Thomas Pringle TD

Pringle: Donegal is ‘at the heart’ of his call for free, accessible public transport

Pringle: Donegal is ‘at the heart’ of his call for free, accessible public transport

Independent TD for Donegal, Thomas Pringle, has called for free, accessible public transport in a motion he brought to the Dáil today, calling it “a social justice policy”.

Addressing the Dáil this morning, Deputy Pringle said: “The provision of free and accessible transport would positively affect every single person and community in this country. However, there is no doubt that Donegal is at the heart of this motion.

“The lack of public transport is an issue that my constituents have had to deal with for a long time and I would just like to take this opportunity to recognise and pay tribute to my constituents, who have been calling for such provisions for years and who I hope will be given a voice to by putting forward this motion today,” he said.

The deputy said that more than 100 cities have already made public transport free.

Deputy Pringle said: “Fare Free Public Transport brings an array of environmental, economic and social benefits: Cleaner air, reduced emissions, reduced costs for users and improved social inclusion amongst society’s most disadvantaged.”

In introducing his motion, Motion re Provision of Free and Accessible Public Transport, the deputy outlined the benefits of the proposal across a range of issues. Excerpts from his remarks:

Cost of living: Deputy Pringle said: “Households are struggling to pay their bills and fill their tanks and families are having to make hard decisions on whether they can afford to make the same journeys that they were making before.” This particularly affects families in rural communities, he said.

He said: “Free public transport is a social justice policy. It helps lift people out of poverty through greater equality of opportunity and accessibility.”

The deputy said: “As we know, a car is an expensive item to keep on the road. Unfortunately it is the only viable option for many. For those who rely on public transport, the current fares and fees are also deterrents.”

Environment: Deputy Pringle said that according to EPA Ireland, transport has shown the greatest increase of greenhouse gas emissions at 112.2%, between 1990 and 2021. He said commuting to work has been shown to be a prime source of national greenhouse gas emissions.

The deputy said: “This requires targeted action that will remove more cars from our roads. Fewer cars mean fewer emissions. However, in order for this to be successful we must incentivise citizens to use high capacity, responsive, frequent, electrified public transport.”

Disability: Deputy Pringle said: “Accessibility is essential for participation in society.”

He noted that Dublin Bus can only accommodate one wheelchair user per bus, and if a wheelchair user wishes to use train services they must provide 24-hours’ notice to rail staff, “greatly hindering their right to freedom of movement, general quality of life, safe passage and transport in cases of emergency”. Even giving notice does not guarantee that people will be accommodated as needed, he said.

The deputy said: “We must recognise the importance of social inclusion and of logistical freedom.”

Reliability: Deputy Pringle said: “This requires not only making public transport free, but also ensuring that it is flexible, efficient and well planned, to create a genuinely reliable service.” His motion calls for investment in transport addressing frequency, flexibility, reliability and accessibility.

He said: “We are forcing people into using personal vehicles when our transport services are unreliable. And then we are penalising them for it. The reality of this is that their social and economic lives are hemmed into the limits of the public transport that is available to them.”

Rural: Deputy Pringle said: “In rural Ireland, there is a complete lack of reliable and responsive public transport. It’s almost laughable. It means that anyone without a car is excluded from social and economic inclusion.”

He said: “Not only does Donegal not have a train service, but the idea that the Government would even consider instating one is no longer taken seriously.”

The deputy credited the Local Link in Donegal as probably one of the best developed such services in the country, but said, “It is still not good enough and it means very little when we are dealing with a very large county with no rail access.”

He said the service has greatly benefited Donegal communities and said, “It is the first step in providing decent transport, but it badly needs extending, to include all areas.” He said timetables must also be extended.

Deputy Pringle said: “If someone in Killybegs was offered a job in Donegal town, 25 minutes away, the only way that they would be able to accept that job in the current situation would be if they had access to their own car, as the current timetables do not sufficiently service peak hours. This is a huge obstacle for disabled people, especially in rural communities, and for everybody, I believe.

“It goes without saying that if you live in rural Ireland, you need to own a car. However, no concessions are made for our rural population in this regard,” he said.

Deputy Pringle said: “Free and accessible public transport is necessary to tackle the issue of accessibility and inclusion. It is clear that free public transport is a practical and effective way to reap climate, social, health and economic benefits.

“It’s a single solution that is solving multiple problems and it would be a wasted opportunity if the government did not recognise this,” he said.

The Government said it was not opposing the motion, which received broad support in the debate.

In his response to the debate, Deputy Pringle criticized transport ministers for not attending. He said: “Nobody from Transport seemed to bother to turn up for this debate today, which I think is telling in itself.” He added: “Perhaps you could print off a transcript and send it to the minister, so he could actually see the debate that has taken place here.”

Deputy Pringle said: “Although I am glad this motion isn’t being opposed, it is not good enough for the Government to merely not oppose this motion. It is imperative that they do all they can to support it, implement it, or at very least look into it and consider the many, many benefits that free and accessible public transport has.”