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Public Transport

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 11 November 2015

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Ceisteanna (5)

Dessie Ellis

Ceist:

5. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to work with Dublin City Council and public transport companies to improve the accessibility and affordability of public transport links in Dublin, with a particular focus on the commuter belt and Dublin Airport. [39589/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

I wish to ask the Minister about his plans to work with Dublin City Council and public transport companies to improve the accessibility and affordability of public transport links in Dublin, with a particular focus on the commuter belt and Dublin Airport.

The National Transport Authority, NTA, has statutory responsibility for the provision of public transport infrastructure and public transport services in the greater Dublin Area, and a range of initiatives are being undertaken as regards service provision and investment. Under the recent capital plan there will be investment of €3.6 billion in public transport in the capital between 2016 and 2022. That will enable a number of major public transport projects to proceed and it will also fund additional capacity to meet existing and growing commuter needs. Under the capital plan, the construction of a metro link between the city centre, Dublin Airport and Swords will commence in 2021. Other improvements to the Dublin public transport system that are planned for the short and medium term include the opening of the Phoenix Park tunnel next summer, improved DART frequency, the opening of the LUAS cross city in 2017, elements of the DART expansion programme, including the extension of the DART to Balbriggan, and the ongoing improvement and expansion of bus services

On the service provision front, the NTA funds public service obligation, PSO, bus and rail services and oversees the provision of Luas services as part of its statutory remit. The NTA will receive an additional €28 million in PSO funding from my Department in 2016 in response to the increased need I have outlined.

The Dublin city centre transport study is now being undertaken by the NTA and the city council. A significant number of submissions - almost 8,000 - have been made, which I welcome. They include numerous submissions on the future of College Green.

The NTA recently published its fare determinations for 2016 with the aim of maintaining customer support while ensuring financial stability for the operators.

I thank the Minister.

I might come back to that.

At a time when the number of DART, Luas, rail and bus commuters have increased, it is difficult to understand why prices have been increased as soon as we started to see a big improvement. It is very disappointing. I accept that the NTA has a role, but the approach is unfortunate.

The Minister referred to the capital plan in terms of transport links. The problem with projects such as metro north, among others, is that it will be 2022 before it even commences, which is well outside the Government's term in office. I agree that the metro north is an essential transport link for this city and country, but it is a long-term project.

The use of apps has resulted in a big improvement in bus transport. Apps are of major significance for people who use buses because they allow them to see departure times. That is an important development.

In response to the first question on the length of time it will take to commence the metro project, much of the reason for that is the amount of time that will be required for the planning process, including tendering and construction, for a project of such scale. By way of analogy, I refer to what is happening in the construction of the Luas cross city, which is a very big project for the Luas but is of a smaller magnitude than the new metro project. As the Deputy will recall, the decision on the Luas project was made in 2012 and 2013 but it will not be in operation until 2017.

Much of the need for fare increases is due to the need to give the best chance possible to transport operators to have financial stability. The NTA decides on fare increases and structure. It has continued to structure fares in such a way as to give a benefit to Leap card users. That is the reason I welcome the fact that in 2015 alone 436,000 Leap cards were sold, with a value of €57 million. That shows the success of the initiative.

I agree with the Minister that the Leap cards have been a significant step forward, in addition to the apps and real time information at bus stops. The impact of those initiatives has been major. I hope they will be expanded to other cities, because currently they are predominantly based in Dublin. I accept that the initiatives have been extended to Cork and other cities but I would like to see them spread even more widely.

The Minister indicated that he had maintained the PSO funding at last year's level but, in effect, with inflation and other factors, last year's level would mean a bit of a loss. That is what worries me about the increases that have been announced. The Minister referred to viability. We have one of the lowest levels of PSO funding in Europe and the allocation could have been increased to offset the increases.

Will there be any further expansion of bus lanes or other approaches to deal with bus lanes?

The increase in the PSO is €28.5 million, which is a significant increase on where we were last year. There is no way the figures could be portrayed as either a cut or even a stabilisation of funding compared to last year. Last year the Government stabilised the funding; we did not cut it further. This year we have increased it. Since 2008, there had been a reduction of approximately €100 million in PSO funding at a time when the number of journeys on the public transport network decreased by tens of millions. We have now restored €28.5 million of the €100 million decrease in a single year. That is because of my recognition of the importance of PSO funding.

As the Deputy acknowledged, Leap cards are being expanded into a number of other areas - Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Dublin Airport - as will real time passenger information systems. In terms of bus lanes, the capital plan we have put forward does include some funding for their expansion across the city.

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