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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 26 Apr 2022

Vol. 1021 No. 1

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Transport Policy

Darren O'Rourke

Ceist:

87. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport if he is considering extending the 10-year rule for taxis in view of the fact that vehicles were underused for the duration of the pandemic; the other actions he intends to take to support taxi drivers who are struggling with high fuel and running costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21009/22]

I ask the Minister for Transport if he is considering extending the ten-year rule for taxis in view of the fact that vehicles were underused for the duration of the pandemic; the other actions he intends to take to support taxi drivers who are struggling with high fuel and running costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The regulation of the small public service vehicle, SPSV, sector, including vehicle age limits for SPSVs, is a matter for the National Transport Authority, NTA, under the provisions of the Taxi Regulation Act 2013. 

In this regard, the Deputy should be aware that the NTA has extended vehicle age limits several times since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with standard age limits for taxis and hackneys now waived through to the end of 2022, thereby ensuring no operator exits the industry simply because of the need to replace a vehicle. The authority's extension of age limits was an emergency measure of a temporary nature, taken in recognition of the particular challenges posed by the pandemic and was specifically aimed at ensuring that no operator would be required to change their vehicle while passenger demand remained low due to Covid-19.

More generally, the ten-year rule was recommended by the 2011 taxi regulation review and came about following a public consultation on vehicle standards for taxis, hackneys and limousines held that year. It was adopted in recognition of the need to strike a balance between achieving standards that offer the customer confidence, comfort and safety, and allowing industry members to operate successfully, cognisant of the fact that the replacement of a vehicle is an operator's single largest cost. There is no consideration being given to amending these age-related rules now or at any time in the future.

On the rising cost of fuel, I recognise that this is a significant challenge. The Deputy will be aware that the Government announced on 9 March a temporary reduction in the excise duties charged on petrol, diesel and marked gas oil. Excise duty was reduced by 20 cent per litre of petrol and 15 cent per litre of diesel. These reductions, which were due to finish at the end of August, will now be extended until budget day in October at an additional cost of €80 million.

With regard to fares, the NTA is actively engaged in a review of the maximum fare order that sets the maximum fares that may be charged by the driver of a taxi in respect of a journey undertaken in the State. The current applicable order has been in effect since 1 February 2018. Just yesterday the NTA launched a public consultation on this that will run until 27 May.

The Minister just said that there is no intention to consider changing the ten-year rule now or at any stage in the future, which is a very big statement to make. It is as firm a "No" as one might ever get but I think there is a real case for reviewing it at this point in time. We have had two years with a lot of cars laid up. Cars are maintained to a very high standard. This is not 2011, it is 2022. In the context of trying to manage a transition across the whole of the taxi industry towards electrification, we are not going to do that in the next couple of years and there is a real possibility that if taxi drivers are forced to renew really good vehicles next year or the year after, they will not be in a position to go for an electric vehicle and will go for petrol or diesel. However, if the Department phased it out on a more gradual basis, we might achieve the transition more quickly. Has the Minister considered that or will he look at it as an option?

While I do not want to be too dogmatic in my response, at the same time these measures were introduced during Covid, correctly to my mind. We are now coming out of it, touch wood and please God, and it is appropriate to return to those standards. We have extended the grants that we introduced for the electrification of the taxi fleet because that will bring real benefits and will help people to make that switch.

It is important to look at some of the statistics on the SPSV fleet. There were some 21,000 SPSVs before Covid and that has dropped to 18,946, 85% of which are less than ten years old. Some of the 15% that are more than ten years old are related to the fact that the age restriction was lifted during Covid but there are also some vehicles that have a longer licensed age. Before Covid, about half of the vehicles were five years old or less but that has now dropped to 35%. There is an issue here. SPSVs do a very large amount of mileage and there is an issue if the vehicle is ten, 11 or 12 years old. It is an issue for the customer as well as for the driver. There are much higher costs associated with running older vehicles and it makes sense to go back to the ten-year rule.

I ask the Minister not to close the door completely and to consider an alternative transition. I do not have those figures on the breakdown of vehicles by age but it is certainly something that should be considered if it means that taxi drivers can transition to an electric vehicle more quickly. They have had a couple of years out of action and if they have a vehicle that is now approaching the end of its limit in terms of the ten-year rule, they might not be in a position to transition to an electric vehicle now. However, they might be in a position to do so in the near future if the rule is extended.

