The Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has highlighted encouraging new data on the significant progress that has been made on increasing and enhancing rural transport over the past year at the inaugural National Sustainable Mobility Stakeholder Forum, which took place in Athlone.
He was referring to a review of the first year of Connecting Ireland, which is being published by NTA, which shows that 38 new and enhanced bus services have been introduced since this time last year when Connecting Ireland was first launched.
Connecting Ireland is the national plan to deliver more and better public transport for rural communities.
Over the past year, there have been 13 brand new services, 16 routes where frequency has been increased and 9 route extensions, which also included increased frequency. This means that over 50 new towns and an extra 110,00 weekly vehicle kilometres were added to the public transport network.
In total over 250,000 people in 187 locations settlements now have access to new and enhanced services. In 2023, the Connecting Ireland plan is to roll out 67 new and enhanced bus services, which means that in the first two years of the five-year plan, there should be 104 new or improved services in operation – or 1 for every week of the two-year span.
The event in Athlone also marked the first anniversary of Ireland’s Sustainable Mobility Policy, which was published in April 2022. One year on, the Forum is providing key stakeholders with the opportunity to reflect on progress to date and to input on related policy as it evolves.
Minister Ryan said that the past year had shown that Ireland is on its way to transforming public transport services and putting in place the accessible and safe walking and cycling infrastructure that people want.
“While we know we still have a long way to go in transport, the evidence of consistent positive change in public transport and in active travel speaks volumes about the huge effort already underway across the country to deliver the large-scale transformation envisioned by the Sustainable Mobility Policy.
“This policy was launched last April, about the same time that the first Connecting Ireland service, the newly enhanced 176 Cavan – Monaghan was launched providing greater frequency and increased services to Cavan General Hospital. It was the first of 13 brand new services and many others providing greater frequency and extension and helping to increase passenger journeys on enhanced services by a massive 93%.”
“There have been many other significant developments. Take Athlone for example, Earlier this year, it became the first town in Ireland, as part of the Pathfinder Programme, to operate an all-electric bus fleet. Over the summer, Athlone will have a new active travel bridge across the Shannon, providing a critical local link for walking and cycling as well as a strategically important milestone in the delivery of the Dublin to Galway Greenway. Athlone perfectly represents what is happening up and down the country. Nationwide, local authorities are looking to make their town centres more attractive, safe and accessible. They are slowly re-balancing the dominance of cars in favour of health and well-being outcomes for residents and visitors alike.”
He also spoke about the significant investment being made in the delivery of new rolling stock for rails services with 185 new DART+ fleet carriages due to start arriving next year, alongside the first of a number of new DART services due to begin to Drogheda in 2025.
The Sustainable Mobility Forum provided an opportunity for stakeholders and citizens to reflect on progress to date and to focus on the potential ahead. Panel discussions featuring academic, youth and disability perspectives were held alongside participant workshops on key sustainable mobility areas such as road space reallocation, shared and micro mobility, engaging communities, the school commute, demand management, road safety issues and public transport services.