NTA to publish research Ryan referred to on free public transport in “the next few days”

— Ryan said: “Passenger demand is much more sensitive to levels of service provision than it is to pricing”

The National Transport Authority has confirmed that it is to publish research on free public transport, which was apparently relied on by Minister Eamon Ryan, in the next few days.

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The Irish Examiner today had an article with the headline: “Eamon Ryan: Free public transport would ‘increase level of unnecessary trips'” — the comments were from a written parliamentary answer published last Thursday, and not related directly to calls since the weekend for free public transport rather than restrictions on motorists.

The parliamentary question by Deputy Bríd Smith (People Before Profit-Solidarity) asked the Minister for Transport: “If the Government intends to continue to implement reduced fares on public transport across the State; if any consideration has been given to extending that reduction or moving to providing fare-free public transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”

The written reply in the name of Minister Ryan said: “As you know Deputy, a number of fare initiatives were introduced in 2022. This is in line with this Government’s responsibility to encourage modal shift and to benefit public transport passengers. These initiatives, such as the 20% average fare reduction on PSO services and the Young Adult Card on PSO and participating commercial services, will continue until the end of 2023.”

“Enhancing and expanding our public transport services provision across the country is a firm commitment of this Government. To support this objective, in Budget 2023, I secured €563m of funding for PSO and Local Link services provided by State operators and under contract by the NTA this year,” he said.

“As the Deputy will be aware, the PSO programme represents a significant expenditure of taxpayers’ money, and funding has increased in recent years to cater for additional services and growing capacity. The total cost of providing the existing level of PSO services this year is estimated to be in the order of €1.2bn. Research has shown that, to fund a fully free public transport system, without accounting for the likely increased level of passenger demand, an additional €540m in Exchequer funding would be required at a minimum.”

Minister Ryan added: “Further, that same research tells us that any increase in public transport demand due to free fares would largely be achieved by reductions in active travel and an increased level of unnecessary trips. Ultimately then, free fares would not substantially boost the sustainability of the transport system, primarily because passenger demand is much more sensitive to levels of service provision than it is to pricing. Budget 2023 is therefore focussed on the existing fare initiatives and alternative policies of a similar cost to improve service provision, to deliver maximum benefit for all passengers.”

This afternoon, a spokesperson for the Department of Transport said: “The National Transport Authority (NTA) has the statutory responsibility for the regulation of fares in relation to public passenger transport services and also has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public transport services by way of public transport services contracts in respect of services that are socially necessary but commercially unviable.”

The spokesperson added: “The funding of those services comprises both the fares paid by passengers and the subvention payments from the Exchequer. The main purpose of the subvention payment is to meet the gap between income from fares and the cost of operating services. As such the NTA would be best placed to respond to this query.”

Before the publication of this article, the Department did not reply if it had a copy, link or even reference for this research which was mentioned in the PQ reply.

A spokesperson for the NTA said: “We’ll be publishing it on our website in the next few days.”

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