There is also concern in relation to the consultation on a rule that all taxis must be able to take credit card payments. While over 90% of taxi drivers already do, there are concerns. Taxi drivers need a commitment to get paid. They are very concerned that at 2 a.m. on O'Connell Street or somewhere else, they will pick up a passenger who will not be in a position to pay, with an excuse being made about a credit card payment. Will the Minister provide assurances in the statutory instrument that there is an obligation on passengers to pay their fare?

Absolutely, there is an obligation on passengers to pay their fare. There are real benefits to card payments and a lot of customers have moved to them because of Covid. I use a lot of taxis myself and I am surprised that there are still a good number of drivers who do not accept cards. That must be restricting their customer base at this stage because it is so common now for people not to use cash in their day to day lives. Certainly, however, customers have to pay their fare and the outcome of the consultation process must reflect that. That said, we are right to move towards cards in every cab. It is what the customer wants and it can also provide a better payment system for the drivers as well but they do have to get paid.

Statutory Instruments

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

88. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Transport the reasons for the ongoing delay in signing the statutory instrument to give effect to changes in the regular wages scheme for CIÉ workers; when the signing of this statutory instrument will be finalised; if he can give reassurances to CIÉ workers that have retired since June 2020 or will retire shortly that any improvements agreed will be backdated and paid to them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20970/22]

In June 2020, CIÉ workers in the regular wages pension scheme voted to accept changes to that scheme. Since then, I have asked the Minister and his Department the same question on at least a dozen occasions that I am asking today. When will the Minister sign the statutory instrument to give effect to those changes in their pensions?

I thank the Deputy for her question and for the opportunity to update the House on the status of the CIÉ regular wages scheme.

As many Deputies are aware, the CIÉ Group has two pension schemes, namely the regular wages scheme and the 1951 superannuation scheme and issues relating to these schemes are primarily a matter for the trustees, the CIÉ Group and its employees. That being said, I understand that the CIÉ group is actively engaged in introducing changes to both schemes aimed at rectifying a significant deficit that currently exists in order to meet the statutory minimum funding standard required by the Pensions Authority.

A ballot of the members of the regular wages scheme on a proposal by the Workplace Relation Commission, WRC, took place in June 2020 and was carried by 83% of those who voted. The proposed changes were agreed by the trustees of the scheme, the employees and the CIÉ Group following extensive and prolonged engagement between all parties.

Following this process, CIÉ prepared and submitted draft statutory instruments to my Department to give effect to the proposed amendments, to establish a new defined contribution scheme, and to consolidate the existing statutory instruments comprising the main scheme. These changes involve significant amendments which are necessary to address the minimum funding standard requirements.

As the Deputy is aware, there are a number of steps involved before a statutory instrument can be made, including the statutory consultation process which took place and ended on 28 February 2022. Officials in my Department are reviewing the submissions received and processing some minor textual edits through legal advisers. I expect that this due diligence will be completed shortly. Thereafter, a report and the final statutory instrument will be submitted to me for consideration. I must also consult with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, as required under the transport Act.

On the Deputy’s query regarding backdating of benefits for those who have retired or are due to retire shortly, the draft statutory instruments provide that benefit improvements will apply retrospectively from the date of the ballot in June 2020.

I reassure the Deputy that the Department is working to finalise the statutory instruments as expeditiously as possible.

I acknowledge that the ballot took place in June 2020 and that the changes were agreed by the workers, but this is the end of April 2022. Why is this important? It is because it says a lot about how, at senior levels, the Department and the State view bus drivers, train drivers and transport workers generally and about the priority they are afforded. They will get an increase of €30 a week in the pension from a meagre €130 to €160 and they will get an increase in their lump sums of €20,000. This will make a huge difference to their lives. My father worked in Dublin Bus, which was then called CIÉ, for 40 years and retired on a pension of £16. Thanks be to God it has improved hugely but it is still meagre compared to what the Minister will get and compared to what I will get. The lack of urgency with which we are dealing with this says a great deal about how the Department and the State treat some of our most front-line workers. We saw how important they are to society during Covid. When will the Minister sign the statutory instrument that will give effect to these increases?

