Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Rural Transport Scheme
-----including his own town, extremely well. I also visited the group a year or more ago.
We are stuck in a structure where there is a value-for-money report of which we need to meet certain requirements. There is a defined amount of funding. There is a defined requirement that we must meet given the financial circumstances.
However, I am a committed supporter of rural transport groups and the voluntary nature of what they do. I do not know whether there has ever been a Minister who has visited as many of them. I probably have met them all in some way, whether in their own areas or at the various different conferences which I have always tried to attend.
I believe we must get to a stage where there is greater joined-up thinking between rural transport, non-acute HSE transport, school transport and voluntary transport. This, in tandem with the rural hackney licence, which is a proposal that has come out of my Department, would help deal with the transport service issues in isolated rural areas and all of their social and economic consequences. We are making much progress in that regard. For instance, we are close to issuing tenders on some school routes as they go to and from villages and towns all over the country serving schools and the buses come back, and head out on the reverse routes, empty. That is an issue that should have been addressed many years ago and it is being addressed. For many years, the HSE has been spending quite a quantity of funding on non-acute transport, particularly taxis, and we have a working groups looking at that issue.
All of this is aligned with work with local authorities to ensure that there is consistency in approach. For example, there is no point in 15-seat minibuses trying to serve areas where there is not joined-up thinking with the local authorities as regards making provision for those buses to be able to go in those areas. There are also many other areas with which the local authorities can help.
Lining up all of those areas together, not alone can we negate the fact that due to the economic circumstances there is not as much funding available, but we can free up and create more services for rural Ireland. We can also align them with national transport services. For instance, the national journey planner, which is being launched, includes all of the RTP services so that if persons are using national services with Bus Éireann or private bus companies, they can also connect up with RTP services. All of this helps to enhance the services in rural Ireland.
I can assure Senator Daly that he will not get somebody who is dug into this as much as I am. I am hopeful that in the future we will be able to develop more comprehensive services as a result of the approach that I am trying to bring about.