Mon, Feb 7, 2022
Read in 9 minutes
Neasa engaged with officials from Transport Infrastructure Ireland in relation to walking and cycling infrastructure, as well as the new Luas Finglas line, when they appeared before the Public Accounts Committee.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I want to raise some questions as a result of a recent freedom of information request from the Dublin Commuter Coalition around the Luas Finglas line. I should start by saying, with no disrespect to our witnesses, but between TII, the National Transport Authority, NTA, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, even I find it hard to keep track of what the plans are. It is very useful when groups like the Dublin Commuter Coalition engage in the way they have on the detail of these plans. My understanding is that TII had originally planned a walking and cycling infrastructure route along much of the new Finglas route but that the NTA have asked that much of the Luas side walking and cycling infrastructure be removed from the plans. Is that a fair assessment and summary of what has happened?
Mr. Peter Walsh: A fair assessment would be that the cycling strategy for the greater Dublin area is being developed by the NTA. The co-ordination of the provision of cycling infrastructure within our project, the Luas extension to Finglas, with that cycling strategy is something that we will do and have done. That has resulted in a change in the amount of cycling and walking provision in the Luas Finglas project. It reflects the completion of the NTA’s cycle and walking strategy for the greater Dublin area and we will comply with that.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: For clarity, what Mr. Walsh is saying is that it was there but there was a decision to set it aside and to rely on the greater Dublin area cycle network strategy.
Mr. Peter Walsh: We will develop all of our projects in compliance with the strategies and policies in place for the area.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: That is fair enough. The greater Dublin area cycle network plan is from 2013. What percentage of that has been built at the moment?
Mr. Peter Walsh: I have no idea.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: That would possibly be relevant to the conversation. In the absence of that NTA direction, would TII have been in favour of building this infrastructure as part of the Luas Finglas project?
Mr. Peter Walsh: We proposed that because we thought it was a good design.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: It makes sense.
Mr. Peter Walsh: We propose a project and put in what we believe to be the appropriate provision. It always has to be subject to conformity with strategies and policies that are in place for that part of the country.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I thank Mr. Walsh for that reply. In fairness, the Chair is pulling me up on getting into policy. I have the maps here, Chairman. This is not necessarily about policy. This is a very direct route and I would describe the 2013 plan as a network or warren of routes. As we are discussing a great deal about female use of public transport and of active travel, a direct well-lit route on a public transport avenue is completely different to a warren of back streets and cycle lanes. I would be very interested to know if any of the organisations involved costed the impact of building all of the infrastructure in one go versus having it built in pieces by various organisations? Has anyone done that work? Has there been a decision where this provision has been taken out of their very direct route. I am wondering, therefore, if there has been a cost-benefit analysis of this choice in doing it in one go along a direct route or doing this network, much of which has not been built.
Mr. Peter Walsh: I should probably defer to the Department of Transport on this—–
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: Please do.
Mr. Peter Walsh: — because we cannot assess other agencies' projects.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: One would think, where we talk about this in respect of roads all of the time, where, if there are two plans on the same route and road, that there would be a significant amount of communication between both organisations. Perhaps the Department could speak on that, please.
Chair: Perhaps we can ask the Department to give an outline of how much of that is in place at the moment. Would that be useful from the Deputy?
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: That would be useful. Perhaps the Department could outline how much of that greater Dublin cycle area network from 2013 has been built in that particular area, which is the Finglas Luas line district. Who in the Department would be able to answer that question, please?
Ms Ethna Brogan: I do not have the details to hand for the Deputy but I can liaise with the National Transport Authority which has responsibility for the development and implementation of the cycle strategy for the greater Dublin area, GDA.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: Where those kinds of decisions are being made, is the Department facilitating communication between these two public bodies so that we are not coming out worse both in terms of taxpayer expenditure on active travel and the Luas, and in terms of the experience and access to active travel.
Ms Ethna Brogan: Yes, absolutely we co-ordinate fairly quickly—
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: That is great. There is co-ordination then. Does that mean then that there has been a cost-benefit analysis of removing cycling and walking from the Luas Finglas project?
Ms Ethna Brogan: No, not that I am aware of.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: That would seem to be a requirement before we make that decision, would it not?
Ms Ethna Brogan: The overall strategy is what will determine the individual projects that fall out of that. The review of the GDA strategy, as the Deputy is aware, is under way. That will determine what future projects will proceed within the overall strategy. That would be the framework for the next six years when it is approved.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: When will that be?
Ms Ethna Brogan: It is at public consultation stage, or has just concluded on it now and the outcome of the public consultation will be considered by the National Transport Authority and will then be sent to the Minister for approval in due course, which I expect will be in the next couple of months.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: If the Luas side walking and cycling elements are being removed from the TII plan, when can we then actually see proper cycling infrastructure that provides the kind of network, the warren as I have described it, of cycle infrastructure on the ground?
Ms Ethna Brogan: On the ground, it will depend, of course, on funding. We have provided allocations for active travel infrastructure for 2022 to all local authorities. The Minister announced those before Christmas. As the Deputy is aware, there is a very significant increase in funding available for the active travel infrastructure nationally. There is more than €100 million for the greater Dublin area and I think €289 million nationally.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I am very aware of the extra funding. The departmental officials may wish to answer this and representatives of TII may wish to row in. If we take the cost-benefit aspect and the money side out of the conversation, when the decisions are made, is there a view on the suitability of the options in the provision of walking and cycling along, in this case, the Luas route in comparison with the greater Dublin area cycle network when it comes to security to guard against gender-based violence, for example? Do we do that work? We do not.
Mr. Peter Walsh: We do a gender lens assessment of our projects.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: That is an important point. Is that done on the projects that are going ahead?
Mr. Peter Walsh: It is done on the projects that we are responsible for and for which we are the sponsoring agency.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: When two organisations and the Department are involved and decisions are being made over which projects will go ahead, is it correct that there is no set of tests for equality testing, diversity testing or gender testing?
Mr. Peter Walsh: There is a very clear hierarchy of decision-making around it. TII is a sponsoring agency and we are at the bottom of it. We bring forward our project and we put within it what we believe to be the features required to meet the objectives of the scheme. The next layer up in the governance is the National Transport Authority, NTA, which will co-ordinate it across all the public transport and active travel projects within the greater Dublin area. The next layer up is the Department.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: This may be beyond TII’s scope, but maybe the departmental officials can tell me. Is there a scoring document somewhere whereby the NTA took TII’s plan and did that work? If so, can we access that and see it?
Mr. Peter Walsh: I cannot answer.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: Can someone from the Department answer?
Ms Ethna Brogan: There is a draft document out for consultation from the National Transport Authority as I understand it at the moment - a draft cycle strategy for the greater Dublin area.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I am not asking about the greater Dublin area. I am asking about the decision to remove walking and cycling facilities from the Luas Finglas project as opposed to doing the greater Dublin area. One is much better than the other and I want to understand why we are not getting the good version.
Ms Ethna Brogan: We have to consult the NTA to understand the decision-making process. It has overarching—
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: Just to be clear, I want to get the answer from the Department.
Ms Ethna Brogan: —responsibility for the greater Dublin area strategy.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: Sorry, I did not mean to talk over Ms Brogan. Is there a document that has a score not based on cost but based on safety, women’s access and safety for children? Does that exist in the NTA?
Ms Ethna Brogan: I do not know the answer to that. I will have to ask the NTA and come back to the Deputy.
Chair: I suggest Ms Brogan comes back on that specific question to the Deputy.