REPRESENTATIVES from across the political divide got on the 'team bus' last Friday to protest at the proposed axing of rural transport service.
From Rockchapel to Lombardstown the convivial protest traced the routes of the DART, Duhallow Area Rural Transport, with politicians adding their voices all along the route against the An Bord Snip Nua proposal to get rid of the service.
On Friday, IRD Duhallow Ltd, along with 35 rural transport companies held a national rural transport day to raise awareness of the programme and to disagree with the recent Bord Snip proposal to abolish the programme completely after 2009.
Nationally, the Rural Transport Programme has recorded five million passenger journeys since 2002. DART was established in 2003 with four pilot services. Today, DART provides 58 services. From transporting over 3,000 passenger trips in 2003 DART transported over 53,000 in 2008 and IRD expects this to reach over 56,000 in 2009
Last Friday's events started in Rockchapel where Councillor Timmy Collins met with the local weekly service and was interviewed for C103fm and Red FM. This service is a weekly service that collects passengers door to door and brings them to collect their pension, do their shopping and other necessities they may need.
The next service was the Lombardstown service which transports mainly free travel pass holders every Friday to town. Independent Councillor John Paul O'Shea travelled on the service to meet with passengers and get feedback on how essential the service is for them to access local services such as shops, post office among other services including clinics and GP's appointments. "Taking this service away from people now would be immoral and would add to the social exclusion and isolation that currently exists in the area," he said.
People with disabilities and those with mobility disabilities feature strongly in DART services. The COPE Foundation service, which collects clients from various outlets of COPE in Cork and Mallow and return them to their doorstep every week, was visited by Deputy Michael Moynihan. The passengers were greeted by Deputy Michael Moynihan TD in Kanturk and Jack Roche, chairperson of the National Rural Transport Network. "This service is of vital importance to the service users and to their families," said Deputy Moynihan "It has excellent value for money and its social impact is huge.
"I personally believe in this service and I am very much aware of how vital this service is to Duhallow and the North Cork area," he added.
A spokesperson for DART said it provides an invaluable service to people living in rural areas in Duhallow to access basic amenities such as health clinics, pension, shopping.
"Community involvement plays a crucial role in the development of the Rural Transport Programme in establishing services," added Catherine Crowley of IRD. "Consultation with the elderly, youth and many more groups collate in developing our transport routes."
One of the key features of the Rural Transport Programme, she said, is its door to door collection service, its operation of both scheduled and demand responsive services.
"Many rural people have trouble in getting to their local town or village and this has been one of huge success factors within the programme," said Catherine Crowley. "Over 50% of DART services are door to door with the other 50% scheduled services."
She said prior to the introduction of the programme 18 communities in the Duhallow region had no access to a public transport service and now DART complements and connects with existing transport services in the area including Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and neighbouring Rural Transport Projects.