Rural taxis to provide lifeline for isolated villages
ISOLATED villages in rural areas will have dedicated taxis from the spring under plans to improve transport links.
New regulations have been passed by the National Transport Authority (NTA) allowing rural hackney licences to be introduced.
The vehicles will only be allowed operate in specific areas and operators must prove there is a transport deficit in the area before being granted a licence.
A vehicle licence will cost €50 and a driver licence €20, and there will be no need for drivers to sit the so-called "knowledge" test as they will have to be from the local area.
The rural hackney licence is designed to improve public transport in rural areas and overcome financial barriers to drivers who want to enter the business.
Currently new drivers must have a wheelchair-accessible taxi, which can cost in excess of €30,000, but rural hackneys will not have to fulfil this requirement.
There is also a €125 driver licence application fee, and a separate €125 vehicle licensing fee, which have been reduced to €20 and €50 respectively, while drivers will also benefit from lower motor tax, which is €95 for a hackney.
There will be no government subsidy for the scheme, and businesses and community groups will source the vehicles.
The scheme was first proposed last summer by Public Transport Minister Alan Kelly.
"Access to transport is a major problem in rural Ireland," Mr Kelly told the Irish Independent. "Too many people are isolated in their homes and there are simply no taxis or other services to connect people to their communities."
The NTA will write to every local authority and rural transport group in the next week asking for possible areas to pilot the scheme. The licence application will have to be supported by the local authority and the first taxis are expected to be operating early next year.