Dáil debates

Thursday, 22 September 2022

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Bus Services

9:20 am

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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5. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans in relation to the expansion of the rural transport scheme operated by Local Link; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47160/22]

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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This question relates to the Local Link service in County Donegal. What are the plans to develop that in the future and where will that lead? Key to this is integration with Bus Éireann and other services. We need an integrated rural transport system.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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It is a timely question following on from the previous one. I thank the Deputy for this chance to further discuss the rural transport programme funded by my Department and managed by the NTA, under the Transport for Ireland, TFI, Local Link brand. My Department is strongly committed to improving public transport services in rural areas and to piloting new transport initiatives for people of all ages and abilities living there. Our ambitious vision for rural Ireland, which involves reduced car dependency and a more integrated transport network, is a key motivator for my Department as it prepares the work programme for 2023. The Department and the NTA are supporting this by providing increased funding for enhanced TFI Local Link services for both regular timetabled services and door-to-door demand responsive services. Additionally, we are looking to explore alternative options to boost coverage by non-conventional options such as demand responsive transport, community cars and local hackney areas. Importantly, the ethos of community-led transport will also be maintained. We are looking to expand the highly successful community car scheme. We have also committed to reviewing the extensive learnings coming out of the pilot study in County Leitrim that I mentioned earlier. This involved the positive integration of non-emergency health transport with public transport offerings.

One of the key plans for enhancing the existing transport network across Ireland falls under the previously discussed Connecting Ireland rural mobility plan, which aims to develop an integrated, accessible and sustainable network of public transport offerings across Ireland. Currently, routes identified through the Connecting Ireland consultation process are being prioritised to provide emergency public transport services to areas where the population and transport demands have increased due to the requirement to house Ukrainian refugees in rural locations. Having outlined some of the initiatives under way to expand rural transport offerings across Ireland, I am confident that together we will leave a legacy of a more efficient framework for the provision of rural transport.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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That sounds like a lot of nice fluffy language but in reality, it does not reflect the day-to-day running of the service. Local Link in County Donegal is probably one of the most highly developed services around the country. There are still gaps, however, in terms of how it actually facilitates people living in rural Ireland. Those gaps need to be addressed. For example, a person living in Donegal town who wants to work in Killybegs cannot rely on public transport to do so because there is not an integrated service. That needs to happen. The routes need to facilitate people to get to where they are travelling. We see the number of cars that are travelling from Donegal to Killybegs every morning. Some of those people could be accommodated on buses if the buses were actually responsive to the needs people have. That is what needs to be looked at to ensure it works. We must also have an integrated ticketing system that actually works with Bus Éireann and Local Link so that they all work together rather than what we seem to have, which is disparate systems of transport around the area. That is important.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I absolutely agree with the Deputy. Part of Connecting Ireland must be integration so that all the transport services connect both in ticketing and in timetabling. As I said earlier, we might also have the integration of different services such as health, like we did in County Leitrim where we integrated the health public transport need with the wider public transport need. That is important to recognise. I also agree with the Deputy about the real benefit and strength of Local Link and the strong roots it has going back with community organisations and working with other State organisations. The funding has gone from €12 million in 2016 to €29 million this year. There has, therefore, been recognition of that.

As I said, I am very keen to support further innovation. As part of the process in which we are engaged at the moment, and in which I am sure Deputy Pringle must have been engaged in his own county, we are looking at what routes might be the best to develop. That consultation process is appropriate so people identify the issues. I can well imagine the traffic from Donegal town to Killybegs in the morning. We are being open and flexible in looking at new Connecting Ireland routes to try to identify where there is unmet demand and whether we can change the routes to meet it. There is also a need for us to be innovative to design new demand-responsive transport options. That is one of the options at which I am looking.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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It needs developed quickly, particularly in a county like Donegal where buses are the only form of public transport available. There will not be a railway in the foreseeable future, unfortunately, although we will be pushing for that as well. The bus service can and should respond to the needs of the people. It is a case of putting on the service and giving it time to build so it can meet the needs of communities rather than waiting for the needs to be there and then providing a service. That will not happen and it will not work in that way. What that will do is foster car dependency, which is what we have in County Donegal. One must be car dependent because one cannot rely on anything else. If a person is relying on Bus Éireann to get to work in Killybegs, he or she must leave Donegal town at 7.30 a.m. and will not get back again until 7.30 p.m. or later. That is not practical for people; it needs to be more responsive.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I will say one last thing, speaking from personal experience. This goes back to what we were saying earlier about the roles for different transport companies. John McGinley Coaches and all the private operators in County Donegal also do a really good job. I have had personal experience-----

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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Many of them are being shut down by Bus Éireann.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Yes, but they play a vital role. They often provide really good flexible services where a person is picked up by a smaller minibus when he or she gets off the larger bus. In my experience, there is a key role for the hackney system. I will mention the Roartys in Dunlewey and others who can provide a really good service. Our definition of public transport must include a whole variety of different operators including Local Link but also the private bus companies, minibuses and all those other drivers. There is a lot of that and we should not ignore it. We should try to help to integrate it. It is not one fighting against the other.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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We need a pricing system for that as well.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I agree. I would ask the NTA to look to plan this in a way that ensures it all joins up.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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We will go back to Question No. 2 in the name of Deputy Tóibín.