I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, for coming into the Chamber to discuss this issue.
In December 2013 the then Minister of State with responsibility for public transport, Deputy Alan Kelly, a representative of the predominantly rural constituency of Tipperary North, introduced an innovative and far-sighted scheme to allow rural communities with a dearth of public transport services to secure new hackney licences. Individuals in such areas who might be willing to provide a taxi service could be offered a hackney licence at a reasonable cost through a reasonably straightforward licensing process. Following this announcement, the then Minister of State devolved responsibility for the administration of the scheme to the National Transport Authority, NTA.
It has been my experience in the past year that the good and positive intent of the scheme has somehow been lost in the devolution process. The NTA seems to have erected many obstacles in the way of communities and individuals within them in securing the new rural hackney licences. An important element of the decision-making process for the licences was for the NTA and the applicant to seek the expert opinion of the local authority on whether a rural area was adequately serviced by public transport. So far, I have worked with three individuals in east Galway to secure rural hackney licences for three communities which are badly served by public transport. All three have failed and been told by the NTA that not now or at any point in the future will they be allowed to secure a rural hackney licence because, in the opinion of the authority, their areas are already adequately served by public transport or other taxi or hackney services.
If one puts in place a process to seek the expert opinion of a local authority and then ignores it, what is the NTA’s intention? Does it intend to fully support the provision of rural hackney licences? Does it intend to keep to the spirit of the scheme when first introduced by the then Minister of State? My experience to date is that this is not the case and that the NTA is not at all supportive of communities or individuals who wish to seek to establish new rural hackney services.
Will the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, and his colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, make it clear to the NTA that it is not administering the scheme in the way originally intended? Many communities across rural east Galway, as well as in other rural areas, are badly in need of such services, but they are not being allowed to avail of them.