"DRTs for a rural area in Tipperary South, South East Ireland, focused on transport for Health Service users and the disability sector".
Ring a Link is a non-profit making, charitable organisation funded by the Department of Transport, offering affordable and convenient transport for rural dwellers of Counties Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary. Ring a Link has been developing Community Transport Services for Rural Areas in the Tipperary, Kilkenny and Carlow Counties since 2002. As part of its ongoing service development within the Flipper project and following extensive consultation with stakeholders it was deemed necessary to test a new service to improve access to health services in the area.
Ring a Link faces continual problems in securing long-term funding like most charities world wide. Their success has focussed in winning the hearts and minds of local stakeholders, communities and politicians. Their ability to represent the needs of their area at low cost compared with traditional companies is one of their strengths. Directors are not paid a salary. They receive out of pocket expenses for attending meetings etc. The motivation of the organisation is not profit but to improve services for people in their area. For 2010, 709,000 euro has been secured to fund Ring a Link. (see full study for details). The cost of providing the service for 1 year is 40,513 euro.
Service area Characteristics
The area chosen by Ring A Link to serve Conmel Hospital from Slieveardagh and Cashel is rural with low population density 12 km2 and is poorly served by public transport. Access to health care is problematic for residents with no access to cars. Slieveardagh Area is located in the North-eastern part of South Tipperary. The area is located approx. 28km north of Clonmel, 18km east of Cashel and 47km south west of Kilkenny City and covers 648 km2. Services will be provided in sparsely populated rural areas.
Although the area has a network of interurban bus services these are mostly centred on commuter and school transport markets. The frequency of existing bus services is totally unsuitable for access to health facilities in the area due to timetables and frequency. The emphasis of the Ring a Link pilot service is to trial the introduction of DRT services to improve access to health services. The survey carried out by Ring a Link highlighted that the above services do not provide suitable solutions for elderly and disabled residents. With this in mind Ring a Link plan to pilot the introduction of a FTS (Flexible Transport Service) to provide a door to door service to Clonmel Hospital. Ring a Link is the only organisation in the area that provides DRT services. Ring a Link will also be providing transport to clients of the Le Cairde day care centre in Cashel this is a day centre that that provides respite care for Alzhemier patients families.
Local Stakeholders and Partnerships
Ring a Link has established an excellent network of Stakeholders over the past 8 years. The Board of Ring a Link comprises of representatives from 3 area groups designed to represent the needs of local communities and individuals in their area.
Survey Background to consultation
Staff carried out a total of 100 surveys. The following methods were adopted:
30 surveys taken on the RAL bus while there was a further 15 taken by phone to RAL registered passengers and interviewed by calling to RAL passenger residence. There was a further 50 surveys taken on a random basis these surveys took place at several locations in the pilot service area by interview.
Service scheme design
The service will operate between the hours of 0730 and 1830 hours Monday to Friday to allow users to access hospital facilities. The service will operate 10 hours per day with the driver taking 1 hour break. One 12 seat Ford Transit minibus will be used. This vehicle choice was decided upon based on feedback from existing users and drivers of other services operated by Ring a Link utilizing similar vehicles. They are reliable, easy to maintain due to the excellent servicing network in the area. Their size is ideal for accessing the narrow road and farm lanes to get to users front doors.
Bookings for service will be made to Ring A Link Travel Dispatch Centre (TDC) by phoning Lo-Call Number 1890 42 41 41 and the operator will give you a time for collection and return. The Call Centre operates Monday to Friday 9am to 16.30 hours and 9am to 13.00 on Saturday. It is hoped to test remote bookings via internet links from Clonmel Hospital and Ring a Link TDC using Mobirouter System. Due to restructuring of Health Services in Ireland due to the economic crisis it may be difficult to introduce this aspect within the projects timescales. It is hoped that testing of integrated hospital appointment and transport bookings could have significantly improved the users experience of accessing health treatments at the hospital.
Who can Travel?
Ring a Link have designed the service for the following groups
- Anyone who is attending the hospital for an appointment or visiting family and friends
- People with Disabilities
- Senior Citizens
- Hospital Employees – Travel To and From Work
Ring a Link User Group Membership
Users can register by post or email detailing Name, Address, Phone Number, Free Pass Number, Directions to home any details to assist restricted mobility issues. Users can book up to 3 months in advance. Bookings for 1st run of the day has to be taken by 1630 the day before. All other trips could be booked live.
The following Fares structure will be used during the pilot.
Children (5-16 years)
Free Travel Passes will be accepted. These are available to Elderly people over 65 years old and Disabled people and some Social Cases.
Free travel pass trips are reimbursed by Irish Government (Department of Social and Economic Welfare) at 2.30 Euro per trip up to an agreed total amount capped annually
Service will be operated and coordinated by Ring a Link to test the market for the further development of hospital door to door services in the area. RAL will use one vehicle and driver to provide the pilot service with funding coming from Flipper Project.
Ring a Link will utilize existing staff and resources based at their Travel Dispatch Centre (TDC) in Kilkenny. Existing Mobisoft Mobirouter system is used to manage bookings and allocate schedules in real time. 1.5 staff is employed as dispatchers.
The mobile phone network selected by Ring a Link was O2 and Vodaphone based on these networks excellent coverage in the area. 7 o2 Units and 1 Vodaphone network card are used to provide mobile phone and data links to Mobirouter System and on Board Units. RAL uses Mobisoft I-Pilot units in their vehicles to send routing and passenger details. Compared with previous fixed units and mobile PDAs RAL think that they are the most valuable asset in the dispatching process as the system is now fully automated relieving the staff of the need to phone, text, fax drivers with details. So impressed with the units RAL are considering fitting these units to sub contractors vehicles.
It is hoped that external agencies would book trips remotely for clients through accessing the Mobirouter System remotely by internet. This may not be possible due to current economic crisis and ongoing restructuring of staff in Health Authorities in Ireland. Consideration to testing web booking in the Ring A Link Flipper pilot is ongoing. Budget cost of around 6K euro has been set aside to evaluate ebooking
Ring A Link decided on the introduction of the Pilot Hospital service based on the low risk involved based on the feedback from the stakeholder survey. The following aspects were considered in the decision process:
- No legislative barriers
- Use of own vehicles and drivers (only one additional driver required)
- Availability of pump priming funding from Flipper and other sources
- No additional Travel Dispatch Centre staff required
- Minimal risk
- Expands Ring a Link Network of DRT services
The service was launched on 28 September 2010.
Development and testing of Internet Booking will be introduced during the pilot service period.
Ring a Link will evaluate the impact of the service within the timescales outlined in the Flipper evaluation plan.