TDs and Senators across all parties must come together to support a proposal to increase rural bus services, a Fine Gael TD has said.
Martin Heydon, Fine Gael Chairperson and TD for Kildare South is proposing to extend existing bus services on certain routes during evening times across the country to help combat rural isolation.
And since Deputy Heydon’s original proposal for 38 routes nationwide to benefit with night time services, further routes in Tipperary and Donegal have also been proposed.
This brings a total of 44 bus routes now in the pilot scheme in 15 counties – Kildare, Kerry, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Donegal, Waterford, Wexford, Laois, Offaly, Cavan, Monaghan, Longford, Meath and Dublin.
And in a further development, Deputy Heydon said the National Transport Authority are now in consultation with the local link companies to identify any other existing routes which may benefit from the scheme.
“The extensive pilot scheme is not a silver bullet but it is a very important step in addressing isolation in rural areas. If the pilot scheme is used, it could see evening routes extended nationwide.
“Anything that helps people to have better and more sustainable lives in their communities has to be supported by all politicians – no matter where their political allegiance may be,” Deputy Heydon said.
After first proposing such a scheme earlier this month, Deputy Michael Healy Rae attacked the proposal as a “political ploy” and a “sop”.
Deputy Heydon rejects such claims.
“Just because this idea came from Fine Gael does not mean other parties should not support it. It is a good idea – plain and simple. It is a pilot scheme and will not solve everything to do with rural isolation or helping people in all areas. However it is a good initiative and everyone should bear that in mind instead of going against it because it originates from the main Government party,” Deputy Heydon said.
“Currently, we believe this will cost circa €1m to get the 44 routes underway.
“It’ll be up to communities to invest in the scheme to make it viable but so much of what is good about rural transport is community led and because these routes are proposed by the local companies with the knowledge of their areas, it means these are the routes most likely to have the demand.
“We should do everything possible to support this. If the pilot scheme proves to be a success there is no reason why we cannot expand this to other routes across the country.
Deputy Heydon was mandated by the Fine Gael parliamentary party to work with Transport Minister Shane Ross to come up with measures to tackle rural isolation.
“Minister Ross has sent the proposal to the National Transport Authority for their analysis. The NTA are in touch with rural transport co-ordination units across the country to identify viable routes for what is a unique pilot scheme,” Deputy Heydon said.