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"No plans" to abolish Rural Transport Scheme

However, the scheme is to undergo a number of changes – although Minister Varadkar said that no decision has been taken on the issue.

Fine Gael Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar. Photo:/PhotoCall Ireland.
Fine Gael Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar. Photo:/PhotoCall Ireland.
Image: Wanderley Massafelli/Photocall Ireland

THE DEPARTMENT OF Transport aims to “strengthen” the Rural Transport Scheme rather than abolish it, Minister Leo Varadkar said this week.

Responding to a parliamentary question from Michael Healy-Rae, who asked if there were plans to scrap the Rural Transport Network and replace it with a scheme under the control of county councils, Minister Varadkar said there are no plans to abolish the Rural Transport Programme (RTP).

On the contrary the aim is to strengthen the programme by ensuring a more efficient delivery structure, by maximising integration with other state transport services and by making the programme a sustainable part of the public transport system.

Future

The Minister said he is “well aware of the very valuable work done by the RTP groups”. But he described resources as “limited” and said that last year’s Value for Money and Policy Review of the RTP recommended organisational restructuring to achieve efficiencies and the better alignment of the 35 RTP groups with local authorities.

Due to these:

it is necessary that the current delivery mechanisms and structures are examined and revised. To not do this would mean that vital services would be threatened.

“The current structures of the RTP are not sustainable if the required efficiencies and savings are to be achieved,” said the Minister. “If these are not achieved then with the limited resources available services will decline.”

Work is underway to determine the optimal structure for the delivery of rural transport from an efficiency and service perspective. One of the proposals being examined is that the RTPs be ‘aligned’ with local authorities and that a number of Coordination Units be established.

He said he would emphasise that no decision has been taken but he is hopeful that he will be in a position to recommend a new structure later this year.

The Minister said he will be ensuring that any future structure for the RTP “will be based on community input, local flexibility and involving the voluntary sector”.

The charity for older people, Age Action, expressed its concern that the new structures may increase bureaucracy and reduce sensitivity to local circumstances. However, Labour TD Ciara Conway said that in Waterford, the services have been in the remit of the county councils for a decade, so there should be no cause for alarm in that county.

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