Other Questions.

Rail Network.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

34 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Transport the reason for the delay in signing the railway order for the Kildare route project. [41644/06]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

108 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Transport the reason for his failure to sign the Kildare rail order; when this will happen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41766/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 108 together.

I signed the railway order for the Kildare route project on 5 December 2006. I announced my decision to grant the railway order for the Kildare route project on 13 August 2006 in line with the recommendations of the inspector to the public inquiry into the project. The drafting of the order, however, has taken longer than anticipated to complete due to the need to take formal legal advice on several issues. This has now been done and both the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and I have signed the order.

I understand Iarnród Éireann has commenced enabling works and is proceeding with detailed design and procurement with a view to commencing the main works early next year. The project involves doubling the number of tracks to four, with two dedicated lines for commuter services and two dedicated lines for intercity and regional services. This will allow for more frequent running of commuter, regional and Intercity trains which compete for busy limited slots into Heuston Station. It will double peak service frequency from Hazelhatch to Dublin, serving all stations. It will also double peak service frequency between Dublin and Sallins, Newbridge and Kildare, and will continue to serve outer commuter towns, including Portlaoise, Athlone and Carlow. Overall the project will facilitate an increase in capacity on the line from approximately 11,000 to more than 36,000 passengers per day in each direction.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has finally signed the railway order for the Kildare route project. For the benefit of the gallery of Members behind the Minister, this project was to be completed by 2006 as part of the 2000-06 development plan. That deadline was announced before the last election, which makes me nervous. After the 2002 budget, the money for this project was pulled and frozen for two years. Will the Minister explain that this is not another election gimmick? On the eve of the next election, the Minister informs the House he has signed the railway order again. How many elections will we have to wait for before the Kildare-Hazelhatch to Heuston rail tracks are doubled?

I am delighted Deputy Stagg welcomes the impact the four-tracking of the railway line will have for his constituents. The railway order was applied for by CIE in October 2005 and the public inquiry ran from 24 January to February. The inspector's report was received in May and subsequently published and I announced the decision to grant the order in August. The enabling works and physical construction of the route have begun.

This is a key part of Transport 21 integration where the Dublin station interconnector will come into its own. The interconnector will allow electrified rail systems to run from north and south of Dublin. This will allow seamless running from the Kildare line from Heuston through to St. Stephen's Green and on to the new Docklands station. The four-tracking is a crucial part of bringing that capacity to reality.

Has provision been made for park-and-ride facilities so that the housing estates in the towns served by the line will not be full of commuter cars? How much money has been assigned for each year of the project? What is the completion date for it?

I do not have the figures with me but I am happy to forward them to the Deputy later. The enabling works have started and it is hoped to have the project completed in three years. Park-and-ride facilities will be made available with this project. I confirmed today that I made €5 million available last year for park-and-ride facilities in Dublin, but not one euro was drawn down by any of the local authorities, which is greatly regretted by me and everybody in Dublin.

That is why we need a Dublin Transport Authority.

I urge local authorities and their members, particularly those from the parties opposite, to be more active in this regard.

Absolutely.

It is the county managers appointed by Fianna Fáil who are in control. The Minister should stop codding us.

It is difficult when the Minister of the day makes available a lot of money and the local authorities do not want it.

The Minister will not back them either.

I, therefore, find some of the questions disingenuous.

Will the Minister give the licences for the buses then?

Will the Minister send me the information he does not have?

That would not be much.

Since the delay to the Kildare project was caused by the lack of staff in the Attorney General's office to draft the rail order, will the Minister outline the measures he has taken to ensure staff is available to avoid delays to other rail projects that have to go to the Attorney General's office for redrafting?

I am not aware that this was the problem. There were some legal issues around this order that had to be resolved.

It was the Minister's answer to a parliamentary question of mine.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell is correct that there is great pressure on the Attorney General's office and the legal system to deliver all that this great Government is implementing around the country. We try to keep up with all the needs.

Will the Minister outline the measures he has taken to ensure there will be staff?

The measures are a matter for the Attorney General and his staff.

Is this joined-up government?

Clearly not.

No. The Deputy and her colleagues are unable to understand that the four-tracking project in Kildare has started. It is, therefore, spurious to argue about it.

