Transport issues and services were high on the agenda during Question Time to Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy. Kieran McCarthy’s primary concern is regarding the focus on rural community transport and how potential savings from a public sector-wide programme to share transport resources could be used to improve the service. The Minister said that the integration of transport services is not purely a cost-saving venture, as may be perceived, but about providing a better system for everyone including those in rural areas - “this is not simply about saving money, but providing better services as we move into the future”.
Daithi McKay was keen to ask the Minister what co-operation there has been with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in the provision of community transport. Mr Kennedy highlighted the work of the assisted rural travel scheme and dial-a-lift service which allows smart pass holders concessionary travel on Rural Community Transport Partnership vehicles. These schemes assist ‘Programme for Government’ targets to tackle poverty and social deprivation.
Paul Girvan also took the opportunity to express his concern about B roads in South Antrim. The current road works and traffic delays involved with the dualling of the A8 have forced many cars on to surrounding B roads leaving them in a state of disrepair. While not guaranteeing that there will be funds available to treat these roads the Minister ensured that he would be seeking further funding in the January monitoring round which will help address such problems.
During topical questions the Minister addressed concerns raised during a recent Radio Ulster debate on the possible withdrawal of smart passes and concessionary travel. Mr Kennedy confirmed his belief that the smart pass system “improves social interchange, and there is huge benefit to the local economy as people make journeys”, allowing them to get out into the wider community. He was keen to stress that there are no plans to change the system under his stewardship saying “it’s a scheme that’s working, a scheme that’s popular and I have no plans to overhaul it”.
Also discussed during Question Time was the future of EU funding not used on the Narrow Water Bridge Project, funding for cycling and the future of door-to-door transport (a scheme which ended in March 2013 and is currently being provided by Disability Action).