A number of steps are being taken by my Department to address issues faced by those living in rural areas who do not have access to transport. One of which is the rural transport initiative (RTI), which was developed in my Department and is currently operational in a number of counties.
The RTI is being managed by Area Development Management, ADM, on behalf of my Department. To date, eight community transport groups have received funding for the provision of local transport services and a further 17 groups were recently approved for operational funding under the initiative.
The main purpose of the RTI is to promote the development of innovative, community-based, pilot public transport projects in rural areas that would help to contribute to the development of rural public transport policy for the country as a whole. Some €3 million will be spent on the RTI this year and a similar amount is earmarked for 2003.
I understand also that over the last number of years Bus Éireann has introduced some 40 new rural bus services on an experimental basis in co-operation with local rural community development groups. These schemes, I am informed, involve the provision of a bus service one day a week linking villages and townlands with a county town or other large town.
The report of an interdepartmental committee, established in 2001 under the chairmanship of my Department, with the remit of bringing forward options for the development of rural public transport policy is now nearing completion. I look forward to receiving the committee's fresh ideas in this area and I expect to be presented with the findings of the study before the end of the year. This study, together with the experience gained from the RTI, will enable me to formulate appropriate policies for rural transport for the future.