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Transport (Córas Iompair Éireann and Subsidiary Companies Borrowings) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Continued)

Friday, 7 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue] We support the Bill, with the caveats I outlined earlier, and I commend it to the House.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis We will be supporting the Bill as it allows for CIE to raise more funds for non-capital projects to keep its services to a standard that serves people's needs at least as adequately as is currently the case.

In many cases, particularly Dublin Bus, CIE is providing a service which is far from desirable and increasingly worse by comparison with previous years. Many of the reasons are plain to be seen. There is, of course, less money for everything, except bankers and bondholders. The State subvention has been cut dramatically over the past four years. Passenger numbers have dropped considerably and the price of using public transport has rocketed. For people living just a short distance from their workplace, it can now cost in Dublin €4.30 to get to and from work each day. A rambler ticket for 30 days costs €115, as much as many young people in the city are paying for rent each week. That works out at €3.80 a day. The Leap card offers lower fares, but as Dublin Bus fares have been increased numerous times by the Government in its short time in office, people still find public transport very expensive.

That is just Dublin Bus, the company with which I am most familiar, as are most of my constituents. Train fares, for those lucky enough to have rail access, have also gone up to the point where it is just not an affordable option for most people. A rail commute from Tullamore to Dublin, with a monthly pass, is €297. For most people that is more than half of what they earn in a week. I know it may not seem like much to many here who may operate expensive cars and take home very large wage packets, but it should come as no surprise that working people are finding it so difficult and are coming out at the end of the month with very little, given how great a proportion of their earnings are going on just getting to work in the first place.

I do not bring up the issue of these high fares simply to beat the Government with something that is very unpopular with the people. I raise it because these fare hikes and the whole fare system is the very blunt and very useless tool of choice for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to try to whip CIE into shape. I am not sure the Department has decided exactly what shape that is.

Fine Gael would, by and large, like to see the end of publicly operated transport companies and a private market free-for-all. This certainly seems to be something that has the boys in blue hot under their collars. I also imagine, given what we have seen over the past two years, that Labour will not do a whole pile to stop them, other than guard the Minister and his colleagues from any mud that might dare to splatter on them in the form of public outrage.

The idea that privatisation is a solution is only merited by the argument that the publicly owned bodies have failed. They have failed to provide a top-class service and they have failed to provide it in a sustainable way. The questions are why they failed and how it could be any different.

It can be different, but the parameters of the debate have to be changed. For one thing, the Government needs to decide just what it wants out of public transport. Does it want something that is cheap and without any of the troublesome burden of providing essential links to people in more isolated parts of the country or even our cities and towns, or does it want a genuinely world-class service that provides fast, efficient, environmentally sound transport to the majority of people who require it? The Government certainly does not seem to want the latter. The Government, like its predecessors, wants to get away with only half-providing a service.

The subvention for Dublin Bus and CIE has, historically, been much lower than in many other countries, both in the EU and elsewhere. We have one of the lowest public transport subventions. The Minister will argue that the subvention is now at an all-time high but that really does not matter when the service is not good enough and the fares are getting higher.

CIE does not have to be a profitable company. It would be great if it was, but to make this the ultimate part of the Minister's policy on public transport is to ignore the massive benefits of a public transport system that serves a wide section of the community and the country.

What on earth would be the point of taking profitable routes from CIE and giving them to private companies to cream off the most money while the State is left with providing for the loss-making routes? There is also a certain madness in giving public service obligation, PSO, routes to private companies to be subsidised by the State. There is no reason to believe this would lead to any better service. The idea that the private sector provides better services is not borne out by the facts. It is not black and white. In some cases private industry is a better method of providing a service but not in every case and not even in most cases. I do not understand people, who claim to have an interest in the people of this country, arguing for private profit and public loss which is exactly what many of the arguments for privatisation, veiled in talk of reform or deregulation, etc. are about.

We need a genuine world-class service for the benefit of our economy and our society. We can choose to structure this in a way that ensures value for money and efficiency but we cannot afford to outsource the State's responsibility to provide it. There is simply no reason to believe the private sector can provide a better service as a whole. Matthews Coaches might provide a more comfortable service to a certain town but it does not follow that it can provide a better transport system by competing with other services not in the interest of the public but its own profit.

Public transport needs more investment. Projects such as metro north, although expensive, would have created large numbers of jobs. Such projects have been left behind in the cutting of capital spending on public transport. Metro north would have provided a link between the north and south sides of Dublin and to the airport and would have created at least 5,000 jobs in construction and thousands of ancillary jobs. It is a pity we have gone down the road of cutting these projects. They are all part of the make-up of the public transport system that needs to be joined up. We badly need to join it up.

We need a proper strategy and vision, not the cutting of routes that serve people. Many areas of Dublin have seen their bus routes cut. The Nos. 19 and 19A routes are among the oldest bus routes in the country. Routes like these provide people, including the old and disabled, with the means of getting to and from shopping, work or wherever they need to go. These cuts are a tragedy.

When we talk about the sale of non-core assets, I worry about what the Minister has in mind and what is to be imposed on CIE. Will it mean selling off vital sections of our industry or our transport routes? It is clear that there will be cuts across the board.

There is no doubt that public transport costs have increased in the last while. Much of the fall in passenger numbers has been due to the selling of routes to private operators. Many areas throughout the country have lost their bus routes and people in those areas have been forced to use cars. Public transport passenger numbers in those areas have, of course, gone down. Those people need to be targeted once again. We need a better vision of how to do that.

There has been a loss of staff in CIE. No one can dispute that the staff of CIE have done a wonderful job. I have seen them provide services, even in areas where their colleagues have been attacked in the course of their work. The staff of CIE have kept the system going and have been magnificent. I do not want to see that changing. It is not in the interest of the country that it should change.


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