I thank the Acting Chairman for giving us the opportunity to present this opening statement on behalf of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The Department has been invited by the joint committee to answer questions on transport policy in rural and regional areas and assist it in its consideration of the matter. I am joined by some of my colleagues in the Department working across the area of land transport. Mr. Kevin Doyle and Mr. Garrett Doocey deal with matters related to public transport policy, while Mr. Dominic Mullaney deals with matters related to roads policy.
The committee has had several discussions on rural and regional transport policy and will be aware that there are many actors in the transport arena in Ireland. In addition, there have been several changes in the way public transport is organised and governed in the past decade. Against this backdrop, it might be useful for the committee if I were to start by outlining briefly how some of the State institutions in the public transport area are organised, including the Department, and provide a summary of their respective roles.
As the committee will be aware, the Minister and the Department have responsibility for three overarching themes - policy and statutory frameworks, aggregate funding and corporate governance in State transport bodies, in which the Minister is a shareholder. In fulfilling these responsibilities we work on a number of fronts. We develop transport policy and also provide a transport perspective and input when other relevant Government policies are being devised. We develop the statutory and legislative frameworks to govern the transport sector. They are often seen as they are brought to the Houses of the Oireachtas to be promulgated into law or as policy statements.
Through our Vote, we channel aggregate Exchequer funding for the transport sector. The Department's total voted allocation in 2018 is around €2 billion. Of this, €1.6 billion relates to land transport. Committee members might be interested to know that a piece of analysis conducted a few years ago under the auspices of the Department indicated that more than three quarters of the spend on land transport at the time was occurring outside the greater Dublin area.
In the public transport area, that is, bus and rail services, funding from the Department flows mainly to the National Transport Authority. The funding is for investment in infrastructure and public transport service support.
With regard to the investment in roads that the Department supports, funding flows from it to Transport Infrastructure Ireland - one of our State bodies - and the relevant local authorities.
Members will be aware that during the years of the fiscal and economic crisis which followed the banking crisis of 2008, many areas of Government expenditure were reduced in order for the State to regain fiscal stability. In the area of transport, this curtailment affected both current and capital budgets that were available to support services and invest in infrastructure. It impacted on roads and public transport. At the time, the Department undertook an analysis to advise Government and the Minister on how best we could prioritise transport capital investment in these circumstances. The approach adopted was published in 2015 in the strategic framework for investment in land transport SFILT, report. Ultimately, the report came up with one very clear conclusion, namely, that the key priority had to be very much to direct the funding we have into maintaining the existing and very extensive road and rail networks we have throughout the country in order that they remain operational and safe. There were some lower-order priorities, but this was identified as the number one priority.
Since then, it has been a priority to return to the levels of maintenance and safety investment required to keep the networks at what we call a steady state of service and reliability. Annual budget allocations have happily been increasing in more recent years and are scheduled and profiled to rise further over the coming periods. This is enabling us to regain and achieve what we call the steady-state investment level. Together with this, we are enabled to undertake a number of targeted new projects under the national development plan and in line with the strategic objectives that have been agreed by Government in the national planning framework. The Department also oversees the corporate sector in the State bodies involved with transport and exercises a shareholder role on behalf of the Minister in respect of the State-owned service provider, Córas lompair Éireann, CIÉ, and its subsidiaries.
Another significant actor in the sector, which the committee has already met in recent months, is the National Transport Authority, NTA. The latter is a relatively new body on the transport scene. It was established approximately ten years ago under legislation passed by the Oireachtas. It acts as an independent body with regulatory, funding and strategy development roles and now has a considerable role in the public transport sector. Among its statutory functions, as the committee will be aware, the NTA is responsible for: regulating and contracting all PSO bus and rail services; allocating PSO funding to the operators in accordance with their contracts; licensing and regulating commercial bus services, that is, services that can be run on a profitable basis and that do not require public subvention support; regulating taxi services throughout the country; developing integrated ticketing; and some strategic transport planning.
Transport Infrastructure Ireland is another body under the aegis of the Department. Its main function is around infrastructure and providing an integrated approach to the future development and operation of the national roads network and light rail infrastructure.
There is another body I wish to mention because it has a vital role, although it probably does not come up for mention as often as the others. I refer to the Commission for Railway Regulation, CRR. It was set up by the Oireachtas under 2005 legislation and is the national body with responsibility for oversight and authorisations in the very important area of rail safety. In more recent years, it has also had a role in some economic aspects of the running of railways and facilitating market access.
