The group which coordinates the scheme, nicknamed the “booze bus”, told the Government last week it would like to expand the successful system to cover the entire Mallow and Fermoy catchment areas.
Avondhu Development Group told Rural Minister Éamon Ó Cuív, that it needs just four people in each area to be interested initially to launch the expanded pilot service.
“We will then work with existing passengers and other local stakeholders to increase passenger numbers as the pilot progresses,” said transport coordinator Damien Tobin. The Government introduced the service in seven regions earlier this year as part of a €500,000 pilot project to combat rural isolation.
The initiative was piloted in north and west Cork, Cavan, Sligo, Roscommon, Donegal and Laois.
It came following calls from rural campaigners for such a service after publicans and their customers expressed concern about the negative impact new road safety legislation is having on pubs.
They claimed the social life of people in rural communities was being badly affected by a Garda crackdown on drink drivers following the introduction of random breath testing in mid 2006.
However, Mr Ó Cuív had criticised the description of the service as a “booze bus”.
“I strongly believe that there is a need in rural Ireland for an evening transport service to allow rural people to fully participate in the various activities — community, sporting and social — that take place in their areas,” he said.
Mr Tobin said many people avail of the Avondhu service to get to pubs, but it is also used by people to visit friends, and attend social and community events.
Avondhu operate its pilot project twice a week in the Grenagh-Rathduff and Lisgoold-Leamlara areas.
On Fridays, the seven-seater bus leaves Grenagh at 8.30pm, Rathduff at 8.45pm, arriving in Blarney at 9pm. It returns at midnight.
On Saturdays, the service leaves Ballincurrig at 8.45pm, Lisgoold at 9pm, Leamlara at 9.15pm and returns at 12.15am.
Avondhu Development also coordinate an extensive rural daytime bus service, funded by the Department of Transport.
In 2006, it carried 35,000 passengers on 2,900 services in the Mallow, Fermoy and Midleton areas.
All passengers have the option of being collected and dropped to their door, no matter where they live.
Many of the 600 regular passengers live in very isolated areas and may not otherwise be able to access essential services.
In 2007, Avondhu launched new services in the Liscarroll-Lisgriffin area to Mallow, and in the Aghabullogue, Dripsey, Inniscarra, Berrings, Matehy Courtbrack, Tower, Cloghroe and Kerry Pike areas to Ballincollig and Blarney.
The group co-ordinates a subsidised taxi service for more than 200 people with disabilities in the Mallow and Fermoy areas.
It also co-ordinates the Mallow Town Bus Service three times a day, five days a week.