Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Taxi Licences

Robert Troy

Ceist:

51. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if the taxi advisory group is considering proposals to improve the availability of taxi services in rural areas; if revisions to the rural hackney scheme are being considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7060/19]

Could I ask the Minister when he last met the taxi advisory group? Does he know whether the group is considering proposals to improve the availability of the taxi service in rural areas? Does he know whether a review of the rural hackney service is under way? What are his views on the piloting of ride-sharing facilities?

Under the Taxi Regulation Act 2013, the National Transport Authority, NTA, is responsible for regulating the small public service vehicles, SPSV, sector. This sector encompasses taxis, hackneys and limousine services and the regulatory framework applies to the vehicles, the drivers and the services to the travelling public that they provide. The overall objective of the legislation and the regulatory framework is to protect the consumer interest and to uphold safety for passengers. The rules do not limit the number of operators; rather, they concentrate on ensuring standards of safety and service that will benefit the public.

The 2013 legislation and the NTA's subsequent implementation of it was informed by the Taxi Regulation Review Report that was published by the Government in January 2012. Among its recommendations, the review suggested the introduction of a local area hackney licence so as to address transport deficits that would not otherwise be addressed in certain rural areas.

The NTA made regulations permitting the issue of such licences with effect from December 2013. The aim was to enable a special part-time hackney service to be provided in rural areas which are likely to be too small to support a full-time taxi or hackney operation and which are also too far away from adjacent centres to be serviced by normal taxis or hackneys from those adjacent centres.

To address transport deficits in certain rural areas, the local area hackney licence continues to be offered by the NTA. However, take-up has been low. Despite the fact that the costs of a local area hackney licence are deliberately set low and some of the standards that must be met are lower than for a normal taxi or hackney operation, only a very small number of such licences are in use. The NTA has looked at this and identified that one of the main deterrents to the take-up seems to be the cost to an operator of the insurance needed to cover carrying passengers for reward compared to the restricted nature of the part-time service that can be provided under the licence.

The NTA is currently undertaking a review of key aspects of taxi, hackney and limousine operations with the intention of developing a five-year strategy for the entire small public service vehicle industry. The strategy will guide regulatory development for the sector over that timeframe. With the assistance and input of the advisory committee on small public service vehicles, the review is considering a variety of issues including vehicle licensing, vehicle standards, driver licensing, wheelchair accessible vehicles, fixed-payment offences and technological developments. As part of its work, the review is looking at the matter of local area hackneys and the scope for improving their effectiveness in addressing rural connectivity gaps.

The NTA plans to conduct a public consultation process in the first half of this year on the proposals emerging from the review process. This will give the public and public representatives the opportunity to provide their views and to inform the outcome of the work.

As of June 2018, only ten local area hackney licences were issued nationally. That clearly demonstrates that the approach is not working. Huge swathes of rural Ireland and villages and communities are being left without any public transport whatsoever. The Minister acknowledged that one of the prohibiting factors is the high level of insurance. I am inclined to agree with him on that. Has he spoken to the NTA in relation to this matter?

Has the Minister had meetings specifically about this? Has he met the taxi advisory group about the review of rural hackneys? He has stated that a five-year strategy will be published. When will it be published? Finally, the Minister and his Department have a responsibility to bring the cost of motor insurance down. What progress has he made towards delivering the specific requirements and recommendations for which his Department is responsible? I speak specifically about the introduction of a system whereby the Garda can detect whether cars on the road are insured.

I thank the Deputy for those questions. He is absolutely correct that 13 is a very disappointing number. The uptake is low for two reasons, not just one. The uptake is very low because of insurance. As the Deputy knows, insurance is a big problem not just for taxis but for hackneys as well, despite the fact that there are extraordinary reductions and incentives for local area hackneys. The vehicle licence fee is €50, as opposed to €170 for a new wheelchair-accessible hackney licence for one year; the driver licence fee is €20 for three years, as opposed the cost of a small public service vehicle, SPSV, licence, which is €250 for five years. Moreover, there is no requirement to pass the general SPSV driver entry tests. Nevertheless we do not seem to have cracked this problem and it persists. Other reasons have been given. A survey was done, as the Deputy will be aware, of those people who might work as hackney taxi drivers. Respondents stated that the radius in which they had to work was also extremely limited. In answer to the Deputy's question about the review of local hackneys, it is currently being undertaken as part of the strategic framework for the SPSV industry. I expect this review to be completed in 2019.

