Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Ceisteanna (55)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

55. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to address concerns regarding increasing levels of traffic congestion in Dublin City and especially the knock-on congestion caused by blockages on the M50 motorway; if he is developing a strategic plan to deal with the traffic problems on the M50; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15826/16]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (19 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

Before I introduce my question, I wish to put on record that our party research office was given wrong advice on when we should submit priority and oral questions to this Department. It was only by pure chance that we made it on time for Priority Questions. I wish to put on record that I did not get an opportunity to submit oral questions this week. They gave misleading advice and when we pointed it out to them they did not make any concessions.

That is a matter for the Ceann Comhairle's office.

It is a matter for the Minister in the following sense. I received correspondence stating: "I wish to inform you that the following question tabled to you for priority answer on Tuesday, 14 June 2016 has been transferred by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the Minister for Social Protection." For the life of me, I do not understand how the Minister does not believe it is appropriate for him to come to the House and engage with us on free transport.

Deputy Troy, please put your question. I must stick to Standing Orders.

To be fair, I want to put on the record that a priority question has been ruled out of order.

That is a matter for the Ceann Comhairle's office.

According to the letter I received, the Minister informed us that he would not answer the question. I want to put on record my dissatisfaction with that.

Please put your question or I will have to move on.

Public transport is under the remit of the new Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. In that context I will move on to my first question, which has been accepted. Will the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport address concerns about the increasing levels of traffic congestion in Dublin, especially the knock-on congestion caused by blockages on the M50 motorway? Will the Minister outline whether his Department is developing a strategic plan to deal with the traffic problems on the M50 and make a statement on the matter? I wish the Minister the best of luck in his new role.

I wish to reciprocate the best wishes to Deputy Troy and wish him good luck in his role as well. He may have got the wrong advice on the date or timing for Priority Questions. I have to say I know nothing about it, but certainly it would not have been deliberate on anyone's part. I fully understand if he was not prepared and I thank him for submitting the questions.

The second issue is the question of free travel. I was advised that it was a matter for another Department. I have no problem whatsoever in answering questions on free travel. However, if I am advised that it is more suitable for another Department, I will refer it. I will look at the matter in more detail for the next time to see if it is appropriate. I would be happy to address it but if the Department of Social Protection wishes to take it, that is fair enough by me as well. Deputy Troy may ask me supplementary questions about it another time and I will try to address them, if he gives me a little notice.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding for the national roads programme. The planning, design and operation of individual road projects is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

TII looked at a range of short-term and longer-term measures to manage demand and optimise operational efficiency on the M50. This was published in its M50 demand management study in April 2014. At my predecessor's request, TII undertook further analysis last year to identify a mix of measures to improve operational efficiency. Since the M50 upgrade, annual traffic growth on the M50 has continued, especially with renewed economic growth. Over 140,000 vehicles a day are now using the busiest sections.

Since this analysis, TII, in conjunction with stakeholders, has been progressing several short-term measures. These include changes to junction layouts to optimise use of lanes. Changes at the N3 and M50 junction and the Dublin Airport and M1 junction have been performing well and similar layouts will be provided between the M1 and N3 junctions over the coming months. New signage to direct diversions has been erected on an agreed route between the N3 and N2 and this will be extended shortly.

The motorway traffic control centre has been enhanced and the number of incident response vehicles has been increased, resulting in an average response time of 15 minutes. The working group set up by TII to strengthen co-ordination includes An Garda Síochána, Dublin Fire Brigade and local authorities and continues to enhance incident management and communication.

My predecessor approved a proposal to progress work on variable speed limits with a view to smoothing peak-time traffic flows. TII has established a project team to manage design and procurement, which is estimated to take 36 months.

Public transport initiatives such as reopening the Phoenix Park tunnel and commencing services on the Luas cross city line in 2017 will provide alternative options to the car. The Government's capital plan provides for significant investment in enlargement of the public service obligation bus fleet. The NTA transport strategy for the greater Dublin area 2016-35 envisages a core orbital bus network to ensure more trips are undertaken by public transport.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I will engage with him on the other question.

The Minister has agreed that traffic congestion has a negative effect on people's lives, including stress as a result of getting in to work late and reducing quality family time. It has a negative impact on economic activity too. It is important to have more than what the Minister referred to, which are short-term measures. I am more interested in hearing about the long-term strategic policy decisions taken by the Department to ensure free flow on the M50.

The Minister alluded to changes to junctions and the fact that there are greater numbers of vehicles and response times. Earlier this year there was an accident on the M50. As a consequence, not only was the M50 blocked up but there was gridlock throughout the greater Dublin area. To be fair, I do not believe the Minister has outlined or articulated exactly how he plans to deal with this in a strategic manner over the coming year or two years.

The Minister alluded to something that may take 36 months and which is going to tender now. I did not understand that. Will the Minister elaborate further on that point?

I will take the Deputy's question in two parts, if I may. He has made a good point about there being less long-term thinking than short-term thinking - I think that is the point he is making. That is apparent probably in the plans made by the two bodies, the NTA and TII, to which I referred. There is a need on the part of the Department, myself and, in particular, the bodies run by me in this Department to have a better long-term vision. I am going to require a better long-term vision from them. This is reflected in some ways by what I offered Deputy Troy today, including certain variable speed limits and various high-speed ways of addressing problems.

However, we need to address the problem of 140,000 cars on the M50 every day. We need to address the problems which are much wider, which are being met by metro north, the port tunnel and other areas, and which are to divert people from their motor cars and bring them to public transport.

If there is a long-term vision, I think that is apparent in what I have said there. Could I say before I finish-----

I am allowing latitude but people need to stick to the times.

I am sorry. I will do it when I answer the Deputy's next question.

The full record will be in the response.

I call Deputy Munster for the next question.

There is a bit of a change from the last-----

There are new procedures. I have to call the next question based on the new Standing Orders. The Deputy has 30 seconds and a minute to respond and the six and a half minutes have elapsed, so I have to move on to Deputy Munster for the next question. The Deputy has 30 seconds.