Campaign by Irish Senior Citizens Parliament for the Introduction of a Voucher System to improve Access for Older People living in Rural Areas to Transport.

One of the phenomena of the last 50 years has been the great improvement in transport both in terms of its availability and the extent to which it is used. The vast majority of our population now make greater use of transport facilities to travel both inside and outside the island by road, rail, sea and air. For a large proportion of the population this has led to increasing mobility and increased access to normal everyday facilities as well as the opportunity to visit friends and families at regular intervals.

A major factor in this access to travel facilities particularly for older people was the introduction in 1967 of the Free Travel Pass for Older People. This innovative measure gave older people the opportunity to independently access travel for social and personal reasons. The ability to travel both in cities and across the country was warmly welcomed by older people and their organisations

At that time the cost of travel, as a proportion of income was much higher than it is today. Indeed the cost of rail travel as a proportion of the average weekly wage was beyond the reach of a lot of Old Age Pensioners. In a more de-regulated environment this has now been reduced especially where bus travel is concerned. Further the move to the larger centres of population was not as marked as it later became. In most rural areas the fabric of the life continued as was with the same families living in communities, as had their forebears.

The good neighbour was the salvation for many older people living in rural isolated areas. They were relied on to give them a lift to Mass and perhaps to the local town for shopping. The increasing change in demographics in rural areas, which saw the move to the country of families who were working in nearby towns, changed the position for a lot of older people. However this dependency on the “Good Neighbour “meant that the Older person was not independent and had no way of travelling to the local town or village to access Free travel independently. Increasing they saw the benefits which people living in towns and villages with the ability to undertake journeys at times that suited their needs were deriving from the Free Travel Scheme.

Since its inception the Parliament has recognised that travel was available to older people however it equally recognised that such access was not equally available to ALL older people. Those living in rural isolated areas continued to lack the facility to get to the nearest point at which they might access the Public Transport system and so avail of their free travel. For this reason the Parliament has continued to lobby for a system where a number of vouchers would be issued to older people to enable them to access taxis and hackneys which would bring them to the nearest point of access to the Free Travel system. For a number of older people this matter is Urgent, as they cannot wait for realisation of some of the initiatives, which are currently under way. It is a fact of life that they just may not be here to avail of the improved services when it is in place.

The Parliament since its foundation has been campaigning for the introduction of a voucher system where a number of vouchers would be issued to older people to enable them to access taxis or hackneys to take them to the nearest town or village to do shopping or other personal business and also to allow them access a public transport route.

Several studies have served to support and highlight the isolation experienced in rural areas by a number of groups among them the elderly and women. Indeed (Treacy Hogan Irish Independent) reporting on a confidential government report which stated that the group said “A radical new public transport system including door to door services, is needed to solve the rural public transport crisis”. The group recommended that a “safety net” be set up to urgently meet the needs of the elderly, the young, the disabled and those on low incomes.

Indeed at the launch of the Rural Transport Initiative (RTI) by Minister O’Rourke in July 2001 the RTI was heralded as an initiative to help meet what was seen as a huge deficit on in the area of rural transport. The RTI emerged following a survey which found huge non usage of travel passes and isolation among rural dwellers because of the lack of transport. The Parliament acknowledges that some progress has been made in this regard by the initiative. Where services are up and running however limited there are facilities for older people to spend a little time in their local town or village. However in some cases this service is not adequate to allow older people to do more than the basics shopping and pension collection. Very few schemes allow for any service in the evening and at night older people need to be involved in the cultural and social interaction within their communities. For that reason the Parliament is again calling for the introduction of a voucher system to allow older people to travel.

We again call on the relevant minister to introduce a voucher system immediately. In support of our claim we refer to the following statistics from the Report of the Rural Transport Initiative itself referring to those people who use their schemes

  • 79% of the passengers hold the Free Travel Pass
  • Approximately 70 % of passengers are female.

Further they state

  • Feedback from survey results to date suggest that social interaction and shopping or accessing basic essential services are the primary reasons for using the services.

This position was further reinforced by Minster Ivor Callely in a speech on 3rd November when he said

Research has shown that those most marginalized by lack of access to transport in rural areas are women, the elderly, the mobility impaired, and people on low income and young people.

Again Minister Seamus Brennan launching a transport service for people living in remote areas on Leitrim, Cavan Sligo stated.

As you know the rural transport problem is caused by a number of factors of which the main ones are probably low rural population densities etc. We have become very dependent on cars in rural Ireland.

Further he said

Research has shown that those most marginalized by lack of access to transport in rural areas are women, the elderly, the mobility impaired, people on low income and young people.

He added

Research has shown that the provision of accessible affordable and acceptable local transport can be a very important improvement in the quality of life for these people.
Comhar Chumann Shailearna by Ann Irwin (Seirbhísí i bhForbairt Pobail) 2002

This report identified inaccessibility of the Public transport system as a major disadvantage for people living in the comhar chumann area and stated “for a substantial number of older people free travel is an irrelevancy.” (Page 36) The Irish Senior Citizens Parliament asserts that an urgent need exists for the immediate implementation of a Voucher Scheme for Older People living in rural areas and calls on the government and the relevant Ministers to immediately implement such a system. It further states that such a system would help to improve the quality of the lives of so many older rural dwellers in the twilight of their years.