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Home > Select Sub-Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport debate. Vote 31 - Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Revised) (Continued). [Drug driving]

[Oireachtas] Select Sub-Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport debate. Vote 31 - Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Revised) (Continued). [Drug driving]. (23 Jan 2014)

External website: http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/Debates%20A...


….[Deputy Leo Varadkar:]With regard to local and regional roads, all our grants do is supplement the local authorities' own resources. It is worth bearing in mind that they get almost two thirds of the motor tax revenue paid to them through the local government fund. They have commercial rates and property tax revenue also. It is not solely my Department's responsibility, therefore. The amount of maintenance on and repair and strengthening of our roads is not enough. It will be fine this year. There is a decent budget this year because we have called off many projects we would like to have carried out, including some of the bad bend amelioration and road-widening projects. We have enough to ensure the roads are being maintained, but they should really be strengthened and restored more than at present. With regard to both roads and railways, we are storing up problems for the future but I can work only within the budget I have. 

Deputy Dessie Ellis: In many ways, this is one of the disappointing areas. I acknowledge that the Minister must balance his budget but the lack of capital projects such as the metro north project must be borne in mind. I know the Minister's response in this regard.

 

Expenditure on local and regional roads this year is to be €330 million. A considerable amount is required. As the Minister said, there will probably be an additional cost associated with storm damage. There are areas with massive potholes. Meath is one area that always comes to mind because those affected keep contacting representatives about it. We are obviously not meeting our targets with road expenditure. I do not know whether the Minister could ever dig up more money and tackle some of these issues, particularly potholes.

 

The roads budget has been cut by almost €3 million. I wish to tease this out. The Minister referred to agencies and expenses. Could he explain this a little more? At the start of this year, there has already been a significant increase. Some noises seem to be coming from the Road Safety Authority in regard to resources being made available. The PSO reduction is 7%. In this regard, I refer to the overall figure of €221 million. The Minister stated he will decrease the subvention next year and he hopes he might not have to do so thereafter. However, if we keep decreasing the subvention, we will run into major problems with Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann.

 

The Minister said he will increase passenger numbers by 2%. Could he explain how this will be achieved? I have always said the Nitelink service should be expanded because it is very limited on certain days. Expanding it would certainly increase numbers and, if the service were run in a proper way, provide revenue. Dublin Bus should be considering this.

I welcome the roadside drug testing. The equipment is badly needed. If we get the system up and running, it will certainly improve road safety. Perhaps the Minister will indicate when it will be up and running.

 

Deputy Helen McEntee: I agree with Deputy Ellis on roadside drug testing. It is a great initiative and it is brilliant that it is to be introduced. When does the Minister envisage its being introduced? When will the officers who will be carrying out the testing be trained in, and how will this happen?

 

Funding for roads has obviously decreased because the Minister is trying to work within a budget. He has done the best he can. I hope the additional stimulus funding of €50 million will be put to good use and invested in local and regional roads.

Could the Minister expand a little on the capital projects, the sum from which amounts to almost €1 billion? What are the bigger projects that will benefit? Will expenditure flow into 2015? Will all the funding be spent this year?

 

Deputy Leo Varadkar: I will answer the questions on capital projects together. There are big and little ones. The biggest include the Luas cross-city project. There is to be an increase in public transport investment this year to take account of it. Other projects include updating the Dublin Bus fleet. Approximately 65 new buses are being bought every year, and they are pretty expensive. With regard to roads, some of the moneys are close-out payments on roads that are actually completed, such as those in Belturbet and even Tralee. The project in Ballaghadereen is under way.

 

Some of the money is to get projects to the next stage. Such projects include those in Enniscorthy and New Ross, in addition to the Gort-Tuam project. Land purchase is also a factor, including along the Macroom-Ballyvourney corridor. There are many projects covered by the budget, including new bus lanes. Interestingly, the budget will also cover the extension of the city bikes scheme. The bicycles are already in Dublin. Availability is to be extended from Heuston to The O2, and bikes will also be available in Cork, Limerick and Galway. There are to be advancements concerning the Leap card. There is a lot covered by capital budgets. Free Wi-Fi will be available on the entire Dublin Bus fleet by the end of March.

