‘Drink link’ tag on new rural transport pilot ‘an insult’

“Dubbing the new rural transport pilot programme a ‘drink link‘ undermines the service and is an insult to people living in rural areas, giving the impression that all they do is drink.”

This is the view of the CEO of Irish Rural Link, Seamus Boland.

Boland says the new pilot service is for everyone to use – whether people are doing late night shopping, visiting relatives or catching up with friends.

People in Dublin are never asked when using Dublin Bus, the DART, or Luas after 6:00pm ‘are you using the service to go to the pub?’

While welcoming the extension of the rural transport programme – that will see 50 new bus services across 19 counties rolled out as part of a six-month pilot programme – as “a major step forward”, Boland also outlined that he has a number of concerns about it too.

“Many areas of the country with scattered populations, such as Mayo, Clare, and from west Limerick to the Kerry border are not included in the pilot programme,” he said.

He also contended that the time-frame is too short.

“It will be finished before winter begins. We are not going to be able to answer any questions from such a short time-frame,” he said.

Boland highlighted how many studies have shown links between rural isolation and mental health problems.

“Loneliness is one of the biggest challenges in rural areas. The inability to mix with peers in isolated areas affects all ages and is causing a lot of problems,” he said.

‘Door-to-door’

Maura O’Gorman from Clonaslee, a regular user of the Laois/Offaly Local Link, described the service as a “lifeline” to people living in isolated rural areas.

One woman told me the service has kept her alive. Another said it is better for her than any medication.

“People use it to get to hospital appointments, train stations, mass, bingo and pubs,” said Maura who avails of the service to get to Portlaoise and Tullamore.

“The manager of the service, Frances Byrne, is brilliant, as are all the drivers who carry in our shopping for us.

It’s a door-to-door service that is so wonderful. The drivers and passengers notice if the regulars aren’t on the bus and inquire to see if they are okay. Everybody helps and chats to each other.

“It’s a vital service for people of all ages,” said Maura who also organises a Christmas shopping trip and tours every year.