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Major boost for bus services in new rural transport plan as 100 villages to get three-times-a-day service

Two out of five villages have no public transport connection to their nearest town

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A bus travels through the main street in Athboy, County Meath

A bus travels through the main street in Athboy, County Meath

A bus travels through the main street in Athboy, County Meath

A big increase in bus services is planned for rural areas, where two out of five villages have no public transport connection to the nearest town.

The Connecting Ireland plans will see the number of local link services double and general rural services increase by 25pc.

That will boost the proportion of rural dwellers who have access to at least three return trips a day to the nearest town from 53pc to 70pc.

More than 100 villages will get a three-times-a-day return service for the first time, and there will also be more than 60 new connections to regional cities from surrounding areas.

Pick-up and drop-off points will also be reorganised, with more than 100 new local centre connections established, along with 100 new county town connections and 60 new regional centre or city connections.

The aim is to get people to their local centre within 30 minutes, their county town within 60 minutes, a regional centre in 90 minutes and a city within two hours, with timetables coordinated for smooth link-ups.

Morning timetables are to be rejigged to meet the demand for people to get to key destinations such as work and education facilities by 9am, but services to suit evening socialising will also be added.

Sparsely populated areas will get an expanded demand- responsive transport (DRT) network – a door-to-door service bookable in advance by people living in very remote locations.

A pilot app-based scheme will be developed for DRT, and existing pilot schemes for subsidised local taxi and community car schemes will be assessed to see how they can be more widely applied.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said the plans would give people better services and tackle emissions from transport as a climate action measure.

“To have strong local economies and to give people real options for getting around you need good public transport links,” he said. “This plan represents a step change in delivering good-quality public transport in rural Ireland.”

The plan was drawn up after consultation with local authorities who provided the local knowledge to fill in the gaps in national transport planning.

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They helped point out the problems that exist with lack of services, poorly coordinated timetables and routes that fail to serve essential services such as hospitals.

Anne Graham, chief executive of the National Transport Authority, said the plan would not be completely finished until the public had their say.

A consultation period begins today and the detailed planning will begin early next year.

“We know that for many people, living in a village or in a rural area can mean that accessing services or employment or education or even retail is difficult if not impossible without using a private car. We want to change that,” Ms Graham said.

“I believe that expanding the public transport network and increasing service levels, in the way we are proposing, will mean that more people in rural areas will have greater levels of freedom, whether or not they have a car.

“But it’s not about what I believe. What’s more important now is for us to get the views of the public.

“We’re asking people to go to nationaltransport.ie, read about what Connecting Ireland means for your area and county, and give us feedback.”

Nearly €6m has been set aside to begin implementing the plans from next autumn, and the improvements will take place over five years.

Almost half of the country’s population live outside towns and cities, and officials regularly face criticism when they talk of discouraging car use before alternatives are in place.


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