Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Ceisteanna (55)

John Lahart


55. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the absence of a reference to an e-bike strategy in the Climate Action Plan 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29745/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (26 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

As the Minister will be aware, an interesting international conference, Velo-city 2019, was held in the convention centre recently. Many people came from overseas to participate in this cycling conference. A number of keynote speakers from the conference were invited to address the Joint Committee on Climate Action while they were in Ireland. They expressed serious disappointment about this particular area of the Government's climate action plan and its other projects, and pinpointed the lack of targets and plans in relation to the whole area of e-bikes. That is the issue I want to raise with the Minister today.

I thank the Deputy for his question.

The recently published action plan to tackle climate breakdown sets out a whole-of-government approach to climate action and maps a potential pathway to meet Ireland's 2030 emissions reduction commitments. The plan clearly recognises that Ireland must step up significantly its commitments to address climate disruption. A wide-ranging set of bold and challenging actions for transport are set out, particularly with regard to active travel - cycling and walking - and public transport. I want to make sure we will provide high quality cycling and walking infrastructure, as well as a reliable public transport system, to make public and active travel options a viable alternative for as many people as possible and more of their journeys than ever before. In that way, we will lower climate-harmful emissions, begin to tackle congestion and see an improvement in local air quality.

The plan includes our commitment to deliver an additional 500,000 public transport and active travel journeys daily by 2035. This is a significant step-up in our ambition and requires expanding the capacity and attractiveness of walking and cycling networks, as well as the public transport system. Under Project Ireland 2040, we have assigned €8.6 billion to support sustainable mobility. In addition to support for key public transport projects, this investment will vastly improve cycling and walking infrastructure in all major cities. In fact, the €8.6 billion investment budget is well above what we will be investing in new roads, which is a reversal of the balance of investment in the past. In the period from 2018 to 2021, inclusive, €110 million will be specifically dedicated to cycling and walking infrastructure in major urban areas; €750 million is earmarked for the BusConnects programme in Dublin to include the delivery of around 200 km of segregated cycling lanes; and €53 million will be used to support the development of new greenways. This will support the increasing numbers who choose cycling as their preferred mode of transport, including e-bike users. It is clear that prioritising investment in cycling networks is working. The number of annual cycling trips is increasing, particularly within the greater Dublin area, with surveys such as the Canal Cordon Count showing cycling numbers almost doubling between 2011 and 2018.

We need to build on this and do even more. Key actions under the climate plan underpin the commitment to increasing cycling as a mode of travel, including the establishment of a cycling project office within the National Transport Authority and the development of implementation plans and increased cycling infrastructure in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Cycling Project Office will ensure the new cycling infrastructure is delivered optimally, in line with the significantly increased funding being provided.

The cycle to work scheme continues to encourage the use of bicycles and e-bikes to travel to and from work. Under the scheme, an eligible employer can buy a bicycle for his or her employees and the employee pays the amount, less the tax relief, over up to 12 months through a salary sacrifice arrangement. Up to €1,000 can be provided towards the purchase of a new bicycle or e-bike, which is a generous contribution towards the cost of any commuter bicycle but especially towards the cost of an e-bike which is generally more expensive.

The climate challenge needed a step up in ambition and a renewed determination across government and society to tackle climate disruption. The climate action plan has given us the required level of focus and drive. I am personally committed to the decarbonisation of the transport sector and hope to see transport emissions levels continue to fall, as they did in 2018. Cycling will play an important role in the decarbonisation effort and I am dedicated to investing and improving the cycling network.

It is the cycling project office that terrifies me, given the record of the National Transport Authority in attempting to deliver the other landmark project within Project Ireland 2040, namely, BusConnects, but that is for another day. The Minister has set a target of the purchase of 1 million e-cars and e-vehicles by 2030, which is incredibly ambitious. However, he has set no target for the purchase of e-bikes. There are no details in the climate action plan of the incentives that might be provided for employers to encourage employees to switch from cars to bikes and local authorities to provide basic facilities. There is only one municipal bike park in this city. I will quote from an article in The Guardian which was represented at the Velo-city conference. The article states: "What happened to the place once spoken of as "the great hope for emerging cycling cities"?" It only goes back as far as 2013 when, apparently, Dublin was ranked among the top 20 bike-friendly cities, but it has fallen off what is known as the Copenhagen index since. All of the Project Ireland 2040 projects are exactly that. The Minister spoke about what would be done by 2035. What will we do tomorrow? The Minister read and listened to the headlines this morning about the crisis this city was facing from noxious emissions on the M50, in coming out of the port tunnel and the city's core. He has said nothing to me today, which is normal in his responses, about what can be done in the next 12 or 18 months to improve the quality of life and air quality in the city, not by 2035 or 2040 but for those who are alive now and want to live a healthy life.

