FG plan for late night rural buses
Scheme to offset fear of isolation amid drink-driving crackdown
Fine Gael wants to extend the operating hours of 38 rural bus routes in a bid to allay fears of rural isolation amid transport minister Shane Ross's planned crackdown on drink-driving.
A year-long pilot scheme would see the addition of later departure times - mostly between 11pm and midnight - for successful existing routes provided by the Local-Link service across 15 counties.
Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon - who has presented the proposals to Mr Ross - has said the plan has "massive potential" to offset rural isolation. "While the drink driving legislation brought the debate about social isolation to the fore, this proposal is about a lot more than providing an option for people to go to and from a pub. This is about connecting our communities," he told the Sunday Independent.
Mr Ross has met resistance among a number of rural TDs to his plan to introduce a three-month mandatory ban for drivers found to have reached an alcohol limit of betwee 50-80mg per 100ml.
Some in Fine Gael have also raised concerns about the proposed law, but party chiefs last month decided that its TDs will not have a free vote on the matter.
Mr Heydon has been liaising with the transport minister on the issue.
The proposed scheme is costed at around €1m and would see increased services covering up to three nights a week, depending on the area.
The new late departure times wouldn't cater for nightclub closing times but may suit elderly people in rural areas going to their local for a pint or to play cards or bingo.
The plan was developed in consultation with Local-Link operators. This is a network of subsidised routes run by private operators and overseen by the National Transport Authority.
In total 38 routes across Cork, Kerry, Kildare, Limerick, Donegal, Waterford, Wexford, Laois, Offaly, Cavan, Monaghan, Westmeath Longford, Meath and Tipperary would be included in the pilot.
Mr Ross is understood to be considering the proposal. His plan to press ahead with a tougher drink-driving regime is due back in the Dail for debate before Christmas. It is not subject to a quid pro quo based on the implementation of measures in relation to rural isolation.