As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. I am not involved in the day-to-day operations of public transport, nor decisions on fares. Following the establishment of the National Transport Authority (NTA) in December 2009, the NTA is the statutory body with responsibility for the regulation of fares charged to passengers in respect of public transport services, provided under public service contracts and shared systems such as the Leap Card. However, I will pass on the Deputy's concerns in relation to commuters in south County Kildare stations to the NTA.
The NTA also has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public transport services by way of public transport services contracts in respect of services that are socially necessary but commercially unviable.
The funding of those services comprises both the fares paid by passengers and the subvention payments from the Exchequer. The main purpose of the subvention payment is to meet the gap between income from fares and the cost of operating services. In 2019, the Irish Exchequer will provide just over €300m in subvention for public service obligation (PSO) transport services and Rural Transport Local Link services.
The NTA have informed me that it is important to distinguish between two aspects when determining fares, i.e., the fare zone and the fare payment system.
Due to Dublin’s large population it is possible to achieve significant economies of scale in the operation of rail services. Accordingly, it is possible to have an urban fare zone, called the Short Hop Zone, offering discounted fares. This type of urban fare structure is common in many major cities internationally. The Leap Card can be used for rail travel between stations within the Short Hop Zone. This Zone includes all stations in the Dublin area from Kilcoole to Balbriggan and Commuter Stations from Dublin City Centre to Kilcock and from Dublin Heuston to Sallins and Naas.
However, the NTA has indicated that it is not possible to offer the same discounted fares across the rest of the rail network as that would put an unsustainable financial strain on Iarnród Éireann. Accordingly, the NTA has no immediate plans to extend the current boundaries of the Short Hop Zone around Dublin.
Leap Card is not an optimal system for the payment of rail fares in areas outside the Short Hop Zone as customers would need to maintain a significant balance on their Leap Card. Accordingly, the NTA have no plans to make Leap Card available across the national rail network. However, even if Leap Card was made available as a means of payment for rail fares nationally, it would not be possible to reduce fares in areas outside the Short Hop Zone for the reason I have already mentioned.
The mobile ticketing service is the first phase of the NTA’s Next Generation Ticketing (NGT) programme, which seeks to implement new and more flexible ticketing systems, provide additional ways of paying for travel and improve the overall customer experience. The NGT programme will eventually lead to the replacement of the Leap Card system with this improved alternative.