I thank the Deputy for raising this subject, which is certainly worthy of debate. It will not surprise her that I am not going to announce free public transport in the House this morning, but it is a debate that is certainly worth having, and perhaps for longer than ten minutes.
The NTA has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public transport services by way of public service 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 regard 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 PSO transport services and rural transport local link services. We are also investing almost €480 million this year in public transport and active travel infrastructure.
The Deputy is asking about the likely cost to the Exchequer if public transport fares were abolished. A key factor to bear in mind when considering such an idea is that approximately €600 million in fare revenue is collected annually. This effectively means that the rough cost to the taxpayer of eliminating fares would be in the region of €600 million more every year, in addition to the amounts already spent on PSO and on capital investment. It is important to keep in mind also that this amount would only enable continuation of the existing level of service and does not account for one extra passenger journey because it does not factor in the costs of catering for increased passenger travel demand, which would undoubtedly arise. The figures also do not factor in the cost of providing the additional fleet, depots, drivers, and so on that would be needed to meet the likely resultant substantial increase in passenger numbers if fares were eliminated.
In summary, introducing free public transport for all users would require substantial additional funding by the taxpayer or from other sources. The Deputy has not indicated how she proposes that this would be funded. We all know that our country is facing challenges on climate commitments and on congestion, which this Government is determined to address. As such, it is clear that inroads must be made into reducing the dominance of the private car in Ireland’s transport sector, and reducing the 52% of transport emissions that come from private car use is a key challenge, as the Deputy mentioned.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The Deputy is correct that there is a need to reduce private car emissions within the State and that increased use of public transport can assist us in achieving our climate change goals. That is exactly the Government's objective as clearly set out in my Department's climate action plan, and that is why we are expanding our public transport fleet so that there are more buses, more trains and longer trams to carry more passengers. We are developing long-term solutions through metro and DART expansion. We are investing in well-planned integrated infrastructure and service improvements in all the main cities.
Our aim in expanding the carrying capacity and the attractiveness of our public transport and active travel networks is to provide a viable sustainable alternative to private car use for more people for more of their journeys. Under Project Ireland 2040, an indicative allocation of €8.6 billion is assigned to support sustainable mobility, ensuring that public transport and active travel become more available and attractive alternatives.
Our ambitions regarding modal shift are quite high, as are the costs associated with such a shift. However, our continued work on this front is essential if we want to reduce congestion and emissions. Promoting a continued move towards more sustainable forms of transport for a higher number of journeys will help reduce Ireland's climate change emissions.
Passenger fares are only one factor in meeting the costs associated with running the public transport system. The State and the taxpayer are the main funder. Any proposal to abolish passenger fares and the resulting shortfall in funding would have to be covered by an increase in PSO funding from the taxpayer via the Exchequer.