Opening Statement to the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts on 2nd May 2024

Opening statement by NTA CEO Anne Graham to the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts on 2nd May 2024

2 May 2024

Cathaoirleach, Committee members, thank you for the invitation to appear before the Committee today to assist you in your examination of the National Transport Authority’s Financial Statements for 2022. As requested by the Committee’s Secretariat we have furnished some information in advance.

To assist in answering your questions I am accompanied by three colleagues from the National Transport Authority – Hugh Creegan, Deputy CEO, Jeremy Ryan, Director of Public Transport Services and Philip L’Estrange, Director of Finance and Corporate Services.

Increase in public transport passenger demand in 2022

2022 was a year of huge significance for the Authority as we guided the public transport system from a mini lockdown in January to levels of passenger demand that hadn’t been seen since pre-Covid by the end of the year. This required the continued focus and flexibility of both the NTA and the transport operating companies whose resilience had been tested during the pandemic. Government objectives that were announced for 2022 such as the 20% reduction on all PSO fares and the introduction of the young adult card which reduced fares for younger people in the 18-24 age group by 50% on PSO and commercial services, were implemented by the NTA during the second quarter of the year. These measures have made a significant contribution in encouraging people back to using public transport services. In fact Ireland was an outlier in Europe in terms of the speed of recovery of its passenger numbers and now well exceeds pre-Covid passenger numbers on our bus and light rail services.

Focus on driver recruitment and improving reliability

However the rapid recovery did lead to some challenges such as the reliability and punctuality on PSO bus services. The Authority acknowledges that this caused disruption and inconvenience to customers in the latter half of 2022. One of the main reasons for the drop in reliability and punctuality was the problems associated with recruiting additional drivers. The knock-on effect of the lack of drivers was service cancellations which in turn effected reliability. It was also a case that due to the recovery in the economy from Covid 19, traffic congestion was causing significant issues, particularly in our urban areas and this affected punctuality. That said, the Authority in consultation with the operators worked extremely hard to resolve the issues and jointly ran a campaign to encourage more people to consider bus driving as a career choice. As the year came to a close, there were signs that the measures were beginning to bear fruit with reliability improving from its low point in autumn 2022. The focus on driver recruitment and the improving reliability continued during 2023 to the extent that the bus operations in Dublin are now at the contracted levels of reliability.

Three major capital investments planned including BusConnects, Metrolink (TII) and the Dart expansion (IE)

Planning for three major capital investments -BusConnects , Metrolink ( TII) and the Dart expansion ( IE) – continued during 2022. Significant progress was made on all three major projects. The DART+ West Railway Order application was submitted to An Bord Pleanála for its consideration in July 2022 with planning continuing on other elements of the DART+ Projects. The Railway Order application for Metrolink was submitted to An Bord Pleanála for its consideration in September 2022 and the Oral Hearing was completed by An Bord Pleanála in March this year. Lastly, in terms of BusConnects Dublin, during 2022, we submitted six core bus corridor applications to An Bord Pleanála for their consideration. The remaining corridors were submitted for planning in 2023 and to date planning permission has been received for four of the corridors. Work is now underway to commence construction on two corridors early in 2025.

In Cork, the first round of public consultation was held in 2022 for the Sustainable Transport Corridors (STCs) which is part of BusConnects Cork. This consultation has continued for a further two rounds and will be finalised shortly.

In terms of key achievements in strategic planning in 2022, we completed and published the Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (LSMATS) and the Waterford Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (WMATS). We also completed the Draft Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy 2022-2042 and submitted same to the Minister for Transport in line with governing legislation which was subsequently approved in January 2023.

Almost €290 million allocated to active travel projects

Our investment in active travel continued apace in 2022 with significantly greater than planned walking and cycling schemes delivered throughout the country with planning design commencing and continuing on many other. In 2022, almost €290 million was allocated to active travel projects throughout the state. This investment continues each year such that 750km of cycling network has been delivered since 2020.

Next Generation AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location) system and Next Generation Ticketing (NGT)

In 2022, procurement commenced on the Next Generation AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location) system and on Next Generation Ticketing (NGT). Both projects have now successfully completed their procurements and are in the implementation phase. The NGAVL project will support better management of the reliability and punctuality of our bus systems as well as improved Real Time Passenger Information. NGT will see the further development of integrated ticketing to an account based system that will support cashless bank card payments.

BusConnects Dublin Network Redesign

Our bus network redesign continued in 2022. Two phases of the BusConnects Dublin network redesign were delivered. The G Spine and route 60 and the N4 and N6 routes commenced operations in May and October respectively. Driver and mechanic shortages have impacted on the pace of the delivery of the BusConnects Dublin network, however a further phase was delivered in two parts in 2023 with another planned for later this year. As can be seen from the briefing material the passenger growth on the new BusConnects services is far higher than the services where no change has been made.

Connecting Ireland Rural Mobility Plan

Our Connecting Ireland Rural Mobility Plan commenced implementation with phase 1 of the plan delivered in 2022 bringing a range of new routes and improvements to public transport users throughout the state. Over 100 new and improved services delivered under Connecting Ireland to date have led to an eight-fold increase in the number of passengers using public transport in rural areas.

Funding and expenditure

It is important to once again acknowledge that the Authority received significant additional Exchequer funding during 2022 in particular to address the increased cost of delivery of Public Service Obligation services and the shortfall in fare revenue.

In terms of our funding and expenditure I wish to say that the Authority has been strongly focussed from the outset on ensuring that we have robust financial and audit controls bearing in mind the scale and range of the Authority’s financial activities.

This concludes my opening remarks and I welcome any questions that members of the committee may have.