I thank members for the invitation to attend. I am joined by my colleague, Hugh Creegan, deputy CEO of the NTA. I understand that the committee wishes to focus on the core bus corridor project, which is part of the BusConnects Dublin programme. We will address some MetroLink issues after that.
In terms of background, the overall framework for transport provision to meet the needs of the region over the next two decades is set out in the Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy 2016-2035, which was approved by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in 2016. The strategy outlines the various networks to be developed, namely, heavy rail, light rail, bus, road, cycling and pedestrian networks, together with supporting measures including park and ride provision, information provision, integration and demand management measures. The core bus corridor project is outlined in that strategy. A welcome uplift in public transport funding has been provided in the recently published National Development Plan 2018-2027, which has allocated €8.6 billion towards sustainable transport measures.
The three largest projects are MetroLink, the DART expansion programme and BusConnects, all of which will serve the Dublin region. However, resolving the transport deficiencies caused by the unavailability of investment over several years will take time, as major infrastructure projects take a number of years to deliver.
BusConnects Dublin, which was launched last year, aims to overhaul the current bus system in the Dublin region by building a network of new bus corridors on the busiest bus routes to make bus journeys faster, predictable and reliable; completely redesigning the network of bus routes to provide a more efficient network, connecting more places and carrying more passengers; developing a state-of-the-art ticketing system using credit and debit cards or mobile phones to link with payment accounts and making payment much more convenient; implementing a cashless payment system to accelerate passenger boarding times; revamping the fare system to provide a simpler fare structure, allowing seamless movement between different transport services without financial penalty; implementing a new bus livery, providing a modern look and feel to the new bus system; providing a number of supporting park and ride facilities; rolling out new bus stops with better signage and information and increasing the provision of additional bus shelters; and transitioning to a new bus fleet using low-emission vehicle technologies. BusConnects Dublin is a programme of integrated actions that, together, will deliver a bus system that will enable more people to travel by bus than ever before and allow bus commuting to become a viable and attractive choice for employees, students, shoppers and visitors.
From the perspective of public transport, specifically bus travel, congestion is a major problem. On the busiest bus routes, bus lanes are only in place for less than one third of the corridor. This means that, for most of the journey, buses are competing for space with general traffic and so are also affected by the increasing levels of congestion. As a result, whereas bus journeys should be fast, reliable and predictable, the increasing impact of congestion is undermining that objective. Additional buses are being added to the system simply to compensate for delays in journey times.
The bus system in Dublin is important because it is the main component of the solution to address our current congestion problem and to meet our future transport needs. As Dublin is a low-density city, there are few areas with the size and concentration of population for rail-based public transport. This means that, for most corridors, bus travel represents the optimum form of public transport.
Dublin Bus carried 137 million passengers in 2017. When combined with Bus Éireann commuter services in the Dublin region, 143 million passengers were carried on State-operated bus services in the Dublin area, compared with 38 million on Luas and 33 million on the DART and rail commuter services. The bus system accounts for over 67% of public transport passenger journeys in the greater Dublin area. That means that, while the bus carries two thirds of all public transport passengers, the Luas carries 18% and DART and commuter rail services deliver the remaining 15%. Due to its regional coverage and its flexibility, the bus system is, and will continue to be, the main form of public transport for most people across the Dublin region. It is vital that we invest now in ensuring that it can properly perform this role into the future.
Overall, the core bus corridor project envisages the provision of approximately 230 km of bus lanes on 16 of the busiest bus corridors in Dublin, which we refer to as the radial core bus corridors. These are shown in the appendix to my statement. In addition to these, there is a plan for enhancement of the orbital bus corridors as part of BusConnects. These proposals will form a separate plan, which will be advanced at a future date.
Our objective is to provide a continuous bus lane in each direction while maintaining two general traffic lanes. In addition, we want to provide a dedicated cycle track on each side of the road, providing safe cycling facilities segregated from other vehicular traffic. The standard layout also includes footpaths for pedestrians and supporting elements such as pedestrian crossings at all key road crossing points and bus shelters for waiting passengers. However, this standard layout is difficult to achieve in practice and there are a number of challenges that we face in trying to implement it. Difficult decisions will have to be made and some locations will require more changes than others. I will set out some of the likely impacts that will arise from the core bus corridor project.
