Dáil Éireann - Volume 586 - 27 May, 2004
Priority Questions. - Public Transport.
Mr. Crowe Mr. Crowe
3. Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Transport his views on whether the privatisation of Dublin Bus will be likely to open the doors to transnational, foreign companies that will take over the market here; and the timeframe in which he will amend the Road Transport Act 1932 to introduce proper safety regulations for buses run by private companies. [16012/04]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
 Mr. Brennan: I set out my policy proposals for public transport reform in statements to the public transport partnership forum in November 2002 and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport in June 2003.
The principal elements of my proposals are the establishment of an independent procurement and regulatory authority for transport on a national basis, and the introduction of controlled competition in the bus market in the Dublin area in the form of franchising as the primary means of procuring bus services. I have no plans to privatise Dublin Bus.
As I stated on a number of occasions before the House, I am firmly of the view that franchising is the most effective means of achieving genuine market opening in the Dublin market. I have formed this view on the basis of international experience and major independent studies carried out by bodies, including the European Commission and the public transport partnership forum, which have shown franchising to be the most efficient and effective way of procuring urban bus services. Franchising will allow for genuine market opening, with operators other than the existing State-owned companies having a role to play in the delivery of services.
Where markets are opened to competition, it is an important principle of European Union law that undertakings throughout the Union should be free to compete for the award of contracts. I have no plans to depart from that principle, which has been to Ireland’s great benefit throughout the economy.
While recent public discussion on public transport reform has focused almost exclusively on organisational issues and public monopoly provider concerns, the focus of my reforms is primarily on delivering a better service to the customer and greater value for money to the taxpayer.
With regard to the issue of safety, all bus operators, both private and public, are subject to the same body of safety legislation and this position will continue in the reformed market. It remains my intention to proceed with legislation on public transport reform in 2004.
Mr. Crowe Mr. Crowe
Mr. Crowe: It is interesting to note that a number of today’s questions are on public service companies. We already discussed the situation in Aer Rianta and there is also a problem with CIE. Difficulties are also apparent in public transport in Dublin, especially in regard to Dublin Bus.
I accept that opening up the public transport market will give people choice, but people are concerned that if new companies come into the market, they will be operating on the same routes as Dublin Bus. How will that improve transport for people in these areas?
Another concern is that many private buses are not wheelchair accessible. We have seen the debacle with regard to taxi deregulation where we had an opportunity to ensure taxis would be more accessible to people with disabilities and so  on. Will new operators coming in to the bus market have to be accessible to people who are wheelchair-bound or have other disabilities?
Significant investment has been made in public transport. People do not understand why the services that have been built up by those companies are being opened up to private operators. It is not even the case that new routes are being opened up, the Minister intends tendering existing routes. Does he have proposals to open up new routes? We have heard of possible cutbacks in Dublin Bus routes rather than new services being on offer.
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: The bus market in the Dublin area is growing dramatically. I hope to at least double the number of quality bus corridors in the next year or so. This will attract more people to public transport. The passenger numbers are already impressive on existing bus corridors as people realise buses are a more reliable way to travel. The 1932 Act is very restrictive and needs to be updated, which is what we are doing. New routes will be added throughout the city and county, not just in the core areas.
I have never seen my proposals as taking bus routes from somebody who owns them. Bus routes belong to the people. The service is provided to the consumer. No company, as such, owns the bus routes. It is a duty and privilege to serve the public on these routes. They do not belong to a particular corporate structure but to the people.
I am trying to open up the market to offer more choice to the public and give people a better and more transparent service. That does not imply any criticism of Dublin Bus which I have said on many occasions is a very good company.
The Deputy is correct in regard to buses being wheelchair accessible. Dublin Bus has received significant investment from the taxpayer to bring the fleet up to wheelchair accessible standards and the majority of buses are now in that category. The company is moving fast to complete the upgrading of the fleet so that all buses will be wheelchair accessible.
It is my intention that any private sector companies, be they international, national or local operators, will be required to meet the same high standards as their counterparts in the public sector. I would not tolerate a situation where the standards of a private company would not match existing high standards regarding wheelchair accessibility or any other consideration. I expect them to operate to the same standards and for there to be a genuinely level playing field in this area.
Dáil Éireann 586 Priority Questions. Public Transport.