Check against delivery
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen and thank you for the opportunity to address your national meeting.
Coming from Portroe near Nenagh in North Tipperary, I am very much aware that public transport is not just an urban issue, it’s a very real issue for rural areas. Many people in rural areas have great difficulty accessing basic services due to lack of access to transport. Schemes such as the Rural Transport Programme can, and do transform life for those who benefit from it. We all acknowledge that a good public transport system is a necessary pre-condition for the development of a fully inclusive society in all its social and economic dimensions.
The Rural Transport Programme is grounded in the principle of community self-help. That means the main drivers of community rural transport are the local communities themselves. The primary objective of the Programme is to help address social exclusion in rural areas arising from unmet public transport needs and the Programme is operational in every county. Thirty six rural community transport groups around the country are being funded and are maximising coverage in their operational areas with regard to local transport service needs and the availability of resources.
The level of voluntary effort and commitment to the RTP and, its predecessor the pilot Rural Transport Initiative (2002-2006), has been acknowledged time and again. Rightly so. Who knows better than local people the transport needs of their area and how best to address those needs. I want to take this opportunity to add my appreciation for the work and effort of the Boards, management and staff of the various RTP Funded groups throughout the country whose work and dedication is to be commended.
While it has to be recognised that the increased levels of funding provided over the years for the pilot RTI and the RTP have led to continuing increases in the level of services provided and the number of passenger journeys recorded, we are now in changed economic times. The financial resources available to Government are far more limited now. Nevertheless, €10.62 million has been allocated for the RTP in 2011 in a situation where other projects have had to be curtailed or postponed. That’s a very positive development.
This funding is being provided in recognition of the important role that the RTP plays to combat rural isolation, (particularly for the elderly), and it should help to sustain on-the-ground services this year. The RTP also benefits from funding under the Free Travel Scheme of the Department of Social Protection. Some groups also benefit from local development funding from the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs. I am aware that additional funds are generated by a number of groups from their own resources and this is to be applauded.
However, I cannot overly emphasise the importance of achieving greater efficiencies in the administration costs associated with implementing the RTP (both the community group costs, as well as Pobal’s own costs). This is to make sure that as much as possible of the Programme funding is concentrated on the provision of transport services. The achievement of greater efficiencies is vitally important in the face of the challenging fiscal climate now facing our country.
Value for Money and Policy Review
As you are aware, the Rural Transport Programme is currently the subject of a Value for Money and Policy Review in line with a commitment given at the launch of the Programme back in 2007.
The Review, which is covering the period from 2002 to 2009 inclusive, has been on-going since July 2010. The essential elements of the Review’s Terms of Reference are to:
• Identify Programme objectives.
• Examine the continuing validity of those objectives and their compatibility with Government policy.
• Define the Programme outputs and identify the level, unit cost and trend of those outputs.
• Examine the extent and effectiveness of the Programme’s objectives.
• Quantify the level and trend of costs, staffing resources and income supporting the Programme.
• Evaluate the degree to which the objectives warrant the allocation of public funding on a continuing basis.
• Specify potential future performance indicators.
I understand that the strategy document Sustainable Rural Transport – Rural Transport Programme Strategy 2011 – 2016, produced by your Network, contains some very useful information and perspectives on the development of rural transport in Ireland. I am informed that the strategy was developed with a view to providing a roadmap for developing and achieving a more sustainable rural transport network in Ireland with the intention of maximising the return in investment in the RTP. This is to be welcomed.
I understand that the input of the RTP Groups is considered important in the context of the Value for Money and Policy Review and that the lead reviewer has already met with a representative of the Network to discuss its views in in the matter.
I am advised that the Review Report is nearing completion and that, following consideration by Government, the Report together with the Department’s response to the recommendations, will be published on my Department’s website. The RTP Groups will be notified of publication.
Local Integrated Transport Studies
A number of Local Integrated Transport initiatives were undertaken between May and December 2009 in the North East and North West to explore the potential for improved synergies between existing transport providers. These initiatives involved Bus Éireann; the Health Service Executive in its capacity for providing transport to access health services; the Department of Education and Science in respect of school transport services; Pobal in respect of Rural Transport Programme services; and the Irish Wheelchair Association. The projects were developed with a view to exploring how existing transport providers might make more effective use of their individual resources by working in closer cooperation with each other. The types of pilots included “collect and connect” type services; such as hospital feeder services; co-ordination of disability services; ticketing integration; co-ordinated information provision and journey planning; increased synchronisation of partner systems and processes.
An evaluation of the LITS process was undertaken by MVA Consultants in summer 2010 and made recommendations for the future direction of LITS and integrated local transport services generally in the country. Essentially it identified that the delivery of coordinated and integrated transport services should be further explored. In December 2010, the then Minister for Transport approved the continuation of LITS in a focussed manner and in accordance with an overall strategy. Work in that regard is now proceeding.
In addition to these initiatives, an exercise to map all transport services in County Louth and a cross-border pilot rural community transport project under the auspices of the British/Irish Council have also been completed. The outcome of these projects is feeding into the process for developing rural transport policy into the future.
Transport Sectoral Plan
Public transport accessibility is being progressed in the context of Transport Access for All, the Department of Transport’s Sectoral Plan under the Disability Act 2005. The Plan was first published in 2006 and, among other things, sets out a series of policy objectives and targets for accessible public transport across all modes – actions to make trains, buses, taxi and hackney services, as well as air and marine transport, accessible to people with mobility, sensory and cognitive impairments. The plan contains a significant section on the Rural Transport Programme.
A revised version of Transport Access for All was published in May 2009 following an extensive review in 2008 and the Department has committed to reviewing the Plan again in 2011. Preparations in that regard have commenced and you might wish to note that it is intended to launch an extensive consultation process in May this year.
Thank you for your attention this morning, and I hope that the remainder of your national meeting is both enjoyable and productive.