I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 19 together.
Following a Government decision in January I announced plans on 28 February to achieve greater levels of transport integration and coordinated delivery across a range of Exchequer funded local and rural transport services incorporating the RTP, HSE non-acute transport, school transport and voluntary transport services. This followed a value for money review into the rural transport sector and a commitment in the programme for government to extend and integrate some of these services.
The National Transport Authority, who have been allocated responsibility for RTP will, in conjunction with a national committee made up of key stakeholders, develop proposals for future integration based on a series of model areas which will trial how services in rural areas can be further enhanced and optimised whilst achieving necessary efficiencies. Senior officials from the Department of Education and the HSE are members of the Committee and are working together on this issue with both my Department and the National Transport Authority.
Given the cost to the Exchequer of providing the necessary non-acute health and education transport services in rural areas it is vital that these two areas are included in the consideration at a national level of future integration plans for rural transport . This process has been approved by Government and agreed by the relevant Ministers. However, while my Department has responsibility for the integration of local and rural transport, strategy and policy relating to the various types of transport provision, including school transport and non-acute HSE transport, remain the responsibility of the parent Departments.
There are challenges and complexities in this endeavour but the Committee will examine these and, where possible, suggest solutions. I understand that at its meeting last Friday the Committee established sub groups to examine the issues regarding future integration for schools transport and HSE non-acute transport. These will report back quickly to the Committee and I am confident progress can be made this year.