Rural bus service must run later than 11pm - TDs
Rural TDs have demanded that late-night bus services due to begin operations next month run later than 11pm to meet demand.
The Dáil Transport Committee heard that 50 new late-night services across rural Ireland will begin operating between 6pm and 11pm from the end of next month on a six-month trial basis.
The pilot scheme, which will cost €450,000 to operate, will be assessed by the National Transport Authority (NTA) over the following six months before a final decision is taken on whether it should remain. But politicians said service times needed to be reviewed.
"I think you really need to review the 6pm to 11pm," Fine Gael senator Frank Feighan told the committee. "I don't think it will work. I think maybe 8pm to 1am. People will not go home at 11pm. As someone who owned a pub, I found it harder to get people out than get people in."
Some 30 of the 50 new services will allow drivers to travel off main roads to people's homes in isolated areas. In all, 188 new trips per week will be added to the rural transport network.
The committee heard that all applications for funding from local link offices, which will operate the scheme on behalf of the NTA, were approved, but none were made by five.
The NTA was in discussions with offices in Galway, Sligo/Leitrim/Roscommon, Mayo, Clare and Limerick to see if routes could be identified.
Transport Minister Shane Ross said he would ask the NTA to consider whether it should be extended beyond 11pm to account for pub closing hours. "We're very enthusiastic that it should be given a good chance. It is not a final scheme. It is something which has to be built on," he said.
But Fianna Fáil TD Kevin O'Keeffe said the Government was effectively sanctioning a "binge-drinking bus", and that rural pubs should instead be provided with alcohol test units to help customers assess whether they were over the drink-driving limit.
Mr Ross said the problem of rural isolation was "not exclusively about getting back and forward to pubs". He said people could use the new services for social activities which did not involve the pub, such as bingo, or sporting occasions.