By creating more priority for buses and cycling, there will be changes to how traffic currently moves around the streets. Some roads may become one-way, new bus-only sections will be introduced and, in some places, general traffic will have to take new routes in and out of the city. Since there is so little unused space along these busy roads, it will often not be possible to accommodate the bus lanes and cycle lanes in the width available. In order to achieve the required space, it will be necessary in places to acquire parts of front gardens and land in front of commercial properties. This would require rebuilding garden walls a short distance back from the existing road boundary.
Given that the roads we are widening travel through residential and business areas, there will be a need to reduce the amount of on-street parking to accommodate the new layout. As with the need to remove some parts of front gardens and footpaths, there will be also be a need to remove trees along some of the corridors. The public consultation stage later this year will have details and locations of the trees and lands impacted once the initial designs are developed.
Every feasible option will be examined to minimise the disruption to people, their properties and the wider local community. Where there is simply no viable alternative and we have to remove trees, portions of gardens or parking, we will ensure appropriate mitigation measures are put in place, wherever practicable.
Turning to the benefits of the core bus corridor project, specifically improving cycling infrastructure, the major bus corridors across Dublin city are also the main cycling arteries. The widening of these roads for bus lanes provides the opportunity to transform the cycling infrastructure at the same time. On each of the 16 radial core bus corridors, our objective is to provide high-quality cycling facilities segregated from the bus lanes and general traffic lanes as far as is feasible. We calculate that more than 200 km of cycle tracks or lanes will either be built or current lanes will be improved upon. A better cycling network is good for all transport users. It avoids cyclists sharing bus lanes with buses and will remove many of the conflicts between buses and cyclists. This initiative is the foundation of the overall cycle network that has been planned for the greater Dublin area.
The core bus corridor project will deliver on improving journey times and creating certainty and confidence in the bus system. Improving current journey times on the key bus corridors will make bus travel more attractive, improve the efficiency of the services and give people the reliability of knowing exactly how long their journeys will take. This may sound overly simplistic, but the concept of saving time and giving people back time from their commutes to the rest of their lives is a quality of life issue. However, in the absence of BusConnects, journey times will continue to get worse and commuters will spend more time travelling to and from work each day.
Tackling the challenges of climate change is a national priority and BusConnects will contribute significantly to that objective. Moving people from cars onto sustainable transport is a key component in reducing CO2 emissions in addition to addressing congestion and its adverse environmental impacts. In addition to these beneficial impacts, we want to transition to a fleet of low-emission vehicles, further enhancing the environmental contribution of the bus system.
A well-functioning public transport system is a basic requirement for any metropolitan area that aspires to providing plenty of good employment opportunities for its people into the future. With bus, rail and trams, Dublin boasts great services, but if we are to maintain our capacity as a city, region and capital and to continue attracting the best jobs and employers, we will have to do more, and urgently. By improving the overall public transport offering, these proposals will make commutes shorter and more reliable, and will therefore make Dublin a more attractive location for employers. It will also make it easier for people to get out and enjoy the city and all it has to offer, which is good news for businesses in the city centre and beyond.
The BusConnects report that we have published on the proposed bus corridors is intended to update people on the current status of the project and what is emerging in terms of the choices that need to be made to deliver a radically transformed bus system. It allows discussion to take place on those choices and what we want to achieve with the overall bus system in Dublin.
As to the individual corridors, work is continuing on assessing options and developing proposals, which will be published for public consultation in September or October of this year. Accordingly, more detailed information on the individual corridors will not be available until that later consultation stage. When those details are developed, we will be contacting the relevant property holders - in advance of that public consultation - to provide them with the proposed details pertaining to their properties. The busconnects.ie website will provide regular updates as the project develops. It also provides the relevant contact details for anyone who wants to contact the authority with his or her views on our proposals.
Mr. Creegan will now make a statement.