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Snippet Contents:

Last week, within ten days or two weeks of the budget being introduced, we saw a major rise in fares on the Luas, the DART and Iarnród Éireann trains. These fare rises were introduced at a time when the Dáil was in recess and while the row over Irish Water was raging. They may not seem relevant to the budget or the Finance Bill, but when we see a semi-State body acting in this arbitrary way, we must ask some questions. Why is CIE raising prices and public transport fares at this time? The company raised fares last year and has raised them far beyond the rate of inflation for many years. Inflation is simply a dot in the distance when we compare the rate with the rise in public transport fares. Why did the company raise fares? We could possibly understand fares being raised last year because the company had argued that fuel prices were rocketing and passenger numbers were going down. This year it raised them, despite the fact that fuel prices had been falling and passenger numbers were going up. When we try to find out from it or the regulator why this is happening, they say growth costs money and that because the company is seeking to grow capacity it costs more money and that the company has to expand. Either way, it seems this semi-State body is going to have a right to increases fares, whether it grows or shrinks. We must be a little puzzled by such an attitude and response.
I suppose the reason is that semi-State bodies work in a sphere of their own. In this case, CIE is fully owned by the State. They are monopolies, although not altogether in this case but very nearly. They are allowed to do virtually what they wish in terms of fares and are now acting as tax collectors for the State. I will explain what I mean in CIE's case. As everyone knows, it receives a large subvention from the State which, thank God, has gone down from approximately €300 million to €265 million. As it cannot make ends meet with a cut subvention, what does it do? It simply applies to the regulator to put up fares and it puts up fares in an outrageous way. Instead of receiving a subvention from the State, it crucifies the punter. That is really the same as paying tax by the backdoor.
The Government ought to examine the regulators not only in the case of CIE but in the case of many semi-State bodies, particularly State monopolies. It ought to examine the regulators - in CIE's case, the National Transport Authority gave the all-clear - to see what they are actually up to because I cannot recall a time, certainly in the case of transport costs, when the public was not such an easy target or soft victim. When people kick up about the behaviour of State monopolies - I am referring to the DAA, CIE, An Post and one or two others - the Government constantly maintains it has nothing to do with them and that it is simply a matter for the regulators, but the regulators simply provide a fig leaf. The National Transport Authority and the regulators for many of these bodies are simply acting in the interests of the Government; they are certainly not acting in the interests of the punter.