When in 2019? The rural hackney licence has been there since 2012. It has been in place for seven years. All Members of the House will agree it is simply not working. We need to address the deficiencies in rural transport now, not at the end of 2019 or in 2020, as the Minister seems to be suggesting. It is not just about bringing people to the rural pub. It is about maintaining and sustaining an element of sociability in communities that have no transport.

The Minister has cited insurance. He has a responsibility in this regard. Why has his Department not completed all the recommendations of the cost of insurance working group? I reiterate the question I asked at the outset, when did he last meet the taxi advisory group to seek its proposals for a review of the hackney licence? The Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, recently told the Dáil, "We are trying to liberalise that system and make them more available, particularly at night-time and on weekends." Would the Minister support considering the possibility of introducing ride-sharing facilities to provide a service that is clearly lacking right across the length and breadth of rural Ireland?

I thank the Deputy again for his questions. The date in 2019 is not settled but it will be as soon as possible. I understand the urgency to which the Deputy refers. He should not ignore the fact that there has been a large attempt to address the issue of rural isolation he mentioned through funding for new Local Link services. The National Transport Authority, NTA, manages that programme. Increased funding has been provided, with €14.9 million allocated in 2018 and again in 2019. In addition, public service obligation, PSO, funding has been provided for Local Link regular services, which amounts to €4.5 million in 2018, bringing the total funding for Local Link services last year to €19.5 million. Total funding in 2019 will be almost €20 million. These represent significant increases. There will be new Local Link services. This increased funding has enabled the introduction of 66 new consumer services to the Local Link networks, operating five, six or seven days a week. Key features of these new services include greater integration with existing public transport services and better linkage of services between and within towns and villages. Two new regularly scheduled Local Link services are to be introduced in Carlow, Kilkenny and Wicklow. They are due to launch in the first half of 2019.

The Minister did not answer any of the questions I asked.

In fairness to everybody, this continually happens. Rules have been set down for questions and answers. Six and a half minutes are allocated. They are important questions and it is important to get answers but the more we abuse the time, the fewer questions will be answered so I ask everybody to try to keep within the timeframe. I am moving on to-----

Can I just answer one more?

The Deputy was asking specific questions. It is very difficult to answer them all when he asks a lot. He asked me specifically when I last met the taxi advisory committee. I am not certain but I meet them regularly. From memory it was not that long ago. I have not met it specifically about the taxi hackneys but that certainly would be on the agenda if the committee put it down. It certainly can be on the agenda the next time I meet it.

Brexit Preparations

Imelda Munster

Ceist:

52. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of insurance green cards for motorists crossing the Border; the details of the one month’s notice that will be required of motorists; the process of production of the green cards; the application process for motorists; if there will be a cost; and the interventions made with the EU and Britain on behalf of motorists here to ensure that there will be a seamless transition for motorists crossing the Border if Britain leaves the EU without an agreement. [7050/19]

I wish to ask the Minister for an update on the matter of insurance green cards for motorists crossing the Border in the event of a no-deal Brexit and for further detail on the requirement for one month's notice he has indicated will apply to motorists. Can he outline the process of production of the green cards and what the application process for the motorists will be, including the cost? I ask him to provide details of all the interventions he has made with the EU and Britain on behalf of Irish motorists to ensure there is a seamless transition.

I thank Deputy Munster for her question. The green card is issued within the 48 countries covered by the Council of Bureaux for motor insurance and is a document whose production may be required to prove that insurance cover is in place for vehicles travelling between these countries, where alternative legislative provisions are not in place.

All EU member states are party to this system but the EU does not require production of a green card when travelling between member states. However, the default position is that green cards are required for vehicles entering the EU from third countries unless the EU Commission declares otherwise.

If the UK were to exit the EU without a deal, the default position would be that green cards would be required for EU-registered vehicles entering the UK and for UK-registered vehicles entering the EU. While the Government remains of the view that the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU, including avoiding the necessity for green cards, is the ratification of the withdrawal agreement reached between the EU and the UK, the Government recognises that it is prudent to plan for the possibility of a no-deal exit.