 

We will start the work on the capital programme now. There is no Government position on this yet but I believe it is about time we started having a new national development programme, perhaps for the period 2015-16. The national development programme was effectively scrapped because of the economic crisis. I would now like us to start working on this and put a new programme in place for the period 2015-16 outlining what capital investment will occur during the period in question. It would be timely.

 

As Deputy Ellis stated, the PSO reductions have been very severe in recent years. This is one reason, but not the only one, we have had to bring about savings in the public's transport companies. The other reason is that the cost base is much higher than it should be and much higher than European norms. It is often amusing to hear people giving out that our PSO is lower than European norms, yet those who do so have no problem with our cost base and salaries being much higher than European norms. We are trying to bring everything closer to European norms. I do not see much room for any further reduction regarding the PSO. I would like to have in place a clear five-year contract for the public transport companies. Thus, instead of their being cut every year when the Government needs to save money, they would have certainty about their funding for five years. They could run their services much better if they knew what their budget would be for five years. This would contrast with circumstances in which the Government would ask them every year for a cut or, as in the good days, they would ask the Government for extra money just to do the same thing. It is in this area that I am trying to make a change happen this year.

 

It will not be easy to increase passenger numbers by 2%. I hope part of the increase will be achieved because of the recovering economy, more people going to work, and more people with money to spend going out and about. There will be some new services. Dublin Bus is planning a few, as is Irish Rail. I will let the companies tell the members about them when they are ready.

 

Another objective is to ensure a much better customer experience. This is enhanced by services such as real-time information, the Leap Card and Wi-Fi, all of which make public transport a better experience. A certain amount of advertising will have to be done. This is important. Many people have not used public transport in a long time and their memory of it is based on when they were going to college, at which time one had to wait ages for a bus. Services are much better now. Particularly with real-time information, one can just check one's iPhone to tell when a bus is coming. The service is much better than it used to be and routes are much shorter. It is a question of telling people about this.

 

There will be many promotions. Members will probably have noted recently that Irish Rail kicked off its promotion of off-peak fares priced at €9.99. If trains are half empty in any case, the plan is to think like the airlines and sell the seats cheaply. At least people would be using the trains, and trains would not be carrying air around the country, which is what happens much of the time.

 There are two elements to the drug-testing initiative. It is hoped that in the next few months, once the legislation is passed, gardaí will be able to test motorists at the roadside. The test may involve getting motorists to walk in a straight line or touch their noses, for example

 

There are two elements to the drug-testing initiative. It is hoped that in the next few months, once the legislation is passed, gardaí will be able to test motorists at the roadside. The test may involve getting motorists to walk in a straight line or touch their noses, for example

 

This will not be enough on its own but it will give a basis on which one can be taken off for blood or urine tests for drugs. Towards the end of the year the Medical Bureau of Road Safety will tender for a roadside device which can be used to test for drugs. We need to ensure it is robust. There is no point in spending a load of money on something like this only to find it does not work or cannot stand up in court. We would rather get it right than do it quickly. We are looking at what other countries have done. Other countries have had problems so we will proceed cautiously.

 

Deputy McEntee mentioned Meath. We are doing some catch up in Meath and other counties. Mr. Mullaney was involved in updating the length of milage taken in charge in each county. Counties such as Meath which had much development in recent years took a lot of roadway in charge. The figures, which will be confirmed to local authorities tomorrow, will allow for an increase in counties where there has been much development and many new roads have been taken in charge. It is either this or some roads which used to be national roads have been re-designated as regional roads and counties need to be compensated for this. One will see significant increases in Louth, Meath and other places. It needs an extra €1.5 million and I hope this makes a difference………

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