I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important legislation. I begin by congratulating you, A Cheann Comhairle, on your election to the Chair of this House, and I wish you well in the future. I also wish the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, well in his new portfolio.
This legislation is important for the future of the State. Its principal purpose is to provide the necessary statutory basis to facilitate the implementation of free-flow, open-road tolling, also known as barrier-free tolling, on toll-based national road schemes, through the provision of appropriate deterrents for non-payment of tolls. The Bill provides for the redesignation of certain high quality dual carriageways to be motorways; the provision of service and rest areas on the national road network; some technical amendments to various sections of the Roads Act 1993 and a number of amendments to the Taxi Regulation Act 2003; and the making of by-laws to deal with the issue of parking at sports stadia on event days.
When dealing with roads infrastructure, we cannot ignore the issue of road safety. There is a major responsibility on all of us to avoid speeding, drink driving and being tired at the wheel. It is important that we improve the roads infrastructure throughout the State, but 20% of all accidents are caused by fatigue or speeding. We must take responsibility for our actions. In recent days, we have seen once again the horrific consequences of road accidents.
We must all be vigilant when driving and negotiating the roads. I urge every motorist, cyclist and pedestrian to play their individual part in ensuring their own safety and that of others on the roads. We still have a major crisis in regard to road deaths, particularly among young people. This carnage must stop. A road safety strategy has been implemented and I hope it will deliver. I urge the Minister to become directly involved in this issue.
I will deal first with the section of the legislation relating to car parking at sports stadia.The Bill attempts to address the issue of parking congestion experienced on public roads in the environs of sports stadia and such venues on event days. It amends the Road Traffic Act 1994 to allow local councils to deal with the matter through the making of by-laws together with some consequential and connected amendments. The new section covers the prohibition of parking around specified venues or events, the issue of permits to residents and the provision of traffic signs on consultation with the Garda.
This issue has a direct effect on two areas in my constituency, Parnell Park and Doneycarney, where big match days can be a nightmare for residents in terms of accessing their homes. The Richmond Road area, which is close to Croke Park, also needs protection. Residents' rights must be respected when it comes to big matches and concerts. I welcome any sensible solutions which assist these residents but we cannot accept a situation in which people are trapped in their homes during match days and major events. I urge the Garda to implement the law because many of these issues could be immediately addressed by means of existing legislation. People are trapped in their homes when their gates are blocked by thousands of people attending matches in Parnell Park or Croke Park. This section of the Bill is consumer friendly and it is important that we respect and protect the rights of citizens.
The section of the Bill providing for service areas is important. The Bill makes a number of amendments to the Roads Act 1993 to facilitate the provision of service and rest areas on the national road network. Ireland's national road network has been transformed almost beyond all recognition over the last decade. A consequence of the substantial development of long lengths of motorways and high quality dual carriageways is that there is an increasing need for facilities to cater for road users who wish to rest during their journeys or avail of fuel, sanitary and refreshment facilities.
While this is an area in which we are lagging behind other countries, I welcome the improvements. To address the growing need for service and rest areas, the NRA intends to provide service areas offering a full range of services, including retail services, at intervals of approximately 50 to 60 kms and rest areas, parking and sanitary facilities only, at intervals of approximately 25 to 30 kms. These facilities will be located both on-line and at or close to existing interchanges.
We are trying to catch up with our European neighbours. Many of the thousands of Irish people who go to France on camping holidays comment on the services provided on the side of motorways and dual carriageways so that people can eat lunch or purchase petrol. On many stretches of motorway in this country, one could be driving for a long time before finding an opportunity to do the same. I urge the Minister to bring us up to international standards because that is the way forward in terms of upholding citizens' rights and developing tourism. Over the coming weeks, thousands of tourists will visit Dublin and the rest of the country and we must ensure these services are available to them.
Unfortunately, the Roads Act 1993 does not give the NRA explicit powers to provide these rest and service areas on the existing motorway and dual carriageway networks. The provisions in this Bill address this deficiency and will greatly facilitate the NRA and road authorities in arranging for the provision of service areas on motorways and dual carriageways. This is a positive, constructive and sensible measure which puts the interests of citizens, tourists and consumers at the top of the political agenda.
The Bill introduces a number of amendments to provisions of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003. The initiatives proposed reflect on issues raised with the Department by the Commission for Taxi Regulation and are aimed at building on the programmes already being implemented by the commission to promote the development of quality services by all of those engaged in the operation of small public service vehicles. There should be no problems in encouraging those involved in the taxi and hackney industry to improve standards for our citizens and there is no excuse for overcharging customers, particularly those who travel to work or have to use taxis in emergencies. Complaints have also been made by tourists about overcharging. The taxi business can provide a good living and I know many people who offer a quality service and make the extra effort. However, we have also to respect the rights of the consumers by protecting them from overcharging. The emphasis must be on the quality of the service.
In that general context, the proposal to amend section 34 of the 2003 Act provides for the introduction of a licensing control regime for dispatch operators who operate a business for taking bookings for taxis, hackneys and limousines. Dispatch operators play a key role in the delivery of services especially to those who cannot avail of on-street services, such as those available from taxi ranks. Since the passage of the 2003 Act, the commission has pursued a programme of regulatory reform that has seen the realisation of a significant range of changes from the previous code. Against that background, there is no reason to continue with the general requirement for ministerial consent to future regulatory changes that the commission wishes to pursue. Accordingly, section 13 proposes that the requirement for ministerial consent for the making of certain regulations, or ministerial consultation, in sections 34, 38, 46 and 52 of the 2003 Act be removed. However, all orders or regulations made by the commission under the Act will continue to be subject to the requirement that they be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas after they are made, in accordance with section 3 of the 2003 Act.
In addition to an amendment to facilitate the extension of the fixed charge system to offences under regulations made under section 39 of the 2003 Act, this section provides for the extension to hackneys and limousines of the enabling powers available to the commission in respect of taxi fares. This initiative is an enabling provision and does not necessarily herald the adoption of fare controls for hackney and limousine operations in the near future.
Finally, the section proposes that the maximum fines for certain of the offences established under the 2003 Act should be increased. This will bring the maximum fines more into line with the current maximum fines applicable to summary convictions that have been established in legislation since the passage of the 2003 Act.
I hope the final few compensation issues remaining in respect of the Dublin Port tunnel are addressed. I ask the Minister to use his authority to ensure all the residents whose homes have been damaged during the construction of the tunnel are compensated. While the vast majority have received their cheques, a number are still waiting. During the construction of the tunnel, they experienced significant difficulties in terms of noise, vibrations and pollution and a number of houses were seriously damaged. It is an experience from which those responsible for the metro project could learn in terms of working closely with residents groups and the people most affected by these major projects. We must be vigilant in that regard.
It is important that we ensure the Bill delivers on our roads infrastructure. There is great potential in the legislation to improve the quality of motorways and other roads and the numbers of accidents have already decreased over the past ten years on improved roads. Many of the accidents now taking place are on minor roads in rural areas.
We must address those minor roads and those communities which are often neglected because they are far from the main urban centres. When one has proper roads one can begin to put the emphasis on road safety and protect lives. Then one can develop the roads further, as covered in the legislation, to deal with the services because they are a very important element for citizens and the tourism industry.
I welcome the legislation which has many positive aspects and I will support it.