Taxi Regulation Bill 2012: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages (Continued)

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Seanad Éireann Debate

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly] This issue has been raised with me by virtually every corner of the political spectrum in the country.

  Chapter 1 provides for the process of application and grant of the exemption by the authority. The criteria for the grant of an exemption are set out in Chapter 1. For example, community transport services are differentiated by their operation on a not-for-profit basis. Many such services are operated under the rural transport programme, which is administered by the National Transport Authority, NTA, under my guidance.

  Chapter 2 provides for the exemption of other non-taxi services from the small public service vehicle, SPSV, regulations, as specified in regulations by the NTA setting out the conditions for the grant of such an exemption. The chapter sets out the conditions under which such exemptions can be made, those being, the vehicle is not being used in the course of carrying on a business and the driver is in receipt of no reward or gain or is not operating the vehicle under a contract of employment for the carriage of the person who owns or is in possession of the vehicle, for example, chauffeur services.

  Chapter 3 provides for the administration of the exemptions, including a process of representation and appeal with regard to decisions of the NTA concerning exemptions for fees, a register of exemptions and for the power of authorised persons to enforce the exemptions so as to ensure that the holder of the exemption is operating services in accordance with the exemption, as granted by the NTA, and its terms and conditions. This proposal has been welcomed by everyone who has contributed to this debate. The issue needed to be addressed, particularly in respect of community car and transport services in rural Ireland.

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett I welcome the Minister of State's remarks on those services. My amendment No. 25 would relax restrictions on the Minister regarding the period of time and the area within which the vehicle may be operated in providing the service. I would leave it to local community groups. I made my two suggestions to the Minister of State. I wish the scheme well. If flexibility is necessary, I will support that measure.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I thank Senator Barrett for his comments. I will not accept the amendments, but I appreciate his remarks on this matter. This is a commonsensical amendment. We must have the capacity to ensure that these services are regulated properly. This issue should have been addressed many years ago. I wanted to do so. Every Member has a great affinity with many of the services that are being offered, but some changes to the regulations are necessary. This measure provides for that.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Group No. 8 is on the preparation and review of the integrated implementation plan regarding the SPSV industry, the subject matter of amendment No. 70.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly This is purely a drafting amendment to remove a reference to section 12 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, which is not relevant to the considerations of the taxi advisory committee under section 59.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Group No. 9 comprises amendments relating to public service contracts and the extension of power of authority to the whole of the State, the subject matters of amendments Nos. 71 and 72 and Seanad Report Stage amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, and 31 to 34, inclusive.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Amendment No. 71 provides for the NTA to grant a public service contract for the provision of public transport services by direct award to transport operators other than State transport companies. This is with a view to the granting of such contracts by way of direct award for the provision of transport services under the rural transport programme. It is necessary and is linked with a conversation that we held previously. A number of operators under the rural transport scheme provide services using their own vehicles rather than on a contracted basis. Amendment No. 71 ensures that there is legal certainly for the basis on which these payments are made. This is necessary to provide a secure legal framework for the existing arrangements under the rural transport programme and does not change the status quo for direct award contracts with the State transport companies.

Specifically, the proposed new Part amends the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 to extend the definition of "public passenger transport service" to include ancillary transport services, those being, passenger transport services of general economic interest provided to the public on a non-discriminatory and continuous basis that are neither rail passenger services nor public bus services, and for "public transport operator" to include a person providing public passenger bus services in accordance with a licence under the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009.

The amendments to sections 48 and 52 of the 2008 Act relate to the direct award of contracts for public transport services to include transport services other than those already provided for by the State bus and rail companies in accordance with EU Regulation (EC) No. 1370/2007.

Amendment No. 72 provides for a new section 44A to be inserted in the 2008 Act. This new section will empower the authority to invest in bus infrastructure and cycling facilities in the State and to engage in concessions, joint ventures or public-private partnerships for this purpose. This is to facilitate new bus routes that may be provided under directly awarded public service contracts, for example, rural transport passenger services, as well as to facilitate other transport provision such as cycling facilities. The section also amends sections 57, 62, 66 and 73 of the 2008 Act to make adjustments that are consequential on the new section 44A in terms of giving new powers to the NTA outside the greater Dublin area.

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett There are serious concerns among economists about this section. There should have been separate legislation for buses. The fact that they appear on page 60 of the Taxi Regulation Bill demeans what we are doing. This is a major issue as far as economists are concerned. The end of page 69 and page 70 refer to the exclusive rights of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, respectively. This indicates anti-competitive behaviour. I gather that Compecon, the group of economists who deal with competition issues, have sent a submission to the NTA within the past week. If we pass this provision, it may negatise the consultation in which the economists and the NTA are engaged.

  This would be a major anti-competitive measure. "Direct award contract" is shorthand for no competitive tendering. The current contracts run out in November 2014. They were introduced in rushed circumstances by the Minister of State's predecessor in a guillotined Bill that former President McAleese was given no time to sign. Deals were done on 1 December on this exclusive basis.

  We are trying to build a competitive economy. There are shoals of economic evidence to the effect that competitive tendering is better than exclusive contracts and that direct award contracts merely reinforce monopolies. These are such major issues that there should have been a separate bus Bill. I may have tried the Minister of State's patience during our discussions on taxis, but how we configure the bus business is too major an issue to try to get through in our last five or six minutes on a taxi Bill. I gather that the NTA would need to advertise in the Official Journal within one month to open this area up to competition, but we are shutting off that possibility until 2016 or even later.

  I am concerned by how this matter has arisen as part of a taxi Bill and by the anti-competitive implications of exclusive rights and direct award contracts. I do not know whether the Competition Authority or the National Competitiveness Council, NCC, examined this proposal. We should not go this way when planning the bus business for the years ahead. Is this to be policy for five years or will there be competitive tendering? I gather that an EY report to the NTA was in favour of competitive tendering, yet the NTA replied that it did not have the staff to operate a competitive tendering system.

  I recall how the Department and Bus Éireann were in court for many days against Mr. Pat Nestor, who wanted to run a bus service between Galway and Dublin.

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