In many respects, our national regulatory framework for public transport reflects EU law that applies across all member states and, therefore, like other member states, Ireland now has independent transport-focused authorities that are responsible for matters such as the allocation of funding and licensing - roles carried out by the NTA - and issues such as the oversight of safety, for which the CRR is responsible. These are functions that in previous years - going back some decades - were all exercised under the ambit of the Department.
The most visible set of actors in the State sector dealing with public transport is probably the long-standing CIÉ and its three operating subsidiaries: Bus Átha Cliath in Dublin, Bus Éireann, operating throughout the country, and larnród Éireann, operating the rail service throughout the country. They are visible because these are the companies that actually provide the services to passengers. They are the ones passengers can see daily and with which passengers and many of us identify. The companies are responsible for running all their services, making decisions as to how they operate them and deciding on strategy, etc., in respect of the commercial aspects of their operations.
What I have described are the State operators in the sector. There are many non-State participants, the obvious ones being the passengers. Among the service providers there are many private firms and community bodies involved in transport provision. They do this under relevant regulatory, licensing or funding arrangements with the NTA.
The committee is primarily concerned with transport matters that affect rural areas and regional travel. Regarding the work of the Minister and the Department, our remit for policy development and overall aggregate transport funding is probably the most relevant to the context of support for transport in rural and regional areas. Members will probably be aware that on the policy front, A Programme for a Partnership Government, running over the Government's lifetime, contains a number of commitments that are relevant to what we are talking about, in particular the area of public transport area. One of the commitments in which I am sure the committee is very interested is to look at how best to improve the integration of services in the rural transport network and to provide a report on this to the Oireachtas committees. The matter is being examined and developed by the Department in the context of a broader piece of work that we have under way, which is to review public transport policy more generally. This review of public transport policy is another commitment in the programme for Government, which asks us "to ensure services are sustainable into the future and are meeting the needs of a modern economy".
As a key part of this policy review process, the committee may be aware that the Minister hosted a round-table discussion involving a very broad range of organisations and individuals closely linked to the public transport sector in May. Specifically regarding rural transport, these included representatives of the Rural Transport Network and Irish Rural Link. The purpose of the discussion was to give all participants the opportunity to outline their perspectives on key public transport policy issues and, equally, to ensure that all those involved were in the room at the same time in order that they could hear the perspectives of others and engage in a dialogue about the challenges of achieving appropriate policy balances. The discussions, papers and presentations made at that event are forming the basis of a public consultation that we plan to undertake very shortly. The public consultation will feed into the work the Department is doing on reviewing public transport policy, including the rural transport dimension, and we hope the upshot of this will be the development of a public transport policy statement.
This transport policy review work is taking place against the backdrop of another piece of work in which we were heavily involved, which is a noticeable policy development that came to some fruition earlier this year. I refer to the recently agreed Project Ireland 2040 plan. The latter was developed by means of a cross-Government initiative led by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and involving other Departments and Ministers, including ourselves. The plan was published earlier this year and it comprises two elements.
First, there is a new national planning framework, which sets the vision and policy direction in which the Government sees Ireland developing over the next 20 or 25 years. Alongside that is a new capital development plan, which is the strategic capital investment plan for infrastructure for the first ten years of the longer-term vision statement. Transport is a key element of national infrastructure. It is a critical component of how we plan for the country's future development. Therefore, transport features strongly in Project Ireland 2040. Equally, Project Ireland 2040 will influence and shape how we develop transport over the next number of years.
The Exchequer provides considerable funding for public transport. This includes subvention support, which is provided via the National Transport Authority, NTA. This goes towards the public service obligation, PSO, operations of Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, both of which have very substantial operations and services across rural Ireland and to facilitate regional connectivity. It also provides investment for their infrastructure. Exchequer funding also supports the rural transport programme, which is obviously specific to rural areas. That is aimed at addressing issues of social isolation though providing a public transport service. It is very much tailored to local needs. This funding is also channelled by the NTA. Since 2012 that body has had national responsibility for integrated local and rural transport, including management of the rural transport programme. Members will probably be more familiar with it under the rural transport programme's new branding, which is the Local Link brand.
The delivery of demand-responsive transport services has been and remains the cornerstone of the Local Link programme. In tandem with this, there has been an increasing focus on trying to provide some regular commuter services. This has occurred since 2016, and it responds to identified local demands that have cropped up over the course of the delivery of the Local Link programme. These scheduled services are high-frequency services, running as often as seven days a week depending on where they are. They are designed to facilitate regular access to education, employment and healthcare in addition to recreational opportunities. Key features include connectivity with other public transport services and better linkage of services between and within towns and villages throughout Ireland. The NTA tells us that since it began opening scheduled services under the rural transport programme in 2016, 60 such regular rural services have been introduced into the network, which is managed by the Local Link offices.
