One rural service to replace costly range of buses
COMMUTERS and the elderly could soon be using the same bus as schoolchildren.
A new 'rural transport bus' will replace the current dedicated schoolbuses, mini-buses for the elderly and non-emergency HSE transport.
The landmark move, to be announced today, will see all of the current services being integrated into a single rural public transport service.
The duplication of transport services by the Department of Education, the HSE and the Rural Transport Programme, which provides services mainly for the elderly who live in rural areas without any public transport, has, up to now, been a major concern.
The change comes in response to growing concerns over millions of euro being wasted on rural transport, where different agencies and departments are doubling up on routes.
The logistics and security issues which go with permitting other members of the public to travel on the schoolbuses have yet to be fully worked out.
However, this will be subject to legal constraints and child protection measures and may prove difficult to implement in the face of concerns by parents.
In practice, the first step will involve the rural bus being used for a variety of services after the school run -- for the elderly, hospital patients and their visitors and other isolated groups in rural locations.
In other words, the schoolbuses would make all of the different runs throughout the day.
The plans will be outlined today by Public Transport Minister Alan Kelly, who recently told the Seanad that schoolbuses often lie idle until 3pm or 4pm.
Mr Kelly indicated that school transport and general transport services could be interlinked "in order that the schoolbus would become part of a general public transport policy".
A total of 123,000 children are transported on 4,000 schoolbuses every day, while a total of 1.4 million passenger journeys are recorded annually in the rural transport programme.
This decision also follows a report on rural transport in conjunction with Comhar, the sustainable development council, which concluded it was unlikely that a door-to-door public transport service could be provided to every single household in rural areas and that a combination of services at different levels of frequency was needed.
A value-for-money review on the existing system of rural transport revealed its costs were too high.
The Fine Gael election manifesto included a commitment, where possible, to integrate school transport, non-emergency HSE transport and the rural transport programme.