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 National Planning Framework commits to provide public transport infrastructure and services to meet the needs of smaller urban centres and rural areas. It also commits to provide a quality nationwide community-based public transport system in rural Ireland which responds to local needs under the Rural Transport Network and similar initiatives.
The National Development Plan (NDP) was published alongside the National Planning Framework. While the NDP is a capital investment plan, it recognises the importance of investment in public transport services outside of the cities and commits to continued investment in such services over the lifetime of the NDP. Subject to the availability of operational funding support, it is intended to introduce new town bus services in certain large towns to enable their development growth and provide a public transport option for residents and visitors.
Modal shift from the private car to sustainable means of transport remains central to the transport sector’s response to climate change. Investment in public transport resulted in 269 million passenger journeys across all public transport operators on PSO services in 2018. That’s an increase of 16.3 million, or 6.5% compared to 2017.
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.
Local Link 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 Deputy has specifically asked about commuter services and the increased funding has enabled the introduction of over 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.
The NTA is also continually working with Bus Éireann to provide improvements on its contracted services. The scope and scale of the changes implemented recently, or planned to be introduced shortly, include improvements to its city and town services and non-urban networks. The changes being implemented on Stage Carriage services focus on delivering enhanced frequency throughout the day with earlier and/or later departures, more frequency and increased weekend services including on Sundays/Public Holidays.