I propose to take Questions Nos. 56 and 95 together.
As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.
The NTA has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public transport services by way of Public Services Obligation (PSO) contracts in respect of services that are socially necessary but commercially unviable. The NTA also has been given statutory responsibility for the regulation of fares in relation to public passenger transport services.
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 the income from fares and the cost of operating services. In 2019, the Irish Exchequer will provide just over €300 million in subvention for public service obligation (PSO) transport services and Rural Transport Local Link services.
I understand from the NTA that, in 2018, passengers paid €625 million in fares on subsidised bus and rail services. Therefore, if such services were to be provided free to passengers, then the expected cost to the Exchequer would be in excess of the €625m collected in fares in 2018. This amount would be additional to the 2019 Exchequer allocation of €300m for PSO support and the further amount (€95m allocation for 2019) that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection pays to public transport providers in respect of its Free Travel Scheme which provides free transport to almost 1 million people in the State, including all people aged over 66 living permanently here, along with some other qualifying people.
So taking round approximate figures, the Deputies idea would cost the taxpayer about €625 million per year, in addition to the €400 million that the Exchequer already spends on public transport services. And this is just the cost of the actual services; it does not count the Exchequer investment in public transport and active travel infrastructure which in 2019 is about €480 million.
These are just the estimates of the full year cost of providing a windfall of free travel to everyone who is an existing passenger. The figures do not factor in the cost of providing the additional fleet, depots, drivers, etc. that would be needed to meet the likely resultant substantial increase in passenger numbers if fares were reduced or eliminated. In summary Introducing free public transport for all users would require substantial additional funding by the taxpayer or from other sources; the Deputies have not indicated how they propose that this would be funded.
The Deputies are correct in focusing on the need to reduce private car emissions and also to stimulate and support increased uptake of public transport. That is exactly the Government's approach as set out in our recent Climate Plan. According to 2017 emission estimates:
- Around 52% of transport emissions come from private car use;
- Just over 18% comes from the freight sector; and
- Around 4.4% of emissions come from the public transport fleet.
As such, it is clear that inroads must be made in reducing the dominance of the private car in Ireland’s transport sector.
Modal shift from the private car to sustainable means of transport remains central to the transport sector’s response to climate change. Investment in public transport has supported an increase of almost 58m journeys annually on subsidised public transport and commercial bus service since 2012. Last year we saw an increase of 16.3 million passenger journeys provided by Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, Irish Rail, Luas and Go-Ahead Ireland on PSO services. That is an increase of over 6.5% compared to 2017. I think the Deputies would agree that this increase in passenger growth is very positive. The growth in public transport services has been supported by higher levels of subvention in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and as I mentioned earlier it was increased again this year to provide a total allocation of over €300 million.
In order to reduce the prevalence of the private car and encourage a shift to more sustainable forms of transport, a number of key policy measures to increase public transport capacity will be progressed over the next decade. The National Development Plan has earmarked €8.6 billion for investment in public and sustainable transport to 2027. By maintaining a focus on expanding the carrying capacity of our public transport over the coming years, we can help address the largest sustainability challenge in thetransport sector, which is shifting more journeys from private motoring towards suitable alternatives in public transport and active travel.