I expect to do so in the next couple of weeks. There will be no one happier than me to be able to do so. I do not believe that in the Department or, certainly, in the political system there is any reluctance or any desire for delay. I agree with the Deputy that we have to value, protect and provide for all our transport workers, especially as the ballot went through. We should honour the result. and I have every intention of doing so. We had to go through the public consultation process. It is very close to completion. It then has to go to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. There will be no delay on our part. I expect we will have it completed in the next couple of weeks.

I am sorry for labouring the point but it needs to be laboured. In early 2021, the Minister told me, and it is on the record, that he hoped to have this statutory instrument signed by the third quarter of 2021. It is now the second quarter of 2022 and there is no sign of it being signed. I hope I do not have to explain to the Minister or to anybody else who has any sense of how workers survive and thrive after many years in a job what that increase would mean to them on a daily basis. I get regular inquiries from bus workers and train drivers as to when they will get their pension increase. I hope the Minister understand this.

As an aside, there should be a bit more urgency about how we deal with retired workers. I have made this point to the Minister of State, Deputy English, with regard to a Bill I have before the House. Many of these workers will die much younger than those of us who do white-collar work precisely because they do blue-collar manual work. Statistics show their life expectancy is not as high as that of other groups of workers. I plead with the Minister to deal with this with some urgency and give us reassurance that all of the payments will be backdated for those who have lost out so far.

I am happy to give this reassurance. With regard to the issue that it is not in sight, it will be done in this quarter. It is in the absolute final stages. I would have preferred to have had it earlier but we have to go through the statutory process and get all of the regulatory measures in place. This has been pretty much completed. It will be signed I expect, unless there is something untoward or unexpected. It will be there. We do need to provide for these pensions and provide the increases that have been agreed. I look forward to signing it and getting it introduced within the next two weeks.

Electric Vehicles

Darren O'Rourke

Ceist:

89. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport the way that he intends to build a second-hand electric vehicle, EV, market here; if he has examined the barriers posed by Brexit in the context of importing second-hand electric vehicles; if he is considering introducing a scrappage scheme for older more polluting cars; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21010/22]

How does the Minister intend to build a second-hand electric vehicle market here? Has he examined the barriers posed by Brexit to importing second-hand electric vehicles from Britain? Is he considering introducing a scrappage scheme for older, more polluting cars in rural areas? Will he make a statement on the matter?

Electric vehicles are the most prominent transport mitigation measure in the 2021 climate action plan. There is an ambitious target of 945,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030. This is challenging but indicates the scale of the transformation needed.

I am acutely aware that the cost of electric vehicles remains an issue for many consumers and that supply chain issues globally have also proven difficult. These have been exacerbated by international events. For these reasons our policy measures are being kept under continuous review. The Department convened the electric vehicle policy pathway working group to produce a roadmap to achieving the 2030 electric vehicle target. This group considered a variety of regulatory, financial and taxation policies to accelerate electric vehicle adoption including scrappage schemes. The group concluded that a general scrappage scheme would entail significant additional costs and not necessarily deliver the desired objective in terms of net carbon emissions. However it concluded that niche markets scrappage schemes could potentially play an important role, such as in the small public service vehicle sector that we mentioned earlier. The recommendations of the group were approved by Government and as a result the key range of supports to support the transition to electric vehicles will continue until at least the end of this year.

These measures include purchase grants for private car owners and taxi drivers, vehicle registration tax, VRT, relief, reduced tolls, home charger grants, favourable motor and benefit-in-kind tax rates as well as a comprehensive charging network. These are among the most generous suite of measures available across Europe and they have collectively contributed to an increased take up of electric vehicles in Ireland in recent years to more than 55,000, representing a growing share of the overall market for new vehicles.

An implementation group has been established to progress the recommendations and consider further potential measures. This group will report on its progress to Government in later this year. In addition, work is under way to establish the zero-emission vehicles Ireland office as a matter of priority. This office will co-ordinate the implementation of existing and future electric vehicle measures and infrastructure. Our objective is to develop and refine cost-effective, targeted policy supports over the coming years.