I welcome the fact that the order has been signed and the enabling works are under way. There is already a car parking problem at Sallins and Hazelhatch stations. The car parking is insufficient and the overflows are out on the road. Is it possible to consider front-loading the car parking arrangements? The land take will happen anyway. Rather than have it as the last part of the project, would it be possible to make it one of the early parts of the project? It would make the current services more attractive to people. There is a serious problem.

As the Deputy knows, I have visited the areas along the route, including Hazelhatch. There is no consensus locally about the park-and-ride facilities. I am not expected to make a diktat from here. I urge that the local authorities and local communities agree where the park-and-ride facilities should be. If they do that, we can build it.

Hear, hear.

The local authorities must do the job they are mandated to do in their local areas and not pretend it is my decision. I have funding, which I am willing to provide if the local authorities will make decisions instead of coming here and disingenuously passing the buck about projects the Government is willing to fund.

Hear, hear.

Road Safety.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

35 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Transport if he has received the 2005 road collision fact book; and when he will lay it before the Houses of the Oireachtas. [41629/06]

Statistics relating to road accidents are based on information provided by the Garda Síochána. They are published by the National Roads Authority, NRA, in its annual road accident facts reports. The most recent report, entitled Road Collision Facts Ireland 2004, relates to 2004 and is available in the Oireachtas Library and on the NRA website. The 2004 report refers in particular to the various contributory factors to collisions where such data is available. In that context the report in respect of 2004 notes that driver error accounted for 88% of all contributory factors in respect of all collisions where such were identified. Pedestrian error was the next most listed factor at 8% with road factors accounting for 2% of all those listed. The remaining factors listed related to vehicle and environmental factors.

The annual road collision reports provide a significant degree of knowledge that supports and informs the deployment of road safety measures, which are pursued within the planning framework of the multi-annual road safety strategies. Responsibilities for the collection of structured information on road safety, including the publication of the annual road collision facts report, now lies with the newly established Road Safety Authority. The statistics relating to 2005 are being analysed and authenticated in preparation for publication. At the recent launch of the Road Safety Authority's Christmas campaign a report was published by Dr. Declan Bedford providing a factual analysis of the influence of alcohol as a cause of road accidents. All who were there could see that the position on deaths and injuries from drinking and driving is stark. I expect to receive the 2005 report from the Road Safety Authority towards the end of January 2007 and I will lay it before the Houses as soon as possible thereafter.

Does the Minister accept that the delay of over 12 months is not acceptable if we are to evaluate the causes of road accidents adequately? It is incredible that while we are heading into 2007 we are still discussing 2004 figures. Those figures should be compiled and published on a quarterly basis. Why is there such a delay in producing the 2005 figures? I would like to ask the Minister about the extent of the data collected. Does he accept that the categories of data are inadequate? We have no information on the driving status of people involved in road collisions. It stands to reason that a person's driving experience and whether he or she has a full or provisional licence is important information we should have. However, those figures are not collected and compiled.

We have no information on the nationality of drivers. Anecdotal information indicates a disproportionate representation of non-national drivers among our road deaths and serious injuries. There is no information on the standard of vehicles, whether they have passed the NCT or their age. Will the Minister ensure those details are provided on a faster and more regular basis and that the categories of data collected are extended to inform future policy?

I agree that we need real-time evaluation. It would be better if that were the case. I am happy to say it is the Road Safety Authority's intention to introduce that. Unfortunately, it is picking up on how it was done in the past and wants to get the 2005 report out of the way. The RSA has been given full responsibility for the data collection. The report it commissioned from Dr. Bedford is extraordinary and provides for the first time the hard facts, rather than anecdotal evidence, and his analysis of much case history on the impact of alcohol abuse on deaths and injuries on our roads. The Road Safety Authority will do what the Deputy has suggested.

I was recently struck by how road accidents are reported in other jurisdictions. In another city recently I was struck by a news report at 8 a.m. which clearly stated that a person had been killed at midnight, only eight hours previously. I wonder what was the legal basis for that. The report was that a drunk driver who was at twice the legal alcohol limit killed a person at midnight. We do not have that kind of reporting and if we could find the legal base for it, that would put into the public domain the facts, without trying to apportion blame, on the causes of accidents. If an abuse of substances or the law is directly responsible for a person being killed or injured on our roads that should be stated on the news in this country.

The Minister should go to Australia.