The motor insurance industry is therefore behaving prudently in being prepared for the possibility that green cards will be required, even though this is not a desirable outcome. In line with the current expected Brexit date of 29 March 2019, the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland, MIBI, has indicated that insurers and insurance brokers will begin issuing green cards to policyholders from March if no agreement has been reached between the UK and the EU on Brexit and the process has not been further delayed. At that point anyone who plans on driving their Irish-registered vehicle in Northern Ireland or Britain should contact their insurer or insurance broker one month in advance of their expected travel date to ensure they receive their green card in sufficient time.

The MIBI has responsibility for the operation of the green card scheme in Ireland but individual insurance companies or brokers will issue them on its behalf. The insurers and insurance brokers are commercially run organisations and are independent in the actions that they take. The application processes involved are a matter for each individual company. Likewise any cost is a matter for the individual companies. The MIBI has indicated that some companies might charge a small administration fee.

As part of its contingency planning the Government has raised this matter directly with the European Commission, seeking agreement from it to set a date from which green cards would not be required. This is a matter between the EU and the UK.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It would be wholly inappropriate as well as ineffective for an individual member state to seek to make a unilateral intervention with the UK authorities. The setting of a date is possible under Article 8(2) of the motor insurance directive. The Commission has not given agreement to date and the Government continues to pursue the matter with it. The Commission advised the MIBI and the international Council of Bureaux that it is keeping the matter under close and constant review as part of its Brexit preparedness work.

There are 68,000 vehicle journeys across the Border per day. We are six weeks out from a no-deal Brexit scenario. At last week's committee meeting, I asked the Minister some questions about the insurance green card, among other queries. He said he was unaware of some of the circumstances or conditions around it. That is fair to say. The Minister said two things, however. His first point was that 400,000 green cards are being printed and they will be available on demand.

It is up to people to apply for them.

The Minister also indicated that one month's advance notice would be required for the delivery of a green card to an individual. He has just stated that the motor insurance industry has confirmed that it will start issuing them from March. As of today, we are six weeks away from a no-deal Brexit. If it takes one month for delivery, that will give people only two weeks in which to apply. In the course of his conversations with those in the industry, did the Minister flag the fact that a volume of people will be forced to apply for these green cards? Did he also flag the short timeframe involved and the chaos this will cause if it is not done properly?

Obviously, the Deputy is very well aware of the numbers of these green cards that will be needed and possibly applied for and distributed by the insurance companies. The insurance companies are taking the initiative in this and they will be printing at a rate of knots to satisfy a demand that may or may not exist. This is a preparatory move. I do not need to flag it with them; they are aware of it. The insurance companies will make their own rules about where and when they issue the green cards but I am pleased to state that they are preparing for a no-deal Brexit, as any prudent companies ought to do in this situation. I certainly did not flag it with them because they knew about it. The Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland, MIBI, has already taken the initiative on this particular issue so it does not take me to do that. Obviously, it would be preferable if this was not happening at all but if the MIBI decides it wants to do it or charge for it, that is up to it. My position is simply that I would rather that this did not have to happen but if is happening, so be it.

I raise these questions because I am a Deputy who represents a Border county. If I or others want to travel to south Armagh from County Louth, a 30-minute journey, we do not want to have to produce green cards in order to do so. I also asked the Minister at the meeting last Wednesday if he had intervened specifically to deal with the issue of some form of dispensation. Some 25 million journeys are made via 300 Border crossings on an annual basis. I had said that unless the EU, the British Government and the Minister, on behalf of this Government, stepped in, a dispensation would not be possible. I ask the Minister again whether he met them to discuss this specific issue of a dispensation, what was the outcome and to whom did he speak. Did he make reference to recognising the existing relationship in respect of motor insurance cover, North and South, without requirement for green cards? Did he raise the common travel area? Did he ask if this dispensation could be accommodated under the Good Friday Agreement?

The Deputy is asking about the interventions. The Government has raised this matter directly with the European Commission and we have looked to it for a date from which green cards would not be required. That would satisfy the Deputy and many of her constituents who would be travelling backwards and forwards across the Border. It is a matter between the EU and the UK and it would be wholly inappropriate as well as ineffective for an individual member state to seek to make a unilateral intervention with the UK authorities. The setting of a date is possible under Article 8.2 of the motor insurance directive. The Commission has not given agreement to date and the Government continues to pursue the matter with it. The Commission advised the MIBI and the Council of Bureaux that it is keeping the matter under "close and constant review" as part of its Brexit preparedness work.

