Belfast Telegraph

Door-to-door transport is a lifeline for elderly who struggle to access vital services...cutting the budget is disturbing

Editor's Viewpoint

The door-to-door transport system, which helps people living in rural areas of Northern Ireland access vital services, ticks many of the boxes that are expected of a caring and responsive government's policies. It is innovative, useful in the extreme, helps the most vulnerable in society and has long-term cost benefits.

It is disturbing to find that not only has the service suffered a 33% cut in funding from the Stormont Executive in the past two years, but the relevant Departments of Infrastructure and Agriculture cannot rule out further budget reductions.

This is short-sighted number crunching, taking money from a vital, but low-profile service, while there are many examples of waste at Stormont, which would more than make up the funding required.

Take a look at what the 11 Rural Community Transport Partnerships across the province do. They provided more than 216,000 journeys last year, essentially taking people with no readily-available alternative forms of transport, to health appointments, to pharmacies, shopping, hairdressing appointments and simply to visit friends or relations.

The service is literally a lifeline for those people living in isolated rural areas which have poor public transport links. What would happen to these people if they could not make their health service appointments, for example? It would be much more expensive to bring those services to the people, rather than the people to the services. As well, failure to keep appointments could be hazardous to the health of many.

The users of the service are mainly elderly people. They have lived in the country all their lives in most cases and wish to remain there - and that wish should be respected. They undoubtedly have paid their way in life, including their taxes, and should have their expectation of something in return fulfilled.

All they really want is a lift to enable them to live the sort of life that the rest of society takes for granted. How can that not be granted?

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