SDLP Infrastructure Spokesperson Mark H Durkan MLA has said the continued threat facing community transport services has left organisations and vulnerable service-users in limbo.
The dial-a-lift service is a lifeline, particularly in rural communities, providing transport for elderly and disabled passengers.
Mr Durkan has lobbied the Department for Infrastructure for an update on future funding and has urged engagement with relevant government departments in an effort to save this vital service.
The Foyle MLA said:
“Despite consistent lobbying, from myself and many others, the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has failed to provide any clarity on the future of community transport. In recent weeks I’ve met with service providers and users, who have been left on tenterhooks awaiting news on a service they’ve come to rely on.
“These services are more than just community transport, they connect rural communities, aid in social interaction and plug gaps in other public services. This lifeline allows extremely vulnerable individuals to travel to hospital appointments, do their shopping and socialise. It is a small but invaluable provision which enables people to hold on to their independence.
"It’s clear these cuts will inevitably hit hardest for the most vulnerable individuals. This will be compounded by the loss of European Social Funding (ESF) which will come to an end on 31st March, and which funds many of the community groups these individuals will be travelling to.
“I’ve written to the DfI Permanent Secretary to make sure an equality impact assessment is carried out before a final decision is made on the future of community transport. I’ve also written to relevant departments including, Health, DAERA and Communities encouraging them the engage with DfI on this issue and to explore all avenues to ensure this service is funded going forward.
“The department should actually be looking at how community transport could be extended, given real difficulty that we have around the availability of wheelchair accessible taxis. Every effort must be made to protect and retain this service for the people who depend on it each and every day.”