New initiatives announced to improve rural transport
New initiatives to improve thetransport options for people living in rural areas were announced today byMinister Shane Ross, Minister of State Brendan Griffin, Anne Graham of theNational Transport Authority, and Deputy Martin Heydon.
Minister Ross said; “People in ruralIreland need to be able to get from A to B; to work, to socialise and to ensurethat their communities thrive and prosper in every way. I am very consciousthat there are gaps in public transport and that is why I tasked the NationalTransport Authority (NTA) to look at how we can best address the needs ofpeople living in rural Ireland. It’s why I increased funding for Local Linkservices from €12.2 million in 2016 to €21 million this year, enabling theintroduction of new regular rural services, improvements to demand responsiveservices, as well as the piloting of new evening and late night services. Ihave listened to the concerns of people up and down the country and I pledgethat I will continue to keep rural public transport at the top of my priorities.”
It was announced today that followingthe piloting of evening and late night Local Link services which began lastSummer, that all performing services will continue, with funding provided tothe end of this year. The pilot was initially to run until December lastbut following a review carried out by the NTA, the pilot was extended to end Q12019 to enable the services to gain traction locally and to be trusted as areliable public transport service. The decision to continue the services comesafter a further review by the NTA. The services thatare continuing comprise 36 Demand Responsive services and 23 extensions toexisting regular public transport services and are being provided nationallyacross all 26 counties.
Two new pilot schemes were alsoannounced today. The first relates to the Local Area Hackney Scheme which wasfirst introduced in December 2013 to enable a part-time hackney service to beprovided in rural areas which are too small to support a full time taxi orhackney operations.
Experience to date of the Local AreaHackney Scheme is that take up is low. The key barriers to entry to the schemehave been identified as the cost of insurance and the level of bureaucracy inthe application process. In response to these barriers the pilot initiativeannounced today will:
(i) simplify the administration involved in the Local Area Hackney applicationprocess; and
(ii) pilot a number of hackney services that will receive grant-aid in areas thathave no hackney or taxi service operating currently.
There will be one pilot project ineach of the fifteen Local Link Offices areas, at a cost of €5,000 per projectfor a twelve month period. This funding is designed to provide a contribution towardsthe insurance costs associated with providing the service, with the value ofthe grant aid to be determined on a case by case basis.
The second initiative will seefunding provided to pilot a Community Transport Service project in each of thefifteen Local Link Office areas, at a cost of €5,000 per project for a twelvemonth period. A Community Transport Service, as defined under the TaxiRegulation Act 2013, is a transport service provided:
- bya persons concerned for the social and welfare needs of one or morecommunities;
- withoutfinancial gain for the person providing the service or another, and
- wherethe payment for a journey or in respect of passengers using the service doesnot exceed the cost of providing the services in respect of the journey.
The grant aid under the pilot isdesigned to provide a contribution towards the overall costs of running theservice.
Minister Griffin who inrecent months initiated a community car scheme in his own local area, welcomedthe two new pilot initiatives and the continuation of the eveningservices. “I know from my own initiative that there is a real need anddemand for such local community based transport offerings. Key to the two newpilot schemes announced today, is that both schemes will be administeredlocally by the existing network of Local Link Offices, while overallmanagement, funding and regulation will rest with the NTA. This will facilitatecommunity led services which link people living in rural areas with localservices and facilities, without causing significant displacement, whileensuring they sit within a regulatory framework”.
Minister Ross acknowledgedthat proposals he had received from Deputy Heydon in his role as chairman ofthe Fine Gael party, were very helpful in getting the pilot evening servicesoff the ground. Deputy Heydon said “the success of the pilot phase isconfirmation of my belief that when an affordable, reliable public transportservice is provided for rural communities, it will be attractive to passengersand they will use it.” He added that he is optimistic for the two newinitiatives which will give further travel choice and options to localcommunities.
Ms Anne Graham, CEO of the NTA, saidat the announcement, that “the NTA recognises that public bus transport cannotmeet the demands for travel for many people in rural Ireland, either because itis not available at all or it is not available at the time needed. We musttherefore look at other ways to address these gaps in service delivery.”The NTA expects that a call for applications forboth pilot schemes will be made by Local Link Offices next month.