Most people support Transport 21. The Government’s renewed commitment not to cut capital expenditure is commendable and so I recently raised the issue of transport infrastructure in the Senate. In the fragile economic period we are approaching, it is important that such expenditure is not cut, particularly on infrastructure because of its importance to the economy.The infrastructural problems that were never resolved during the Celtic tiger era. All forms of transport were inadequate because nobody foresaw the extraordinary boom in land, air and sea traffic. The Governments plans are predominantly aspirational but we should encourage the Government to proceed full steam ahead with its plans and not carp too much about them.
When I consider the problems in Dublin, I see the M50 in mind’s eye. It is symbolic of what happened to Dublin traffic and infrastructure in recent times. We witnessed an appalling vista. There was no foresight regarding the transport problems in the city and commuters and trade were allowed to be obstructed. The Government was paralysed for years and did nothing about it and it was happy to see a private monopoly raking in money at the expense not only of individuals but also the economy. I welcome the proposed introduction of barrier free tolling in August. I also welcome the Government having the bottle to spend the money to do so because the benefits may not be immediate, tangible or measurable but the time saved by individuals, who are more important than anything, and industry and trade will be incalculable. That will be an infrastructural benefit.
The object of the exercise is to encourage people out of their cars and to avail of public transport. They should not be forced to do this and they should make a free choice because they like public transport and it is better than travelling in their cars and it is preferable, more efficient, cleaner and so on. I do not agree with the Green Party’s proposal to tax people out of their cars. I cannot understand why the Government or the Minister do not try a more radical solution. The Labour Party went one quarter of the way there two years ago. Why on earth will the Government not make public transport free for three, four or five years? The Minister State should announce public transport is free, as the cost to the Exchequer would not be significant. I have done calculations on this but I forgot to bring them to the Chamber. However, if public transport were free, we could examine the movement of people from private cars to public transport. I predict it would be dramatic, particularly at this time as people are beginning to feel the pinch and are looking to save money. This is a discretionary expenditure, which they could choose. Carbon emissions would be reduced and the Government would not face the detailed little problems such as integrated ticketing, which it is unable to resolve, because tickets would not be required and fewer cars would be on the road. I fail to see why the Minister of State would not consider that as an alternative to the Green Party proposal for a congestion charge.
My proposals would incentivise people, not punish them. That is a radical, left wing proposal. It is too far to the left for the Labour Party but it is not too far for me.
I do not want to make trouble for the Government. This proposal should be considered and the Minister should think of this as a radical alternative. A significant number of cars would be removed from the road. He could go further and incentivise drivers to carry three or four people in their cars and not travel alone rather than penalising them. That would also remove cars from the road if the Government is serious. Public transport is not only about building more roads and making the system more efficient but it is also about incentivising people to make that choice. The Minister of State should give consideration to this. I am interested in his views. I apologise for not having the figure for the cost to the Exchequer, which I obtained from CIE. The Luas, buses, the DART and the metro should all be free. The last time this happened was in communist Russia. That is not a good reason for failing to do this if it works and takes cars off the road.