Seanad Éireann - Volume 184 - 28 June, 2006
Adjournment Matters. - Private Bus Licences.
Mr. Morrissey Mr. Morrissey
Mr. Morrissey: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, for this Adjournment matter. I tabled it because no matter how many debates we have here on transport, we never seem to have enough because there are so many varied issues in the transport area.
Bus licensing is an issue the Department has been grappling with for many years. The Department is not ambitious enough about this area of activity. If there was ambition in this area, it would mean that significant numbers of people could travel by public transport at no cost to the Exchequer.
I met with some transport providers recently. One, in particular, who was unemployed five years ago, now employs 35 people. He has made a significant investment. He has mortgaged and remortgaged his house on several occasions against the advice of his accountant and others, and yet he is still in business providing a service. This is the question. Is he being encouraged and assisted by the Department? Regrettably, the answer is “No.”
For example, I have read correspondence where a licence was requested. A detailed application was submitted in January last, it was acknowledged in January and there has not been a word since. On that same line 60 miles from Dublin, there is a provincial town whose people cannot be accommodated by the commuter rail system. At 7 o’clock in the morning there is only standing room.
Notwithstanding the considerable investment there will be in the commuter rail line bringing DART as far as Balbriggan, the future plans by Irish Rail can never meet the latent demand in that area, yet the Department is sitting on a licence application for six months. Were it granted, it would have the same impact as the current licences the operator holds. He is carrying 9,000 people at peak times to Dublin city every day during the year, yet it costs the taxpayer and the Government nothing by way of subvention or maintenance.
On that same route, there is a Bus Éireann bus using hired private operators at €400 per trip. Where is the transparency in the use or abuse of taxpayers money by Bus Éireann to put a private operator out of business? This is a misuse of taxpayers’ money. There is not proper transparency in the CIE accounts of how its subsidy is being used on the different routes. That is one of the reasons there is not proper ticket integration at present. If there was a fair fare box, we would then know the origin and destination of every customer. This is one of the reasons CIE is lethargic in bringing that forward and co-operating with the system.
The other issue is that bus licences are granted on a yearly basis. Providing a route is a significant investment for an operator. It is a considerable investment in management, employment and capital. The operator gets a licence for one year and must reapply for another year. If the operator is to attempt to develop the route, obviously he or she needs to be given a little longer than 12 months.
This system is in operation for a few years. I asked the Minister previously to consider issuing three-year licences. If an operator went to his bank manager to borrow money for new buses for a route for 12 months, he would be asked where was his guarantee that he would have a licence for the route in two years time.
There are significant issues involved, which amaze me for the simple reason that it costs the taxpayer nothing if these private operators are brought into the system. They certainly give a good service. There are thousands of buses out there. The operators’ bus fleets are new, well serviced and well maintained.
Another issue I would raise is how the private operators are treated in the context of the subvention for old age pensioners. I have read correspondence in which the Department states a final offer on how much will be returned to the operator for carrying old age pensioners. The playing pitch is neither level nor fair. The system should be restructured, particularly since it will cost the State nothing.
Miss de Valera Miss de Valera
Miss de Valera: The overall policy framework for the future of public bus transport operations was set out in the programme for Government and included the following specific commitments: the replacement of the Road Transport Act 1932 with modernised legislation to allow, inter alia, for new services in the bus market; further progress will be made on upgrading the bus fleet, providing bus priorities both in Dublin and other cities, and in increasing the level and frequency of service and the interchangeability of commuter tickets on bus and rail; and new services will be introduced both to some new housing developments and to existing poorly served communities.
Against the background of those commitments, the Minister has committed to modernising the regulatory framework governing public transport and the provision of bus services by both public and private operators, not only in Dublin, but nationally. In particular, at the launch of Transport 21, the Minister indicated he was convinced a new approach was needed to transport in the greater Dublin area, delivered through a single authority with the power to ensure joined up thinking and delivery across all transport modes. In addition, specific commitments to the funding of bus requirements are set out in Transport 21. A total of €532 million is provided for buses to serve the greater Dublin area and a further €241 million for services in the provincial cities. This provides immediate recognition that the bus network will continue to provide a very significant element of the public transport system for the foreseeable future, particularly in the initial years of Transport 21 when major rail and other infrastructure projects are under construction.
In pursuing an agenda for change for transport services both in the greater Dublin area and in the rest of the State, the Minister has had an extensive engagement with key stakeholders, including the CIE companies, the unions and representatives of private bus operators. That process, allied with the report of the establishment team he appointed to advise on the remit, structures and human resource requirements of the proposed Dublin transport authority, will inform the determination of the appropriate structures for a new framework for the future regulation and reform of the public transport market and the legislation necessary to support that framework.
The engagement of private sector bus operators in the provision of public transport services is governed by the Road Transport Act 1932, as amended. It has long been recognised that the Act is in need of significant reform so that the legislative provisions better reflect the realities of modem public transport services. The reform programme the Minister is pursuing will address that particular need. Bus route operations by Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus are not licensed under the 1932 Act. The new legislation will address this issue and will focus on the delivery of a single licensing code that will establish a level playing field for both private and public service providers. In advance of the completion of the process for the passage of the proposed legislation, the Department will continue to promote improvements in the administration of the bus licensing service based on the principles of due process and fair procedures. In this regard, the Department continues to process applications or notifications for new or amended bus services received from both private and public bus operators under the existing regulatory regime.
As a consequence of the successful investments made in bus and rail under the national development plan, the public’s expectations are changing and are more demanding than ever in respect of public transport. The proposals under development will address those demands by providing a way forward that will focus on achieving an appropriate balance between creating sufficient competitive tension to drive greater efficiency, effectiveness and value for money while, at the same time, maintaining the stability and integration of the bus network and the need to maintain social inclusion. The Minister hopes to publish legislation on public transport reform in the current year.
The Seanad adjourned at 9.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 29 June 2006.
Seanad Éireann 184 Adjournment Matters. Private Bus Licences.