Tue, Feb 1, 2022
Read in 9 minutes
Neasa engaged with officials from the National Transport Authority as they appeared before the Public Accounts Committee to examine their 2020 financial statements and other transport related matters.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I want to return to the issue of BusConnects, considering we are talking about getting people in and out of Dublin with the least congestion possible. We are rightly investing in BusConnects and I am very hopeful about it as a project. However, I am worried about the return on BusConnects as an investment in terms of existing bus lanes, which are certainly a major issue in my constituency, if we are unable to enforce the proper functioning of those bus lanes, especially the many new bus gates. The design of BusConnects is quite innovative and it will take a bit of time for road users to get used to it.
A person who lives in a locality with a lot of bus lanes in it will be able to identify all of the pinch-points off the top of their head. Next week, the penalty for parking in a bus lane will increase from €40 to €80. This is to be commended but unless it is enforced, it will not be very effective. I would be interested to hear what the NTA is doing about camera-based bus lane enforcement. I have raised this issue in the Dáil. I appreciate that there are various parties involved, including the Garda, local authorities and the Departments of Transport and Justice. It seems that it crosses many Departments and that no one is necessarily taking the bull by the horns. Would the witnesses like to make a comment on the NTA’s plans or their own expectations of bus lane enforcement in the context of camera-based enforcement? Have they done reviews of this project? Do they have any sense of the cost of such a project? I believe the NTA should be driving it. I know the witnesses cannot comment on policy matters because they are for the Department, but I would like their thoughts on camera-based enforcement.
Mr. Hugh Creegan: We agree camera-based enforcement will be essential to make sure the benefits of the BusConnects infrastructure and the faster service do not get eroded. The Deputy is right that it is a policy matter. In fairness, the Department of Transport is examining this. We are confident that before the new infrastructure starts to get rolled out there will be delivery of additional camera-based enforcement. What it will be is to be worked out but I am pretty sure there will be additional camera-based enforcement in place to support BusConnects in operation.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: At present, it resides in the Department. The NTA is not necessarily organising it. There is no work ongoing in the NTA. Is this correct?
Mr. Hugh Creegan: It is correct to say that there is no task force set up to pursue it. We just need to flesh out a plan with those the Deputy mentioned, including the Department, the Garda and others. That plan has to move on to implementation.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: Is it fair to say the NTA has the expert—–
Committee Chair: Departmental officials are present if the Deputy wants to address the question to them.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I might bring in the departmental officials. Before I move away from the NTA, however, I want to ask whether it fair to say that it has the expertise in-house if responsibility were to be placed in its hands?
Mr. Hugh Creegan: It is fair to say that we would have enough expertise but so do other organisations. I do not want to say we are the sole body. There are also other bodies out there with a similar amount of expertise.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I will turn to the Department of Transport on this issue. There are often concerns about privacy with regard to camera enforcement. It works very well in other countries. Is there current and active work on this?
Ms Ethna Brogan: I thank the Deputy. I can take this point. There are two actions outlined specifically on developing camera-based enforcement in the new road safety strategy that was launched recently. We are getting together with the relevant agencies, as our NTA colleagues explained. There are a number of agencies involved. Those privacy concerns the Deputy mentioned will also have to be addressed. It is a specific action that we will be bringing forward under the new road safety strategy. That is as far as I can comment at present. It is something on which we will be actively engaged.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I thank Ms Brogan. As somebody who lives in the constituency of Dublin Central, I know that it will be fundamental to the working of BusConnects. On a somewhat related issue, and this is probably more for the NTA, I want to ask about investment in red light cameras. The small programme to date has focused on protecting the Luas. Are there plans to expand this to protect pedestrians or people with disabilities? There is rampant running of red lights in Dublin. Are there plans for red light enforcement, particularly cameras?
Mr. Hugh Creegan: I know the Deputy is aware of the one that was in Blackhall Place.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: It was a very small pilot that we had been waiting on for a very long time.
