Over the past six months The Detail, a Northern Ireland based, online investigative journalism website, have been spearheading a review into the contribution of community transport in Northern Ireland. Having been given unfettered access to key government data and with the help of CTA members, the value of community transport to the community in Northern Ireland has been uncovered.
What The Detail journalist, Lindsay Fergus, uncovered in her research, was a quiet giant standing in the heart of Northern Ireland society. Community transport here, as elsewhere across the country, is the service that plugs away, 365 days a year, making an unprecedented impact in the community, without fanfare. The findings of the Detail Data report can be summed up in one sentence – community transport is the service that punches far beyond its weight.
Over the past two years funding for community transport has been cut by over 1/3. Despite the reduction, The Detail discovered only minimal disruption to on-the-ground service. Crucially, the report highlights that any further cut, or indeed funding standing still, will have a devastating effect on community transport going forward. The Detail’s figures highlight the miracle being worked by community transport operators across the country. To keep the service on the road serving the most vulnerable is testament to the dedication and hard work of CT staff.
The Detail uncovered new data which highlights the impact of community transport in delivering better health outcomes. The data evidences how community transport allows people to stay in their homes for longer, helps avoid the cost of missed health appointments, alleviates social isolation and is invaluable in saving the health service money. The report puts pressure on the Department of Health to properly fund transport solutions to alleviate pressure on frontline services.
The Detail highlighted the volunteer network working to keep community transport running. Almost 35% of all CT trips in Northern Ireland were delivered by volunteers. That is why, going forward, it is essential that the volunteer network is protected. Many of the volunteers are themselves elderly people, staying active by contributing back to their communities.
The Detail also examined the social value of community transport. They went to rural villages in Northern Ireland and spoke to small business owners, many of whom rely on their customers being transported to their place of business by CT. In previous work undertaken by the Community Transport Network in NI the value of CT to a local economy was estimated to be a £12 return for every £1 invested. This research needs to be updated in the light of The Detail report.
The main findings of The Detail report:
- Community transport provided more than 216,000 journeys in the past year to help people living in isolated rural areas, including the elderly and those with disabilities.
- More than 2.5 million miles covered by community transport, that is the equivalent of 10 journeys around the globe
- More than 24,000 health appointments were attended in the last year by people with no access to public transport or a car – thanks to the door-to-door transport scheme run by 11 Rural Community Transport Partnerships across Northern Ireland.
- A missed health appointment costs the health service £108. CT is vital in saving money to frontline services
- 34% of trips were provided by a network of unpaid volunteers, the majority using their own cars to take people on trips including collecting benefits, getting shopping and visiting loved ones in nursing homes. That is some 72,917 trips!
- Paying minimum wage, it would cost the government over £220,000 to replace volunteers time, this does not factor in additional vehicle costs given most volunteer trips are taken using the volunteers own car.
- Almost 31,000 trips were to enable people, many with learning disabilities, to access education, training or employment.
- 58% of all trips taken were by elderly users.
- Almost half of all trips were made by people with disabilities.
- Three out of four trips were taken by women.
Lindsay Fergus’ outstanding analysis provides a platform for CT in Northern Ireland. We cannot squander this opportunity to stand on that platform and demand that government step up and properly resource our services.
The full Detail Data analysis, including full data sets and in-depth breakdown of data can be found at this link:
If you are interested in finding out about the day in the life of a community transport operator, The Detail have also put together an interactive map, following the bus fleet owned by Fermanagh Community Transport: