The Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, recently introduced proposals to transform the national bus licensing regime and to replace what the Department has termed the “outmoded and inadequate regime” that has governed the authorisation of bus routes for over 70 years. The proposals – in the form of the Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009 – are intended to promote and regulate competition in the provision of licensed public bus passenger services throughout the State.
If the Bill is enacted, the responsibility for allocating route licences will move from the Department of Transport to the Dublin Transport Authority, to be renamed the National Transport Authority (the “NTA”). This reform is potentially very significant as it provides for an independent adjudication system for the granting of licences. It is also proposed that the NTA will assume the functions and role of the Commission for Taxi Regulation.
The Bill aims to fulfil the Programme for Government commitment to create a level playing field for all bus operators in the provision of bus services: all operators will be licensed to operate services under the same rules. However, public bus passenger services currently being provided by Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus may continue to operate under the current regime until such time as the NTA grants a licence (which must be within two years of the Bill entering into force).
It is proposed that the NTA will be responsible for the format of applications and the granting of all public bus licences, to which it can attach conditions if appropriate. It is also anticipated that the NTA will have the authority to revoke licences for non-performance of a service. The Bill also provides for the NTA to consult with the Competition Authority, the Minister for Transport and the public generally when drafting guidelines for the issue of such licences. The Bill also makes provision for the NTA to determine the period of validity of licences, which can be up to a maximum of five years. In addition, the NTA must provide applicants with reasons for a refusal to grant a licence, if an application for a new route is unsuccessful, the refusal may be appealed to an appeals officer. If the applicant is dissatisfied with an appeal outcome, it may appeal the decision to the Circuit Court.
The Bill is currently in the Seanad and although the proposed regime may be amended during the legislative process, if passed it will substantially reform the current bus licensing system.