Rural Transport Programme
The CTTC is firmly in favour of the original aims of the Rural Transport Programme, previously known as the Rural Transport Initiative. Its original goals were to provide door-to-door services for isolated rural people who do not have access to a car, and are not served by public transport services. The benefits of such a scheme begin with the person, spread to the community, and are felt on a national level. The CTTC is entirely supportive of this part of the Rural Transport Programme.
However, we also believe that the scheme has departed from its original remit, and in many areas competes with commercial bus and coach companies for private hire business and on scheduled services.
Such competition is unfair because a State-sponsored company will always enjoy an advantage over a company that must pay its own costs. Ironically, such activities by Rural Transport groups damages rural transport services in the long run because they replace financially sustainable services with those that are State-funded, and therefore vulnerable to cutbacks.
The CTTC has documented many bus services in rural areas that have been closed because of competition from Rural Transport groups. In each case, the burden of providing these services has transferred from the private sector to the Exchequer, which is hardly a model for the current times.
The CTTC's position: Rural Transport groups should be subject to the National Transport Authority's licensing system that governs the private bus operators, Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann.
Rural Transport groups provide services to the Ploughing Championships, matches in Croke Park, hen parties, and other events that are not local services, and are not necessarily for people who are rural-living and without access to their own car. There is no need for the State to subsidise groups celebrating hen parties, or any other private coach hire activity. In our view it represents poor value for the Exchequer's investment, and a departure from the original goals of Rural Transport.
The CTTC's position: Rural Transport groups should focus on local transport services for isolated rural people, and should not involve itself in long distance coach services.
The CTTC sees Rural Transport groups that own their own fleets as being more likely to compete with local coach companies. Presumably, this is because they have bought their vehicles and must keep them busy in order to see the best return on their investment. We believe this use of State funding often serves to displace the services that are already being offered by the private sector at no cost to the State. It is far preferable, and would achieve a far better return for each euro of taxpayers' money invested, if Rural Transport groups tendered for services (in an open and fair way).
The CTTC's position: Rural Transport groups should not own their own vehicles. Instead they should only hire in vehicles. When specialised vehicles (such as those with wheelchair ramps) are required, contracts of up to five years should be tendered, so private operators are incentivised to invest in such facilities.
Our members have complained that Rural Transport groups sometimes tender for services by telephone and other ways that do not give confidence that public money is being spent in an ethical and transparent way.
The CTTC's position: All Rural Transport tendering should be conducted in writing and be subject to scrutiny by independent inspectors.
CTTC members have complained that tenders are often awarded to the lowest bidder despite the condition of the operators' vehicle. It is understandable that a Rural Transport group would seek to hire the lowest cost services, but this can cause a 'race to the bottom', whereby operators have no incentive but to offer old vehicles that are not reliable or sufficiently comfortable.
The CTTC's position: A set of minimum standards should be introduced for vehicles that can be hired for Rural Transport work, including a maximum age of ten years.