Happy St Patrick’s Day! This year we celebrate St Patrick’s day in the week when one of our members, Down District Community Transport (DDCT) relaunched its ‘Dial a Lift’ service for individuals living on the beautifully rural Ards Peninsula.
DDCT’s head office is based in the town of Downpatrick, famous for St Patrick’s Cathedral, what is thought to be St Patrick’s final resting place. It’s befitting that this week DDCT are reaching out to provide much needed support for isolated individuals, as St Patrick reached out during his ministry in the 5th century.
St Patrick is famed for using the three leafed shamrock to explain the ‘Divine Trinity’ to the Irish Druids and Pagans. I thought I would use the analogy to explain the three main differences CT in NI has to the rest of the sector.
Firstly NI operates under different legislation: Transport Act (NI) 1967 and Transport Act (NI) 2011. Secondly our permit system is different: NI operates under the Section 10b permit (no S19 or S22 in NI). And thirdly we are the only part of the UK that shares a direct land border with a EU state. This can cause some issues for community transport operators operating along the border. In order to provide access for rural border residents, they have to comply with UK (permits) and RoI (Operator Licensing).
Wee differences that keep CTA’s NI Development Officer, Jacqueline Ritchie, on her toes!
Northern Ireland operates a regulated transport system. Public Transport (bus and train) is provided by an organisation called Translink meaning that private coach operators deliver very few routes. The Department of Education in NI holds the largest fleet of vehicles whilst the Department of Health provides Day Centre and intra hospital transport. The NI Ambulance service provides all ambulance transport (emergency and most non-emergency trips). In NI, councils are more akin to Parish Councils than local authorities. NI Councils bury the dead and take away the rubbish. They have no powers in relation to transport, health or education.
50 days after this St Patrick’s Day we will hear who our next Members of the Legislative Assembly will be in the new look NI Assembly. All of the main Parties in NI have included consideration for CT in their manifestos and have committed their ongoing support for the Sector.
The number of Executive Departments will reduce from 12 to 9. The Dept. of Regional Development (transport) and Dept. of the Environment (vehicle licensing) will merge to form the new Dept. for Infrastructure. This is a much welcomed move and will see transport and vehicle licensing under one portfolio. With the ‘Review of Operator Licensing’ unresolved, many CTOs in Northern Ireland hope that if all interested parties are within one Department there might finally be a resolution to the issue and finally a clear position taken on the future of Section 10b permits in Northern Ireland.
The future will present its own opportunities and challenges. For the next few days Ireland will celebrate and turn the world green. You are all invited to become honorary Irish men and women and take part in the party. Slainte mo chara!