Public Transport

Robert Troy

Ceist:

53. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to the considerable overcrowding across the public transport system; and the steps he is taking to address same. [7061/19]

We are all aware that there is serious overcrowding on practically all modes of public transport. I acknowledge that Project Ireland 2040 allocates certain funding for BusConnects, metro north and other public transport projects but I ask the Minister specifically - and if he answers the question he may be able to state the time - the measures he intends to take here and now to address that chronic overcrowding.

I thank Deputy Troy. All of us are aware that increasing numbers of people are choosing to use public transport and all of us will, I am sure, welcome that fact. The Deputy is right to say that these increases can cause pressures at certain times and in certain places on the capacity of the public transport system. I hope he will acknowledge that there are short, medium and longer-term responses required to deal with those pressures.

My priority over the next few years is to increase investment in public transport infrastructure and services across the country. That is why I have provided funding to the National Transport Authority, NTA, to introduce measures such as expanding the public service obligation, PSO, bus fleets across the country; increasing and improving PSO bus services; introducing ten-minute DART services; increasing usage of the Phoenix Park tunnel for Kildare line commuters; expanding off-peak services generally across the rail network; increasing funding of the heavy rail network to steady state levels; and introducing longer trams on the newly extended Luas Green Line.

In the medium term I am providing increased funding to the NTA to continue to: expand PSO bus fleets, which will increase again this year; deliver new and improved cycling and walking infrastructure, with a number of important projects starting construction this year; complete the city centre resignalling project, which will benefit rail services; explore, and secure, medium-term solutions to capacity constraints on the rail network; and extend all trams on the Luas green line and purchase eight additional trams, which we expect to begin to arrive by quarter 4 this year.

In the longer term, I am working with my Government colleagues in delivering upon the ambition of Project Ireland 2040 and its national strategic objectives. This involves major transformative projects such as BusConnects in all the major cities, DART expansion, MetroLink, the national train control centre and the development of strategic cycling networks. Together these will have a significant and positive impact for people in using our public transport system.

I assure the Deputy that this Government is committed to achieving a modern, efficient and effective integrated public transport system across the country and the measures I have outlined above will support the shift toward sustainable transport.

If some of the commuters who were standing at a bus stop this morning as multiple buses passed them by or those who were taking the DART or commuter rail to work or to study and who were packed like sardines in a tin were listening to the Minister, they would not be overly relieved by his answer. There are reports this morning that €30 million in savings are to come from his Department in respect of the overspend on the national children's hospital project. Can the Minister confirm on the record of the Dáil that this will not have any impact on our public transport network or our roads budget? Can he also confirm when the tender for new train carriages will be issued and when we can expect delivery of new train carriages? In respect of the new buses the Minister said are coming on-stream, I understand 150 buses are to be delivered to Dublin Bus before July. How many of those buses have been delivered to date and how many will be additional and not simply replacement buses?

I thank the Deputy for his question. The issue of the cuts because of the national children's hospital overrun is something I am very happy to address. I can confirm categorically that there will not be any cuts in any projects or any roads as a result of that. It is important that the Deputy should know that. It will not have any impact on our public transport projects. The Deputy will have seen the figure of €27 million. It is the result of a decision in Northern Ireland about the A5. Said decision will mean that the project payment will not have to be made until 2020.

That is important because it means that €27 million is a saving made by my Department and it will not in any way affect a project such as a road, BusConnects or any of the projects which I know are so dear to the Deputy's heart.

That is €27 million out of €30 million in cuts to the Minister's Department as I understand it. On the A5, I have to ask why the Department had ring-fenced €27 million towards this project at a time when the Department would have been well aware that this money would not have been necessary for 2019. I am putting the Minister on notice that we will be keeping a close eye to ensure his commitment that there will be no cuts and no prioritisation of schemes, as the Government likes to describe it, going forward.

On the roll-out of additional services here and now, of the 150 buses that were due to be delivered before July 2019 to Dublin Bus, I ask again how many of those buses will be replacement buses. How many have been delivered to date?

On additional rail carriages, when will the tender be issued and when can we expect delivery of the much needed additional rail carriages? In the interim, while we are waiting on rail carriages, will the Minister look at putting in bus services to supplement the chronic overcrowding that currently exists on our rail network?

