Speech to the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland

15th November, 2014

I am delighted to be here this evening for my first attendance at this important bi-annual event. To put the event and evening into context the CTTC membership currently has a combined fleet in excess of 1,000 vehicles and employs in the region of 1,800 people.


CTTC members are vital to the economy as they generate significant employment and revenues and help to sustain small SME’s in rural locations throughout Ireland.


I would also like to acknowledge that CTTC recently welcomed the PAMBO representative organisation (representing small and medium operators) into its ranks and I have no doubt that having one organisation which is representative of the sector can only be beneficial to all its members.


Contribution of private operators to improvements in transport

Private bus companies like yours have given choice, value and improved service to public transport users in this country. Services like Aircoach, and the array of inter-city routes that now operate, have given people an affordable and comfortable transport option to visit their families, do business and travel around the country.


I have no doubt that, just as in other areas of the economy, the arrival of this private sector competition also encouraged public transport companies to up their game – the winner in all this is the travelling public.


You play a huge role in tourism; 86% of coach tourists stay in hotels across Ireland. There were 300,000 overseas coach tourists to Ireland in 2010 and these tourists contributed an estimated €180 million to the Irish economy.


For the record, my internet research suggests you also have the support of Ireland’s numerous bus enthusiasts. A quick Google search suggests at least six such groups exist in Ireland and if I ever need to visualise what the number 341 from Newry Bus Station looks like, I now know where to look.


Future transport needs

My Department’s priorities for public transport are threefold;

  • The provision of a well-functioning, integrated public transport system, which enhances competitiveness, sustains economic progress, promotes balanced regional development and contributes to social cohesion;
  • The provision of a defined standard of public transport, at reasonable cost to the customer and the taxpayer;
  • To ensure the timely and cost effective delivery of the Public Transport investment programme in line with the previously stated policy.


Private bus and coach companies have a role in much of this.


As our economy improves, the problem of congestion once again becomes one we must grapple with.


One of the by-products of the recovery is more cars on the roads, busier busses and, unfortunately for many people, longer commute times. This increased congestion makes life difficult for commuters but also poses a threat to our economy.


Consider the fact that by 2023, it is estimated that there will be an additional 50,000 people commuting into Dublin city every day. If all of these were to travel by private car, it would mean 40,000 extra car journeys and we would need to build 40 new multi-story car parks in the centre of Dublin to deal with additional capacity.

This is neither possible nor desirable.


That is why I am taking action in the short-to-medium term to reduce congestion and increase public transport capacity.


For example, the Phoenix Park Tunnel, due to open in 2016, will see an increase in rail services into Dublin city centre from the commuter belt. In addition, the LUAS cross city will allow for an extra 10 million passenger journeys a year when it opens in 2017.


As you are all very much aware, investment in our road network is vital for the economy and balanced regional development. In the recent Budget, I was pleased to be able to say that a total of €598 million has been allocated for the maintenance and improvement of our national, regional and local roads, which is broadly unchanged compared to last year.


This year’s allocation will allow for projects such as the N7 / N11 Arklow to Rathnew and Newlands Cross PPP project to be completed; works on the N17/18 from Gort to Tuam to be commenced and new projects such as the provision of a new city centre footbridge in Limerick to be initiated.


These measures will make a real difference. However, our country must also implement long term measures to deal with anticipated demand which, if not addressed, will impact on the quality of life of too many. This is also necessary to how Ireland will respond to climate change and carbon emission reduction targets.


Capital investment in transport peaked in 2008 at €3.5 billion – 1.9% of GDP-  falling to €855 million, or 0.5% of GDP in 2013.  Restoring transport investment to our historic long term average would be equivalent to a spend of approximately €1.6 billion. This gap will take time to address, but address it we must.


We must take steps to ensure that we deal with a looming congestion crisis and invest in our country’s transport infrastructure. But I firmly believe this investment must take place in a competitive context. Public transport must be run on a sustainable basis that continues to recognise the long term needs the tax payer.


Market opening

For that reason, I am committed to putting out 10% of bus transport routes for competitive tender; a process that will bear fruit in 2016. This is to deliver more choice for the bus customer at the same cost to the tax payer.