Last October there was a serious accident in which five young people were killed. On 20 October the Minister sought and received from the Road Safety Authority 21 recommendations that would make our roads safer, particularly for young drivers. Have any of those recommendations been acted on? What is their current status? Has a decision been made on any of them?

People believe my receipt of the letter from the RSA was a consequence of that horrendous accident. This was not the case. I received a letter listing a number of factors that contribute. My opinion was positive and I suggested the Road Safety Authority do research to justify in legal terms why such an issue was introduced and the evidence of proportionality. I am positively disposed to the suggestions of the authority. I am waiting for the Road Safety Authority to revert to me with fundamental information and it was happy with this response. I met the board subsequently and was pleased to learn that it is pursuing this matter. The new road safety strategy due early next year will consider a number of these issues.

Will the Minister share those measures with us? Will everything happen in secret?

Of course I will share it. I reverted to the Road Safety Authority with substantial requirements that have been accepted. The matter will become public.

Why is it a secret?

It is not a secret. Most of the recommendations have been articulated by Deputy Mitchell and I in public over the past year.

The Minister set up an expert body to provide advice. What is that advice?

The body must provide technical reasons for some of these issues. We cannot haphazardly——

The Minister is waffling.

I am not. I am explaining the position.

In light of widespread concern about young drivers, accidents late at night and the possibility of drug use, is it possible to test for drugs?

This is a serious issue. The Deputy refers to roadside testing. If a garda is suspicious and believes a person to be under the influence of any substance, the person can be arrested, brought to a Garda station and tested for drugs. This can be done under Irish law at present.

Between seven and ten roadside testing systems have been examined and all of them have failed. The Medical Bureau of Road Safety is involved in the process. A number of systems are being tested and as soon as one is available, it will be used in this country. Much drug abuse appears to involve prescribed drugs rather than illegal drugs.

I welcome the 60 recommendations——

This is Question Time. The Deputy must ask a question.

The Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business made 60 recommendations and over half of them were accepted by the Minister.

What does that mean?

Is it possible that black box technology can be used in all Government vehicles to show a lead? This is a recommendation made and I understand he is considering it.

I thank the Deputy for the recommendations. The issues raised, some of which have been implemented, are being considered by the Road Safety Authority. I hope they will be embraced in the forthcoming strategy.

Taxi Regulations.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

36 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Transport, further to Parliamentary Question No. 463 of 21 November 2006, if he has received a proposal from the Commission for Taxi Regulation in relation to a subsidy to encourage the greater availability of wheelchair accessible taxis; the estimated cost to the Exchequer of such a subsidy; the amount of funding provided in the Estimates 2007 for such a subsidy; and his decision in relation to its introduction and financing. [41625/06]

Shane McEntee

Ceist:

106 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Transport if he has received a proposal from the Taxi Regulator to provide a subsidy to wheelchair accessible taxis; his views on such a proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41771/06]

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 36 and 106 together.

I have received no proposals to date from the Commission for Taxi Regulation regarding the provision of a subsidy to encourage greater availability of wheelchair accessible taxis. However, I expect to receive proposals from the commission shortly and when the proposals are received, they will be considered by my Department.

The lack of availability of wheelchair accessible taxis is a matter of serious concern to people with impaired mobility. Some 21% of the taxi fleet was wheelchair accessible before deregulation; the figure is now 9%. People with disabilities complain about the difficulty in getting an accessible taxi to provide a service. Those with taxis that are wheelchair accessible can make more money by serving the able-bodied community and taking larger groups. The Taxi Regulator made a proposal to the Minister for Finance. The costs involved require some subsidy or a rebate of VRT or VAT. The Minister for Finance refused this scheme despite the money available. He is preparing a scheme that will apply to the Department of Transport. What is the Minister's view on the economic viability of running wheelchair dedicated taxis? Does the Minister accept the service is not viable without subsidy? Is he prepared to give positive consideration to such a subsidy?

I have not yet received proposals from the Taxi Regulator.

Does the Minister accept the principle?

I do not wish to pre-empt the proposals. This Government, more than any other, has shown support for access and disability across all Departments, including the Department of Transport in public transport, buses and trains. The taxi sector is a significant contributor to public transport and I hope we can increase the number of accessible vehicles available.

I asked if the Minister accepted that there is a serious problem for people with disabilities who wish to access a taxi service. Does he accept that some form of subsidy is required to make the service viable?