I appreciate some movements and changes were made to the schemes last July on the back of the work of the group the Minister mentioned. It took away some of the particularly offensive elements of the scheme, for example, the price cap was reduced. Much more needs to be done. The trickle-down economics approach is that those who can afford electric vehicles can get them now and the people who actually need to have electric vehicles, those who are car dependent and will be car dependent in future, can get them at some stage in the distant future when those who have means are ready to move on. With regard to the State showing leadership on this, the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, indicated a commitment on State procurement. Is there a commitment that the State will procure electric vehicles at any time in the near future? Will the Minister give us an update on this in the first instance?

I will begin with the wider point. The supports did evolve, with regard to very expensive cars being excluded from the grant scheme. It will continue to evolve. As electric vehicles become much more commonplace we will need to look at targeted supports, consider the issue of social justice in how we do it and support the likes of the second-hand market. We are looking at measures to develop and promote the commercial fleet as a way of doing this because they tend to trickle down not in the trickle-down economics way but through being sold on after three years. This will start to provide a second-hand market. We have a real problem because of Brexit in that the traditional second-hand market we got from the UK has been cut off because of Brexit and for no other reason. The wider context is important. This will continue to evolve. Supports will be more targeted as electric vehicles become more commonplace and the need for the original flat grant for everyone to get the market built up changes to one where we want to have targeted supports.

Across the political spectrum there is a commitment to try to deliver as much of this as quickly as possible. The committees dealing with transport and climate have heard from the industry and various stakeholders. The industry tells us is it needs fleet cars and State cars to be electric vehicles. It needs to turn them over as quickly as possible after a couple of years to generate the second-hand market. We hear from importers that Brexit has been a significant problem.

That could be addressed if the Government looked to offset the impact of Brexit with some sort of support for second-hand EVs. There are people who are or were in the business of importing or procuring second-hand EVs and the Minister knows as well as I do that the entire supply chain has completely closed. It has left the process very difficult. The Government must look at this in a real way.

It is complicated and we must be careful not to create further inequality if the cars coming in are only for the very wealthy, for example. There is a wider global supply chain issue and the car supply process is currently broken for a variety of reasons, including the war in Ukraine and other factors. We are not seeing the usual delivery of either electric or other vehicles. In that context, the market for second-hand cars has experienced a sharp increase in prices. We must be sensitive and careful in looking at what is happening. We can look at the UK and Brexit matters but the better approach was suggested by the Deputy, which is getting the State involved. An Post is an example. It did not have a small intervention but rather it had a massive change in its fleet, creating a body of light cargo vehicles or vans that could then be moved to the second-hand market. That is a better approach because the State would get a benefit and the second-hand market would also develop. That would fall to the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, but it is the best way to develop that kind of second-hand market.

Road Tolls

Verona Murphy

Ceist:

90. Deputy Verona Murphy asked the Minister for Transport his views on the urgent need to remove the Dublin Port tunnel toll to reduce carbon emissions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21140/22]

I am glad to see both the Minister and Minister of State here. This is something I certainly cannot be accused of being populist about. In the past week we have heard all about turf and carbon emissions. In the life of this Government but also in my previous role as head of the Irish Road Haulage Association, I have been asking whey the barrier has not been removed from the Dublin Port tunnel. It is a toll barrier, despite trucks being able to use the tunnel for free, and it causes an extra 40,000 litres of fuel to be expended into the atmosphere daily, equivalent to 10 million litres per year. Will either the Minister or Minister of State indicate the Government view on the urgency of removing this toll barrier to protect the lung health of people in Dublin?

Under the Roads Acts, 1993 to 2015, the operation and management of individual national roads is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned and, therefore, matters relating to the day-to-day operations regarding national roads, including toll roads and the establishment of a system of tolls, are within the remit of TII. More specifically, the statutory power to levy tolls, to make toll bye-laws and to enter into agreements with private investors are vested in TII under Part 5 of the Roads Acts.

TII has advised that for operational and safety reasons it is essential that barrier control be retained at the toll plaza. It does not follow that removing the toll would lead to a reduction in carbon emissions. On the contrary, TII is concerned that, on the whole, removing the tolls would lead to an increase in congestion as more cars would be incentivised to use the tunnel. This would result in an increase in fuel consumption and an increase in carbon emissions. Increased levels of congestion in the vicinity of the Dublin Port tunnel would negatively impact the freight and logistics sector.

