With the permission of the House I propose to give some of my time to Senator Martin Cullen.
First, I welcome the Minister to the House. I thank you, Sir, for allowing me to raise this important matter of the availability of late night public transport particularly in the Dublin area and the availability and operation of taxis and the timing of the DART service and late night buses. I raise this issue as a result of quite a number of complaints from constituents and other people including hoteliers and public house owners etc. in the city. The end of last year saw a most successful anti-drink driving campaign. All the people involved in that, the relevant Ministers, the Garda and the general public, responded in a most responsible manner to the question of not drinking and driving. The Minister knows the Garda have indicated that the campaign will continue. There must be a response from the various Departments connected with this. The Minister knows her Department are only partially responsible in this regard; other Departments are involved, including the Department of Justice and the Department of Transport. These Departments must consider the availability of public transport late at night particularly during holidays, special events, weekends and Christmas. The question needs careful attention and review and I ask the Minister and her colleagues in other Departments to review the situation.
Various aspects must be examined in regard to the availability and operation of taxis. I understand that in the Dublin area just over 1,800 plates are available. This number has obtained since 1979 and obviously, the population of Dublin has increased since then. Plates which cost a couple of thousand pounds about ten years ago are now realising about £47,000. Some of the people buying these may have received redundancy payments, have reached middle age and might not get another job elsewhere.
If one phones for a taxi, one has to wait sometimes for an hour or an hour-and-a-half. Some taxis do not have radios. Spare taxis may be available but because they have no radios the drivers do not know where people are seeking taxis and where the demand is. There have been many complaints about this. People have been left waiting hours or had to walk home late at night. This is intolerable. These are not just people who normally drive and are responding to the drink driving campaign. Many people in our cities and towns cannot afford to run a car. We are all aware of the enormous cost of running a car between keeping it on the road, insurance, road tax, petrol, etc.
The question of operating the DART service and buses late at night also arises. The last DART train mid-week runs at about 11.25 p.m., certainly well before the last public house closes, particularly in summer time. While public houses should not necessarily be the guiding light, obviously they are a barometer. There have been problems in running late night buses due to drivers being attacked. There is a duty on the Minister here and the Minister for Transport to consider whether the DART and the bus service should be extended to run later at weekends, particularly at Christmas and times of special events. If there is a demand and a need, then I suggest the Minister here should direct that a full investigation be made into how the service is being provided at present and whether at weekends the DART and bus services should run later. There have been many complaints. I know of one unfortunate person who contracted pneumonia and is still quite seriously ill because he had to walk a couple of miles and got soaked to the skin after waiting several hours at a taxi rank and no taxi arrived.
The drink driving campaign was successful partly because of the responsible attitude of most motorists. Obviously, some did not heed the warning of the Minister and the Garda. That campaign must be maintained all the year round, not just for a couple of weeks prior to Christmas. Hand in hand with it, if it saves lives there is an onus on the Minister here and her colleagues to look at how the taxi service is run, whether plates and licences should be issued for a limited period at certain times, costs and so on. Taxis constitute a big industry valued at approximately £100 million. The last licences were issued in 1979 and if there is a demand for more licences Dublin Corporation should examine the possibility of issuing them. It is for the Minister to consider whether there should be different types of licences during special times. Much needed employment could be provided if the licences applied to operators for a given period of time for certain months of the year or for certain hours of the day. For special events, holiday or party times we should provide a public transport service.
When replying I would ask the Minister to respond to the matters I have raised. I know she represents an area in which at times taxis have been difficult to hire. The anti-drink-driving campaign should be uppermost in our minds to eliminate further carnage. There may be many people, not necessarily those returning home at five o'clock in the morning who, if they miss a DART at 11.25 p.m. during the week or the last DART from Bray into town on a Sunday night at 11 o'clock may have to walk back part of the way either because they cannot avail of the DART service or have missed the last buses. CIE have got to be flexible in this respect. I condemn strongly any attacks on late night bus drivers and conductors particularly those perpetuated by drunken people. That is a worry for CIE. If necessary special squads should travel on buses. I would ask the Minister, when replying, to respond to the continuing problem. It would be my hope that she will institute an investigation into the difficulties that have evolved. That would be a positive response. CIE and the Taxi Federation must also investigate the difficulties being encountered. I am not saying there is a Utopian answer but a response is warranted and it is up to the Minister and her colleagues to do so.