I will always urge the National Transport Authority, NTA, to look at anything which might be a solution but I am sure it is looking at it already. It regularly looks at alternative suggestions if there is overcrowding in various areas and the overcrowding which the Deputy has spoken about certainly applies sometimes to various services. Alternatives are looked at and produced when that happens. On the Luas, there are promises that there will be alternative buses if there is overcrowding or if there are delays or disruptions during the building of the MetroLink.

On the issue of the ring fencing, the money is there for the A5. It is a North-South deal as the Deputy will be fully aware and that project will go ahead as planned. It is simply a timing difference as a result of a decision which was made outside the jurisdiction and there is no threat to that project or to any other project as a result of what happened with the new national children's hospital.

On an overall timeframe for double decker buses, they have an optimal life of about 12 years and the NTA's current fleet strategy envisages a continual fleet replacement programme of about one twelfth of the fleet each year-----

I know all of that.

-----which equates to approximately 95 buses being replaced each year out a current total complement of 1,136 vehicles.

How many buses have been delivered so far this year?

Leanfaimid ar aghaidh le hUimh. 54-----

I am asking questions and they are not being answered. It is very unfair.

I am the Acting Chairman so the Deputy will have to take that up with the Ceann Comhairle or whoever else. I appreciate the Deputy's frustration but he will have to make his complaints somewhere else. I am here to chair the meeting.

Rail Network Expansion

Brendan Ryan

Ceist:

54. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to proceed with the MetroLink project from Swords to Dublin city centre as a priority; if the entire project will not delayed by the southside alignment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7058/19]

Proceeding with the MetroLink project as planned is of the utmost importance to my constituents and indeed to the entire city of Dublin. An affordable light rail link will not only reduce traffic from Swords to the city centre, but the rail will also allow for residents to commute quickly, cheaply and sustainably. The construction of a northside line must be a priority. It has been promised to my constituents for many years and increasing the public transportation options in the area will improve many of their lives immensely and indeed the quality of their lives.

MetroLink is one of the flagship projects proposed for delivery under Project Ireland 2040. The project envisages the development of a north-south urban railway service that will run between Swords and Sandyford, connecting key destinations along the 26 km route. A large proportion of the route will be underground, including where it passes under the important city centre area and Dublin Airport.

As the Deputy alludes to, the project, as published in Project Ireland 2040, plans to integrate into the current Luas green line on the southside of the city, and to upgrade the integrated segment to a higher, metro level, standard of service. MetroLink will open for passenger services in 2027, towards the end of the next decade, and it will need to address our city's travel needs into the mid years of this century and beyond. We are looking to deliver the long term, sustainable solution to Dublin's transport needs so it is important that we plan and provide for a network that can cope with the higher travel demands expected along the green line into the future, as these will exceed the capacity that would be possible with only a Luas type service.

In line with the relevant statutory framework, the MetroLink project is being developed by the NTA and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. Last year the two agencies completed a public consultation process on the emerging preferred route. That process was one in which communities along the entire route and beyond took a keen interest and approximately 8,000 submissions were received in relation to various aspects as they impacted both northside and southside of the city. Since that process concluded, both agencies have been considering the thousands of submissions received with a view to developing what will be known as the preferred route. This preferred route will reflect the NTA's and TII’s consideration of the issues raised and a further round of public consultation will take place shortly on this preferred route. Following that the NTA and TII will develop a final route which will be the one brought forward to An Bord Pleanála for its consideration as part of the planning process.

I can understand the Deputy’s perspective as he has raised it here today, but I am sure he can understand that it would be wholly inappropriate for me to comment on particular route alignments while work is under way by the relevant statutory agencies.

Although there have been many complaints that the MetroLink is not needed where the green Luas line already runs, I would like to emphasise that this sentiment is not shared by residents on the northside of Dublin who desperately want a rail system built to connect them to the capital. MetroLink should revise the current project plans and divide the construction into two phases. That way the northside construction can proceed as scheduled, unaffected by the delay caused by protesting residents on the southside.

There is a massive infrastructure deficit on the M1 Corridor with traffic bumper to bumper on a good morning. This is adversely affecting all bus routes, including express services which cannot avoid the congestion. On a bad morning, if there is a breakdown or an accident, everything on the M1 just grinds to a halt. The MetroLink is the best solution to this problem because it will reduce traffic on the roads, while also quickly moving more people to the airport, the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and Dublin city centre. Reduced traffic leads to less road traffic accidents, as the Minister will appreciate as he also has responsibility for that, and faster commute times.

