As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. I do not have responsibility for the day-to-day operations of public transport services.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally. It also has national responsibility for integrated local and rural transport, including management of Local Link services funded under the Rural Transport Programme.
Public transport in rural areas of the country is primarily provided by bus and coach services, as well as rail and small public service vehicles (SPSV) services, which include Taxi, Hackney and Local Area Hackney services.
The bus and coach services include Public Service Obligation (PSO) services operated by Bus Éireann and other operators, Bus Éireann Expressway services, licensed services provided by commercial operators and Local Link services.
These services comprise conventional fixed services with regular routes, stopping places and timetables and Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) services which respond to local demands and which constitute the vast majority of Local Link services.
I am committed to the further development of bus services in rural areas and that is why funding has been increased over the past number of years, for both PSO and Local Link services in rural areas.
The increased funding has enabled the introduction of 66 new commuter services into the Local Link network, operating five, six or seven days per week, as well as demand-responsive services. Key features of these new services include greater integration with existing public transport services and better linkage of services between and within towns and villages.
Following my engagement with key stakeholders, I tasked the NTA to examine how to extend existing Local Link services to provide additional services in the evenings. These new services, which are a mixture of extension to existing services and demand responsive services, have been operating on a pilot basis since last summer and 59 services are continuing until the end of this year.
I am aware that public bus transport cannot meet the demands for travel for many people in rural Ireland, either because it is not available at all or it is not available at the time needed. Taxis and hackneys play an important role in meeting the travel demand when public transport is not available. However, there are gaps in the provision of taxis and hackneys in many rural communities.
To address gaps in service delivery, the NTA is developing two pilot schemes for implementation this year. Both schemes will be administered locally by the existing network of Local Link offices who will act as agents of the NTA. The overall management, funding and regulation of both schemes rests with the NTA. The NTA has advised that it proposes to issue the call for applications for both the Local Area Hackney and the Community Transport Services together by the end of the summer.