Department does not expect Luas to break even until 2007
Tim O'Brien and Emmet Oliver
The Department of Transport does not expect Dublin's Luas system to break even until 2007 at the earliest.
The department, which last year described the prospect of a subsidy for Luas as a "doomsday" scenario, has made provision for a payment of €3.28 million in 2004 and €2.32 million in 2005. It declines rapidly to just €161,000 in 2006.
The original Luas cost-benefit analysis was predicated on the system not requiring a subsidy from the Exchequer, breaking even on operating costs from year one.
Last year the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA), which developed Luas, revealed the break-even figure was 20 million passengers a year.
However, this week Minister for Transport Martin Cullen told the Oireachtas Select Committee on Transport that current figures "exceeded all expectations" at 300,000 per week.
That figure, subsequently confirmed by the department, equates to just 15.6 million passenger journeys per year, or 4.4 million journeys short of target.
The Minister's spokesman also confirmed the financial "Luas deficit" provision which amounts to €5.761 million over the three years.
Meanwhile the Minister is to set up a new umbrella body to run and manage transport in Dublin, including the Luas. He said there needed to be greater integration between different services, and co-operation between the various transport advisory bodies.
In an interview with The Irish Times, he said a new brand, Dublin Transport, would be created. It should be a "high-powered" organisation like Transport for London.
Transport for London manages London's buses, the underground, the Docklands Light Railway and London trams. It also runs London river services, Victoria coach station and a transport museum.[/b]
Mr Cullen has also indicated that the Government will remain financially committed to Aer Lingus for many years. He said if it was to maintain a 25 per cent shareholding, it would probably have to invest again so its stake was not diluted below 25 per cent.
Commenting on the Luas situation, RPA spokesman Ger Hannon said 15 million passenger journeys were achieved by the first week of June of this year, one month before a full year's operation of the Green (Sandyford) line.
The Red (Tallaght) Line would only have "ramped up" to full service in May and has only been in operation for eight months. Based on this, "the rounded figure [of 15.6 million] is probably a bit on the low side".
He added: "I still reckon we could reach 20 million in a full year of both lines."
Â© The Irish Times