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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 Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins] It is one thing to provide taxpayers' money to a taxpayer-owned company but it is an entirely different matter giving funding to a company whose raison d'être is shareholder dividend and profit.

  In the opinion of union members, the optimum assurance the authority can obtain is one where quality of service is inserted as a condition of the contract and where the new public service bus contracts can ensure the integration of the public bus service with the wider public transport network by encouraging relationships between the State-funded public service obligation provider and a commercial sector where service to the customer is primary. The best value for the taxpayer is an assurance that their money is going to one of the lowest subsidised companies in the EU. This value for money is further underpinned by the ability of members to provide for themselves and their families without recourse to funding from other Departments in such areas as family income supplement and rent allowance.

  The Government, through the National Transport Authority, has a duty to provide a reliable, punctual, comfortable, clean and customer service-orientated public transport bus service for the citizens of the State. This service requires the ability to encompass ticket integration, passenger information and ease of transfer. While market forces and the requirement to make a profit for company shareholders may derive from conditions facilitated by the provision of modern infrastructural enhancements, the essential social needs of the community, for example, public transport, are the responsibility of Government. It is the role of the Government of the day to provide affordable public transport for its citizens, not to line the pockets of private transport providers and turn semi-State employees into economic slaves.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy We are debating this issue today because there will be a requirement to increase the limit on non-capital borrowing for CIE. Not doing so means we will not have a public transport service next year. In many ways, we do not have much choice but some issues relating to the filing of accounts and the delay in doing so and a business plan are of key concern because it is taxpayers' money and it is essential we make sure this company is run in a way that is transparent, efficient and delivers the best possible service for the money available.

The managerial and funding difficulties cannot be disconnected from the general economy. Indeed serious losses have been posted since 2008. In 2009, there was a loss of €77 million. People have lost jobs and there are fewer people using public transport. There has been a not inconsiderable increase in the price of fuel by almost 25% since 2008. It is a very difficult thing to balance at a time when subventions are being reduced. The troika spoke to us about the cost of living but the cost of public transport is directly related to the amount of subvention that can be made. It is quite difficult in a country with such a dispersed population to provide a service in an economical way.

We are paying the price for the way we have allowed our settlement strategy to evolve with land rezoned based on who owned it rather than a good planning model that looks at linking land use and transportation. If anyone thinks there is no economic and opportunity cost in terms of services being provided, they should think again because that is at the heart of much of the unsustainability of delivering a public transport system. I had to laugh when I heard a Fianna Fáil contributor criticising the Government. The Deputy may have been right in doing so but it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black when they talk about favouring road over rail and other forms of public transport when that has been the case for many decades.

If one was to look at how we can make CIE viable, one initiative, which is major and costly, would have long-term returns. The Minister can probably guess the one I will pick out. It is the interconnector. If we can network these services, for example, our rail services in Dublin, we make the services viable outside the city because the surrounding counties, where there is good rail transport, become viable in both directions. I campaigned for the doubling of the Maynooth rail line for many years and it now functions very well and gives a solid return because it has a peak in both directions. It is not just one area that would benefit from something like the interconnector. It would deliver the kind of game changer we need to bring the kind of income into the company that would then be able to deliver services in areas that are less commercially viable otherwise. There is a potential all-round gain and I hope this can be looked at again because there is such a strong business case for that one project. Although it is a large investment, it would make all the difference.

I have questions in respect of the sale of the asset around Spencer Dock. It is important for us to know how it is intended to use the income from that. There is clearly a very large pension deficit of approximately €175 million. It is a bit ironic when one considers that more than €1 billion was put into the pension fund of the banks when there was no obligation to do so, yet we see companies like Aer Lingus and CIE with very large pension deficits where there would have been an obligation because of their connection to the State. It strikes me as both strange and ironic.

The issue of fares is very important. We have potentially reached a tipping point. People talk about fares being a serious cost in getting to and from work. As Deputy Joan Collins noted, it is not the only reason people will need or want to use public transport but it is off-putting at a time when people's incomes are being diminished. There is a real focus on the cost of transport in most households.

It would be useful to hear the Minister's overall plan for the public transport system. If one looks at wholesale privatisation in, for example, the UK, one can see there were very poor outcomes from the privatisation of the rail service, while bus services disappeared from areas outside big cities. This is what is likely to happen here if we see the cherry-picking that inevitably takes place when services are privatised. The idea behind the founding of CIE in 1926 lay in the chaos caused by the range of private services competing against each other. The person who wanted to use public transport did not get a coherent service. The service must have coherence. The lack of a central terminus in this city is something one does not see in other countries where there are thought-out transport systems and people automatically know where the service starts and finishes. The lack of this has not helped. The introduction of the Leap card has been an improvement in recent years.

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