Report seeks rural transport changes

 

THE GOVERNMENT’S new carbon tax should be used to fund rural transport, including taxi vouchers for the elderly, according to a new Oireachtas report.

According to the report, from the Joint Committee on Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, rural public transport has major implications for employment, access to medical services and social isolation.

Yet according to report author Fine Gael TD Michael Ring, Bus Éireann is cutting services and “has failed the people of rural Ireland”.

He said the Government now needed to set up a new transport agency to provide services for up to 1.4 million people who lived in rural Ireland.

Among the recommendations in the report are the redeployment of school buses outside their normal school-run period; providing special services on pension days for the elderly; and providing vouchers so the elderly could access taxi services in the absence of other forms of public transport.

He also wants to see the free transport scheme extended to all forms of public transport.

The report also recommends that a “quality fleet of vehicles should be provided and maintained” to augment the existing Rural Transport Initiative operated by Government at an annual cost of €11 million.

But Mr Ring said the intention was not to simply replicate the work of Bus Éireann, and he pointed out that much of the existing Rural Transport Initiative services were carried out by community groups on a voluntary basis, with Government grants towards the cost of buses.

“The McCarthy report recommended scrapping the Rural Transport Initiative, but it was retained at a level of about €10 million per year.

“Now we want to see that built upon and we want the carbon tax to fund it,” said Mr Ring.

He said it was the committee’s opinion that an effective integrated rural transport policy must be agreed by Government, beginning with an initial five-year Rural Transport Programme.