New initiatives announced to improve rural transport
New initiatives to improve the transport options for people living in rural areas were announced today by Minister Shane Ross, Minister of State Brendan Griffin, Anne Graham of the National Transport Authority, and Deputy Martin Heydon.
Minister Ross said; “People in rural Ireland need to be able to get from A to B; to work, to socialise and to ensure that their communities thrive and prosper in every way. I am very conscious that there are gaps in public transport and that is why I tasked the National Transport Authority (NTA) to look at how we can best address the needs of people living in rural Ireland. It’s why I increased funding for Local Link services from €12.2 million in 2016 to €21 million this year, enabling the introduction of new regular rural services, improvements to demand responsive services, as well as the piloting of new evening and late night services. I have listened to the concerns of people up and down the country and I pledge that I will continue to keep rural public transport at the top of my priorities.”
It was announced today that following the piloting of evening and late night Local Link services which began last Summer, that all performing services will continue, with funding provided to the end of this year. The pilot was initially to run until December last but following a review carried out by the NTA, the pilot was extended to end Q1 2019 to enable the services to gain traction locally and to be trusted as a reliable public transport service. The decision to continue the services comes after a further review by the NTA. The services that are continuing comprise 36 Demand Responsive services and 23 extensions to existing regular public transport services and are being provided nationally across all 26 counties.
Two new pilot schemes were also announced today. The first relates to the Local Area Hackney Scheme which was first introduced in December 2013 to enable a part-time hackney service to be provided in rural areas which are too small to support a full time taxi or hackney operations.
Experience to date of the Local Area Hackney Scheme is that take up is low. The key barriers to entry to the scheme have been identified as the cost of insurance and the level of bureaucracy in the application process. In response to these barriers the pilot initiative announced today will:
(i) simplify the administration involved in the Local Area Hackney application process; and
(ii) pilot a number of hackney services that will receive grant-aid in areas that have no hackney or taxi service operating currently.
There will be one pilot project in each of the fifteen Local Link Offices areas, at a cost of €5,000 per project for a twelve month period. This funding is designed to provide a contribution towards the insurance costs associated with providing the service, with the value of the grant aid to be determined on a case by case basis.
The second initiative will see funding provided to pilot a Community Transport Service project in each of the fifteen Local Link Office areas, at a cost of €5,000 per project for a twelve month period. A Community Transport Service, as defined under the Taxi Regulation Act 2013, is a transport service provided:
- by a persons concerned for the social and welfare needs of one or more communities;
- without financial gain for the person providing the service or another, and
- where the payment for a journey or in respect of passengers using the service does not exceed the cost of providing the services in respect of the journey.
The grant aid under the pilot is designed to provide a contribution towards the overall costs of running the service.
Minister Griffin who in recent months initiated a community car scheme in his own local area, welcomed the two new pilot initiatives and the continuation of the evening services. “I know from my own initiative that there is a real need and demand for such local community based transport offerings. Key to the two new pilot schemes announced today, is that both schemes will be administered locally by the existing network of Local Link Offices, while overall management, funding and regulation will rest with the NTA. This will facilitate community led services which link people living in rural areas with local services and facilities, without causing significant displacement, while ensuring they sit within a regulatory framework”.
Minister Ross acknowledged that proposals he had received from Deputy Heydon in his role as chairman of the Fine Gael party, were very helpful in getting the pilot evening services off the ground. Deputy Heydon said “the success of the pilot phase is confirmation of my belief that when an affordable, reliable public transport service is provided for rural communities, it will be attractive to passengers and they will use it.” He added that he is optimistic for the two new initiatives which will give further travel choice and options to local communities.
Ms Anne Graham, CEO of the NTA, said at the announcement, that “the NTA recognises that public bus transport cannot meet the demands for travel for many people in rural Ireland, either because it is not available at all or it is not available at the time needed. We must therefore look at other ways to address these gaps in service delivery.” The NTA expects that a call for applications for both pilot schemes will be made by Local Link Offices next month.