Mr. Hugh Creegan: Because a lot of technology needs to be developed we need to get the overall plan developed. It is not clear to us. If we just rolled out two or three other red light camera locations we might then find a bigger camera programme is to be put in place whereby we would start afresh. The wiser thing to do is to flesh out the overall direction of camera-based enforcement, inclusive of red light running, and then move forward to implement it in a much more coherent way.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: It would have a huge impact, particularly in urban areas, on the feeling of safety that people with disabilities in particular have when crossing the road. I only have four minutes and I do not want it all taken up with this question. On a possibly related matter, will the witnesses quickly outline the oversight of local authorities on the investment in active travel? I am particularly concerned about the implementation of the design manual for urban roads and streets, DMURS. Where there is investment is a review done on compliance with this document?
Mr. Hugh Creegan: Yes. I think I mentioned in an earlier conversation that we have a methodology to oversee these projects. This methodology requires us to sign off on various issues at various points. One of the points to sign off is that the design is of the quality we need it to be. It is fair to say some projects have slipped through the net in bygone years. This was due to local authorities and the NTA being vastly under-resourced. Both of these issues have been addressed. I will very briefly take a generic project. The design is done by the local authority in consultation with us. We get the design in and conduct a simple or detailed review depending on how big the scheme is. Only then does the local authority move ahead to construction.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: Is that review undertaken in direct reference to DMURS?
Mr. Hugh Creegan: It covers DMURS, the national cycle manual and some traffic science publications. It is not that the books are out on the table side by side but it is looked at from the sense of all of these things. It is definitely inclusive of DMURS.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I know DMURS can be seen sometimes as a narrative document and as being open to interpretation, but off the top of my head I can point to a number of projects that certainly do not comply with DMURS that have been built recently.
Mr. Hugh Creegan: I did say some things did slip through our net.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: The national cycle manual was mentioned. An update is urgently needed in order to ensure local authorities follow best international practice. The current national cycle manual is out of date. I would say it is probably not fit for purpose at this stage considering the amount of resources that exist to make good cycling facilities. When will we get the new updated version?
Mr. Hugh Creegan: It is being worked on. Next month we will have a draft that we will bring to certain parties to get it reviewed before it is finalised. I would say it will be final in about three months.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: In March 2021, at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, it was indicated that it would take four to five months. We are a little bit out of date now.
Mr. Hugh Creegan: We absolutely are. The work is being going on but it has not got to the standard we want it to be at. It has taken a bit more time. We do not want to go out with a document that does not get to the standard we need it to be.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: Just to be clear, when Mr. Creegan states that the NTA will present it to certain parties I presume it will be presented to the Department and certain stakeholders.
Mr. Hugh Creegan: Yes, including disability groups and cycling groups. We will have some kind of consultation with some key stakeholders to make sure they have seen the manual in advance and identify any issue they may have with it before we finalise it.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: A document such as this does not go to public consultation, it just goes to the stakeholders.
Mr. Hugh Creegan: Not normally. It is possible we might do so but it is not normal for us to do it.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: What is the status of these documents? Are they considered statutory documents?
Mr. Hugh Creegan: They are guidelines. They do not have the statutory weight of a standard but they have the funding associated with the project, which comes from us generally. It is a core requirement that the design must comply with the standard. The guideline has the same weight as if it were a standard.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I am watching my time ticking down. Can I just be clear when it comes to road engineering that traffic documents, for example, on the width of a road are statutory.
Mr. Hugh Creegan: I am not sure I would use the word statutory.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: They are binding.
Mr. Hugh Creegan: Okay, they are binding. I would regard—–
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: Is it fair to say that road traffic engineers look at standards for roadways that are binding and standards for cycling and walking that are not quite as binding?
Mr. Hugh Creegan: The reason for this is that there are more things to deal with in an urban area. Generally, a road in a greenfield site is quite easy to deal with and we can be very specific. In an urban area with shops, trees and everything else, if we write down absolutely explicitly thou shalt not go below 1 m, we might then find it is 1 mm less than this. We need flexibility in the document. This is why there is a little more flexibility.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: There are unintended consequences to this.
Mr. Hugh Creegan: There sometimes are.