I appreciate the frustration which the Deputy is expressing about the northside but it is not just a northside problem. It is not something which is just affecting the northside and it not just because of the delays in the planning that is going on in the southside around the emerging route and the preferred route. All of those are factors of course but there have also been factors on the northside. The areas where the concerns have had the highest public profile have been with CLG Na Fianna, the adjacent Scoil Mobhí and Scoil Chaitríona in the Glasnevin area and Dunville Avenue in Ranelagh on the southside. Other locations of concern include Swords and O'Connell Street and whether the tunnel configuration would be twin or single bore. On Ranelagh, the NTA has prepared and presented two proposals: bridge and cutting options, with more design work to be carried out on these options. The proposed MetroLink station development in the Tara Street area has been identified by TII and the NTA as a key connection area, as it will provide interchange between MetroLink, DART and suburban services. Various options have been explored by TII and the NTA and the preferred option identified would require the acquisition and demolition of the College Gate Apartments and other buildings in the area. The NTA and TII have received a submission from the residents that identifies alternative sites and are currently assessing whether these are feasible.

The construction of a new rail line will allow for local small businesses to grow, along with the potential development of a new tourism sector. As Swords is the closest town to the airport, it could be a popular stay over location for tourists if there is an easy access rail line for them to use. MetroLink will provide residents with greater job opportunities because those without cars will no longer be restricted to areas covered by the current bus routes. We in Fingal have been excessively patient on this project. Northside MetroLink should not be further delayed due to opposition to the southside alignment.

The southside already has a Luas line and is relatively well served. A cynic would say the project is almost designed to fail if these southside objections are allowed to delay the project even further. I ask the Minister to fast-track the northside alignment. It is badly needed. Enough analysis has been done on the Swords-to-city-centre route to move that element forward. The solution is to divide the project into two phases and move on with the northside phase. The CEO of Fingal County Council also expressed frustration on this matter last evening to the councillors in the chamber.

I fully understand why Deputy Brendan Ryan says that, but some people on the south side would probably say that they recognise the difficulties, delays and objections on the northside.

It is the northside against the southside.

It is. There are also the planning difficulties being experienced there in various areas. This is not a one-sided coin. There will always be planning difficulties, objections and public consultations. There will always be controversies about a project as big as this. We cannot object to the people of the southside having their say and having public consultations in Ranelagh and elsewhere, as was the case on the northside. To be fair, pointing the finger one way will only provoke people from the other side of Dublin to point at the northside. This is a great project.

Would the Minister consider two phases?

No. It will be a great project that links north and south. When it comes to fruition in 2027 we will all welcome it.

I am sure you will all come together for the All-Ireland final. There will be no difference between the north and the south of the city.

Driver Test Waiting Lists

Robert Troy

Ceist:

55. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to the considerable waiting periods for driver tests nationally and the debilitating impact this can have on persons living in rural areas. [7062/19]

The Minister is undoubtedly aware of the considerable waiting times for driver tests. That is having a huge impact, particularly on the younger generation living in rural Ireland. They need a car to go to school, college or work. They have no alternative because, as was outlined in an earlier question, there is no public transport. When will this matter be addressed? When will the waiting times be brought down to an acceptable level?

I am very aware of the current wait times for driving tests across the country. I accept that these waiting times remain high but I am assured that measures being put in place by the Road Safety Authority, RSA, are working towards reducing waiting times for the public.

The authority's target for a national average waiting time for a driving test is no longer than ten weeks. The current average wait time, as at 4 February last, is 12 weeks. While the wait times at some centres such as Carrick-on-Shannon, Dún Laoghaire, Deansgrange, Mulhuddart and Wexford are less than six weeks, there are some centres where the wait time is considerably longer. The longest average wait time at a centre, which is Newcastle West, is just over 20 weeks. It should be noted that an applicant can apply to sit the driving test at any test centre around the country.

In 2018, following my approval, the RSA recruited 52 driver testers, and there are currently a further 14 testers undergoing training. In addition, it is planned to recruit an additional eight driver testers in March. Including the 14 driver testers currently being trained, there are now 147.94 full-time equivalent driver testers available for deployment and this provides an annual capacity of 260,000 driving tests.