The Deputy was doing quite well up to a few seconds ago.

I thank the Minister.

I should remind the Deputy that we held a very important conference. Dublin was chosen as the site of the Velo-city conference which was held a few weeks ago and in which I was very glad to participate. The fact that it was held here was an acknowledgement of the extraordinary steps we were taking and our ambitions. I would be perfectly happy to admit that we were behind on cycling up to a few years ago, but it would be helpful if the Opposition was to acknowledge that we had bought into the story and were making big strides in that respect. The fact that the Velo-city conference was held here was certainly recognition that we were part of the cycling narrative that was taking off all over Europe. The Deputy is looking for news on current projects and saying nothing is happening, but we are spending way more money on it. I think the Deputy is Fianna Fáil spokesman on Dublin. In Dublin construction will start in 2019 on phases two and three of the Royal Canal project which will deliver a high quality cycleway from the docklands to Ashtown in Dublin 15. There will be a route from Clontarf into the city centre which will bring the segregated Clontarf cycle route into the heart of the city. Other projects involve the Dodder greenway and the Fitzwilliam route along by Fitzwilliam Square. These are four extremely valuable and useful projects that will not just attract people to cycling but will, as a by-product, improve health and reduce emissions.

I will not knock the Minister for that, but what emerged from the Velo-city conference was an international community that was, by and large, disappointed by what it had found in Dublin. Data published by The Irish Times show that every three days a cyclist is treated in a Dublin hospital for trauma. Cyclists are inhaling noxious fumes. I know some of the schemes referred to by the Minister. One of them - the Dodder greenway - is in my county. It is a scenic route. I am sure it could be argued that it could be used for daily commuting, but at some stage someone is going to have to make a hard decision about what a Danish commentator referred to as the "free reign of motordom" in Dublin city. We can construct all of these things. As the Minister is aware, one of the big problems with BusConnects is that it is trying to facilitate buses, cars, pedestrians and bikes. That is why it wants to create highways into the city. It is the Government's answer to chronic traffic congestion and air quality issues in the city. However, we will be waiting an inordinate amount of time before any of this infrastructure is delivered in full and then connected. What radical proposals does the Minister have to stop the domination of the motor car in the city of Dublin and other urban areas where it is causing as much havoc to dissuade people from using their car and persuade them to switch to other modes of what he calls active transport? The Minister and I understand what is meant by the term "active transport" and use it interchangeably here, but many members of the public do not even know what the term means. It needs to be explained to them in order that they will understand where we are going from a policy viewpoint.

I thank the Deputy for asking those questions because I can probably answer them in one word. He asked me what radical proposals we had for bicycles and switching people from their car. I can answer that question with one word - BusConnects. The Deputy was referring to Dublin again. I was very glad to point out in this House that he was one of the great supporters of BusConnects and stood with a placard to welcome it.

As did the Minister, but he also lodged his objections when-----

Please allow the Minister to proceed.

Thank God, he did and I am delighted that he continues to support it.

Will the Minister repeat what he said?

I am delighted that the Deputy continues to support BusConnects

Perhaps the Deputy has done a U-turn, but that is all right.

No, I have made a qualified submission

The Deputy went over time twice. Time is running out.

The Minister is making charges. He cannot make such charges.

The Deputy has sat in this chair. Will he co-operate a little? Time has now run out.

To respond to the Deputy's question, BusConnects will take people out of their cars and move them to public transport. That is the objective which will be achieved. The answer to his second question about the radical proposals we have for bicycles is BusConnects. He may not know it, but there will be 200 km of new dedicated cycling lanes adjacent to the BusConnects corridors. Perhaps he is not aware of that, but in asking such a question about what we are doing that is radical, putting in 200 km of cycling lanes is radical and something I assume the Deputy is very happy to welcome because I saw him with his placard.

On a point of order, I did not hold a placard. I stood in front of the man.

Please, Deputy Lahart. There can be no point of order during questions.

That is not a point of order.

The Minister ignores the fact that 2,300 km of cycle tracks were planned and he is making a big deal about 200 km.

Please, Deputy Lahart. I gave you some discretion but that did not include a point of order. There are other Members waiting for their questions.

I appreciate that.