One of the priority areas under the national planning framework is the essential requirement to enhance and upgrade accessibility between urban areas of population and their regions and hinterlands, while trying to initiate the development of more compact growth within urban areas. Compact growth, improved public transport and decarbonisation of car journeys are all necessary elements of our transition to a low-carbon future.
Another major objective of the framework is to make substantial progress in linking regions and urban areas. That does not just mean linking them to Dublin, but also linking them with each other and with local areas of significant interest. Project Ireland 2040 recognises that significant investment in public transport will be required to accommodate changes in growth and provide more choice for the travelling public, improving the quality of people's lives. The plan builds on this investment. In June, the Minister and Minister of State at the Department launched "Linking People and Places", which involves investment of €8.6 billion specifically in public transport. The aim is to link more people and more places, as the title says, while also improving the quality of life, easing congestion in our cities and doing our part to deliver a low-carbon society.
New major public transport programmes to be delivered under the national development plan, NDP, will be fully accessible for people with disabilities. This has been done as part of the normal design. Designing for accessibility is part of how projects are designed nowadays. In tandem with that there will be a continued investment programme to retrofit existing older public transport facilities to enhance their accessibility features.
One of the flagship investments that will be delivered within Project Ireland 2040 and the ten-year NDP horizon is BusConnects. This will apply in Ireland's cities. It will commence roll-out in Dublin, followed by the other major cities starting with Galway. It is a key investment priority for public transport. It will address congestion in the short to medium term and is therefore a key project that we wish to see developed. The programme of BusConnects in the regional cities will include new bus fleets, bus lanes with segregated cycling facilities, revised bus service networks and park-and-ride facilities. The objective is to deliver a bus system that will enable more people to travel by bus than ever before, to make the bus an attractive option and to allow commuting by bus to become a viable choice for employees, students, shoppers and visitors.
With regard to the inter-urban rail network, the funding priority in the NDP and the planning framework is to protect the investment that has already been made over several decades in the development of the railway system by funding maintenance and safety projects that are needed to maintain safety and service levels across all rail operations in the State.
Turning briefly to roads, the sheer scale of Ireland's road network tends not to be very well known. Our roads have a combined length of 100,000 km. This is twice the EU norm on a per capita basis. The road network is really the workhorse of economic and social infrastructure throughout the country. Most of our freight is carried on it, all of our bus services rely on it and the people of Ireland rely on the road network to link regional and local areas and to connect communities. Maintaining and renewing the road network is recognised in the NDP as being of critical importance. Within available budgets, both Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and the Department are very focused on maintaining the network in as serviceable a condition as possible. In the case of regional and local roads, the main grant programmes operated by the Department are targeted at specific policy objectives. One of these is pavement sealing. This protects the surface of the road from water damage. Another such objective is road strengthening. This is based on giving the road a condition rating. It is intended to lengthen the life of road pavements.
These grants, which are intended to supplement the local authority's own resources, are allocated on the basis of the length of the road network within a local area of responsibility. It is done this way because that is seen as the fairest and most equitable basis for allocation. The committee might be interested to note that the Department's grant funding for regional and local roads is principally directed to local authorities outside of Dublin. This reflects the fact that since the revision of the arrangements for the retention of local property tax, carried out in 2015, the Dublin councils no longer receive any grant assistance from the Department under the main road categories.
In addition to substantial support for the maintenance of the road network, the NDP lists 23 new national road schemes. They are already at the stages of planning, design or construction. These include things like the strategic road link between Cork and Limerick. At regional and local level, another 13 significant road improvement projects are currently being advanced under the NDP.
Together, all of these schemes will better link local communities. They will reduce congestion and contribute to the local economies and society of their areas. Work is also under way on appraisal and early planning work related to a pipeline of road projects identified as suitable for future development.
Overall the Department works on providing the general policy context for all transport in Ireland, including land transport in rural areas and connectivity within and between regions. The road network and the public transport networks are integral to this and they each received substantial levels of support from the State each year. This is set to continue and be enhanced into the foreseeable future and is closely linked to key outcomes that have been identified by the Government in Project Ireland 2040, the development and investment strategy plan.
We hope we can assist the committee in its deliberations by explaining and discussing the policy context for land transport in Ireland. As mentioned earlier in my statement, as we are currently embarked on reviewing public transport, including rural transport policy, we hope that in the course of discussions this evening, we will learn from hearing members' views and will be able to take on board those views and experiences to help inform the work we are doing on our policy review.
I thank the Acting Chairman.