New subsidised hackney services are to be rolled out across the country from next month to combat rural isolation.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) has approved funding grants for services in 12 Local Link areas with hackneys hitting the roads from November.
The NTA is also working to establish a network of volunteer community car schemes designed to bring people living in isolated areas to and from local pubs or restaurants. It is intended that these schemes will be up and running before the end of the year, and would receive finical support towards maintenance, insurance, and other vehicle-related costs.
Transport Minister Brendan Griffin said public transport is subsidised in urban areas and it should be no different for those living outside of the major towns and cities.
Under the pilot scheme, individual drivers will receive a grant of up to €6,000 over 12 months to operate a localised hackney service.
“The licence will only be granted in areas where there isn’t existing commercial services,” said Mr Griffin.
While people using the rural hackneys will still have to pay a fare, Mr Griffin said “the beauty of it is the driver doesn’t need a PSV licence” and the set-up costs, which can be prohibitively expensive especially in sparsely populated areas, are significantly less.
The NTA had asked for applications for the funding from the 15 nationwide Local Links, with 12 taking up the offer.
Adrigole in Co Cork; Windgap in Co Kilkenny; the Martinstown/Ballinvrena area in Limerick; Knockanore, Co Waterford; and Lettermacaward in Co Donegal are among the areas that will now get hackney services.
In tandem with this project, the NTA is working with the Local Links to identify communities where there is an interest in establishing separate community car schemes, that would get public funding.
Mr Griffin, who is involved in a community car scheme in his own locality in Co Kerry, said: “It’s about tackling social isolation, but it’s also providing an important economic boost to businesses in the area such as the bars and restaurants that benefit from their customers being able to come and go using this scheme.
“It has created a strong feel-good factor in the community, people have a sense of freedom now that they previously didn’t have. It has brought out that sense of ‘Meitheal’ that we have in rural communities, people are very proud of the collective effort,” he said.
The Kerry rural lift scheme was set up eight months ago with 20 volunteer drivers and has already exceeded expectations in carrying 3,000 people so far.
“This scheme is operating really, really well, it’s a great success story. Each volunteer gives up one night in the month — myself included, I am one of the 20 — we all enjoy doing our night and we also benefit from the service on the nights that we aren’t working if we want to avail of it, the same as everyone else in the community,” said Mr Griffin.
While the community car is free, many of those using the service give a contribution towards insurance, fuel, tax, servicing, and other costs associated with running the vehicle that was donated by Philip Griffin Motors.
“It may not be the answer for every community, but where there are no commercial services, I think this is a very, very good way of filling that gap,” Mr Griffin added.