The tunnel has facilitated the removal of heavy goods vehicles traffic away from Dublin city centre and in so doing has improved the overall environment, air quality and road safety in the city. The road safety improvements have been beneficial for vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. Moreover, the tunnel has delivered benefits to Irish road hauliers, providing a reliable connection between Dublin Port and the motorway network.

The tunnel opened to traffic in December 2006. The toll plaza equipment and the control system software date from the design period in the years prior to the opening. TII has confirmed that it intends to go to tender on an upgrade of both the tolling system software and hardware and it aims to implement the upgrade later in 2022 and 2023. This will result in quicker barrier movement and speedier throughput of vehicles, reducing delays at the barrier and increasing the overall reductions in CO2 emissions coming from tunnel usage.

I must express my frustration and exasperation at such a rote answer written by civil servants who as Deputy Fitzmaurice said earlier just do not know what they are talking about. There is no toll to be paid by trucks and there is no suggestion that by removing the barrier, the tunnel would be free for use by all vehicles. Newer technology, such as that used on the M50, would mean the truck would not have to stop at a barrier and the extra torque, which currently leads to a litre of fuel being used and emissions going into the atmosphere, would not need to be expended. It is the stopping and starting of the truck that expends the litre of fuel.

There were many benefits mentioned by the Minister but none makes any sense. An extra 40,000 litres of fuel are being used, with emissions going into the atmosphere, but an Environmental Protection Agency report indicates World Health Organization safe levels are being exceeded. We are paying fines to the EU for exceeding limits. Does it not make sense to the Green Party Minister to remove the toll barrier, which would prevent all I have mentioned?

The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, and I have spent much time in recent months trying to consider various measures to support or help the haulage sector. We will continue to do so at a difficult time. Included in this we examined whether we could remove the restrictions on the tunnel. The Deputy is correct that trucks do not pay tolls but we considered whether we could remove the barriers altogether so there would, in effect, be a free-flowing system.

My recollection of discussing this matter in advance with civil servants is that it is not about a failure to collect a toll but rather the safety management of the tunnel, which is their primary concern. At certain times of the day there are many trucks using the tunnel and they must be managed so that too many vehicles are not queuing within the tunnel. They must ensure the traffic is spaced out and does not exceed safety limits. That is the primary reason. It is one of safety, control and management of the tunnel.

There is a concern that if the tunnel was barrier-free there could be an increase in its use by private cars. That is why that element was in the answer. It is primarily a safety or traffic management concern. Both the Minister of State and I are examining every solution to help hauliers. In the end we must heed safety advice from civil servants and experts for fear that an accident would lead us to ruing the day we did not.

Again, it is not about helping hauliers but rather the 1,300 people that we have heard said all week die due to lung health issues caused by carbon in our atmosphere. Here we have 40,000 litres of extra fuel being expended every day, amounting to more than 10 million litres per year, and that could be prevented.

There are tunnels all over the world that are not managed by toll barriers. Is the Minister telling me it is beyond the civil servants to look at other models around the world to find a solution so we do not expend an extra 10 million litres of fuel per annum? He is considering banning turf on the basis of lung health concerns. I am talking about N2O emissions into an atmosphere already congested with carbon. Is the Minister telling me the best they can come up with is that it is a safety concern? No toll barrier is used as a safety mechanism for a tunnel that I am aware of in any part of the world and I have been in most countries in Europe where these tunnels are.

Every tunnel and road has different characteristics but this tunnel has its own characteristics. We lead all the trucks around the M50-----

Is the Minister saying the lung damage caused by an extra 10 million litres of fuel being used is acceptable?

We cannot start an exchange of views.

No. In every way, we must look to improve air quality and traffic causes some of the pollutants that affect lung health. The effect tends to be more localised.

This tunnel, access to the port and management of that port have certain characteristics that are required to be managed in an organised way. There are deep tunnels all over the world and each has different characteristics as to why they might need management. Having looked at this - having pressed and tried with all the will we could muster - the line came back that we must accept from the experts managing the tunnel. For the safe operation of this tunnel-----

I would like a report on what they have looked at.

I will quite happily provide further background from my Department.

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