I thank the Cathaoirleach and the committee members for the invitation to appear before the committee to assist it in its examination of the NTA's financial statements for 2020. As requested by the committee's secretariat, we have furnished some information in advance. To assist in answering the committee's questions, I am accompanied by three directors from the NTA: Mr. Hugh Creegan, deputy CEO; Mr. Tim Gaston, director of public transport services; and Mr. Philip L'Estrange, director of finance and corporate services.
The remit of the NTA is primarily concerned with the planning, development, regulation, funding and provision of sustainable transport. Within the greater Dublin area the authority has a greater depth of functions. The authority's role covers not only public transport capital investment and provision of services but also securing greater integration between land use and transport planning. The authority's statutory transport strategy for the GDA sets out the key transport projects that are required to be delivered to provide for the growth in travel demand by sustainable modes and to meet the carbon emission targets agreed by the Government. The authority is obliged to review the transport strategy for the GDA every six years, and the first review was completed last year and published in November for public consultation. That consultation closed on 10 January and the authority is now reviewing those submissions and preparing a final draft for approval by the Minister for Transport.
The Government has published its long-term investment programme, the National Development Plan 2021-2030, which continues to support the BusConnects programme, MetroLink and the DART+ programme as well as other important public transport projects which will assist in meeting the demand for sustainable transport and our obligations to reduce carbon emissions. The authority manages the capital investment programme for public transport, cycling and walking on behalf of the Department of Transport and funds the transport operators and local authorities for approved projects.
Planning and public consultations for three major capital projects, namely, BusConnects, MetroLink and the DART+ programme, continued during the pandemic and the preliminary business cases for all three were submitted to the Government for approval in 2021. It should be noted that, in accordance with the public spending code, the NTA has been appointed as the approving authority for all three of these programmes in addition to being the sponsoring agency for BusConnects.
Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, is the sponsoring agency for MetroLink and any other Luas projects, and Iarnród Éireann is the sponsoring agency for the DART+ programme. A robust governance structure is in place to manage these projects through the planning, design and construction phases. The authority is also managing a significant increase in active travel funding to local authorities, which saw €280 million allocated in 2022 for more than 1,000 projects in different stages of delivery across the State.
Following a successful year in 2019, which saw significant growth in public transport usage, the impact of the Covid pandemic was dramatic. The health measures necessitated by the pandemic saw capacity on public transport services reduce by up to 75% at various stages throughout that year, resulting in a 50% reduction in passenger numbers by year end. Despite these challenges, the NTA, along with its operating partners, managed to keep public transport services going in order that key workers could get to their places of work and make essential journeys. In that context, I thank all the operators and their staff for continuing their work in keeping our public transport services operating in a safe and efficient manner. This continued through 2021, and while there was recovery at times in the public transport numbers, they were still well below pre-pandemic levels. We are particularly grateful the Government supported the NTA with increased funding to offset the fare revenue shortfall due to the pandemic. As a result, public transport operators suffered no commercial loss for the operation of services contracted by the NTA. Government financial support was also extended to the authority in July 2020 to support the re-introduction or continued provision or both of a number of public transport services normally provided under licence by commercial bus operators without State subsidy. This funding has been extended to the end of March 2022.
Despite the emergency crisis brought about by the pandemic, there were a number of key achievements to note in 2020 and 2021. We saw a significant number of new and improved services delivered in a short time frame under the Government's July 2020 stimulus funding package in that year. Two phases of the BusConnects Dublin network have been successfully delivered and there are plans to deliver three more phases this year. We have recently concluded consultation on our Connecting Ireland plan for improving connectivity for people living outside our major cities and towns. With Connecting Ireland, we are proposing an overall increase of approximately 25% in rural bus services as part of a five-year plan starting this year. Since the beginning of 2020, we have invested substantially in town bus networks in Drogheda and Navan and this year, we will progress the delivery of services in Carlow and Portlaoise.
Proposals on redesigning the bus network in Cork city have gone out for public consultation as part of the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy, CMATS, and we are looking to do something similar for Galway and Limerick. We also saw the first deliveries of the electric hybrid double-deck bus fleet in 2020, which marks the start of a process that will see carbon emissions dramatically reduce on our subsidised bus services and help us to achieve a reduction in transport emissions, as set out in the climate action plan. The authority has purchased three hydrogen-fuelled zero-emission vehicles, which are now in operation by Bus Éireann. We have also ordered 34 single-deck battery electric buses for delivery commencing later this year, as well as completing the tendering process for up to 800 double-deck electric buses, all of which allows us to meet our target of having zero-emission vehicles operating on all State-subsidised urban bus services by 2035.
In respect of the small public service vehicle, SPSV, sector, the number of vehicles that are now wheelchair accessible grew to 17% of the total fleet by the end of 2021. A number of supports for the SPSV sector were introduced to mitigate the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis. In addition, with the support of the Department of Transport, the NTA opened a new grant scheme for SPSV licence holders who wish to switch their vehicles to electric or electric hybrid vehicles.
Since its establishment, the authority has been significantly under-resourced. Our staffing complement, in particular, was below what we require to effectively undertake our statutory and non-statutory functions. A great deal of work was undertaken during the past three years on the development of a strategic resourcing plan to identify the needs in that regard through consultations with our parent Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I am pleased this culminated in approval for the filling of a significant number of key posts in 2020 and 2021, which has assisted greatly in building our capacity to deliver on our mandate. As for our funding and expenditure, the authority has been strongly focused from the outset on ensuring we have robust financial and audit controls, bearing in mind the scale and range of the authority's financial activities.
I welcome any questions members of the committee may have.