The changes proposed by the National Transport Authority are expected to result in a greater role for private operators and I expect that CTTC members will be able and willing to step-up to the mark in relation to tendering of such services.


As you will be aware, the NTA has decided to open up 10% of the current contracts with Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann in 2016 and to provide the removed services through separate contracts following various tender competitions.


This is not privatisation, as it has been described over the last number of days. It is a tendering process. All public transport companies, be they private or State owned, will have the right to bid. And may the best company win.


In the case of Dublin Bus services, the routes that will be opened to tender are the orbital routes and some local routes around the city, e.g. routes 17 from Rialto to Blackrock, 33b Swords to Portrane and 111 Dun Laoghaire to Loughlinstown.


For Bus Éireann services, the routes for tender will be the city services in Waterford and certain commuter routes into Dublin along the N4 and N7 corridors, e.g. routes 120 from Tullamore and 124 from Portlaoise.


As at present, the fares, timetables and service standards will be set by the NTA. The tendering of these services will therefore not lead to a downgrading of services to bus users.  The purpose of the tendering is to secure a better service for bus users for the same cost.


Tendering will give the opportunity to test market pricing and offer possibilities to improve efficiency and customer service and I would describe the overall level of tendering as being modest.


The NTA expects that the procurement process for the routes to be tendered will begin in December 2014 leading to the award of the contract in March 2016 with the successful operator commencing services in late 2016.


As I have repeatedly stated over the last couple of days, this is being done in expectation of a larger bus market as economic growth leads to more passengers.



General political environment

While it is my job, and yours, to get things moving, others in the Dáil seem intent on slowing things down.


The behaviour of Sinn Fein in the chamber on Thursday must have seemed bizarre to many of you. It was bizarre for me too, though not entirely unexpected. Sinn Fein is new to democracy- and it shows.


These people aspire to govern our country. Imagine if they got there. Paralysis in the Dáil is serious, but paralysis in Government is terminal.


Those of us currently in power clearly have a job to do to convince people that we are doing the right thing – on water, in particular- but I am confident we will do that.


What I am not at all confident of is the ability of the Opposition to do the job, should they ever get the chance.



Review of the Licensing Regime for Large Public Service Vehicles

I am aware of a specific issue of interest to you all. The CTTC, in highlighting the concerns of its members in relation to the operation of the licensing regime for large public service vehicles (LPSVs), made a persuasive case for a review of the current system.


Examination by the Department of the issues raised by the CTTC and consultations with the key regulatory stakeholders have confirmed that there is a clear case for reducing duplication between An Garda Síochána (AGS) LPSV vehicle checks and the Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness Test (CVRT) process and thus reduce costs both for the industry and for the State.


There are, however, elements of the LPSV inspection regime that are not covered by the CVRT, relating to standards of construction and suitability for use as a LPSV and, as such, a simple repeal of the LPSV licensing system in its entirety is not considered appropriate.


Proposals to replace the current system are under consideration by my Department in consultation with key regulatory bodies.  A new, more streamlined and efficient system of inspection for LPSVs will require the drafting of primary and secondary legislation, as well as the development and putting in place of the necessary procedures and processes to underpin it. The CTTC will of course be consulted on the development of any new system.


Free Travel Pass Scheme

Another specific important issue is the Free Travel Pass Scheme. Given the increasing number of recipients and the funding pressures, an Inter-Departmental Working Group was established in 2012 to carry out a review of the operation of the current Free Travel Pass Scheme.


The purpose of this review was to examine and report on the current operation and future development of the Free Travel Pass Scheme.  The Group, chaired by the Department of Social Protection, also includes representatives from my Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the National Transport Authority (NTA).

The work of the Group has just been concluded and a copy has been submitted to both the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, and to me in the last few days. Both the Tánaiste and I will carefully examine the recommendations in consultation before reaching any conclusions on the future operation of the scheme. The intention is to publish this report shortly thereafter.


All this being said, I want to make it clear that I am committed to the provision of public transport options to older people and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. I want to work with companies like yours to ensure this can happen.



These are all important issues – transport and the need to tackle congestion and bottlenecks are vital to our economic future. But I am confident we will address these issues together.


Thank you for the opportunity to address you.