With little financial room to manoeuvre Varadkar looks to CIÉ as savings vehicle
Interview:Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has set it as one of his objectives for next year that the CIÉ group will “deliver financially” in 2013 and will not require another bailout from the Government. The group was to receive special assistance of €36 million this year, but this was later withdrawn.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Irish Times, Varadkar also said that €400 million for roads had been cut from his department’s capital budget for 2013 “and nobody noticed”. As a result, investment in public transport is likely to outpace the funding available for roads over the next two years.
Asked about the latest census figures showing that 69 per cent of commuters throughout the State travel to work by car, he blamed this on “policies pursued over a long period of time”, including “bad planning” that led to longer commutes. Passenger numbers on public transport had “fallen off a hell of a lot”.
Varadkar said he made a point of taking the train from his home near Clonsilla to Dublin city centre about once a week “just to be seen on it”. However, apart from the cross-city Luas link, he conceded that there would be very little money available to invest significantly in public transport “this side of 2016”.
His aim is to improve Dublin Bus services in a “low-cost way” by introducing the Leap card and free wifi on buses as well as keeping the bus fleet “fresh”, with no vehicles more than 12 or 13 years old, because “we don’t want to go back to the 1980s when buses were breaking down all the time”.
Asked about bus rapid transit, he said preliminary designs had been done for a few routes, including Blanchardstown to UCD and Swords to the city centre via the Dublin Port Tunnel, but there was no money available. There might also have been “very big rows” over parking and taxi ranks on the routes.
The Minister said it was “a shame really” that there were so few public transport projects ready to go for the €2 billion stimulus package announced last summer, which is why it was so heavily tilted towards roads; these were also more amenable to funding by public-private partnership (PPP) projects.
Referring to the cross-city Luas between St Stephen’s Green and Broombridge, the first meeting of a ministerial forum overseeing the €375 million project was held last Thursday and went “very well”. A new traffic plan to facilitate it, including making Kildare Street two-way, would be implemented next year.