It is a little ironic that this debate, which was probably arranged to allow the Government congratulate itself on transport improvements that were promised under Transport 21, is taking place against today's background of no public transport on many of Dublin's streets.
It is almost eight years since the liberalisation of Dublin's bus market was promised and this is still the only solution if we are to have a consumer focused service in the city that gives value for money. I do not know the rights and wrongs of the current dispute at Dublin Bus but I think it is unforgivable that the convenience of a couple of drivers should supersede the interests of passengers who in many cases do not have the well-paid, secure jobs held by the drivers. These passengers must get to work on time in the place they are needed by their customers, not in a place of their choosing. This situation is unforgivable and will continue until the monopoly is broken by competition. This applies to monopolies in every sector, not just the bus market.
As part of Transport 21 we were promised a Dublin transportation authority and that part of its function would be the liberalisation of the market. This promise was watered down by the then Minister for Transport, Deputy Martin Cullen, until the kind of competition he promised was not worthy of the name. I hope the current Minister will right this wrong done in advance of a general election in the interest, I suppose, of ensuring peace with the unions. There is no excuse for this and the issue will go on and on until competition is introduced to all areas of public service.
Transport 21 was welcomed by all as a ten year, multiannual funding programme. However, the welcome was overshadowed by a complete lack of transparency on costings, how timetables were devised, where priorities were accorded and how decisions were made on what should be included. These reservations were not merely Opposition whinging or sour grapes but reflected real concerns relating to the apparent total absence of any robust, independent analysis of the relative benefits of the various projects and how priority was accorded to them.
The planning alone of huge projects such as the interconnector and the metro runs to hundreds of millions of euro and mistakes in such projects can preclude other projects. Such errors have far-reaching implications that go beyond the merely financial.
The Transport 21 document, when it was launched, did not inspire confidence, consisting only of a two-page list of projects and one map. There were more people involved in launching it than there were pages in the document. The real disgrace, however, was the revelation that it would involve the expenditure of €34 billion of taxpayers' money. It was an insult to the taxpayer, who will foot the bill, that there was no information available to the public. It was a matter of further concern, meanwhile, that no further information was available from the Department. It was simply a list and could not be called a proper transport plan.
I have no doubt that much work went into the individual projects, but the list itself has not been subject to alternative project evaluation, cost benefit analysis or any type of financial appraisal. In short, projects were chosen not on a sound financial basis or because they were part of a comprehensive, co-ordinated and integrated transport plan but simply on the strength of their lobbying agency, whether that was the RPA, Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and so on, or because of the activity of a local lobby group in the run up to a general election. Dublin Port tunnel, probably the most expensive project ever and the most useless in terms of value for money, must give us some sense of the dangers of stand-alone projects that are not part of an integrated and co-ordinated transport plan. The dangers of projects going ahead based only on the lobbying of interest groups is that we can end up with the wrong projects, using the wrong mode of transport, on the wrong routes and with the wrong priority.
For the tax paying public, unfortunately, the lack of transparency and accountability means the Government has a blank cheque to spend €34 billion. Given the way the plan is structured, it is impossible for us or anybody else to benchmark spending. The Minister can spend as much as he likes without any public monitoring or formal scrutiny. It is a joke. As I said before, the excuse that costing information cannot be imparted for commercial reasons is unacceptable. The competitive tendering system is devised precisely to produce the best price for the job. It has never before been used to prevent the publication of a budget.
In the case of the proposed metro, we do not even have a ballpark figure to the nearest €1 billion. That is ludicrous. We do not know if anybody can say whether this project represents value for money. We do not know at what price it becomes untenable or unsustainable or whether anybody has even decided at what level that should be set. Is it good value at €2.5 billion, €4 billion, €6 billion or €8 billion? Will we ever know? How many Luas lines could we purchase for the price of a single metro line? Is there any point in asking for some type of public debate even at this late stage? The cost is important, not to mention the cost of the congestion that will be caused in the interim period and during the construction phase.
In any case, any costings or evaluations that may have been done are now redundant because of the passage of time. The metro project is now so far behind that any ballpark figure that may have been offered is irrelevant and we have moved to a completely different ballpark. It is extremely doubtful that the construction of the metro will commence much less finish, within the lifetime of Transport 21. The same applies to many projects throughout the State. The Minister and Taoiseach regularly talk about projects coming in on time. They seem oblivious to the fact that they come in on time simply because the appointed time keeps changing. In recent months, for example, the Department's website revised outwards the timetables of 11 of these major projects. In addition, by keeping costings secret, the Government manages to put forward the spin that projects are also being completed within budget. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Given that almost every public transport project is now running late, there is an absolute necessity to ensure that other capital transport projects are slotted in to take up the slack. If the construction of the metro will not commence until after the ten-year Transport 21 project has expired, the enormous resources earmarked for that project should be used for other transport initiatives. The availability of €34 billion for transport projects in the course of ten years equates to progress. However, €34 billion to be expended over 20 years equates to chaos.
Viable projects must be brought forward. For example, I call for the construction of a Luas line in my own area of Rathfarnham and Knocklyon. There are many projects throughout the State that are ready to commence and could be slotted into the plan. In terms of the roads programme, for instance, the roads that connect the inter-urban routes should be prioritised. That is the way to go if we are serious about regional development. It is no use continuing the orbital routes out from Dublin and leaving it at that.
Our falling competitiveness and faltering economy is due in no short measure to the Government's failure to tackle traffic congestion in the past ten critical years. That congestion has increased the cost of going to work, reduced the volume of business done in any one day, reduced the number of deliveries, pushed up wage demands and impacted hugely on people's quality of life, especially in cities. We still have a chance to rescue the economy if we learn from the mistakes of the past ten years, but only if the political will exists to do so.
It is vital from the perspective of the economy that capital projects, particularly public transport projects, that are productive and sustaining in the way that much of the house building activity in recent years was not, are brought forward to take up the slack and to afford employment to the skilled workers who will be made redundant as a consequence of the slowed housing market. Thus, transport projects are important not only in themselves but are also of benefit to the economy generally. We must proceed with the expenditure of the funding allocated for transport projects, so many of which seem to be falling behind.