I will wait for the Taxi Regulator's assessment. I will not pre-empt the proposals or guess what they will contain.

Road Network.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

37 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Transport the steps he is taking to ensure that the taxpayer receives value for money in relation to the construction and acquisition costs for major roads and public transport projects. [41663/06]

I am satisfied that the investment that has taken place over recent years in upgrading our road and public transport infrastructure represents good value for money. The position as regards national roads is that, as Minister for Transport, I have overall responsibility for policy and funding of the national roads programme. In accordance with the Roads Act 1993, the implementation of the projects that make up the programme, including measures to ensure that these projects are delivered on time and in budget, are a matter for the National Roads Authority in conjunction with the relevant local authorities concerned.

My Department's main focus in monitoring the progress of the national roads programme is to ensure that it meets the overall policy priorities and targets set down in Transport 21. In addition, my Department has a role in ensuring that appropriate arrangements are in place for project management and cost estimation and control so that the programme can be delivered in accordance with best practice value for money principles. This is achieved through a number of different methods ranging from day-to-day liaison with the authority, the submission of regular formal progress reports to my Department and regular meetings of senior officials of the NRA and my Department.

In addition it should be noted that the NRA must also comply with the Department of Finance's value-for-money framework. In recent years, at the behest of my Department, a greater emphasis has been placed on the NRA on improving their cost estimation and control measures. So far this year, 12 of the 14 projects already completed have come in on time and within budget, and a number of projects were delivered comfortably ahead of the original schedules. These include the N15 Ballyshannon to Bundoran bypass, three months ahead of schedule; the N2 Ashbourne bypass, four months ahead of schedule; the N8 Rathcormac to Fermoy bypass, eight months ahead of schedule; and the N25 Kinsale road interchange, six months ahead of schedule.

I have a few roads that need upgrading.

Traffic is at a standstill.

Indeed, the project from Kinnegad to Tyrellspass was completed 12 months ahead of schedule. All major capital investments in public transport are subject to rigorous appraisal procedures ensuring the need for each project and the options for delivering it are established with the objective for maximising value for money. Major rail projects are now being delivered on time and within budget.

Hear, hear.

Progress on projects is monitored through regular reporting by and meetings with the implementing agencies and through technical and financial audits of a selection of projects by independent consultants.

What will the Minister's next trick be?

The Deputy would be welcome back.

One of the key functions of the monitoring group, established to look after Transport 21, is to monitor the implementation of projects provided for in that programme, with particular reference to compliance with the Department of Finance's capital appraisal guidelines and the value-for-money indicators. It will also review ongoing programme progress using information supplied by Endorse, an audit regime for the Transport 21 framework, and submit an annual report of progress to Government on the implementation of Transport 21.

I am very satisfied the arrangements in place for appraisal deliver value for money on all these projects.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

How can the Minister state he is satisfied when the NRA last week pointed out that the cost of land acquisition amounts to approximately 23% of the cost of road building projects, which is completely unsustainable whether relating to road building, transport or housing? It is simply unacceptable that big landowners and property speculators are making a killing at the expense of the taxpayer.

That is not what the IFA stated.

This has been pointed out to the Minister and his Government colleagues for many years. In 2003, the Labour Party introduced a Bill to provide for the Government to compulsorily purchase land at use value. The Government voted it down, but the All-Party Committee on the Constitution recommended that it legislate for something similar. In spite of this issue arising time and again, with cost overruns on public transport projects, road building and house prices, the Government has refused to take action.

Does the Deputy have a question?

Is it not the problem that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats are not prepared to face down property speculators, and are instead giving in to their pressure?

The Deputy should ask a question.

The Government is giving into those vested interests and the taxpayer is paying the price.

The Labour Party is the most anti-farming and anti-rural party in the House. The Government will certainly not go down the road of what the Labour Party prescribes. It is typical of the Labour Party to be disingenuous on the facts presented to the House.

Answer the question.

This is the light entertainment before the budget.

This is rubbish.

The Minister, without interruption.

The Minister does not like it.

Was the Deputy not in with Labour?

In spite of what the Deputy has said, the cost of producing every kilometre of new road in this country is half the cost of that in the United Kingdom.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

We are delivering superb value for money and we share the wealth of this country with everybody, unlike the Labour Party.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.