Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Ceisteanna (58)

Aindrias Moynihan


58. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will request Bus Éireann to extend the "Kids Go Free" with a Leap card promotion for July to routes not covered by the Leap card; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29584/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

Fáiltím roimh an toscaireacht ón tSín chomh maith.

The "Kids Go Free" promotion is a very positive initiative. However, because the Leap card does not cover all routes or the entire country, many people are unable to benefit fully from it and many more are excluded. Is there an opportunity to extend the scheme throughout the country so that every child would have an equal chance to access the free travel?

I join the Deputy in welcoming the delegation.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding relating to public transport. The NTA has the statutory responsibility for the regulation of fares for public passenger transport services with the transport operators. The NTA also has responsibility for integrated ticketing, which it carries out through its Leap card system.

I understand that the "Kids Go Free" offer covers most journeys across the public transport network, including Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, Go Ahead, Luas, and Irish Rail's DART and commuter rail services. The "Kids Go Free" offer is valid using any child Leap card for ages five to 15 and child Leap card for ages 16 to 18 which is valid up to the holder's 19th birthday, provided the card has 1 cent in credit. The "Kids Go Free" promotion also applies to all Local Link services although a child Leap card is not required for these services.

In the case of Bus Éireann, the initiative covers all routes that are publicly subsidised via the public service obligation, PSO, Exchequer grant. This includes Bus Éireann services in Cork city, Limerick city, Galway city, Waterford city, Sligo and Athlone towns and all Bus Éireann stage carriage services countrywide. Bus Éireann Expressway, which is a commercial service not subsidised by the State, is not included in the promotion.

The Leap card "Kids Go Free" promotion has utilised the Leap card system to enable those under the age of 19 years to avail of millions of free trips since its inception. It has been successful in encouraging children and teenagers to travel on the Transport for Ireland network using a Leap card. This year, the promotion has expanded to run for four weeks, which is twice as long as in previous years. The NTA is, therefore, doubling the fare foregone from this promotion and will have to increase the PSO subsidy to the operators for this lost fare revenue, which it estimates will be €800,000.

I sympathise with what the Deputy has to say. I ask him to spell out in his supplementary question where he wants it to be extended to, because I am not sure we are talking the same language.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Some 46% of the population of Cork city and county live outside the zone covered by the Leap card. Similarly in other parts of the country, many areas have no Leap card zone. Those people should be able to avail of this scheme on their local service.

For example, anyone travelling from Macroom to Killarney on the 40 Expressway route or the 257 via Millstreet must go as paying customers. Similarly people coming up to Cork from Dunmanway on the 236 bus are not able to access the scheme. It should be available for all children across the country who use various modes of public transport. It should not be the case that one would need to pay for part of the journey while others get it for free; it should be open to everybody.

My understanding on this is quite clear. I am open to correction because the Deputy knows the area very well. All Bus Éireann routes qualify for the "Kids Go Free" scheme, apart from the commercial operation, Bus Éireann Expressway. I do not know if the routes the Deputy was quoting are Bus Éireann's. If they are, perhaps the individuals he is talking about did not have Leap cards. My understanding is quite clear that any Bus Éireann bus qualifies. We can make that clear afterwards. I can discuss it with the Deputy afterwards if he thinks I am wrong, but I do not think so because I asked for this advice before I came into the Chamber to make it absolutely clear. If there is a misunderstanding there, we can clear it up very quickly. It may be that they do not have the Leap cards or the children to whom the Deputy referred are referring to commercial routes. Commercial routes have been asked to participate in this scheme.

I am sympathetic to what the Deputy is saying. If there is some sort of discrimination against children who take certain routes or use certain operators, I could appeal to them. I cannot force them to do so, but I could appeal to them to extend the scheme.

We can follow up on it afterwards. One example is one of those commercial routes, the No. 40 Expressway bus, which travels east-west from Rosslare to Tralee. It is a very widely used bus in my area. Perhaps the opportunity could be availed of to impress on services such as those buses to take part in the scheme.

The Deputy is referring to commercial bus routes. He will understand that I cannot force any commercial route to do anything in this situation. It is a commercial decision for them as it is for Expressway to decide if it is a promotion that is worthwhile. Bus Éireann and the others have decided it is worth promoting. They are PSO routes. The NTA has decided it is worth promoting and there is great merit in ensuring these children get used to the Leap cards and the bus services, and it may pay them in the long run. If it is a commercial decision, I cannot intervene and I cannot make suggestions to the company. If it is something into which the NTA has an input, we can certainly talk to it and ask it if it believes it is worth subsidising further.