Rural Transport Initiative given permanent funding

OLDER people and those with disabilities living in country areas can look forward to a better bus service, Transport Minister Martin Cullen pledged yesterday when he announced that the Rural Transport Initiative (RTI) is to become a permanent part of Government funding.

The service has faced uncertainty since it was set up four years ago to tackle rural isolation, but it is here to stay, he said.

Extra funding of €1 million is being made available to this year’s scheme, bringing the total amount for the scheme to €4.5m. A further €5m will be provided next year.

Started as a three-year pilot project in areas that lacked public transport, there are now 34 RTI projects serving rural areas from Donegal to Wexford.

There is also a scheme in Dublin run by the North Fingal Rural Transport Company. Speaking on a visit to Castleisland, where over 4,000 trips per month are recorded in the Kerry scheme, Mr Cullen said the initiative offered people in remote areas a sense of independence and more social contact.

“At times we think of the big things, the big roads and such, but schemes like this can have a bigger impact on people’s lives,” he said.

Being able to travel to their local town had transformed people’s lives. It had given them a social outlet and a sense of security, the minister commented as he travelled on the Kerry Flyer bus service between Castleisland and Tralee.

Kerry Community Transport, with 67 separate routes, operates the biggest rural transport initiative in the country and serves 85 towns and villages.

Up to 55% of passengers in the Kerry scheme are over the age of 66 and two-thirds are women. The service is free to travel card holders.

The scheme was set up arising out of a white paper on rural needs and was extended last year for two years, after widespread concern it was going to end.

The uncertainty led to a campaign by pensioners in Knocknagoshel and Sliabh Luachra to save the Kerry Flyer.

Around 500,000 RTI passenger trips were recorded nationally in 2004, the minister said. He is to consult with groups including those representing older people and those with mobility and sensory impairments, in formulating future strategy.

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