Despite an increase in applications for driving tests, which may reflect legislative changes relating to enforcing the existing law on unaccompanied learner drivers - the Clancy amendment - as well as ongoing economic and demographic growth, there is a gradual reduction in waiting times at almost all test centres. With the additional resources available as well as those coming on stream, waiting times will continue to reduce at all test centres.

The RSA provides a facility where driving test cancellations are made available to applicants who may need an urgent appointment. An applicant should contact the RSA directly and request that he or she be placed on the cancellation list. To be fair to all applicants, cancellation places will be assigned in order of the date of placement on the list. If an applicant requires a driving test urgently for employment or emigration purposes, the RSA will make every effort to accommodate that applicant.

At the time of the changes with the Clancy amendment, the Minister gave a commitment that this issue would be tackled. In fact, Deputy Fitzmaurice put forward an amendment that would have imposed a legal requirement for a maximum waiting time which, unfortunately, was defeated. The RSA has committed to waiting times of no more than ten weeks. That is laughable and far from the reality in most test centres. Driving is a lifeline for many young people in rural areas to enable them to get to college, go to work or go wherever. Frankly, the fact that the Minister has ignored the calls since the issue was raised two years ago - the issue has not been addressed since the Clancy amendment was debated here - shows that he and the Government are out of touch with the needs of the younger generation in rural Ireland.

The Minister said 52 people were recruited last year, but in June 2018 he said that 67 would be recruited. Only 52 of the 67 have been recruited. How many testers retired last year? Regarding the 14 being brought forward this year, how many people are due to retire in 2019?

I do not know how many are due to retire this year. I will give the Deputy some figures that are quite optimistic, although they might not please him much because of that. In his area the average waiting time in Athlone is 8.7 weeks and the longest waiting time is nine weeks. In Longford, the average waiting time is 10.9 weeks, which is again below the national average, and in Mullingar it is 12 weeks. The Deputy is quite right that it is unsatisfactory. The target is ten weeks but it is now 12 weeks, which is above that. However, the idea that we have not addressed it is absurd and ignores what I said in my reply. Last year, the RSA recruited 52 driver testers and a further 14 are undergoing training. It will recruit an additional eight driver testers in March. Including the 14 driver testers currently being trained there are now 151 driver testers available for deployment and this provides an annual capacity of 260,000 driving tests. We are addressing this issue, and we are addressing it in the light of the Clancy amendment as well. We are well aware of it and aggressive action has been taken by the RSA, with my approval.

Unlike the Minister, I do not concentrate my efforts on my constituency. This is a problem across Ireland. The Minister has selectively identified my local areas but I take my responsibility as transport spokesperson as a responsibility for all of Ireland. I am aware that the Minister concentrates on his own constituency. In Churchtown in his constituency, the longest waiting time last year was 26 weeks. I acknowledge that it has gone down to 15.1 weeks. The average waiting time in Cork is 17.9 weeks, with a longest waiting time of 24 weeks. In Mallow, the average waiting time is 19.2 weeks while in Skibbereen it is 20.2 weeks. There is a problem, regardless of whether the Minister cares to acknowledge it.

I am surprised that the Minister does not know how many additional staff the RSA has recruited. It has recruited 52 but the Minister is unable to say how many additional staff that represents vis-à-vis people who retired and positions that have not been filled in previous years. The simple fact is that despite the 52 who were recruited last year the problem with waiting times persists. The Minister should introduce a mandatory maximum waiting time of the ten weeks the RSA has indicated.

We are not far off it. The RSA has targeted ten weeks and it has hit 12 weeks, so it is not far off. To make it mandatory would be extremely difficult. I would love to see it below double digit figures and I hope that will happen. After the Clancy amendment, we anticipated that there would be a sharp rise and measures have been introduced in anticipation of that.

More driver testers will be employed and trained, which is essential and will take some time, and people who need a driver licence quickly will be facilitated. The RSA has introduced emergency slots to accommodate people with such requirements.

It has always offered that service.

I acknowledge the particular need for this to be accelerated in rural Ireland where there are difficulties caused by a lack of public transport. We will address that issue.

Acknowledging it is one thing; dealing with it is another.

The RSA has pledged to continue to make improvements and I hope Deputy Troy will acknowledge them.