Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Questions (746)

Robert Troy

Question:

746. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will outline the future proposals for the Westmeath rural transport scheme. [9587/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

An overall budget of €9.133 million has been allocated  to the Rural Transport Programme by my Department  for 2013.  I understand that  €129,353 of the 2013 budget has been allocated to Westmeath Rural Community Transport  from January to June, 2013, with a further proposed allocation of €129,353 from July to December.

 Since becoming Minister for Public and Commuter Transport the developments I have initiated have been aimed at ensuring that into the future we have a more complete and cost effective transport service offering in rural areas that better meets the transport needs of all users. To this end national responsibility for local and rural transport services integration, including the Rural Transport Programme (RTP) was assigned to the National Transport Authority (NTA) with effect from 1st April 2012, putting such services in a broader transport context. 

I also established the National Integrated Rural Transport (NIRT) Committee in April 2012, comprising key stakeholders and chaired by the NTA, to oversee and manage a partnership approach to implementing integrated local and rural transport. There is significant  scope for achieving greater levels of transport integration and coordinated delivery across a range of Exchequer funded local and rural transport services such as school and HSE transport services.

I am very aware of the very valuable work done on the ground by the RTP Groups such as Westmeath Rural Transport in ensuring that the transport needs of their local community are being identified and delivered within available resources. However, given  resources are limited and that the Value for Money and Policy Review of the RTP, published last year, recommended organisational restructuring to achieve efficiencies and the establishment of better alignment between the 35 RTP groups and local authorities, it is necessary that the current delivery mechanisms and structures are examined and revised.

Work is underway to determine the optimal structure for the delivery of rural transport from an efficiency and service perspective.  One of the proposals being examined is that the RTPs be "aligned" with local authorities and that a number of Coordination Units be established.  Discussions are taking place with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the County and City Managers Association and the Rural Transport Network in the context of aligning the new structure with the local authority structure.  I would emphasise that no decision has been taken but I am hopeful that I will be in a position to recommend a new structure later this year which will allow for the maximising of spend on services and the reduction of administration costs.

I will be ensuring that any future structure for the rural transport programme will be based on community input, local flexibility and involving the voluntary sector.  Rural Transport by its nature is community-based and this will remain under any new structure. While I can understand and fully appreciate that this creates a level of uncertainty for RTP groups, I am hopeful that the outcome will be a better service delivered more efficiently. I will work with all involved over the coming months to make any transition as smooth as possible.