Key Points –
- Investment in public transport does not have to come at the expense of investment in other transport projects such as the Galway City Bypass. With the imminent publication of the Capital Investment a strong statement of support for the Bypass needed in the Plan;
- Study shows Bus Rapid Transit for Galway would cost the same as just one of the three routes being proposed for Dublin;
- Questions on Public Transport in Galway need to be answered including –
- Why, for example, is there is no regular city bus service between Galway city and nearby population centres such as Moycullen, Barna or Claregalway?
- Why were bus shelters built adjacent to Galway city cathedral more than five years ago, only for them to lie unused today?
- Why are there no scheduled bus services using the Quincentenary Bridge in Galway over the Corrib?
Public Transport Bill 2015 – Second Stage Bill
I thank the Acting Chairman and the Minister and I am delighted to be able to speak to the Public Transport Bill 2015. Obviously, transport issues, including public transport, are never far off the agenda in the constituency of Galway West, which incorporates Galway city. Unfortunately, the city and county of Galway have a number of persistent transport issues that must be addressed, some of which are raised in this Bill.
The Public Transport Bill contains provisions to empower the National Transport Authority, NTA, to provide public transport infrastructure such as bus rapid transit. The NTA’s own definition of bus rapid transit describes this as “high quality” and as “high capacity” and as emulating the performance and service of light rail but at one third of the cost. In the context of this Bill, bus rapid transit is only mentioned for three routes in Dublin, which I should point out are routes already served by public transport, namely, the city centre to Swords and the airport, Blanchardstown to UCD and Clongriffin to Tallaght. The estimated cost of each of these options lies between €150 million and €200 million or in total, at least half a billion euro. It is clear the focus is very much on Dublin and the transport needs of the capital. Other cities, such as Galway, have clear transport needs which also must be met.
A comprehensive report on public transport options for Galway was commissioned by the city council in 2010 and examined a range of different options, including a light rail transit, LRT, system as well as bus rapid transit, BRT. That report estimated the cost of a light rail system in Galway at €698 million and, given the size and layout of Galway city, it would most likely involve the demolition of or interference with homes, businesses or property.
The same report showed that for the entire city of Galway, a bus rapid transit system would cost €114 million for the route construction as well as the rolling stock required. This would be joined by enhancements to the existing bus network totalling €89 million. Those figures were provided in the Galway public transport feasibility study, which includes the total cost of a BRT system of €114 million and an LRT system of €698 million with further bus costs of €89 million. Consequently, it is clear that for the cost of one of the routes proposed for Dublin, an entire bus rapid transit system could be introduced for Galway city.
I wish to make that point on this issue because it is important that the needs of the entire city of Galway also be considered.
In my view, it goes back time and again to balanced regional development. The higher the population of Dublin, the greater the scale of the challenges, such as transport, and the higher the public funding required. Ultimately, this reduces the amount of funding available for other projects, including transport, for other regions and promotes a cycle that sees further migration from the west to the east, which I do not believe to be in anyone’s interest.
A targeted investment in transport and infrastructure outside of Dublin would encourage sustainable growth and development and make the challenges facing Dublin more manageable.
Examining bus rapid transit, as this Bill does, is to be welcomed but questions must be asked of other policies in public transport:
Why, for example, is there is no regular city bus service between Galway city and nearby population centres such as Moycullen, Barna or Claregalway?
Why were bus shelters built adjacent to Galway city cathedral more than five years ago, only for them to lie unused today?
Why are there no scheduled bus services using the Quincentenary Bridge in Galway over the Corrib? That bridge was built 30 years ago and would be an ideal route to connect residential areas on the west of Galway city with the employment centres on the east but yet there are no scheduled services from east to west in Galway that do not go through Eyre Square.
Before anyone misinterprets my supportive comments on public transport in Galway as a lessening of my commitment to the Galway city bypass, I do not see the progress of one project occurring at the expense of the other. There should be a strong statement in the forthcoming capital plan with regard to a transport solution, a roadway, a bypass or whatever one wishes to call it, for Galway. As the Minister is aware, this proposal is at the planning stage, that is, the detailed design stage at present, and it is of huge importance. I acknowledge the Minister has engaged in consultation on this matter and that there has been some opposition in Galway. However, my commitment to this project is firm. In respect of road infrastructure, it is the number one project in Ireland in terms of cost-benefit analysis and I believe the majority of people in Galway are supportive of it, as it is greatly needed to improve the traffic congestion in Galway in conjunction with the public transport issues I also have mentioned.
This Bill also amends the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 and will provide greater powers to the NTA. One such change concerns the appeal procedures for vehicle inspection tests for taxis.
These seem sensible and are rooted in public safety. From now on, it will not be possible to use a vehicle as a taxi until such time as it has been brought up to standard.
One area in respect of which the Bill does not propose change, and on which Deputy Tom Fleming commented, is the system of area familiarisation tests for persons applying for a local area hackney licence. I have been contacted by a person from the wilds of Connemara who has undertaken this test seven times, at a cost each time of €90. On each of last three times he took the test he failed on the basis of his not having sufficient knowledge of housing estates in Tuam and Gort. The distance from Dublin to Mullingar is 80 kilometres; from Dublin to Dundalk is 85 kilometres and from Dublin to Wexford is 120 kilometres, whereas the distance from Clifden to Ballinasloe is 135 kilometres. For a person coming from Connemara to be required to know intimately all estates in Ballinasloe, Tuam and Gort to pass an area familiarisation test to obtain a hackney licence is ridiculous. I ask that this be examined. The test needs to be more regional and balanced. There is no need for somebody living in the middle of Connemara or Clifden to be knowledgeable about housing estates in Tuam, Ballinasloe or Gort. I ask that the Minister look into that matter.