Over €200 million a year is spent across various state bodies on transport services in rural areas between the Rural Transport Programme, School Transport and HSE non-acute transport but with no official co-ordination between them.
The new Government-approved plans will see the integration of all State transport services in rural areas, based initially on up to six pilot areas, with a view to creating a more co-ordinated service nationally.
Minister Kelly will establish a high-level committee to oversee the initiative to be led by the National Transport Authority.
“We have to think more creatively about how we provide transport in rural areas,” he stated, “Transport access is vital and could be delivered in a better manner. The focus here is to eliminate crossover and duplication of services and to create a better service for the public in general. We have seen a recent example in Donegal where 25 per cent was saved on transport costs of the local health service by working with a rural transport group, already financed by the State. We need to see this type of effort on a national basis.”
The National Transport Authority (NTA) has now assumed a national role for integrated local and rural transport. A new high-level committee will be established by the Minister to oversee the pilots and the future integration of services.??The high-level committee will consist of representatives of the NTA, Department of Education, Department of Health, Bus Éireann, HSE, local authorities, rural transport groups, Pobal and the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport.??“The pilots will be designed to identify the optimum way to deliver a strong, co-ordinated service and bring good value for money for the taxpayer,” added Minister Kelly, “We are also ensuring that there will be strong transport expertise as we try to tackle the problem of rural isolation of which access to transport is a major component. This is a major Government priority.”
The move follows a Value For Money (VFM) review of the rural transport programme that highlighted the need for a reduction in administration costs associated with it and the need for more transport expertise to be involved in service provision. The implementation of the report’s recommendations will be overseen by the NTA.
The Rural Transport Programme (RTP) was formally launched in February 2007 and put the former pilot Rural Transport Initiative (2002 to 2006) on a mainstream basis. Thirty-five community transport groups around the country are being funded under the Programme to address social exclusion in their rural areas arising from unmet public transport needs.
“While the Rural Transport Programme does excellent work, it is clear that under the previous Government, the State was not getting bang for it’s buck when it comes to the RTP,” stated the Minister, adding, “The Rural Transport Programme, although funded by my Department, has evolved from a strong local community and voluntary ethos and I am anxious that these core principles remain at the heart of local and rural transport going forward.”