues to be focussed on the maintenance of the public road network.

Public Transport

Questions (179)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

179. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Transport his plans to develop transport links in rural areas, including LocalLink; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53619/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

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

It is the National Transport Authority (NTA) which has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally. 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.

In terms of new public transport services in rural areas, 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.

Ports Policy

Questions (180)

Verona Murphy

Question:

180. Deputy Verona Murphy asked the Minister for Transport the supports his Department will be providing to Rosslare Europort for the establishment of a wind farm construction base; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53706/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

The primary function of our state ports is to facilitate maritime transport which is the most important means of connecting Ireland to international markets, accounting for more than 90% of Ireland’s international trade, in volume terms. At the same time, it is recognised that there is a pressing need for Ireland to have the port capacity in place to exploit the opportunities presented by Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE), with the Programme for Government targeting a capacity of 5 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 30GW thereafter of floating offshore wind power in deeper waters in the Atlantic.

The Department of Transport in conjunction with the Irish Maritime Development Office is currently carrying out an assessment on the options for our ports to facilitate the ORE sector and assist Ireland achieving its emission reduction targets.

As part of endeavours to maximise EU funding, the Department engaged extensively with other Member States and the Commission advocating for inclusion of funding for ORE required port infrastructure under TEN-t and CEF and successfully obtained changes to the CEF criteria. This is significant and means that EU funding of port infrastructure for ORE will now be allowed under the CEF 2021-2027.

The first call for transport projects under new CEF programme is now open. The call makes €4bn funding available for transport infrastructure project. Similar calls are expected in 2022 and 2023. While these are competitive processes, and typically oversubscribed, successful applicants can obtain funding of up to 50% of eligible costs for studies and up to 30% of infrastructure works costs.

As a Comprehensive Port on the TEN-T Network, Rosslare Europort is eligible to apply for CEF funding and have indicated to the Department their intention to apply for this funding. The current call opened on the 16th September with a closing date of 19th January 2022. The Department of Transport is engaging with potential applicants to assist, where appropriate, in applying for this funding.

The Department also held an open information day on 21st October 2021 for potential applicants. The Commission and the European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency presented as did one of the State Port Companies having been a successful applicant for funding for port infrastructure previously. There was a high level of attendance from interested parties seeking to make applications.

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